It’s strange for me to admit that what sold me on AirPods is that they’re earbuds. It’s weird because prior to their purchase, not once did I think of using Apple’s EarPods in any capacity. EarPods don’t sound horrible, but they certainly don’t hold a candle to anything I usually put in my ears. And their bad rap is deserved: they’re chintzy things with a poor cable and a history littered with poor-sounding iterations.
AirPods are a different animal. They sound good, if not as detailed on either end of the spectrum as I’d like. And, as long as you don’t block their bass port, they kick out pretty damn good, and voluble lows. Cover that port and what you get is wispy, reedy, and weak. Those lows are the round-edged sort without too much texture detail, but which doesn’t bottom out on heavy stuff from Ice Cube. Surprisingly, they also go pretty low, respectfully rumbling in the opening seconds of Markus Schulz’s Mainstage and Bexarametric’s Exploration of the Mind. There’s not a huge amount of stereo separation of positional space/accuracy to that bass, but there’s plenty of anchor, and a good bit of low-frequency warmth. AirPods kick it where the kicks is needed.
There’s not a lot of z-axis detail down low, but enough to position low-voiced instruments laterally. There are plenty of earphones that more succinctly separate those elements. On a curve, AirPods’s sound is reasonably wide, properly wrapping behind the head in binaural recordings. The y-axis achieves middling height, and largely is contained between the chin and crown. The bulk of what you hear comprises a head-shaped ball laid on its side that then fits the same way atop your spinal column. Given the right kick, its occipital bone can extend pretty far behind yours. Got a scary podcast going on? Jeepers creepers, you’ll jump.
High frequency extension isn’t anything to worry about. AirPods will hit the highest highs in your music, and they’ll do it sans Etymotic peaks and troughs. Like bass, they’re not terribly textured, nor are instruments contained within that surgically removed from their peers. Bells are clear and steer clear of spikey sibilance. Ditto strings and percussion. Both male and female vocals are warm and extrude near the front. In general, mids follow suite, and, along with bass, drive your music.
I can’t get over how good AirPods sound for most, if not all, of my music. Solid core, good extension, and low-reaching bass combine with a non-perturbing signature. In no way do they replace Beyer’s Xelento for spaciousness, Astell&Kern’s AKT8iE for feel, or Grado’s GR8e for overall speed. But damn, they sound good- far better in fact than I hoped they would.
The closest earphone to them probably is nuforce’s HEM2. AirPods’s bass isn’t quite as big, and its highs stick out a bit more against the mids, but the basic feel is similar despite one sealing sound in and the other letting it flow out. And HEM2 pretty much rocks my boat. In fact, it was my runner-up for best-of-2016 earphone.
After my first listen I wondered if I were happy only because my expectations were too low. But I’ve left that doubt behind weeks ago. At this point, I’m pretty stoked. AirPods sound good and stack up well with some of the better better ear buds I’ve tried. Their vanilla sound signature should jive with most people’s music. The singular caveat is that their bass port must be left clear or you won’t get any bass at all.
Finally, AirPods’s microphone is okay. It filters out a lot of outside noise, but doesn’t provide the solidest midrange. Vocals sheer enough that my wife says I sound clearer from my iPhone’s inbuilt mic.
Likely, AirPods will slip out of your ears when you sweat. They sure don’t stick with me across town in the summer, clinchers spinning hard beneath. If you sweat a lot, bye bye. If you shake your head hard, bye bye. If you hit a hard patch of wind, bye bye. I picked up a pair of silicon inserts whose friction really helps but doesn’t fully alleviate the falling-out-of-the-ear problem. And every ear is different. I’ve got small holes that appear made for AirPods™. My wife’s ears get on less well. YMMV.
Flare Audio’s Flares Pro sound better than AirPods. But damn, are AirPods sleek. Just slip them your ears in and go. Slip them in their case for a quick charge, and slip a Lightning cable into the case for a full go-over. Sure they may slip out of your ear, and sure, their dearth of hardware interface elements makes it tough to do simple things whilst away from your phone; but on the whole, their goods outweigh their bads, and tilt my recommendation forward.
If you are keen on wireless, and don’t mind a bit of a hardware hassle and Siri’s dick constantly in your face, AirPods are awesome. If Siri or you rub each other the wrong way, and you dislike the EarPods form factor skip AirPods at all costs. You might even give nuforce’s BE6i a try.