AirPods are the best-selling wireless headphones, but their sound quality, battery life, and environmental impact could be better


  • AirPods are the best selling wireless headphones. Their iconic shape is hard to miss. But their sound quality and battery life could be a lot better.
  • There are a lot of other wireless earbuds that sound better than AirPods. They also lack extra features like water resistance or noise cancellation. 
  • Just because they are the most ubiquitous doesn’t mean they’re the best.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories. 

Following is a transcript of the video.

Narrator: AirPods are the bestselling wireless earbuds. If you live in a city, you can’t walk two blocks without spotting the iconic shape. But their environmental impact has been called a “tragedy,” and their sound quality isn’t much better than the earbuds Apple includes for free. Why pay $159 when there are $30 earbuds that claim to be just as good? Just because they’re the most ubiquitous doesn’t mean they’re the best.

Let’s start with what they get right. AirPods work with other Apple products really well. The W1 or newer H1 chip pairs instantly and has less interference compared to other wireless earbuds. And features like taking out an AirPod to pause your music or audio sharing are really useful. But AirPods also have some huge flaws.

The biggest downside? Their sound is just OK. AirPods produce a perfectly average sound that’s clear in the mid-tones and is good for podcasts but doesn’t pack much in the low end. And because of their open design, sound isolation is terrible. There’s also no noise cancellation, so you’ll be stuck hearing traffic or crowds around you. The Jabra Elite 65Ts produce much better sound at about the same price. Even budget alternatives like the $80 Anker Soundcore earbuds offer just-as-good sound for half the price. You might think you can put up with the sound quality, but there’s one issue you can’t avoid: the battery life.

Five hours on a single charge sounds great on paper. But since their release three years ago, there have been numerous reports of decreased battery capacity. And often the battery capacity of one AirPod will deteriorate faster than the other, leaving you with an uneven charge.

In March, AppleInsider compared AirPods from 2016 to a new pair from 2018. It found that after one hour of listening, the older pair had 52% and 19% less battery in each bud compared to the newer pair. Apple seems to be aware of this issue. It even offers a special battery-repair service. But that costs $49 to $69 per AirPod. If your charging case is having battery issues, that’s another $49 to $69. Out of warranty, replacing each bud and the case costs $38 more than a brand-new pair. The short battery lifespan might force you to buy new AirPods after two or three years.

Even if your battery still holds a charge, you might have to replace your AirPods after getting caught in the rain, because unlike competing earbuds, AirPods have no water resistance. Apple doesn’t even advertise sweat resistance. It’s a real bummer to worry if your $159 earbuds will survive some light rain. But the broader impact of all of this is much more serious.

AirPods are a waste nightmare. iFixit gives AirPods a 0/10 repairability score. That means if something breaks or your battery isn’t holding a charge, your only option is to replace it with a new unit. Apple’s repair is really just a replacement. All electronics create waste, but the short lifespan of AirPods means waste is created much faster than it is with something like a laptop. And this will likely get worse as AirPods and other wireless earbuds become more popular. But doesn’t Apple put a lot of focus on recycling? Yes, and they do offer a program where you can send in your AirPods to get them recycled. Which is great. More companies should do this. But most people don’t know that this exists or won’t bother to do it. Those dead AirPods will sit for years in your drawer or a landfill.

Now, you might be thinking that some water protection or noise cancellation would increase the price. It might. But one thing Apple could have included for free? More customization. AirPods have several double-tap functions that you can set for each individual bud, like play/pause or next track. But other functions require you to use “Hey Siri.” So if you want to adjust your volume without taking out your phone, you have to assign one of two double-tap options to Siri and then ask the voice assistant to lower the volume. But depending on where you are, this isn’t always possible or convenient. AirPods would be a lot more useful if they added single-tap functions to each ear.

If you’re a die-hard AirPods fan, you might be typing a comment about how AirPods aren’t the only wireless earbuds that have these issues. You’re right. But with AirPods, you’re paying a premium for mediocre features and quality just to be part of the Apple ecosystem. AirPods integrate seamlessly with other Apple devices and are well built. But that doesn’t automatically make them worth the price. Removing the headphone jack forces consumers towards expensive options that have to be replaced more frequently than wired headphones. A lot of consumers would be better off with a cheaper alternative. And the environment would be better off with a more sustainable one.

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