Before buying Apple AirPods, you should know their main disadvantages.
Apple AirPods are some of the most popular wireless earbuds on the market – and since December 2020, when the AirPods Max arrived, the most popular over-ears too. Whether you’re listening to music, making voice calls or chairing a Zoom meeting, you can rely on the AirPods to do a good job. Due to many benefits of Apple AirPods, it’s nigh-on impossible to ride a bus or hit the gym without seeing a pair of Apple’s colourful oversized ear cups being pulled out of a bag, or Tim Cook’s familiar white buds poking out of someone’s ears.
In addition to the classic AirPods (2019), Apple has introduced a duo of pricier, noise-cancelling buds called the AirPods Pro, replaced them with the 2022-released AirPods Pro 2, and added the over-ear AirPods Max to the line-up. There’s also the AirPods 3 – a sort of middle ground between the Pro variant and the regular AirPods. So what are disadvantages of Apple AirPods?
1. They Are expensive
Being a premium product, the Cupertino giant’s AirPods don’t come cheap – in any of their guises. Granted, AirPods are more convenient, but they make you pay a lot more to enjoy that convenience. This is because making a pair of wireless headphones is more costly than making wired ones.
The added components that make Apple AirPods wireless inflate their bill of materials, i.e., the price of all intermediate goods required to create the final product. The higher this cost, the more you pay as a consumer.
The AirPods Pro are Apple’s noise-canceling version of the AirPods. They’re smaller and sleeker than the AirPods and come with an even heftier $249 price tag.
There’s the first AirPods disadvantage. $249 is a lot of money for a set of earbuds. For that sort of money, they don’t need to be good, they need to be pretty much perfect.
Simple touches — like Transparency Mode (which allows the outside noise in, which makes it feel like you’re not wearing earbuds) coming on automatically when you have one bud in, and noise-canceling kicking in when you add the second — are welcomed. And these features work and work flawlessly.
But, still, $249 is a lot of cash, especially when you factor in how long they will last. After two years original AirPods owners were starting to report that battery life was down to minutes, but you might be lucky and get three or more years or decent usage. But be in no doubt, these are disposable items, and the memory of dropping $250 on the earbuds might still be reasonably vivid by the time they start giving you problems.
Let’s assume a worst-case that they last a couple of years, then the AirPods Pro cost you $125 a year, or about $2.50 a week. I’ll let you choose whether that’s a good value or not.
2. They Require frequent Charging
In this day and age, where pretty much every gadget comes with a battery, having yet another thing to recharge from time to time is a major pain.
Having AirPods means one more electronic device that you’ll need to keep charged. And if you forget, your new headsets will be rendered useless.
On the other hand, wired headphones don’t need to be recharged as they come with an audio plug; the convenience of “plug and play” is nothing to take for granted.
Also, since you don’t have to recharge them constantly, they help you save some electricity and reduce your power bills just a little bit. While that may not be a big consideration for you, it’s an added benefit nonetheless.
3. They Have Latency Issues
Apple AirPods have come a long way, and the latency they used to have is slowly mitigating over the years. You may not notice the delay when casually listening to music, but if you are a gamer, you are well aware of how prominent those milliseconds can be.
Wireless latency is always a concern with any headphones or earbuds that use Bluetooth, but a new report points out that AirPods Pro 2 are way better than the generation they replace. But they still aren’t quite good enough.
Musician and developer Stephen Coyle has tested the latency of the first-gen AirPods, AirPods 2, AirPods Pro, and AirPods Pro 2 to see how well all of them handle latency. It turns out Apple’s latest earbuds are pretty great, but they’re still some way off being usable by people who need an instant response to things happening on-screen.
Sounds good, but not good enough
Coyle ran some tests by tapping the iPad Pro’s screen with an Apple Pencil and measuring the time it took for earbuds to play a sound. The results showed that the iPad Pro’s onboard speaker took 83ms to play the sound, giving us a baseline from which to work.
From there, the AirPods 1 took 296ms, and the AirPods Pro 167ms. The AirPods 2 were quicker at 153ms, with AirPods Pro winning the day with 126ms. That’s a notable improvement over the original AirPods Pro but a little off the baseline. “Perhaps a more interesting point to note is that the second-generation AirPods Pro perform only 43ms worse than the built-in speakers,” Coyle says.
However, as impressive as that might be, it isn’t good enough. Coyle says that “there’s still too much latency for audio feedback to feel snappy and responsive,” meaning some use cases still need wired headphones. Those are likely to be professional audio mixers and podcasters, but for everyone else, there’s a good chance that AirPods Pro 2 will be good enough for most things, if not all.
4. They Are Difficult and Expensive to Repair
This one is fairly straightforward. However, as AirPods have more components in their body, they are harder and more complicated to fix.
Apple will replace the batteries for $150, but that’s a lot of cash, and a significant chunk of the cost of an outright replacement, so I wonder how many will go down the route of getting Apple to fix them.
Forget about trying to repair them yourself, because you’ll fail and end up with a bunch of bits. I understand that it’s hard to make something that’s this small and integrated, and still keep it repairable, but the short lifespan, combined with the zero repairability, makes the AirPods Pro — and AirPods, along with every other product in this category — a crime against Mother Nature.
That’s not to say that wired headphones are a bargain to fix, of course. Depending on how high-end your headphones are, the repair prices vary. But by a general rule of thumb, repairing AirPods requires more work.
5. They Are not Ideal for Professionals
Pretty much all professional-grade headphones are wired, and that’s because wired cans are simply more reliable and are designed to be specialized as opposed to wireless ones that are made for the masses. This is also why studio headphones are so expensive.
For professionals like artists and audio engineers, headphones are a work investment for mixing and mastering tracks, not a tool for recreational listening. This means they must work as expected every single time and be tuned in a very specific way.
Apple AirPods are tuned to have fun and upbeat sound, i.e., a “V-shaped” sound signature. The sound signature is designed to manipulate the sound in a way that is pleasing to hear at the cost of losing accuracy and detail.
Professional wired headphones tend to have a flat or balanced sound signature to ensure maximum accuracy and precision of sound reproduction. Musicians can’t afford not to know how their track sounds; they need it to be as true-to-life as possible.
6. They Are not Environment Friendly
One disadvantage of AirPods is that they don’t last for a long time because their battery capacity usually decrease over time.
Like other Apple products, AirPods are not designed to be user serviceable. Sensitive circuitry is protected by a nearly impenetrable outer shell and held together with gobs of glue, but owners looking to keep the device functional will inevitably require a replacement for its diminutive Lithium-ion battery.
“For roughly 18 months, AirPods play music, or podcasts, or make phone calls. Then the lithium-ion batteries will stop holding much of a charge, and the AirPods will slowly become unusable. They can’t be repaired because they’re glued together. They can’t be thrown out, or else the lithium-ion battery may start a fire in the garbage compactor. They can’t be easily recycled, because there’s no safe way to separate the lithium-ion battery from the plastic shell. Instead, the AirPods sit in your drawer forever,” according to Vice magazine.
Finally, on the disposal end, one big disadvantage of AirPods is that they are highly toxic. The plastics, metals and batteries that go into making AirPods are rarely disposed of correctly. Most likely they will go into one’s regular trash.
Their compact design is attractive to buyers, but is intended for disposal and yet it’s difficult to do that without contributing to e-waste.
AirPods will stop holding a charge within a few months of purchase, and while Apple will be able to replace them with another set, that too will be heading for the pile.
When people throw AirPods away without a thought, they are contributing to a growing environmental problem of plastic waste.
7. They Face Connectivity Issues
Another notable disadvantage of AirPods is that they don’t always pair with your device seamlessly, forcing you to spend more time than necessary trying to get both to connect. Not to mention how there are a number of Bluetooth codecs, and not all of them will be compatible with your device. For example, Apple’s devices use ALAC (Apple Lossless Audio Codec) to provide high-res audio, but that standard doesn’t work with other devices. On the flip side, many devices will use Qualcomm’s aptX (and its variants) or Sony’s LDAC for high-res audio, but Apple’s iPhone and iPad support neither.
Some users of the second-generation AirPods Pro are reporting ongoing issues with their brand-new earbuds randomly disconnecting from their devices as they listen to music or watch videos.
Symptoms can also include an iPhone or iPad showing the AirPods Pro as connected, but no audio actually being played. Reports suggest the bugs are sporadic and apparently not caused by anything specific, with no clear fix.
Such problems are not entirely unique to the second-generation AirPods Pro, as customers of the original AirPods Pro that launched in 2019 have reported similar issues in the past. The new AirPods Pro, having launched three years after the original, have caused some users to be frustrated that bugs related to connectivity are seemingly not yet addressed.
This is not a problem with wired headphones, as you just need to insert the headphone plug into the jack. The only minor connectivity issue with wired headphones is that if your plug or jack is dirty, you may sometimes hear static noises, but that’s something a quick wipe from a dry cloth can easily fix.
So, yes, the AirPods are great. They are like not wearing earbuds. But they are also an abomination. AirPods disadvantages such as limited lifespan and zero repairability are hard to swallow. The price is startling. The fact that they rely on so much support baked into iOS that other manufacturers cannot access is also worrying because it gives Apple such a leg up over all the competition. I’m begging you—yes, you, dear reader. You have to stop buying the newest AirPods just because they work well with your iPhone. Just don’t. Buy any of Apple’s other models, which have the modern features (and comfy fit) you deserve.