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Apple AirPods 2 with Wireless Charging Case review: Perfection in design

Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
159
inc VAT

An excellent pair of non-silicone tip earbuds with supremely slick iPhone integration although the price is a touch high

Pros 
Lightweight and very comfortable
Seamless integration with Apple products
Wireless charging
Cons 
Expensive
Treble can be harsh
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Apple’s AirPods 2 are, like their wired counterparts supplied free with iPods and iPhones for years, ubiquitous. In most busy city centres you can’t walk more than a few hundred metres without seeing someone with the small white sticks protruding from their ears and you see them all the time in TV news interviews.

Indeed, the original Apple AirPods are the headphones that legitimised and popularised the true wireless category, and – with good reason – have spawned a thousand copycat designs.

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Apple AirPods 2 with Wireless Charging Case review: What you need to know

This most recent model, sometimes referred to as the Apple AirPods 2, differs from the famous original in only minor ways. The main upgrade is to the charging case, which can now be charged wirelessly. Pop them down on any Qi-standard charging pad and the tiny batteries inside the case and the earbuds will slowly begin to recharge. You can also charge them via lightning cable if you find yourself without a charging pad to hand.

The AirPods 2 have voice-activated Siri – a feature you had to enable with a double tap in the previous model – there’s 50% more talk time with this latest generation of AirPods (3hrs vs 2hrs), faster switching between devices and lower latency for gaming and movie watching.

Otherwise, the AirPods 2 work and are designed in exactly the same way. These are true wireless earbuds, so there’s no cable connecting the buds together (or to your source device) and they’re meant to rest or hang in your ears, with the small stems pointing down and forwards over your earlobes, instead of being pushed right down your ear canals. As with most wireless headphones the AirPods transmit and receive audio over Bluetooth 5, in this case employing the AAC codec to compress and decompress the signal.

The main appeal with buying the AirPods over other manufacturers’ earbuds is that they make use of the latest Apple H1 wireless chip, which allows for seamless pairing with, connecting to, and switching between Apple devices. Plus, they’re designed with Apple’s usual attention to detail when it comes to usability and comfort. Sensors in each earpiece mean they pause audio when removed and resume when replaced in your ears, and voice detection means you can still use Siri while your phone is still in your pocket. What these AirPods don’t have, however, is active noise cancelling (ANC), so they’re not ideal for use in noisy environments.

Apple AirPods with Wireless Charging Case review: Price and competition

The Apple AirPods 2 are pretty pricey, even by modern standards. The list price is £199 with the wireless charging case (although they’re available on Amazon for £159) or £159 without it (£125 from Amazon).

This makes them the cheapest wireless Apple headphones (if you don’t count Beats) but you don’t have to hand over all your money to Apple if you’re prepared to forgo the seamless connectivity and voice-activated Siri. There are plenty of similar headphones that sound as good (if not better), work nearly as well and cost a significant amount less.

Buy the OnePlus Buds from OnePlus


One example is the OnePlus Buds. These have a similar design – they rest in your ear instead of being inserted all the way in – and they also lack ANC. They cost a mere £79, too, although they are bulkier in the ear and don’t sound quite as good as the AirPods.

For something a touch more low profile, the TicPods ANC are available at a list price of £80. These have silicone tips but still rest in the outer part of the ear canal and don’t push all of the way in, so they’re an option if you don’t get on with traditional silicone tip earbuds.

Of course, if you don’t mind having silicone tips protruding down your ear canals, there’s an even broader selection available with a particular highlight being the Sony WF-1000XM3 which cost a similar amount, sound better and come with ANC.

Apple AirPods 2 with Wireless Charging Case review: Design and key features

Despite the improvements since their debut, the main attractions of the AirPods remain the same as they ever were. First up, integration with other Apple products is completely seamless. The presence of the H1 chip means pairing is embarrassingly easy. Just bring them near your iPhone, iPad, MacBook or iMac, flip open the lid and you’ll see a popup appear. Just follow the prompts and a couple of moments later you’ll be good to go.

The experience continues to impress once they’re paired. Every time you flip the lid in close proximity of your phone, a similar alert appears at the bottom of the screen, this time indicating the AirPods are connected and how much battery charge remains in the earbuds and case.

This then changes when you take the earbuds out of the case to show how much charge is left in the earbuds only. And, if you only remove one bud, the popup shows how much charge is left in each earbud and the case. It’s a super slick experience and switching between devices works quickly and easily as well.

The other key integration is voice-activated Siri, an improvement that this second generation of AirPods brings over the first. Instead of having to double tap to activate your phone’s voice assistant all you have to do is say “Hey Siri” and then ask your question. Usefully, Siri can be called into action for all sorts of tasks, including skipping, pausing and playing music, as well as adjusting volume up and down and calling contacts.

There are touch controls available, too, but they’re pretty basic. Only a double tap gesture is available, although you can customise the associated action (skip next/previous, play/pause and activate Siri are available). It’s also possible to turn off the touch controls if you prefer.

Although nothing has changed from a physical perspective, there’s still a lot to like about the earbuds themselves. Indeed, if you’ve found comfort to be an issue with silicone tip earphones you may find that you fall in love with the level of comfort on offer from the AirPods.

Obviously, this does depend on whether they fit your ears in the first place – I’d urge you to try a friend’s pair out if you can –  but I’ve never worn a pair of earphones so pleasingly free from irritation as the AirPods, and I’ve found I can leave them in pretty much all day without getting ear ache.

If you make a lot of phone calls during the working day this, coupled with decent microphone quality, means they’re an excellent alternative to a Bluetooth headset and, if you do feel the need to free an ear while chatting, you can simply pull one out, pop it into the charging case and carry on your conversation.

The only thing that might get in your way is the battery life, which at only five hours for music playback or three hours talk time for the earbuds, with an extra “up to 24hrs” listening time or “up to 18 hours” talk time available from the charging case, isn’t the best around.

The lack of passive sound isolation also means the AirPods don’t block out any ambient noise, so you can hear what’s going on around you at all times. This might not sound like a positive but there are plenty of situations where hearing what’s going on around you is desirable: while talking on the phone, for instance or crossing the street, or if you’re working at home and want to keep an ear out for the doorbell.

There are some negative things to watch out for, though, and the biggie is that there’s no official water or sweat resistance rating. A quick Google will reveal that they’ll take plenty of abuse, though, so I wouldn’t be too worried about a rain shower or a little bit of sweat killing them.

More concerning to those who like to keep their tech looking pristine is that the plastic covering the charging case picks up marks and scratches incredibly easily. Just a couple of weeks of occasional use was enough for scratches to appear on the front of the case and I was being ultra careful. A year or two of being chucked in pockets with wallets and (shudder) keys and I can’t imagine how scuffed up it’ll end up looking.

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Apple AirPods 2 with Wireless Charging Case review: Sound and microphone quality

Still, the way the case looks doesn’t affect the way these earbuds work or sound and, on the latter front, the Apple AirPods 2 are remarkably good. While the AirPods can’t match over-ear headphones like the AirPods Max, or silicone-tipped earphones like the AirPods Pro or Sony WF-1000XM3, the sound quality on offer is a lot better than you’d expect.

Bass, for starters, is remarkably full and rounded given there’s no physical seal between the buds and your ear canal. Fire up Fritz Kalkbrenner’s upbeat dance number, Bright, and you’ll find there’s more than enough thump and drive to get you nodding away to the music at your desk.

The headphones don’t quite reach down into the lower depths, which means the beginning of Trentemoeller’s Moan lacks a touch of impact but there’s still enough here to enjoy the music.

The mids aren’t quite as rich as I’d like and vocals suffer as a result but, again, the headphones are far from horrible to listen to. Melody Gardot’s succulently silken tones come across nicely on My One and Only Thrill and although Gregory Porter’s powerful baritone lacks a little richness in the presentation, it’s still balanced and listenable.

Surprisingly, it’s at the top-end that the AirPods are weakest. While there’s plenty of detail, some will find the prominence of the treble rather tiring and sibilant in places and certain tracks – Leo Sayer’s You Make Me Feel Like Dancing being one – can be a tough listen on the AirPods.

It’s a similar story with microphone quality. While they’re never going to be able to compete with a proper USB Podcast microphone for pure sound quality (and you should definitely consider purchasing one if you do a lot of video calls from home), the AirPods work supremely well for phone calls, FaceTime and Zoom chats on the hoof, cutting out background noise effectively without creating undesirable audio nasties.

I tested this by recording my voice against the background noise of a bus engine running and was able to hear my voice and words clearly when I played that recording back. They’re more effective than the OnePlus Buds, certainly, which cut out the background noise just as effectively but introduce some rather unpleasant feedback when you speak.

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Apple AirPods 2 with Wireless Charging Case review: Verdict

The biggest problems with the Apple AirPods 2 are the major features they lack: ANC and any form of passive sound isolation. As a result, they leak sound and don’t cut out background noise at all when listening to music or watching video. If you want a pair of headphones that cut you off from the outside world, the AirPods 2 are not what you’re looking for.

If that isn’t a priority, however, they do most other things very well indeed and there are plenty of reasons why you might want to consider buying a pair. The sound quality is better than you might expect, they’re incredibly comfortable, the microphones work well in quiet and noisy environments and, if you own Apple products, the integration, pairing and switching between devices really is second to none. I just wish they were a little bit cheaper.

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