The Airpods’ biggest design ‘flaw’ is actually their greatest strength — here’s why I think Apple got it right
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- Apple’s AirPods are the best pair of totally wireless headphones I’ve tried, despite breaking one of the most common design rules for earbuds.
- Instead of having gummy tips, which create a full seal around your ears to stop outside noise from leaking in, the AirPods are made entirely out of hard plastic.
- Because they don’t create as tight of a seal, the AirPods may not sound quite as good as other high-end earbuds, but in my experience, they’re the only pair of totally wireless earbuds that reliably sits in my ear.
- The other totally wireless earbuds I’ve tried so far have their tight seal broken within a couple of minutes, because they’re much more sensitive to movement. Once the seal is gone, music doesn’t sound as good, and they fall out.
Apple’s AirPods aren’t the best-sounding headphones I’ve tried, or even the best looking, but they’re still the pair I reach for when I’m not working on a headphone review. At first I thought it was because they were the only totally wireless headphones I owned, but I’ve tested a couple of other pairs recently, and it made me realize the AirPods’ biggest design “flaw” is actually their biggest strength.
Most earbuds have gummy tips, which create a “seal” around the inside of your ear that’s important for two reasons. First, it creates an environment where outside sound can’t leak in, so you can listen to your music without being interrupted by outside noises, like a subway car or people walking on the street. Second, by creating that ideal environment, your music will actually sound better, especially lower bass frequencies.
The AirPods break that design rule. Instead of having gummy tips, they have a hard plastic shell, like Apple’s wired earbuds, the EarPods. They don’t create a tight seal, and sit on the inside of my ears instead of totally plugging them up. This design lets outside sound leak in, which is annoying, but it actually helps the AirPods stay in my ears.
Totally wireless earbuds rely on their seal for more than just audio quality. They actually need that tight seal to stay securely in your ears. Unfortunately, it doesn’t matter if I’m sitting, walking, or running — all of the gummy-tipped wireless earbuds I’ve tried fit into my ears nicely for a couple of minutes, then start loosening up.
Eventually, the seal the earbuds created breaks, and one or both of them fall out of my ears. Because the AirPods don’t have to maintain a seal, they’re the only totally wireless headphones I can reliably keep in my ears for more than a few minutes at a time.
The AirPods’ design also solves another problem I’ve come across when testing earbuds: finding the right-sized tip for my ears. Most earbuds ship with sets of small, medium, and large eartips, so you can find the ones that fit best. AirPods are one-size-fits-all, and while they may feel like they’re going to fall out, they’re surprisingly good at staying in my ears.
Like I mentioned earlier, outside noise does leak in through the AirPod because they don’t create a tight seal, but that doesn’t mean they sound bad.
In fact, they sound quite good, regardless of the genre of music I’m listening to. Competing earbuds that do create a seal do sound better, but it’s hard to concentrate on the music I’m listening to when I have to stop and rearrange them in my ears every few minutes.
It’s frustrating for my music to have to compete with outside noise during my commute, but turning up the volume a little higher than I normally would mostly solves that problem. Choosing between a pair of totally wireless earbuds that fit OK but sound great, and another that sounds good but fits great is easy, which is why I think Apple made the right call with the Airpods’ hard plastic design.
There are rumors that Apple is going to release more headphones in the future, and I have no doubt that they’ll sound even better than the AirPods you can get right now. I only hope that Apple doesn’t mess with the AirPods’ design too much, because they’ve solved a couple of the biggest problems facing totally wireless earbuds by breaking the rules.