Apple uses many different types of chips for their various mobile devices. Chips are categorized by a single letter.
A-series chipsets are designated “Systems on Chip” or SoC for short and are ARM-based processing cores (CPUs). These form the brain of iPhones, iPads, iPod Touch and Apple TVs.
S-series chips are “System in Package” or SiP processors. System refers to the S chips containing customized application processor that work with memory, storage and support processors to form a complete computer in a tiny package. Because of this S chips are used in Apple Watch exclusively.
W-series chips are also System of Chip (SoC) chips that focus on wireless connectivity utilizing Bluetooth and WiFi. These chips are found in Airpods, Beats headphones and newer Apple Watches.
It is this Apple-designed W chip that we here at Lightning Cans are most interested in because it helps make wireless connecting with Bluetooth headsets almost seemless.
Which Phones Work With W1 Chips?
First of all, the W1 chip augments the functionality of Bluetooth. This means that any iPhone, or Android phone for that matter, with Bluetooth functionality can pair with W1 chipped headphones.
However, if you want to get the quick-pairing and battery-saving functionality for which the W1 chip was designed you need an Apple devices made after December 20th, which was the date when the first W1 enabled Airpods were first released into the wild.
Devices that are able to communicate with and make use of the W1 chip in headphones include:
- iPhones, iPads, and iPod Touch’s running iOS 10.2 or newer
- Apple Watch on WatchOS 3 or newer
- Mac with MacOS Sierra or newer
Again, older devices can work with W1-enabled headsets, they just use regular Bluetooth instead of the W1 Bluetooth which is faster and uses less battery.
So, which headphones come with the W1 chip built-in? Apple’s of course!
List of W1 Headphones & Earbuds
Since the W1 chip is a proprietary Apple chip it is only found currently in products which Apple produces under their brand such as Airpods, or in brand Apple owns such as Beats by Dre.
While other chip types are made by third party companies and are thus found in a variety of different phones, both Android and Apple, the W1 chip is only used in products Apple owns and it is unlikely they’ll be sharing their tech anytime soon.
Currently there are only 4 models of headphones on sale that feature the W chip. These are:
- Apple Airpods
- Beats Solo3 Wireless
- Beats PowerBeats3 Wireless
Future Beats models and newer versions of AirPods will feature Apple’s new W2 chips. It is highly unlikely that Apple will license their chip technology to other 3rd party manufacturers, so other headphone makers will either have to stick to cabled-headphones or rely solely on plain old Bluetooth technology.
Still, even there there are only 4 main models of headphones that make use of Apple’s wireless chipset they cover both over-ear and in-ear varieties so there should be a model to suit your individual needs.
Personally we think Airpods look dumb as all heck, not to mention Apple has a horrible track record when it comes to the audio quality coming out of their earbuds. If you listen to hip-hop, electronic or anything with some decent bass we recommend a more securing-fitting earbud, like any of the Beats products as opposed to Airpods.
However if being able to take phone calls without your hands is important to you, then Airpods will be your best choice.
Primary Benefits of W1/W2 Chips
One of the biggest annoyances of Bluetooth headphones is the difficulty in pairing them with your smartphone. Bluetooth pairing can sometimes be spotty. For example if you disconnect frequently or connect to multiple devices on a regular basis reconnecting can be a nightmare.
The W1 chips remember your Apple device after initial pairing so they then reconnect on average of under 3 seconds every time you use them. In terms of convenience this is a huuuge benefit.
Power Sipping Efficiency
The second biggest downside to Bluetooth headphones is short battery life. Apples W chips are ultra-low power consuming, which gives AirPods an industry leading (non-cabled wireless earbud category) listening time of over 5 hours on one charge.
Another test compared the battery life of Beats Solo2 which use regular old Bluetooth technology to Beats Solo3, which utilize Apple’s power-saving W1 chip. The Solo2 had playback battery life lasting 12 hours. The W1-chipped Solo3 had 40 hours of playback. That is a full 100% increase in total playback time.
Most Bluetooth headphones on the market today utilize “class 2” Bluetooth technology because it balances low-medium power consumption with moderate transmitting distance. Still, class 2 Bluetooth can only transmit on average up to 33ft (10 meters).
Smaller W1 chipped headsets can communicate with smartphones and tablets up to 100ft. This includes AirPods and Beats X models. Bigger headsets with more power behind them can reach up to 200ft without issue.
Thus, for things like going to the gym having Apple W1 chip enabled headphones can be a huge convenience as you can leave your big fat phone in your gym bag in a locker or on bench while you move about the gym going about your workout without worrying about losing your wireless connection to your workout music.
Cross-Device Connectivity via iCloud
Apple is all about the ecosystem and the ability to have your smartphone, laptop and desktop all sync seamlessly is one of the biggest reasons people remain so loyal to the Apple brand.
W1 headphones are designed to work across devices without the usual disjunction associated with pairing difficulty with normal Bluetooth headsets. The W1 chip pairs with iCloud, meaning any device connected to iCloud can then be paired without issue.
This means once you set up your headphones or earbuds you can connect them to your TV, your phone or iPad without having to connect to each device individually. This is a huge time saver if you own multiple Apple products.
The Future of Wireless Listening
Apple unveiled their W2 chip in the Apple Watch Series 3 last year and is set to include it in an updated version of their AirPods sometime in late 2018 or early 2019. The W2 chip will then be updated in Apple’s Beats by Dre products as well.
The new chip is supposed to be even faster and more energy efficient than the current W1 chip, which is a very impressive feat.
Still, while all this wireless tech is intriguing we still prefer our cable headphones. No matter how fast they connect most Bluetooth headsets just cannot compete when it comes to audio quality with wired options.
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As power users (we listen to music while commuting, while at work and at the gym on a regular basis) we don’t like having to depend on re-chargeable lithium ion batteries. Even the best Bluetooth headphones run out of juice after under 10 hours, and being stuck in the gym with a pair of dead earbuds is a terrifying prospect.
For these reasons and more we still prefer cabled headphones. “But Apple removed the headphone jack, so you HAVE to go wireless!” you may exclaim.
While Apple did take the “bold” step of removing the traditional 3.5mm headphone jack they still have the Lightning port and let us tell you, there are a large, and quickly growing market of Lightning-cabled headphones out there that boast insane smart listening features like App-controlled equalizers and active noise cancellation, all without needing to be constantly recharged.
Do you use wireless headphones? Are you a die-hard AirPods lover? Want to share your insight into what you feel works best with your Apple products? Let us know in the comments below, we want to hear from you!
Last update on 2018-09-23 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API