Apple AirPods: the audiophile review

Apple AirPods: the audiophile review

The AirPods convey a full sense of the mood and intent of the music I listen to. By that, I mean that they’re not technically spectacular. They don’t fill my world with a sparkling shimmer when listening to “Rachel’s Song” on the Vangelis Blade Runner soundtrack, but they still put me in that longing, wistful mood. Similarly, the AirPods’ bass doesn’t make my world shake, but it still hits with surprising impact on songs like Woodkid’s “Iron.” There’s enough of everything — bass and treble extension, soundstage, clarity, and detail — in Apple’s tuning to render a convincing reproduction of most genres of music.

I say the AirPods aren’t technically amazing, but that’s only when comparing against existing standards for sound quality. In the category of truly wireless earbuds, the AirPods are the best I’ve yet heard.

Apple’s AirPods design, which I initially ridiculed, is actually the best and most functional one available for truly wireless buds today. Because Apple moved the Bluetooth electronics and batteries to the stem, it was able to use the full cavity of each bud for sound reproduction. That’s how the AirPods reproduce a wider soundstage than most Bluetooth earbuds without being any thicker or protruding from the ear. For a counterexample, you can try listening to the Jaybird X3s, which are very well tuned, but everything inside them sounds condensed like a closed accordion because of how close the sound driver is to the listener’s ear. Apple’s design compromise, extending that stem down toward the face, is simply the most optimal one we have at the present time. Yes, the AirPods are designed for function first, in spite of their stylized appearance.

The AirPods still come with substantial compromises. They don’t isolate external sound at all, and so you can carry on a conversation with someone next to you without ever taking them out. That renders the AirPods difficult to use for noisy urban commutes (where you’re likely crank up the volume to unsafe levels to compensate), and it also leads to people just leaving them in at all times, which is irritating to others.


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Apple AirPods: the audiophile review
One reviewer’s belated discovery of Apple’s best first-gen product in years

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