Hot topics

Apple AirPods Buying Guide: Which AirPods Are the Best Right Now?

Apple AirPods 2023
© nextpit

Read in other languages:

Which Apple wireless headphones to choose in 2024? Is there really a difference between the AirPods Pro 2 and AirPods Pro 1? Do all AirPods have Active Noise Reduction (ANC) or Custom Spatial Audio? In this AirPods comparison, nextpit tells you which Apple earphones best suit your needs and budget.

Comparison of Apple AirPods available in 2024

Please note that AirPods Pro (1st generation) are no longer in Apple's official catalog. But you can still find them fairly easily online. All other models are still sold on the official Apple store.

Table of Contents:

Apple AirPods Pro (2nd generation): Apple's best wireless headphones

The AirPods Pro 2 are the most recent model launched by Apple. And it's also the model with the most features. The AirPods Pro 2 are the only ones to feature Adaptive Audio. The AirPods Pro 2 are also the only earphones to feature Apple's latest H2 chip.

If you have an Apple ecosystem, the AirPods Pro 2 are unquestionably the best choice for wireless headphones. Active Noise Reduction (ANC) is highly effective. Microphone quality is decent. Spatial audio with head tracking works well. Battery life is average, but adequate. The semi-intra-ear format is comfortable and provides a fairly good fit.

AirPods Pro 2 also feature another exclusive function: adaptive transparency. This automatically attenuates sudden, loud noises when you're in transparency mode. Since this mode amplifies ambient noise, the function ensures that you don't burst your eardrums if someone slams a door next to you.

You will find touch-sensitive and capacitive surfaces on the AirPods Pro 2.
The stems of the AirPods Pro 2 have tactile and capacitive surfaces for the ANC and volume controls. / © nextpit

Apple AirPods 3: The ANC-free, open-fit alternative

The AirPods 3 are the best choice in this selection if you don't like the in-ear format of the AirPods Pro. And also if you can do without active noise cancelation.

In short, this is essentially a question of format, and price too, of course. But if budget and format aren't your determining factors, go for the AirPods Pro 2.

AirPods 3 are open-fit, so they don't fit in your ear canal. This means a loss of support and passive noise isolation, but a huge gain in comfort.

In terms of functionality, compared with the AirPods Pro 2, it's really the absence of ANC that I think is the main drawback. But at the same time, active noise reduction with open-fit earphones isn't of much use anyway.

Apart from ANC, you lose Adaptive Audio, transparency mode (but you don't need it), the H2 chip and that's about it. We retain the essential functions of the AirPods Pro 2 here. IPX4 rating for earphones and case, automatic equalizer, personalized spatial audio, it's all here. And Apple has even released a version with a case that accepts MagSafe wireless charging.

The Apple AirPods 3 in detail
Unfortunately, the Apple AirPods 3 do not feature noise reduction. / © Dontree / Adobe Stock

Apple AirPods Pro (1st generation): The best value for money

The problem with AirPods Pro 2 is that they cost $250. The problem with the AirPods 3 is that they cost almost 200 euros and have no ANC.

If you want ANC without breaking the bank, opt for the original AirPods Pro. They have all the features of the AirPods 3, but with active noise reduction. You even get personalized spatial audio. In terms of waterproofing, however, the IPX4 rating only applies to the earphones, not the casing.

The only problem is that Apple has taken them out of its official catalog. It's quite complicated to find new models. I've seen a lot of refurbished and/or third-party offers around 150 euros. But you'll have to be patient, or take the risk of buying from a marketplace.

Just note that here we're back to an open-fit format, which fits in the ears.

Apple AirPods Pro 2 device sided by the box and the charging case.
Visually, nothing has changed in the second-generation AirPods Pro. / © photoschmidt / Adobe Stock

Apple AirPods Max: Apple's only headset, therefore the best

The only over-ear headphones from Apple are the AirPods Max. These were released in December 2020 with no signs that Apple is ready to announce its successor, the AirPods Max 2. This makes the current over-ears worth considering, especially at a discounted price.

In addition to the spatial audio, the noise-cancelling cans have plenty to offer. For starters, an H1 chip mated to the customized drivers power the headset. Both the transparency mode and adaptive equalizer are present. A total of nine microphones are found inside, with up to eight dedicated to ANC (Active Noise Cancellation).

Apple AirPods Max close to the box
The only over-ear headphones from Apple are the AirPods Max. / © Masarik / Adobe Stock

Meanwhile, Bluetooth 5.0 connectivity is a bit outdated while codecs are limited to AAC and SBC despite the high price tag. This leaves room for the AirPods Max 2 to bring a more efficient codec in the future, and perhaps a battery boost from the current 20-hour rating.

Unlike with a single white color availability for the in-ear models, the AirPods Max have five colorways with a two-tone styling for the headband and ear cups. Apple has integrated a digital crown for extensive controls and a standalone button for activating or deactivating the ANC function. However, the lightweight form might also be a major reason to own a pair.

What are the criteria for choosing Apple AirPods in 2024?

Apple AirPods audio quality

Don't dwell on specs. Driver size, frequency response, etc. The AirPods Pro 2, AirPods 3 or AirPods Max are not products for audiophiles. And who cares, you're probably listening to compressed MP3 on Apple Music. Whichever model you choose, the audio quality is just fine, even good.

Yes, there are better-performing models from other brands at the same price, or even cheaper. But is the slight superiority in audio quality worth sacrificing the intuitiveness of AirPods when they're integrated into an Apple ecosystem? In my opinion, it depends, but in most cases, no.

Open-fit or in-ear, which format for your AirPods?

So, apart from audio quality and budget, the main differentiators between AirPods are format - in-ear or out-ear - and active noise reduction.

The open-fit format is the most comfortable. They don't feel like earplugs, and you can wear them longer without discomfort. The downside is that you don't get as good a fit in the ear as with in-ear monitors. And you also lose a lot in terms of passive noise osilation, since your ears remain "open" with open-fit earphones.

Active Noise Reduction (ANC) on Apple AirPods

Apple's active noise reduction is never adjustable. You can turn it on, turn it off, the algorithms do the rest. On the AirPods Pro 2, the Adaptive Audio function allows you to adjust ANC and transparency levels dynamically according to changes in your sound environment. Other models don't offer this feature.

None of Apple's audio products support HD audio codecs. You'll have to make do with basic SBC and AAC. None of the models listed here offer multipoint, but Apple does allow you to "switch" automatically between two Apple devices (and Apple devices only!).

Is it stupid to use AirPods with an Android smartphone?

Yes. In absolute terms, it works. Pairing isn't a problem, and you can listen to your music as normal. The problem is that you can't set up your AirPods on an Android smartphone. Apple doesn't offer an official companion app on the Play Store.

There are third-party apps that display battery levels and so on. But I don't see the point. You also lose several features, including spatial audio and port detection.

All in all, it's not worth the money.

What do you think is the best AirPods model? Are you interested in Apple's wireless earphones? Do you use other headphones with your iPhone? If so, which ones and why?


 The Best Portable Projectors in 2024

  The best choice The best value for money The best for less The all-rounder The challenger The best laser TV
Image Xgimi Halo+ Product Image Dangbei Neo Product Image Technaxx TX-127 Product Image Samsung Freestyle Product Image Nebula Anker Capsule 3 Laser Product Image Formovie Theater Product Image

To find out more, browse through our comprehensive Portable Projectors buying guide.

nextpit receives a commission for purchases made via the marked links. This has no influence on the editorial content and there are no costs for you. You can find out more about how we make money on our transparency page.
Go to comment (0)
Antoine Engels

Antoine Engels
Senior Editor

Black belt in specs sheet analysis. OnePlus fanboy in (slow) remission. Average estimated reading time of my articles: 48 minutes. Tech deals fact-checker in my spare time. Hates talking about himself in the 3rd person. Dreams he was a gaming journalist in another life. Doesn't get the concept of irony. Head of editorial for NextPit France.

To the author profile
Liked this article? Share now!
Recommended articles
Latest articles
Push notification Next article
No comments
Write new comment:
All changes will be saved. No drafts are saved when editing
Write new comment:
All changes will be saved. No drafts are saved when editing