The second iteration of the Apple AirPods launched in March last year, with the best-selling true wireless ear buds offering a few notable improvements on the original 2016 set.
But with the Cupertino brand having since added the noise-cancelling AirPod Pros to its roster – and also set to add two brand-new products to the lineup – are these worth bothering with? It's time to find out.
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Apple AirPods (2019): Design
The 2019 AirPods look identical to their predecessors, which means those widely mocked long earbud stems are still intact. (Note that they're slightly shorter on the AirPods Pro.) As with every other Apple product, the AirPods have a somewhat clean and sterile aesthetic – the polar opposite of Marshall's rock-inspired headphones line-up – but at least they're nice and light (just 4g per pod). They're also comfortable, though a lack of ear tips means that anyone who doesn't have average-sized lugholes might find that the AirPods fall out as soon as they start head-banging. As with the original AirPods, there are no physical controls, so you'd better get used to tip-tapping – or asking Siri – to adjust the volume.
Apple AirPods (2019): Features
With the second-gen AirPods, Apple has installed its latest H1 chip in place of the original buds' W1 chip – and the result is a whole suite of improved functionality. Nothing seismic, but enough to make the user experience that bit more satisfactory. Pairing is faster, latency is lower and the talk-time has increased from two hours to three hours. Thanks to a new auto-switching feature, you can go from listening to music on your phone to watching a movie on your tablet, and the AirPods will detect the change-over without being prompted. And an Audio Sharing function enables you and another AirPods owner to listen to the same device simply by tapping phones. How very romantic.
Another benefit of the H1 chip is that you can now get Siri's attention without using your hands. Got an iPhone? Apple's voice assistant will read out your incoming text messages, and you can even reply without taking your handset from your pocket – both of which are useful if you're in the middle of a workout.
To accompany the launch of the second-gen AirPods, Apple has designed a brand-new, optional charging case. As with the previous AirPods case, this one offers an additional 20 hours of talk time to go with the five hours provided by the buds themselves. This time, though, the case can be recharged wirelessly via a Qi-compatible mat. Not only that, but an LED charging indicator on the exterior of the case will let you know when it's juiced and ready for action (it's reckoned that you can get from 25% to 100% in just one hour). The new Apple AirPods charging case can also be bought separately and is compatible with the original AirPods, too.
Apple AirPods (2019): Sound
So, the latest AirPods don't look especially rock'n'roll, but do they sound it? Well, they're noticeably louder than their predecessors, which is great for those of us who like rock and metal. The extra volume is also rather useful because, unlike the AirPods Pro, these ear buds don't cancel out background noise.
As for sound quality, precious little has changed from the first-generation AirPods. That's not a bad thing at all, as the original buds were perfectly capable in that department. In the mid-frequency range especially, guitars, vocals and keyboards sound precise and punchy. And with Apple refusing to add any kind of artificial manipulation, music sounds as organic as a free range egg.
The new AirPods aren't the bassiest ear buds around, and they're also prone to sounding harsh at the higher, trebly frequencies – so chin-scratching audiophiles might want to give them a swerve. But on the whole, they deliver a pretty high-quality listening experience.
Apple AirPods (2019): The competition
If the AirPods (2019) don't take your fancy, there are plenty of other true wireless earbuds on the market. For a start, there's the aforementioned AirPods Pro. Though they're considerably more expensive at $249 / £249, they come with effective noise cancellation, fit in your ears a little better and, through a firmware update available in autumn, will soon boast 3D audio technology – Apple's take on Dolby Atmos. (Note that the Cupertino brand is also expected to launch the AirPods 3 and the AirPods Lite imminently.)
At a similar price point, the Sony WF-1000XM3 ($229.99 / £169) and Sennheiser's Momentum True Wireless 2 ($299.95 / £279) both deliver excellent noise cancelling, decent sound quality and a chic design – though the former aren't ideal for sports.
And there are some decent choices in the budget sector, too, including the Lypertek Tevi ($99 / £99), which impressed our sister title Tech Radar with their “great battery life” and “neutral, audiophile-like sound”; and also the SoundMAGIC TWS50 ($55.99 / £79), which marry a comfy fit with surprising audio smarts.
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