Apple AirPods make life without a headphone jack easier

As TR readers are no doubt already aware, the newest iPhones do not have 3.5mm headphone jacks. Regular old analog headphones can still be connected to Apple's latest phones through the use of an included adapter, but wireless headphones might be a more elegant solution. Apple certainly thinks so, and alongside its new flagship phones, the company introduced a pair of wireless earbuds that it calls AirPods.

The concept of  is hardly new. The Bragi Dash is probably the most well-known product in the category, but Earin, Jabra, Kanoa, and even Apple's biggest rival Samsung all have similar products. Apple sets the AirPods apart from the competition through tight integration with its other products, including the iPhone and Apple Watch. A double-tap on the AirPods alerts Siri to listen for voice commands. That's a good thing, because the AirPods have no buttons.

Optical sensors in the AirPods can detect when they are in your ears and when they aren't, allowing them to pause music when they're removed from the ear. The AirPods are also equipped with accelerometers that allow them to detect when the user is speaking, which Apple says will improve voice clarity for commands and phone calls. All this gadgetry and automation comes courtesy of a specialized processor that Apple calls W1. The company credits the W1 chip with the AirPods' exceptional power efficiency, and says that the AirPods can play for up to 5 hours on a full charge.

The AirPods come with a dedicated hard-shell charging case. This case not only protects the AirPods when they're not in use—it's also a charging station. Apple says that 15 minutes of charging in the case can provide the AirPods with three hours of listening, and that the case can provide five full charges to the AirPods for about 24 hours of listening. When placed in the case, the AirPods will automatically turn off, and after being connected the first time—simply a matter of opening the case near the iPhone or Watch and pressing a "Connect" button—the AirPods will automatically reconnect when removed from the case. Apple uses its iCloud service to automatically connect the AirPods to any compatible Mac or iDevice the user owns, as well.

Apple says the AirPods will be available in late October for $159. That price might seem high compared to conventional earbuds, but it's actually quite reasonable compared to most of the competition's wireless headphones. Samsung's Gear IconX wireless earbuds start at $199, for example.

Comments closed
    • rhema83
    • 4 years ago

    I see many problems with Apple’s decision to lose the 3.5mm port and draw users to these AirPods (or other BT earphones/headphones).

    Problem #1 is the lossy nature of BT audio. The audio stream is compressed with lossy SBC and sent over the air to the AirPods where it is decoded. 1.2 Mbps FLAC will sound the same as 256 kbps AAC after going through this process.

    Problem #2 is electronic component quality. The W1 chip needs to be a SBC decoder, DAC and headphone amp in a tiny package. Apple can’t squeezes high-quality components into that space. The Cirrus Logic (or TI?) DAC/amp onboard the iPhone 6S is certainly superior. There’s frankly no need to pack good quality DAC/amp into the AirPods though, because of problem #3.

    Problem #3 is the audio driver quality. EarPods, which the AirPods are based on, are mediocre at best, using a cheap dynamic driver with a bass port. The sound quality is not even on par with $50 IEMs. I notice that very few BT earphones on the market have enthusiast-grade components and drivers, save for a few that have optional wired connections to the source. My guess is that manufacturers all know about problems #1 and #2. That brings me to my personal gripe.

    Audiophiles have long been using external DACs and amps, so the loss of the 3.5mm port is of no consequence to them. But since the iPhone onboard DAC/amp is quite good, many people including myself avoid a bulky external DAC/amp setup and simply bought good earphones (I own a pair of 6-driver CIEMs). With the lightning-only setup, we’re stuck with either the dongle, which is a step down from the onboard DAC/amp; carrying an external DAC/amp; or expensive and mostly mediocre-sounding BT earphones that need recharging.

    Buying BT earphones is not an option after putting nearly one grand into CIEMs, so I am going with external DAC/amp. I recently got a Sound Blaster E3, a very nifty and tiny external DAC/amp that supports BT, to try out before deciding whether I should get a phone without a 3.5mm port.

    • LoneWolf15
    • 4 years ago

    And suddenly, my pedestrian uncomfortable Apple in-ear buds rose to $150 cuz…wireless.

    Not saying I need the headphone jack much, and I’d get quality wired phones and adapt the Lightning connector, hopefully with a pass-through to charge. But they look like highly-evolved (and by that, I mean only in the sensors and wireless part) versions of the uncomfortable, don’t-stay-in Apple Ear Pods I have a pair of in my desk, which also don’t sound anything like even my budget Ultimate Ears Head.Fi 3 wired set I’ve had for years.

    If I pay that much for headphones, it’s for audio quality and fit…not for no wires.

    • Welch
    • 4 years ago

    So you just have to be expected to pay Apple their ransom for a stupid design choice that locks you into their overpriced crap and benefits you in no way.

    Bluetooth headphones have been around exactly how long Apple? Don’t go talking about the stupid sensors, accelerometers and other things to eat the already anemic battery life.

    You know it is sad when the biggest news about a PHONE is an accessory.

    • juzz86
    • 4 years ago

    Better get started on Find My AirPods!

    • albundy
    • 4 years ago

    nothing like losing your earbuds on the subway tracks when they fall out…and they will. also, cant wait to see the authentic fake chinese versions on fleabay.

    • egon
    • 4 years ago

    How many AirPods, other Bluetooth headphones and WiFi devices will work together in a confined space (e.g. train carriage) before connectivity problems become significant?

    • jts888
    • 4 years ago

    It would be nice to get some clarification for what exactly “up to” 5 hours listening really means.

    How much, if at all, will things like volume and bass boost affect battery life?

      • tipoo
      • 4 years ago

      Down to two hours used for phone calls fyi

      • albundy
      • 4 years ago

      that’s the max amount of hours probably on medium volume. the best battery life i got was from the jaybird X2’s, which came in at 8+ hours listening to music on medium volume, but cranked the volume up to 12 out of 15 on my smartwatch music player. I only needed to charge them about once a week.

      • lilbuddhaman
      • 4 years ago

      [url<]http://www.sengpielaudio.com/calculator-levelchange.htm[/url<] here's the math on loudness, voltage and all that jazz. But to keep it simple, energy vs loudness increase on a logarithmic scale. So if you're blasting your earbuds, you could be talking much less the battery life advertised.

    • lilbuddhaman
    • 4 years ago

    $159!

    That’s TWO HUNDRED AND SEVEN DOLLARYDOOS!

    • Srsly_Bro
    • 4 years ago

    Gone are days when earbuds are tangled in drawer. Blessed be to Jobs.

    • Theolendras
    • 4 years ago

    Paving the way for an autonomous phone/watch eventually…

    • derFunkenstein
    • 4 years ago

    I am not a fain of the idea of [url=http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0118570/<]Air Buds[/url<]. I would not recommend anybody spend $160 on a pair of [url=http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0140796/<]Air Buds[/url<]. $160 is far better spent on like 5 pairs of the regular buds since you'll just lose them repeatedly. Off-topic: I can't believe how many [url=https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Air_Bud_(series)<]Air Bud movies[/url<] there were.

      • davidbowser
      • 4 years ago

      I know this all too well. My kids have seen at least 3-4 of the “Buddies” movies. Snow, Santa, and Spooky off the top of my head.

    • blastdoor
    • 4 years ago

    the pods don’t fit my ears well and if the sound quality is no better than Apple’s standard pods then I don’t see the appeal to anybody.

    However, there are other aspects that seem potentially cool.

    I’d like to know more about what the W1 really does with respect to audio. For example, does it receive an AAC file from and then decode it, rather than receiving a stream of compressed audio? Does that even make sense?

    • moose17145
    • 4 years ago

    I have a pair of bluetooth over the ear headphone I use with my android that I only paid like 30 bucks for off amazon that get something around 10+ hours of battery life that I use all the time while working out.

    Ear buds dont work for me, the dumb things are either super uncomfortable or fall out of my ears. So over the ear for me it is. Which is fine, they are more comfortable that way, and can have both superior sound quality and battery life due to their larger size.

      • End User
      • 4 years ago

      Those $30 BT headphones will work just fine on a iPhone 7.

    • Voldenuit
    • 4 years ago

    Yet *another* news piece on this dumb phone?

    C’mon TR, find some way to write a news article about the 3.5mm to lightning adapter, you can do it, buddy!

      • davidbowser
      • 4 years ago

      Meh. The same thing happens when they send someone to the any conference or big press thing. I end up just skimming these posts .

    • sweatshopking
    • 4 years ago

    Jaybirds last longer, stay in better, and cost less. #nothanksapple

      • iBend
      • 4 years ago

      and (most likely) sounds better

    • Kretschmer
    • 4 years ago

    As someone who misplaces or destroys a few sets of earbuds each year, this is not my product. 🙂

      • Chrispy_
      • 4 years ago

      I see [i<]a lot[/i<] of iPhones. A lot of phones I see are have cracked screens. Those two sentences [i<]could[/i<] be unrelated, but they're not. iPhone buyers seem to be the most disorganised and clumsy demographic.

        • synthtel2
        • 4 years ago

        There are plenty of other ways those things could be related, too.

          • Chrispy_
          • 4 years ago

          But the other ways put the blame on Apple, who are perfect and do no wrong!

        • iBend
        • 4 years ago

        that’s why apple offers AppleCare+
        and the only way to gain benefit after you join this program is to break your iPhone twice

          • Chrispy_
          • 4 years ago

          Must be true, username checks out.

    • tipoo
    • 4 years ago

    “and says that the AirPods can play for up to 5 hours on a full charge.”

    I like how much they called that unprecedented due to the W1 chip…The nearly equal priced new Bragi ones were rated 6 hours.

      • Kretschmer
      • 4 years ago

      My wired earbuds are rated for infinity hours.

        • invinciblegod
        • 4 years ago

        WRONG! You forgot to factor in wire wear and driver blowout!

      • tanker27
      • 4 years ago

      but do the Bragi’s have dual mics and accelerometer?

      /snark

    • barich
    • 4 years ago

    I’m not sure if this could read any more like a press release.

      • ljaszcza
      • 4 years ago

      Really. I hope TR got paid by Apple for this one.

      • superjawes
      • 4 years ago

      This is the news section…it is literally used to cover material in this way.

      If this post lacks some of TR’s signature sauce, it probably has something to do with its author, Zak, who I think is new. Give him some time to develop his snark.

    • tipoo
    • 4 years ago

    Earpods, now falling out of your ears without a cord attached so they can go straight into a gutter.

    They work in my right ear fine, but they come loose and fall out of my left ear a lot. Stupid ears.

    I hope they updated the sound signature from the stock 29 dollar buds (and including in the Lightning earpods). They had quite a heavy vaseline filter blurring together voices and closely played notes.

      • tanker27
      • 4 years ago

      some enterprising person/company will make a nice cord to wrap around the arms. it’ll cost 50 + bucks.

      Me, I’ll just go to my spool of 550 cord and cut at 12″ piece and tie it to each arm of the headphones.

        • tipoo
        • 4 years ago

        I thought about sugru’ing them to make a better fit.

          • willmore
          • 4 years ago

          If you do end up trying this, go to a local hunting goods store and get a ‘make at home’ kind of earplugs kit. You’ll get a small amount of silicone putty which you can use to form perfect ear molds into which you can press your hedphones. A few minutes with a drill and a sharp knife later and you have perfectly fitting earphones.

          Edited to add this link: [url<]http://www.howtogeek.com/57481/how-to-make-custom-silicone-ear-molds-for-your-in-ear-monitors/[/url<]

            • Chrispy_
            • 4 years ago

            That’s what Sugru is, he covered that already.

            • willmore
            • 4 years ago

            No, Sugru cures hard. Silicon rubber cures soft and flexable–like something you’d want in your ear.

        • drfish
        • 4 years ago

        [url=https://smile.amazon.com/Colorful-Braided-Eyeglass-Sunglass-Retainer/dp/B015XLPC2G/<]These[/url<] should work.

      • superjawes
      • 4 years ago

      Basically what I said earlier. Many, many wireless headphone/earphone models have some way of attaching to the user’s ears. Heck, they could have used rubber inserts to make these wireless IEMs and it would have made some sense.

      But with nothing tethering them to the ears, we’re going to see a lot of moaning about lost AirPods when these release.

      • derFunkenstein
      • 4 years ago

      I can’t imagine the [url=http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0161220/<]Air Buds[/url<] sound any better than the regular kind, but I'm sure that Beats will come up with their own kind of [url=http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0337812/<]Air Buds[/url<] that cost $349 and have lots of exaggerated bass.

        • tipoo
        • 4 years ago

        Oh early ‘aughts and your crazy dog movies

      • davidbowser
      • 4 years ago

      [quote<]Earpods, now falling out of your ears without a cord attached so they can go straight into a gutter. [/quote<] This was pretty much my immediate reaction. I have run with the normal ones, but after an hour or so they either start to hurt or get slippery. I will stay with what I got for now.

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