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Best AirPods 2022: The top Apple headphones rounded up

Introduction

Looking to invest in a new pair of AirPods but aren’t sure where to start? This guide will point you in the right direction with AirPods headphones to suit different budgets and different uses. 

Not everyone was convinced by the stem-shaped design when they launched in 2016 but the style has increased in popularity over the years, with countless rival audio brands releasing their own similar-looking earbuds. 

One of the biggest selling points to the AirPods is their deep integration with Apple’s iOS operating system. This makes them an obvious choice for iPhone, iPad and Mac users in need of a pair of headphones that will work seamlessly with the other devices in their bag. 

Because there are so few models available, all three pairs have naturally made their way onto this list. Instead of narrowing down your options, this guide will explain the pros and cons of each pair and help you make the best choice when buying your next (or first) pair of AirPods. 

Each pair of headphones in this list has been thoroughly tested for an extended period of time, our reviewers have examined everything from the design and battery life to features like ANC and Spatial Audio to, most importantly, sound quality. 

If you’re looking for another type of headphone make sure to check out our guides to the best headphones, best wireless headphones and the best wireless earbuds. For those of a more fitness equation, there’s also our list of the best running headphones

How we test

How we test headphones

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.

So we listen 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

Best Apple earbuds
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Pros

  • Much improved design over original AirPods
  • Excellent noise cancellation
  • Well integrated with the Apple ecosystem
  • So comfortable

Cons

  • ANC strength can’t be manually altered

The AirPods Pro are the only pair in this list to earn 4.5/5 stars from our reviewers, making them our highest rated AirPods. They’re also the most expensive buds with an RRP of $249 / £239, so that will play a factor in any purchasing decision.

The Pros succeed in ways the standard AirPods fall short. We found the silicone ear tips offered a more secure fit than the plastic ends on the AirPods, while the addition of active noise cancellation does a decent job of blocking out unwanted noise, allowing us to focus more on the music we were listening to. 

Of course, the most important upgrade here is in the audio. These earbuds offer deeper bass, a wider soundstage and a warmer tone compared with the older AirPods 2. Despite that, when it comes to rival brands, the AirPods Pro don’t sound as good as more recent efforts such as Sony WF-1000XM4 and Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 3.

Like the rest of the headphones that feature on this list, the AirPods Pro integrate seamlessly within the iOS ecosystem, enabling quick movement between Apple devices without the need to re-pair. The strength of the ANC can’t be adjusted though, and the headphones have a shorter battery life than the more recent AirPods 3 at 24 hours total. Nevertheless, these are the most feature-packed true wireless AirPods available.

Reviewer: Max Parker

Full review: Apple AirPods Pro

Apple AirPods 3

Best AirPods under £200
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Pros

  • Small, compact design
  • Much improved sound
  • Unmatched iOS and macOS integration

Cons

  • No ANC
  • Poor in loud environments

The AirPods 3 are the third gen model in Apple’s standard AirPods line, and for iPhone users they are an easy recommendation for 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

AirPods Max

The best over-ear AirPods
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Pros

  • 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

Cons

  • 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.

Reviewer: Max Parker

Full review: Apple AirPods Max

FAQs

Which AirPods models support noise cancelling?

The AirPods Pro and the AirPods Max both feature active noise cancellation, while the AirPods 3 do not.

Can the AirPods be charged wirelessly?

The AirPods 3 and AirPods Pro support wireless charging. The AirPods Max don’t – they need an Apple Lightning cable to charge the headphones.

Do the AirPods come in different colours?

The AirPods 3 and AirPods Pro 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.

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Comparison specifications

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