Apple AirPods Review (2021): The Buds Are Not for You

Once you get them seated in your ears, the new AirPods sound OK. But it’s annoying how much outside sound gets in when you’re out and about, which makes everything much muddier. Again, in comparison to similarly priced models from Jabra, Samsung, and other top-tier modern producers, these get left in the dust. The Samsung Galaxy Buds2‘s dual-driver array sounds dramatically better, and those cost $25 less. 

The Good Parts

Airpods iPhone and iPad
Photograph: Apple

There are some legitimately nice things about Apple-made headphones. I’m trying not to be a total wet blanket. 

They have the same clear separation between low and high end that I enjoy on the AirPods Pro, though they’re a lot muddier in the midrange to my ears. The microphones are once again great, easily good enough for any Zoom or phone meetings. 

I also like that Apple has added spatial audio. I don’t think it’s a reason to subscribe to Apple Music, or that it will take off in the broader music industry in general, but I do think that it’s awesome for movies. I’ve enjoyed watching Netflix in Dolby Atmos on the AirPods Max. It’s nice that even Apple’s most basic buds now do this. 

I’m even stoked that they’re finally IPX4-rated for sweat resistance. I’d hesitate to take these on a workout due to the aforementioned concerns with fit, but at least you know you can drop them in the sink without ruining them. 

Lost in Time

It took six years for the design team at Apple to realize that removing popular jacks and adding a touch bar to laptops was idiotic. How long will it take them to fix a fundamentally flawed and overpriced pair of earbuds?

I’m not sure. AirPods remain the best-selling buds in history, and they had nearly all of these same flaws a month ago. Just like the MacBooks of yesteryear, this is a ridiculous and unnecessary remake that many will probably buy in droves, unaware that they can actually get a better product from the same company for less money.

If you’re an Apple stan, I’d spend $25 more for the new Beats. I’ve had less than a week with them—my review is forthcoming—but the Fit Pro are shaping up to be my new favorite pair of Apple-made buds. And they have ear tips!

If you don’t need spatial audio or special Apple integration (you increasingly don’t, for headphones to work very well), shop around. It’s 2021. Nobody should pay $175 for a pair of plastic buds with no ear tips, no noise canceling, and two hours less battery life than a $40 pair we just reviewed.

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