If you own an iPhone then a pair of AirPods can make for the perfect addition, but which one should you get? Read on for our definitive verdict on the best AirPods.
From the base AirPods to the ANC-toting AirPods Pros to the high-end over-ear AirPods Max, there’s a sizeable collection of Apple headphones. This only makes the dilemma of selecting which pair is right for you even more confusing.
Our team of experts have tested all of the Apple AirPods, past and present, and we know which ones are worth picking up in 2023. We test everything from sound quality to battery life to how comfy they are to wear for extended periods of time. We wear them on our daily commutes, in a loud office and even on a plane (if we have the chance).
AirPods only have limited functionality when paired with even the best Android phones. They still work, however you will miss out on some features – Siri and Spatial Audio being two examples – so if you’re an Android fan who’s come across this page then we recommended looking elsewhere at our best wireless earbuds round-up.
Still, if you are an iPhone user who’s interested to know what AirPods alternatives are out there before you make a final decision, you can also check out our round-ups for the best headphones and best wireless headphones. To know which AirPods made the cut as our current favourites, then keep reading on.
Best AirPods at a glance:
How we test
Not just anybody can review a pair of headphones. You don’t need superhuman hearing to tell what’s good, but you do need to know what to listen out for.
Our headphone tests are done by some of the best and most prolific reviewers in the industry, with years of experience listening to everything from the plasticky freebie earbuds that come with your smartphone, to five-figure beasts of glass and marble. We love music and we want your tunes to sound good, too.
We listen to every pair of headphones we can get on or in our ears. We use a variety of sources, from basic MP3s playing on a laptop to high-quality tracks on dedicated hi-res audio players.
Our test tracks are wide-ranging to give headphones a thorough challenge. They’re also familiar, so we know every track backwards, and we know which bits might trouble the lesser performers.
We listen again and again, and we do that for weeks in case the sound changes – because it usually does. Then we’ll listen to similarly priced rivals and come up with a verdict that reflects the performance and features for the money.
Apple AirPods Pro 2
Best Apple earbuds
- Excellent ANC
- Rich, warm sound
- Charging case gets some neat features
- Many of the best features are iPhone and Mac only
Like the AirPods Pro, the AirPods Pro 2 are currently the only headphones on this list to earn a score of 4.5/5. Not only are the Pro 2 the highest-rated Apple earbuds we’ve tested, but they’re also the most expensive at $249 / £249.
The AirPods Pro 2 are Apple’s most advanced true wireless earbuds, moving beyond the AirPods 3 in terms of design, sound and feature set and packed with internal upgrades over the 2019 AirPods Pro.
The most obvious distinction between the AirPods 3 and the AirPods Pro 2 is the addition of active noise cancellation, a feature available on the original model. The AirPods Pro 2 have had a major upgrade in ANC with our reviewer commenting that they cleared away slightly more noise when used on the underground than even the Sony WF-1000XM4 were able to do. Sadly there’s still no way to manually adjust the noise cancelling or transparency mode, with both automatically adapting their performance to what’s around the listener.
The 2nd Gen AirPods Pro receive a boost to battery life with 6 hours in the earbuds and 30 in the case, matching the standard AirPods even with ANC on. The charging case also comes with some handy new features, including a lanyard loop for a wrist strap or to attach the AirPods to your bag, as well as a speaker for Find My and charging alerts.
As with the Pros, the Pro 2 come with silicone ear tips instead of the hard plastic tips found on the AirPods 3, offering a more secure fit. This time there’s also an XS size tip for smaller ears.
As with every pair of AirPods we’ve tested, iOS integration is excellent. Multi-device switching means that pairing with one Apple device will allow you to connect to your other Apple phones, laptops and tablets.
The audio quality is impressive, too. The Pro 2 have a full and rich sound, with the H2 powering a performance that reaches beyond the original Pro. This is especially evident in the clarity and detail found in the vocals.
The AirPods Pro 2 aren’t the best choice for those not already invested in the Apple ecosystem, as some of the best features rely on this factor. The Pro 2 are also expensive, though they’re still cheaper than the AirPods Max.
Reviewer: Max Parker
Full Review: Apple AirPods Pro 2
Apple AirPods 3
Best AirPods under £200
- Small, compact design
- Much improved sound
- Unmatched iOS and macOS integration
- No ANC
- Poor in loud environments
The AirPods 3 are the third-gen model in Apple’s standard AirPods line, and they are an easy recommendation for iPhone users and those after a pair of true wireless earbuds.
The AirPods 3 feature a redesign with a shorter stem than those on the 1st and 2nd generation models, and the size of the housing is bigger so it can fit more ears. We took them on a couple of runs and found the buds stayed put. They’re a decent bet for fitness workouts with an IPX4 rating that protects against sweat and rain.
The AirPods 3 have a longer battery life than the Pro model at 30 hours total (6 in each earbud) and like the Pro they take advantage of MagSafe support, which allows them to magnetically attach to supported chargers for a simpler connection.
Like the other AirPods on this list, there’s excellent iOS and macOS integration for iPhone and Mac users. The implementation of Spatial Audio with Dolby Atmos, which supports immersive 3D audio with head tracking, and we found the effect a little off-putting when listening to something and moving around a lot.
To our ears, the sound quality is an improvement over the AirPods 2, but the vocals aren’t as crisply delivered as they are on the Pros. There’s also no noise cancellation, and with the open design that means sound will leak and affect what you’re listening to. They’re not the cheapest AirPods available as the AirPods 2 are still on sale at $129 / £119, but the improvements across the board are worth the jump in price.
Reviewer: Max Parker
Full Review: Apple AirPods 3 review
The best over-ear AirPods
- Wonderful, versatile sound
- Many clever design elements and strong build quality
- Spatial audio can be immersive for the apps that support it
- Strong connection to the Apple ecosystem
- Lack of ‘off’ button is annoying
- The included case is bad in just about every way
- Heavy and can’t be folded down
- The high price can’t be ignored
The AirPods Max are Apple’s first pair of over-ear AirPods and their high price of $549 / £549 instantly makes them more expensive than Sony’s WH-1000XM5 and Bose NC Headphones 700, but we still found a lot to admire about these headphones.
The design is one we found to be rather unique, very comfortable to wear with the Apple Watch-like Digital Crown and buttons built into the ear cups instead of gesture controls, an aspect of the headphones we appreciated for the physical feedback they offered. Unlike the true wireless AirPods, there’s a range of colourful choices to pick from, but the headphones can’t be folded due to their design and the carry case (which also charges the headphones) doesn’t offer much protection and looks very silly.
There’s powerful adaptive noise cancellation that rivals that offered by the likes of Bose’s NC Headphones 700 and Sony’s older WH-1000XM4, and there’s the usual fantastic integration with the Apple ecosystem, along with Spatial Audio Dolby Atmos for more immersive listening with Apple Music and some supported apps. Battery is towards the lower end of the market at only 20 hours, so they lack the longevity of Sony’s headphones.
We found the audio quality to be excellent, the dual H1 chips and Adaptive EQ producing a balanced sound that impresses across a wide range of music. There’s plenty of bass to count on, while we never found higher frequencies to sound stressed either, and no distortion when the volume is pumped up. The lack of any Hi-Res Audio support is a mark against it when cheaper Sony and Technics headphones feature that level of support.
If you want some of the features of the AirPods Max, but without the high cost, it’s worth looking at the Beats Studio Pro.
Reviewer: Max Parker
Full Review: Apple AirPods Max review
The AirPods Pro 2 and the AirPods Max both feature active noise cancellation, while the AirPods 3 do not.
The AirPods 3 and AirPods Pro 2 support wireless charging. The AirPods Max don’t – they need an Apple Lightning cable to charge the headphones.
The AirPods 3 and AirPods Pro 2 are only available in a glossy white finish. The AirPods Max come in an array of colours that includes silver, space grey, sky blue, pink and green.
We also considered…
The AirPods Pro excel when it comes to comfort, and offer an impressive sound, too
First Reviewed Date
Apple AirPods Pro 2
21.8 x 24 x 30.9 MM
Custom high-excursion Apple driver
Apple AirPods 3
Pink, Blue, Green, Silver, Black