Apple sells a variety of AirPods in its stores — from the standard AirPods, to the AirPods Pro, to the over-ear AirPods Max. Which is right for you?
Years after Apple ditched the headphone jack on iPhones and pitched AirPods as the solution, the in-ear headphones are some of the most popular in the world, but there are four different models to choose from. On top of the different models that are available, there are also different revisions and charging cases that can be sold with each pair of AirPods. This can be pretty tough to decipher when ordering a pair of AirPods, since some of this information is listed in smaller print on the sides or back of the box. Regardless, it’s easy to make the right choice when buying a pair of AirPods — when it’s clear what to look for.
AirPods are a particularly solid purchase for people heavily invested in the Apple ecosystem, because the headphones are designed to work well with the company’s products. Features like Spatial Audio, Automatic Switching, and Quick Start are examples of the software integration that sets the AirPods apart from other truly wireless headphones. This software integration becomes stronger with iOS 16, as there’s a new AirPods settings menu front-and-center in the Settings app. With the redesigned menu, customizing the Apple earbuds and over-ears to the user’s preferences is even easier. Only so much can be customized through software, though, so purchasing the right model is important.
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Apple still sells the second generation AirPods on its website alongside the three newest models: the third-generation AirPods, the AirPods Pro, and the AirPods Max. The second-generation AirPods are the trickiest to buy — outside of the Apple store — because they look identical to the first generation AirPods. The change to the second-generation AirPods came under the hood, with a new chip resulting in connection and battery improvements. This means it is important to check which pair of AirPods are being purchased. The latest second-generation AirPods do not come with a wireless charging case as standard, which is easy to look out for, and retail for just $129.
The Higher-End AirPods
Though the second-generation are the cheapest way to buy a pair of AirPods, the upgraded third-generation offers significant improvements over its predecessor. The third-generation AirPods support Spatial Audio, are sweat and water resistant, and support MagSafe charging. Furthermore, the third-generation AirPods offer up to six hours of battery life on a single charge — the longest of any pair of in-ear AirPods — and retail for $179. The AirPods Pro are the way to go for users looking for Active Noise Canceling and Transparency Mode, but these additions reduce the runtime to a maximum of 4.5 hours on a single charge. New AirPods Pro support MagSafe charging, but older AirPods Pro were shipped with wireless charging cases that didn’t support MagSafe. AirPods Pro retail for $249, but can be routinely found on-sale for under $200.
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The best — and most expensive — pair of AirPods are the AirPods Max, which retail for $549. Like the AirPods Pro, these headphones can be found for significantly less than the MSRP from third-party retailers. However, just because the AirPods Max have the best sound doesn’t make them the right choice for everyone. The AirPods Max are over-ear headphones, which sets them apart from the rest of the lineup. They support Spatial Audio, Dolby Atmos, and have 20 hours of playback on a single charge. The four different AirPods model fit together nicely to provide a solid option for users looking for different features out of their headphones.