So in case you’ve been living under a rock Apple just finished up a big product launch event in which they unleashed the new iPhone 7 upon the world, which looks pretty dope and comes in a super-soft scratch-loving gloss black version, and as expected, finally made it official that they’ve dropped the headphone jack and also designed wireless earbuds they call “Airpods”.
For a quick, and we admit, stylish overview of the new Apple Airpods, check Apple’s video below:
As you can see, they talk a whole lot about design and not so much about the actual audio itself, which in our opinion, is a damn shame. Apple made it’s name largely because of the iPod, which is to say, a core part of their business is music, and to introduce a music delivery device such as Airpods without talking about the actual audio itself is like, opening a restaurant and promoting it by talking about the stylish chairs and tables and not the menu.
Apple does not talk about frequency response, impedance, or even the tech which which the audio is wirelessly streamed (It’s just Bluetooth btw). This can only mean that the audio just isn’t that great, like all Bluetooth earphones before it. That’s right, the new Apple Airpods use the satan of all audio-lovers technology, Bluetooth. Bluetooth Airpods. Eww.
Sure, there are a few benefits of going wireless, like freedom of motion, or if you just listen to top 40 hits and don’t care about audio quality. We’ve wrapped up the general pros and cons of Bluetooth headsets when we reviewed wired headphone Bluetooth adapters.
Overall though, if you’re even an amateur level audiophile and you love your music loud and rich, Bluetooth absolutely sucks, which means the Airpods will suck too. Here’s why:
Airpods Use Bluetooth, An Unreliable, Low Quality Technology
Audiophiles have long been repulsed by Bluetooth audio. The frequency range is limited, the sounds are distorted, connecting can be a nightmare and audio can stutter or stop mid-stream. Furthermore Bluetooth powered devices rarely have enough power to drive the large drivers required to create an impressive response range from the low down bass notes to mid and high level frequencies.
Many makers have been trying to perfect Bluetooth powered earbuds long before Apple unleashed their Airpods. Unfortunately, nobody has yet succeeded in making a positive listening experience to match the impressive cable-free design. Furthermore, as mentioned below, things like limited battery life and the need to recharge at some point anyways makes them a rare and kind of useless tech.
Can People Tell The Difference Between Bluetooth and Cable Headphones?
We scoured Youtube to find some simple real-life examples of how Bluetooth powered wireless audio, which is what the Airpods use, Bluetooth, have let down music lovers and casual listeners alike.
First, people that say you can’t tell the difference between cable audio and Bluetooth audio are full of crap. Go into your local Best Buy or audio store and try a pair of Bluetooth headphones and high end cable headphones.. not only will you immediately hear the difference you’ll know which is which because chances are the Bluetooth version will be substantially quieter than the cabled version.
If you are too lazy to go into a store and do a test yourself or you just don’t believe us check out this simple test video, where the same model of headphones, one cabled and the other Bluetooth are compared back to back by regular people. Spoiler alert, 100% of them could tell the difference!
So if average listeners can easily discern the difference between wired and wireless full-size headsets, what do you think people will say when testing an even smaller and typically lower-audio-quality device like earbuds?
Don’t take the guys in the video above’s word for it though, audio snobs on Quora have also weighed in and almost universally hate Bluetooth equally.
Well, fortunately for us, Unbox Therapy has been testing wireless (Bluetooth) earbuds for a few years already, finding the top of the line models currently available, setting them up and reviewing the audio quality. Again, perhaps Apple has worked some weird magic with their Airpods, but the fact that they rely on Bluetooth means we’re a bit skeptical about their performance, as you can see in the videos below, Bluetooth earbuds, even top-of-the-range models, have a tradition of disappointing.
And if thats not enough, a newer more high-end model, released in 2016 were also reviewed. Keep in mind these earbuds are using the most recent version of Bluetooth and incorporate the latest wireless charging tech, which means Airpods are unlikely to differ much in terms of hardware. Again, a year after the technology hit the market the listening experience is far from impressive.
Overall, we have to admit, for people who really care about audio quality, Bluetooth is satan. If you are passionate about your music you should stick to a cable powered device at the least.
Wireless Earbuds in a Wired Charging Case Still Means Charging
Seriously, can anyone see the conflict in logic here? Sure you remove the cable and need to charge your wireless headphones, which has always been a major drawback, but how do your magical Airpods get their power then? Well they have an internal lithium ion battery that works for a whopping 5 hours (so like, maybe a couple days), and then when they die, you need to put them into their special “charging case”, which then needs to be plugged into a power source via a cable.
So to very clearly summarize, even though the pieces that go into your ears don’t have wires, to actually use them, you still need to put them in their box and plug said box into a power outlet to charge them, meaning they are not a wireless solution at all, they’ve just added a step. Previously you only had to plug your Bluetooth headphones directly into a power source to charge them, now with Airpods you first have to put them in a second case and plug that case into a power source to charge them.
Ultimately you are sacrificing practicality for design, pure and simple, and it’s not pretty.
Lighting Powered Cabled Headphones Rock
We don’t understand why Apple chose to talk exclusively about wireless tech without highlighting the amazing potential that Lightning-connected headphones bring to the market! Sure Airpods look cool, but they sacrifice pretty much everything music lovers value in the process, including ease of use, audio quality and convenience in terms of charging.
Lightning cable powered traditional headphones on the other hand are absolutely wicked! Whereas previously to get a true audiophile experience you need 1. a high end set of headphones/earbuds 2. and digital-analog converter and 3. an powered (battery or rechargeable) amplifier to power said high end headphones with Lightning, because the cable transmits data, audio and power, you can remove all those things and build them into the headset itself!
For illustration purposes below is what you needed before when using a traditional 3.5mm jack connected pair of headphones to achieve superior levels of audio quality. Note how big, bulky and potentially tangled this whole janky setup is, not to mention the need to recharge the add-on components.
However, by integrating the converter and amplifier into the headphones and cable themselves, which has only been made possible now with the Lightning connector, the whole setup becomes a lot more streamlined and portable. Here’s a picture of the Audeze EL-8 Titaniums with their unique Cypher cable which we talked about in our review page. Take a look at how slick this setup is:
The potential Lightning connected devices is amazing as all the tools audiophiles love can now be integrated into the cables and headsets themselves, making for a much more fulfilling listening experience in a evolved, streamlined package.
Check out this video from Audeze on their Cypher cable, which performs all the tasks that previously required a bunch of clunky metal boxes and AA batteries to perform:
So in the end, we can’t fathom how Apple didn’t bother to talk about this, or incorporate this sort of technology into their Beats headphones to appeal to people who you know, actually care about the quality of their listening experience.
Apple, if you’re reading this, what is your audio department doing? Are they locked away in your basement? Please let them out and give them some funding. If you are going to focus so much on the tiny design details please at least put half that effort into producing tool that create a listening experience that matches design in terms of quality. Thank you. Oh, and we love the new dark black iPhone 7 design by the way.. absolutely dope!
So What Should I Get for My New iPhone 7?
Well, it depends on your lifestyle really. If you need music at the gym, do any type of movement like running or weightlifting where cables can be a serious nuisance then you might want to look into getting a pair of Bluetooth headphones or earbuds or even the Apple Airpods.
However if you don’t need freedom of movement and are cool with a cord because you value the high quality audio experience it delivers, then you do NOT want to get the Apple Airpods or any other wireless headset that relies on Bluetooth for it’s power, because Bluetooth sucks. You’ll want to get something that takes full advantage of the power the Lightning connector provides. Right now some top performers on the market are the Audeze EL-8 Titanium’s mentioned above and their over-ear sister the Audeze Sine. There’s also the Philips Fidelio M2L/27 for a compact high quality on-ear experience or if you’re looking for an in-ear/earbud solution the JBL Reflect Aware’s. Go to our review page to compare all of these models and more side-by-side.
The new headphone jack-less world is scary, as new change often is, but depending on how you react it can be a whole new exciting world full of strange and wonderful listening experiences.