Which AirPods should I buy? Expert advice to make the right decision

Asking 'which AirPods should I buy?' is a natural reaction to all the choice available. Here's what to expect from Apple's true wireless earphones

Woman running and wearing Apple AirPods
(Image credit: Apple AirPods)

If you find yourself wondering ‘which AirPods should I buy?’ we’ve got it covered. If you’re already an Apple user, the latest true wireless earphones will work well alongside your Apple Watch, Mac, iPad, or Apple TV

You can immediately start enjoying the benefits of AirPods - be it to stream music, exercise, make calls, FaceTime, do some gardening while listening to your favorite podcast, and more. 

The great thing about AirPods is how comfortable they feel and how seamlessly they divert the audio from device to device. With 'spatial audio with dynamic head tracking' you'll also notice how impressively 'magic' the sound is - the latest designs are built to keep you suitably immersed in audio as you move your head. 

Which Airpods should I buy?

Apple AirPods

Apple AirPods (3rd Generation)

(Image credit: Apple AirPods)

Stylishly designed for comfort, there are a number of reasons why AirPods are so popular. For example: 

1. The earphones give you a fast and stable connection to your devices and provide impressive sound quality. Automatic switching is a particularly slick and popular feature when using AirPods with your iPhone, iPad, and Mac. If, for example, you've just finished a FaceTime call on your Mac, and then go to watch a TV show on your iPad, the audio will automatically switch over. If your iPhone then starts ringing, your AirPods will pick up the audio so you can answer the call and start chatting with ease. 

2. The more advanced designs such as the AirPods (3rd generation) have 'spatial audio with dynamic head tracking'. This gives you a truly immersive three-dimensional listening experience. Its means you will hear the surround-sound channels in the correct position as you turn your head, with such clarity that you can enjoy every tone – from the deep, rich bass, to the crisp and clean highs. This makes AirPods ideal for when you want to get lost in your favorite movie and enjoy the theater-quality sound.

3. One-tap setup means you can use them right away. And something we particularly like is the 'in-ear detect' technology, which means the AirPods pause when you take them out of your ears and resume when you place them back. 

4. With Audio Sharing you can also easily share whatever you're listening to with someone nearby with one simple tap.

5. AirPods allow you to discreetly listen to music and podcasts without disturbing those around you. You can pop them in your ears when you're doing a workout and need to get 'in the zone' or use them for hands-free FaceTime calls. The clear audio will help you enjoy a free-flowing conversation. 

6. By using Apple's personal assistant you can enjoy hands-free control of your AirPods with a simple 'Hey Siri' command. Siri can announce notifications as they arrive and you can reply to messages using your voice. 

7. The latest AirPods also come with a MagSafe Charging Case that lets you charge your AirPods in the case for a certain amount of time. You also get an impressive amount of listening time on a single charge - up to 6 hours of wireless listening with the AirPods (3rd generation), for example. 

Which AirPods should I buy? 

Streamlined and minimally styled as you would expect from any Apple device, the latest AirPods come in four options. These include the AirPods (2nd generation), AirPods (3rd generation), and AirPods Pro true wireless earbuds. You can also buy AirPods Max over-ear headphones. 

AirPods are best suited for use with Apple products. They are, however, compatible with Android smartphones, tablets, and other devices that support Bluetooth headphones. You won't get the same 'magical' experience if you're using it with a non-Apple device, however. To help you answer 'which AirPods should I buy?' - so you can find a design that suits your setup - we've highlighted the best features below. 

1. AirPods (2nd generation) 

Apple AirPods (2nd Generation)

(Image credit: Apple AirPods (2nd Generation))

Priced at $219, the entry-level AirPods (2nd generation) include Apple’s H1 headphone chip for immediate pairing and Siri voice assistant control. While they don’t have 'special audio with dynamic head tracking', they do provide excellent sound quality and the handy 'automatic switching' feature that makes it easy to switch between the audio on separate devices - be it your MacBook, iPad, or iPhone. 

AirPods (2nd generation) give you up to five hours of listening on a single charge. You can use the force sensors on the AirPods to double-tap to play, skip forwards or answer a phone call, but you’ll need to use 'Hey Siri' commands to play songs and make calls, etc. You can also choose to engrave your AirPods case using a selection of emojis.

2. AirPods (3rd generation) 

Apple AirPods

(Image credit: Apple AirPods 3rd Generation)

The latest AirPods (3rd generation) cost $230 and come with a host of impressive features. A step up from AirPods (2nd generation), they include ‘spatial audio with dynamic head tracking’ for impressive three-dimensional sound quality. They are also designed to be sweat and water-resistant. 

AirPods (3rd generation) give you the ability to automatically switch between devices and come with six hours of play on a single charge. You can pop them in the MagSafe charging case for just five minutes to top up and that will quickly generate an hour of listening time.

The force sensors on the AirPods (3rd generation) also give you a bit more control compared to the AirPods (2nd generation), and allow you to press, play, pause and skip through songs as well as answer and end calls. Siri voice control is also just a command away.

3. AirPods Pro

Apple AirPods Pro

(Image credit: Apple AirPods Pro)

AirPods Pro, priced at $352, come with all the benefits of the AirPods (3rd generation) including ‘spatial audio with dynamic head tracking’, Apple’s intuitive H1 chip, Hey Siri voice control, a MagSafe Charging Case, and automatic switching capabilities. 

One of the reasons the AirPods Pro stand out, however, is their Active Noise Cancelling capabilities – blocking out the noise around you so you can focus on what you want to hear. Switch to Transparency mode and you can let the outside noise in when you want.    

AirPods Pro are also designed with a choice of three flexible silicone tips so you can find the best fit and ‘feel the music, not your headphones’.

The AirPods (3rd generation) do have the upper hand when it comes to battery life, however, providing 6 hours of listening time on a single charge compared to the AirPods Pro’s 4.5-hour offering.  

4. AirPods Max

Apple AirPods Max

(Image credit: Apple AirPods Max)

If you don’t like the idea of earbuds, you can opt for AirPods Max over-ear headphones that come with the best earphone features Apple has to offer. 

Noticeably different in price, a pair of AirPods Max will cost you $747. Like the AirPods Pro, they let you switch between Active Noise Cancellation and Transparency mode depending on how lost in the music you want to get. 

AirPods Max have the benefits of spatial audio with dynamic head tracking, Hey Siri voice control, and an impressive 20 hours of listening on a single charge. They also come with their very own ‘smart case’ and the headphones can be personalized with an engraving of your choice.  


Which AirPods should I buy? Our verdict: 

Depending on your budget and design preference, there's a great range of AirPods to choose from. 

From a purely practical point of view for those not keen on placing anything in the ear, the AirPods Max over-ear headphones are a good choice.  You will pay far more for these compared to the standard AirPods, although you will get the benefit of Active Noise Cancellation and Transparency modes and 20 hours of play on a single charge. 

You may, however, be surprised at how comfortable AirPods earbuds actually feel. It's also worth noting that you can return your AirPods directly to Apple Store within 14 days of purchase from Apple Store, should you not be happy with the purchase. 

Overall, we found the AirPods (3rd generation) to be a great mid-price option as they provide all the benefits of 'spatial audio with dynamic head tracking' for exceptional sound, are comfortable in-ear, and are packed with clever features you'll no doubt be able to use daily. 

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.