Shootout: The best totally wireless earbuds compared

By Marcus Wong - 10 Sep 2017

Apple AirPods


Apple AirPods

First introduced in September last year, the Apple AirPods are in a sense, Apple’s proposed solution for their decision to remove the headphone jack from their iPhone – a wireless alternative for a future without cables. These come in their own carrying case that acts as both protective storage and charging base.

The case has been cleverly built to initiate pairing with Apple products – simply lifting the cover starts the pairing process, making it a real no-brainer. A button on the back of the case does the same task for non-Apple devices, and the execution overall is typical Apple – slick and efficient.

This case also acts as an external battery pack, charging the AirPods for up to 24 hours listening time, with a quick charging feature that gives you three more hours with just 15 minutes of charging. On top of that, there’s also a custom W1 chip in the AirPods that helps to manage battery life, giving the set a good five hours of wireless listening per charge. It also uses optical sensors and a motion accelerator to detect when they’re in your ears, disengaging to save battery life once they’re out.

The AirPods case initiates pairing once the cover is opened.

Despite the slightly odd looking design – the AirPods have extended ends that make them look more like candy canes than earphones – the AirPods did give me a fairly comfortable fit. However this didn’t translate to a good seal, as I could very much still hear everything that was going on around me, forcing me to raise the volume to block it out. My colleague Kenny however, had a very good fit while testing the AirPods and thus he had a better experience. This goes to show that expectations of these earbuds or any set of earphones/earbuds is highly dependent on your personal fit and comfort.

As for myself, in terms of audio quality observed, the AirPods delivered audio performance consistent to their wired counterparts, which is to say – pretty average. The headphones have a very flat sound signature, with little in terms of dynamics. It does do a decent job on vocal-heavy tracks, so people who listen predominantly to pop should be fine. However the bass response is lacking, so on a groovy piece like 24K Magic by Bruno Mars, what gets you moving is more Bruno’s vocals than the lush bass beat. This is again reflected with our formal test tracks, where the headphones performed best with Hotel California by The Eagles, a piece that’s more heavy on the highs.

Audio Performance Summary
MP3 Testing Score
Hotel California - The Eagles 7.0
Sail on Soothsayer - Buckethead 7.0
Elements of Life - Tiesto 7.0
Melt My Heart to Stone - Adele 7.0
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