Apple AirPods: first impressions

I love the geeky thrill of sliding open the pristine white box of a beautiful new Apple product. Apple does a great many things better than its competitors but, for me, it’s the un-boxing experience of their products that truly makes them special. My latest purchase, the Apple AirPods, are no exception.

AirPods, case and box

Ever since they launched in late 2016 I’ve gone back and forward over whether they’re right for me. On the one hand I always found the EarPods bundled with the iPhone a frustration of tangled cables, iffy sound quality and poor fit. But on the other, I was attracted to a 100% wire-free solution, seamless integration with my other Apple products and clever little touches like ear auto-detect and a super-simple Bluetooth experience.

The AirPods aren’t my first dalliance with Bluetooth earphones. In early 2016 I bought a set of Jaybird X2 earphones after reading lots of positive reviews. While I found the sound quality excellent, they felt a bit big and cumbersome, I had endless Bluetooth connection issues, terrible microphonics problems and, after just 3 months of daily use, the wire loosened and the left hand bud started crackling. I was not impressed.

And so on to the AirPods – they’re the exact opposite of the X2s in every way. Build quality is exceptional, Bluetooth connection is flawless, there’s no wires so zero microphonics and the sound quality is best described as fair (and that’s me being generous). One unexpected surprise is that they fit and stay in my ears surprisingly well, despite the problems I had with EarPods.

“…the case is a beautifully simple and elegant solution to the power problem…”

The supplied case, which also acts as a charger for the AirPods, is typically Apple – a beautifully simple and elegant solution to the power problem that afflicts all wireless headphones. Apple reckons you’ll get about 5 hours play from a charge and the case will charge them up from empty a good 3 or 4 times before it needs some juice itself. You’ll also get around 3 hours of listening from just 15 mins of charging in the case.

Aside from the average sound quality, my only other issue of note with the AirPods is how they feel – insecure. Ever since the X2s gave up the ghost I’ve been using the excellent Soundmagic E10c earbuds and I’ve gotten used to them plugging securely into my ears. In contrast, the AirPods feel precariously perched on the sides of my head. To be fair, though, I’ve tried to dislodge them with some vigorous head shaking and they’ve yet to fall out. It might be a case of me getting used to the different feeling rather than them actually being likely to drop out at any moment.

I’ve found a little hack involving some foam earbud covers that claims to solve the insecurity issue and also improve the bass response so I’ll be giving that a go in the next couple of days.

So, will I be keeping the AirPods? Right now I’m 60/40 towards yes. I need a little more time with them to decide whether the pros of wirelessness outweigh the cons of a slightly loose feeling fit and a reduction in sound quality from my E10c buds.

I’ll be back in a few days with some follow-up.

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