Disclaimer: As far as I know, no one in the wide world has been able to get their hands on a set of AirPods in under six weeks. I had my finger on the purchase button at Apple.com/jp, but couldn’t wait. In the end, I chose the grey market route of Yahoo! Auctions, overpaying by about 20$. I got them in two days. That was sometime in July, or about six weeks ago. Let’s rumble. AirPods go for 160$ USD. You can find out all about them here: Apple AirPods.
I’m an audiophile-hating audiophile reviewing Apple’s AirPods. This essay may be the death of me. Fortunately, there are a few of us that believe in great audio democratisers: self-contained DAC/amp units that work lickety split with phones, computers, TVs, and the like, and whose internal heavy-lifting ensures the same sound no matter the source.
And AirPods are exactly that. While they in no way rival Flare Audio’s Flares Pro sound quality, and in no way rival the Sony MUC-M2BT1’s robust catalogue of compatible earphones, they sound good, work well, and are just as device agnostic.
And yet, they’re intrinsically flawed. Al hands-free short cuts require either Siri, or the physical removal of one AirPod from the ear. And Siri can be a real dick. My Siri calls me ‘Ney-than’ in a pretentious accent. Often, he stalls when invoked, misunderstands the simplest of web searches and directional commands, and embarrassingly has trouble with his stand out calling card, Hey Siri! My phone is choking on screenshots of his worst boners. Apple’s hate for buttons and love for touch pads and touch screens should have worked itself into AirPods. Siri isn’t ready for full time voice control. Nor is anyone on the train near you, nor your mates whilst strolling in a park, nor the animals in the park, nor are your own psychopathies positively combatted when essentially forced to talk with yourself. Siri sucks. Forcing users to suck up to it to change the volume when their phone is out of reach is a real dick move.
And yet, I keep coming back to AirPods. They slip in, and out, lickety split. They work for hours, and fast charge in less than twenty minutes. Very little signal noise comes over the wires. There’s no on/off button to depress for half a minute while the earphones decide whether or not to go into pairing mode. There’s no needle-mount charging plinth to thread. Like an iPhone, they charge – in their feel-good case – via Lightning cable. And that slippery case literally slips into a pocket – where typically I carry soft-sided and slim-line earphone cases -, lickety split. The earphones snap in magnetically, as does the case snap shut. If you like quality hinges and precision manufacture, you’ll love the case.
The earphones are typical EarPods fare, seems dirty up in no time, meshes gunk up from use, and they will yellow with time. There’s no way really to fix any of that. The first time you use AirPods will be the last time they’re clean and cute. Both they and their case easily pick up scratches. Their ports and seems are positioned nearly flawlessly and their grills are perfectly machined. I’d love to see the next version in ceramic or metal.
I’ve connected AirPods to both Apple and non-Apple gear. Connection speed and stability relies on many things, case material being the most important, interference being second. When vacuuming, AirPods connect and reconnect to a charging iPhone across the first floor of my 118m2 house, which is just okay. When everything is fit, I can leave my phone in my studio and run downstairs and wash up whatever’s in the sink, which, embarrassingly, is where my iPhone may now be. Incredible. I just stepped out. It is raining mice and parakeets. AirPods managed 29 paces before whizzing and whirring. Siri worked out to 24 paces from my iPhone. Any way I look at it, AirPods have the best and most sticky connection of any wireless audio gear I’ve tried.
I’ve neglected precise battery run-downs, but I’ve gotten over four hours on the earphones. There’s not much to AirPods. I’m surprised that they get anything more than an hour. Best of all, they fast-charge in fifteen minutes and net at least two hours of playback.
Sound and more after the jump: