If you’re a music fan, you’ll know how important a decent, reliable pair of headphones can be. Whatever brand you use, you’ll certainly have heard of AirPods. If you’ve got a pair, you’ll know how much they set you back – if you don’t, you might be put off by the price tag, or wondering if they’re really worth it.
Let’s take a look at why AirPods are so expensive, including AirPods Pro and AirPods Max, and what alternatives are available if you don’t want to cough up for the real thing.
Table of Contents
Why Are AirPods So Expensive?
The main reason that AirPods cost so much is that they’re a high-quality, well-made product. Apple is known for its designs, build quality, and high retail price, and the AirPods are no different.
It’s also worth mentioning that there are different versions of the AirPod available, and they each come with a different price tag.
- For 2nd Generation AirPods, you can expect to pay around $130.
- For 3rd Generation AirPods, you can expect to pay around $170.
- For 2nd Generation AirPods Pro, you can expect to pay around $250.
- And for AirPods Max, you’re looking at a $550
But … Why?
But what actually justifies that price? Well, the AirPods, from any range, are packed with useful features and specifications which most people believe make them worth the money. You only have to look around when you’re walking down the street to see how popular they are. If that many people are willing to pay the asking price, they must be worth it.
AirPods are not a particularly groundbreaking piece of technology. Wireless Bluetooth earphones have been around for a while, and there are plenty of alternatives out there that cost less, around the same, or a hell of a lot more than the AirPods themselves.
One of the main selling points of AirPods is their seamless integration with mobile devices, particularly Apple ones. And, as iPhones are so popular, it makes sense that Apple-designed headphones that work with them are best-sellers.
AirPods have great sound quality – not the best – but a lot better than what you might get from a similar headphone for a cheaper price. They’re tough and durable, as well as convenient.
The inbuilt touch controls that work in tandem with the iPhone are another big selling point. The ability to play and pause music with just a tap of the finger, Automatic Ear Detection, and their compatibility with Siri make them highly desirable.
And, they’re not just limited to use with other Apple devices. AirPods can be paired with Android devices too, as well as laptops and computers from any manufacturer.
They also come with a portable case that protects and charges the AirPods, even on the go. You can even engrave anything on the case, making it truly personal and unique.
On top of all these great features is the fact that Apple AirPods are sleek, stylish, and minimalistic.
They look great, they sound great, and they’re tough.
What About AirPods Pro and Max?
There are differences between AirPods, AirPods Pro, and AirPods Max, both in terms of features and price. But, as a rule, the more expensive the AirPods get, the more sophisticated the technology inside them is.
Let’s do a quick comparison to highlight the differences between the types of AirPods, and investigate why the AirPods Pro and Max are priced that much higher.
Before we get into it, let’s take a quick look at AirPods Gen 2 vs Gen 3.
2nd and 3rd Generation AirPods
The main difference between the two generations is the option to get a MagSafe charging case with the Gen 3 AirPods. This, plus the improved battery life (5 hours vs 6 hours for Gen 2 and 3, respectively), are the main differences between the 2nd and 3rd Generation AirPods.
The 3rd Generation also has sweat- and water-resistant technology, and spatial audio.
The AirPods Pro is the next step up from the original AirPods Gen 2 and 3, and comes loaded with technology and features not available with standard AirPods. Some of these features are:
Spatial Audio & Head Tracking
Spatial audio is a feature that, while also available on third-generation AirPods, is one of many new additions introduced with the Pro line that many believe justify the price tag.
This new feature is a tool that directionally maps sounds in a 3D audio space around you. This means that instead of just a typical left-right stereo mix, you can hear music on a whole range of positions across the 3D audio space spectrum.
Sound is normally mixed in a 5:1 or 7:1 channel setup, with the 1 being the subwoofer, which is unidirectional.
While this is a feature usually reserved for speaker systems, the AirPods Pro and 3rd Generation have attempted to capture some of that dynamic directionality and package it into a headphone.
The head tracking feature is exactly what it sounds like. The AirPods will sense how and when you move your head, and attempt to modify the mix in order to constantly balance and rebalance the sounds you’re hearing.
This is supposed to keep the directional sound consistent throughout playback. The whole thing is designed to create a listening experience similar to hearing music on surround speakers in a room, but in headphone format
Listening Time/Battery Life
As with the 3rd Generation AirPods, the AirPods Pro have an extended battery life. From one full charge, Apple boasts 6 hours of listening time.
And what’s even better, with the charging case fully charged as well, you can recharge your AirPods and AirPods Pro on the go. A fully charged case can provide up to 30 hours of listening time!
AirPods Generation 2 and 3 both have H1 chips in their processing hardware. Without wanting to get too technical, these basically improve the performance of the headphones – especially when used with an Apple device like an iPhone, iPad, or iMac.
H1 chips allow AirPods to pair faster with other Apple devices, and with a strong and reliable connection that almost never drops out.
This, coupled with the improved power efficiency of the H1 chip compared to others, make the AirPods 3rd Generation a step above the competition.
The AirPods Pro, however, are made with an H2 chip, which includes all of the above, improved battery life, and some extra features, which we will discuss in more detail below.
Active Noise Cancellation
Active noise cancellation in AirPods Pro is a technology designed by Apple to further improve the AirPods’ noise canceling capabilities.
This involves a tiny microphone on the outside of the earbud that will detect noise from external sources. Once the AirPods Pro have detected noise, they will counter it with ‘anti-noise’ in order to silence sounds that can disrupt your listening experience.
This refers to the ability of the user to turn Active Noise Cancelation up or down as they see fit. This in effect allows the listener to decide how much of the outside world they wish to hear while listening to audio on their AirPods Pro.
This is a great safety feature, for example if you’re walking on a busy road, it could save your life if you can hear what the traffic is doing. Additionally, it can be great if you’re in an environment where you’re likely to be approached and spoken to, such as the gym or a workplace.
The AirPods Max is very different from the Pro. They are over-ear headphones that feature a hefty price tag and … no off switch! Which many see as a slightly strange design choice.
In terms of features, they have most of the same as the AirPods Pro, with a few differences:
The AirPods Max uses an H1 chip instead of an H2.
They have Transparency Mode instead of Adaptive Transparency. What this means is that the level of noise cancellation is not customizable – it’s either off or on, with no in-between.
The main pull of the AirPods Max has got to be the battery life. From one charge, they will run for 20 hours! As there is no off switch to be used in order to preserve power with intent, AirPods Max comes with the Smart Case – a small pouch that puts the headphones into super-low-power mode, in an attempt to conserve battery power.
The main problem with this case is that it only covers the over-ear headphones, and not the strap, so it doesn’t offer much protection.
Alternatives to AirPods
If after reading all this you still can’t justify the hefty price tag that AirPods come with, you might be thinking about alternatives. And you’re in luck – there are plenty of great wireless headphones available that have great audio quality, design, and usability. The only thing they don’t have is the fashion clout!
Let’s take a look at some of the most popular AirPods alternatives out there.
Rated the best in terms of sound quality when compared with AirPods, and coming somewhat close in terms of appearance, these Sony earbuds are complete with noise canceling technology, 8 hours of one-full-charge battery life, and 24 hours with the charging case.
JBL Reflect Flow Pro
Complete with noise cancelation technology and 30 hours of battery life, these JBL headphones well and truly give Apple a run for its money, especially when it comes to … money!
These Panasonic earbuds are great value for money, and although they only have around 6.5 hours of battery life from one full charge, it’s still more than the AirPods, and for a fraction of the price. Noise cancelation and superb touch controls make them a highly competitive product.
Google Pixel Buds A-Series
The only entry on this list to not feature noise cancelation, these very reasonably-priced earbuds from Google offer great sound quality and a decent 5-hour battery life from one charge.
It’s easy to be left with your jaw on the floor when you first learn just how expensive AirPods are, but as you can see, there’s a lot of cutting-edge technology packed into them, and their fluid compatibility with Apple devices makes them an obvious choice for many iPhone users.
But, despite how it may feel when you start really noticing just how many people have AirPods, they’re not the only headphones out there! And, for a fraction of the cost, you can get something just as good, or in some areas, even better!