It might be two years since their release, but Apple’s AirPods continue to enjoy sales success, with consumers still flocking to grab Apple’s first real foray into headphone tech. Millions of pairs have been sold in the past couple of years, while AirPods have shaped the street scene xqconsiderably, making a massive impression with the younger generation.
There’s more than one reason why this inconspicuous accessory has become California’s most successful and bestselling product in its category within a very short period of time. It’s no wonder consumers love them so much, with these headphones working incredibly smoothly with other Apple devices. In fact, we praised this exact functionality in our test of the first generation of AirPods almost two and a half years ago. Reception wasn’t without criticism, however. The touch operation was one such area, with the functionality simply not going far enough for our liking. Another area where we’d hoped for more than what we received was sound. In fairness, the first generation of AirPods didn’t perform badly when it came to sound, but it was hardly the enlightening audio experience Apple had teased. All in all, we’d have simply liked a slightly finer resolution. However, it seems that sound specs don’t actually mean all that much to the average buyer nowadays. A recent survey by Counterpoint Research revealed that only 41% of buyers consider sound quality a decisive consideration when purchasing new headphones, with wearing comfort the key factor. Some 68% of survey participants went for wearing comfort as their number one concern. On a quick side note, it seems that the manufacturer, Bose, is singled out as an exception when it comes to sound demands. The same survey revealed that 72% of respondents underline sound quality as their most critical criterion when purchasing a pair of headphones from the brand.
You can only take your hat off to Apple when glancing over its sales statistics. In 2018 alone, the American tech giant was responsible for a more than respectable 75% of worldwide sales of all wireless headphones. However, this popularity has more to do with branding than it does with superior sound performance. As someone who seeks out the latest innovation in audio tech, this stings a little, not least because headphones have never been more technically proficient and with so much potential as they have today.
However, Apple has now moved toward rectifying this with the release of the AirPods 2. Not only are there a few sound refinements with this second generation model, there’s firmware updates for owners of first generation tech looking for another way to upgrade. Touch operation has been made a little more flexible than with the first model, but changes are minor to moderate. Apple also claims to have digitally refined audio playback, promising an experience more magical than ever. Whether or not these headphones do indeed deliver the “high-quality rich sound” the manufacturer assures us of remains to be seen.
How Do the New AirPods sound?
I’ll kick off again with our full Spotify Playlist “Music for testing your headphones” and listen to the tracks I focused on during my original test of the first generation AirPods. How do the big orchestra numbers perform? How well do the new AirPods function with a more intimate acoustic track? In both instances, the news is good. Things are better, but not massively improved upon the first generation AirPods. Admittedly, the stereo image is wider and deeper, with “Portraits of Cuba” by Paquito D’Rivera coming across as a much livelier production than it did before. In particular, the spatial aspect of the audio is more refined, with individual instruments easy to pick out. Amber Rubarth’s “Strive” is perhaps the best example of showing the differences between the first and second generation AirPods. The Cajon percussions sound a bit more precise, while transients are sharper with the new model. The electronics section of the playlist continues with Moderat’s bass-heavy monster, “Bad Kingdom”, which enjoys a better reproduction across the lower frequency range than it did with the AirPods 1, while the lower mids are still given just enough space that they don’t overshadow other instruments. Vocals don’t suffer from sounding as muffled as they did with the original model, with a more direct character. Sometimes, things get a little harsh in the midrange, possibly because AirPods are aimed at more general user, not just those looking for something to play music playlists, but also those seeking something that allows for speech communication. As with the predecessor model, I’m left pining for more brilliance in the upper tiers of the frequency range. The hiss of hi-hats doesn’t go far enough for my liking, although I’ll happily admit this is a personal preference.
The New H1 Chip – Faster Connection and Lower Latency
While the original generation of AirPods utilised the W1 chip well enough, Apple has opted to pursue an upgrade for its follow up line of AirPods with the so-called H1 chip. This chip should guarantee faster and more stable connections, promising to be twice as fast when switching between active devices. This chip brings with it all kinds of functional enhancements, such as the ability to activate in-house virtual assistant, Siri, not to mention ensure lower latency when playing games. In theory, this means no noticeable discrepancy between picture and audio. For gamers, this is a welcome upgrade.
How will this all work in practice? Well, let’s check it out. The range is great, with more than 20 metres tested and no dropouts to report. I have never experienced such smooth sailing with a Bluetooth headset before. Switching between devices? It takes no more than three seconds for the AirPods to disconnect from an iPhone and connect to an iPad. As for latency, these earphones never showed any lag, with both my Netflix and YouTube video streaming showing no obvious delay. The same applied to tests with my gaming selection. The only, slightly noticeable lag was experienced when playing around on a drum set.
Wireless Charging Case
Incidentally, the overall form of these headphones and the charging case it connects to are identical to the first generation of AirPods. To save time on describing the same details as last time, please refer to the review of the first generation of AirPods.
If you’re feeling yourself swaying more toward wanting to buy this update on Apple’s AirPods, then you’ll have to make a decision regarding charging function. Do you want them to come with a conventional charging case? With this, you can charge via Lightning cable to any USB port. Alternatively, there’s the wireless charging pad. This is simply a Qi-compatible pad atop which the AirPods 2 are placed. While the former charging solution has a recommended retail price of 179 euros, the wireless alternative comes in at a hefty 229 euros. Owners of a first generation pair of AirPods looking to partially upgrade to the Qi-enabled case will be able to do so for a price of 89 euros. A firmware update to version 6.3.2 that will facilitate such upgrades is also due.
Worth the Upgrade?
If you already own a first generation pair of AirPods and can make do with the dwindling battery performance of your audio gear, it’s hard to make a case for the upgrade. This AirPods update has some improvements and minor innovations that deserve a nod, but there’s not enough here to warrant you swapping out the original model for its successor. However, anyone who has lost their original AirPods or is suffering from the hassle of a defective battery should definitely consider the second generation of Apple’s AirPods. When you factor in how much a replacement charging case would be for a first generation model or how much you’d be shelling out for a battery fix, the asking price of a brand new pair of AirPods 2 makes a much more budget-friendly decision. In fact, opting for a new pair should work out cheaper than investing in a repair or part replacement of original AirPods.
Apple has taken their time to make a classic bestseller even better. The second generation not only sounds better, but offers faster connection with Apple devices. Those who like to their catchup long can now enjoy an average of three hours talk time, as opposed to the two hours previously allowed for. Let’s now forget the negatives hidden beneath this top layer of perks, however. After such a wait on seeing this product hit shelves, it would have been nice to have seen more of an aesthetic update, even something marginal. What’s more, touch operation is crying out to be refined. After two years in development, there’s really no excuse as to why it hasn’t.
- Ear couplingIn-ear
- Transducer principledynamic
- Weight without cable8 g
What's in the box
- Lightning USB charging cable
- Charging case
- System requirements: macOS 10.14.4, iOS 12.2 or watchOS 5.2