How to use Apple AirPods - the step-by-step guide to getting the best sound

Wondering how to use Apple AirPods? Here's what to expect from Apple's true wireless earphones

how to use apple airpods
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If you're keen to know how to use Apple AirPods, we’re here to help. But we must warn you that once you know how to use Apple AirPods there's no going back - convenient and comfortable, with great battery life and hands-free 'Hey Siri' functionality, AirPods are a natural buy for any Apple user. You can use them alongside your Apple devices such as Apple Watch, iPhone, Apple TV and MacBook Pro to complement the experience. 

The latest designs have 'spatial audio with dynamic head tracking' that provides an impressive three-dimensional listening experience. The compact wireless charging case they come in is also pretty nifty, as is the way they pause audio when you take them out of your ears and resume when you place them back. 

When asking yourself 'which airpods should I buy?', there are plenty of options to choose from. If you’re not keen on the idea of putting earbuds in your ears, you can choose the AirPods Max over-ear headphone versions instead, which come with all the best AirPods features and plenty of battery of life too. But here we run through how to use and set up the best features on the latest AirPods (3rd generation).

Apple AirPods

(Image credit: Apple AirPods)

How to use Apple AirPods

The four latest AirPods designs include the Apple AirPods (2nd generation), the Apple AirPods Pro, the Apple AirPods Max and the Apple AirPods (3rd generation). While they have similarities in setting up, there are a few differences in performance, price and functionality. Here we have focused on set up details for the AirPods (3rd generation), which is the latest design to hit the shelves. 

How to set up AirPods (3rd generation)

1. One tap set up: With the Apple custom H1 headphone chip, set up of your AirPods is simple. AirPods are designed to ‘work like magic’ as soon as you open the charging case. Apple devices signed into iCloud will pair automatically. You need to make sure you are connected to WiFi and turned on Bluetooth, but you’ll no doubt be pleasantly surprised at how intuitive your AirPods are as they instantly connect with a simple tap.

2. Connecting to iPhone or iPad: If you’re connecting them to an iPhone or iPad, simply open the AirPod case and hold it near your device for instant pairing.

3. To connect to other devices: Open the case and press the green button on the side until the light blinks. Then select the AirPods in your Bluetooth settings on your device.

4. Make the most of Spatial Audio: This gives you the best sound quality - ideal for movies, FaceTime and listening to music. It comes with the latest AirPods (3rd Generation), AirPods Pro and AirPods Max. You can turn on spatial audio in the Control Center on your iPhone. You need to touch and hold the volume control and choose the status - be it for fixed use spatial tracking or head tracking.

Apple AirPods (3rd Generation)

(Image credit: Apple AirPods (3rd Generation))

How do I control my AirPods? (3rd generation)

1. Play and pause: AirPods are clever in that they can sense when they’re in your ears and pause when you take them out. To control your AirPods, press the force sensor on the side of the AirPods to play or pause. Double press to skip forward and triple press to skip back.

2. Use Apple's Siri voice assistant: You can also activate Apple's voice assistant Siri on your AirPods for hands-free control. Simply say 'Hey Siri' to wake it up and command it to control music, calls, volume and more. Siri can also announce notifications to you as they arrive, and you can reply to messages with your voice. To activate Siri go to settings on your iPhone, and turn on 'Listen for Hey Siri'. 

3. Change the volume: While you can't use the force sensor to change the volume on your AirPods, you can use the 'Hey Siri' command or manually change the volume on your device such as an iPhone or MacBook Pro. 

4. Answer a phone call using your AirPods: To answer an incoming call, press the force sensor on the side of your AirPod. To decline a call and send it to voicemail, double-press the force sensor.

Can I use my AirPods with other devices?

While AirPods were made with Apple users in mind, they can be used with Android smartphones and tablets and other devices that support Bluetooth headphones. It’s worth bearing in mind however, that you won’t get the same ‘magical’ experience using a non-Apple device. 

If you’re keen to try out alternative true wireless earbuds, there are a number of designs to buy from the likes of Cambridge Audio, JBL, Sony, Panasonic and more.

Apple AirPods (3rd generation)

(Image credit: Apple AirPods (3rd generation))

How do I clean my AirPods?

When cleaning your AirPods it is important not to submerge them in water or cleaning fluid. Advice on the Apple website suggests the following:

You can use a 70-per cent isopropyl alcohol wipe to clean your AirPods, AirPods Pro or Max. Alternatively, you can use a soft and dry lint-free cloth to clean your AirPods and charging case.

Remember that AirPods (2nd and 3rd generation) and AirPods Pro are water- and sweat-resistant and not waterproof and sweatproof - there is a difference! They are not designed for swimming or to be used with any water-sport activity. 

After a workout, it's advisable to clean them with a dry lint-free cloth before you put them back in the MagSafe Charging Case. 

One of the UK's most respected tech and smart homes writers, Emily Peck also covers everything from interiors style to decorating trends. She is a contributor to Wired UK, and has also had a column in House Beautiful. She has written for publications such as Grand Designs, Stylist, Shortlist, Woman&Home, BBC, Ideal Home and House & Garden. She was once the Features Editor of Ideal Home.