The Best Apple AirPods Models to Buy in 2023
If you have an iPhone or an iPad, then you might be on the lookout for Apple AirPods to get the most out of your devices. And while there are only a handful of models in the AirPods lineup, it still may be tough to narrow down the choices from just the prices and specs alone.
That’s where we come in. From the wallet-conscious to the luxury shopper, we sorted through every model, highlighted each strength and weakness, and pinpointed which pair earbuds is best for you. We even added a few alternatives for shoppers who might think AirPods are a bit limiting. Check out our detailed guide on which AirPods you should buy in 2023,.
TL;DR – These are the best Apple AirPods models to buy
Apple AirPods Pro (Second Generation)
The Apple AirPods Pro (second generation) are the pick of the litter. They offer some of the best audio and strongest active noise-canceling features out there, while their customizable eartips make it possible to get a tight seal in your ear canals to effectively block out just about all ambient noise.
Additionally, they feature an Adaptive Transparency mode that dampens down loud environmental noises, like at a concert or sporting event. If you want the best model from the AirPods family, then the AirPods Pro are our pick with their sleek design, long battery life with their wireless charging case, outstanding audio, on-ear volume and music controls, and top-tier noise-canceling features.
Apple AirPods (Second Generation)
If you’re looking for an affordable pair of AirPods, then the Apple AirPods (second generation) are the way to go. They retail for $129 at Apple.com, but you can find them for much lower, if you dig around. In fact, Amazon has them on sale for $99. Sometimes, you can get them for as low as $79 during Amazon Prime Day or Black Friday, making them reasonably priced budget earbuds.
Although they were released in 2019, AirPods feature phenomenal audio, a long battery life of up to 24 hours with its included charging case, double tap for music navigation, and seamless Bluetooth connectivity for just about all Apple devices—including the iPhone, iPad, MacBook, Apple TV, and much more.
Want something even cheaper? The Apple EarPods are not wireless AirPods, but they get the job done, if you want a pair of wired earbuds. They’re nothing fancy, but a quick, easy, and cheap way to privately listen to your favorite music and podcast with high-quality audio. The EarPods connect to an iPhone with a Lightning cable, while they also have a built-in remote to control music, podcasts, phone calls, and volume.
Apple AirPods (Third Generation)
Best for Comfort
Released in 2021, the Apple AirPods (third generation) are the most comfortable pair—thanks to their open-back design. This makes wearing them easier on the ears because they don’t seal up the ear canals like active-noise canceling wireless earbuds. Instead they rest in the ear, which makes a more comfortable and easy-going listening experience—especially for long periods of time.
Meanwhile, these AirPods, which are also sweat- and water-resistant, also feature force sensor music controls and fantastic sound with spatial audio—which makes it feel like audio is surrounding you. These make this model a big step up from the second generation.
Apple AirPods Max
Best Over Ear Headphones
While the Apple AirPod family is made up of most wireless earbuds, there is one exception: The Apple AirPods Max are the only over ear wireless headphones from the tech company. Made with a knit-mesh canopy headband and memory foam ear cushions, they feature world-class sound quality with full lossless audio support, up to 20 hours of battery life per charge, a digital crown on the ear cup for volume and music controls, and very strong active noise-cancelation. Moreover, since the AirPods Max have an over-the-ear design, they can physically block out more ambient or background noise than the AirPods Pro wireless earbuds.
The AirPods Max come with the Apple Smart Case, which automatically turns off the headphones once they’re resting inside. They also come in five colors, including green, pink, silver, Sky Blue, and Space Gray. However, at $549, these premium wireless headphones aren’t cheap, but they’re high audio quality and sleek design speaks to the hefty price.
Beats by Dre
Best AirPods Alternatives
If you hate the AirPods style, but want their excellent audio and seamless syncing to Apple products, then you should check out wireless earbuds and headphones—like Beats Studio Buds+, Beats Studio3, Beats Fit Pro, and more—from Beats by Dre.
In 2014, Apple acquired Beats and started to include their technology with the audio company’s hardware, including the same fast pairing and automatic device switching features for Apple products you’d find with AirPods. There are some Beats wireless headphones and earbuds start at just $70. Beats are a fantastic alternative for people who want something more sleek and stylish than what AirPods can offer.
What to Look for in Apple AirPods in 2023
Although there are only a few models in the Apple AirPods family tree, it may be difficult to find the best pair for you. While AirPods share the same features across the wireless headphones and earbuds lineup, there are enough differences to make you think twice about picking up a pair for yourself. Here’s what to look for in AirPods.
First and foremost, you have to consider if you’re going to use AirPods with an Apple or Android smartphone or tablet. Just like all true wireless earbuds and headphones, the AirPods connect to devices with Bluetooth—even for Android devices. However, Apple users get way more use out of them than Android users.
For example: Apple iPhone users can seamlessly sync to AirPods without going through a long set up session. Just open an AirPods case next to an iOS device and it will prompt you to connect instead of digging through endless settings looking for the right one to pair. Additionally, if you have more than one Apple product, then your other devices like iPads, MacBooks, Apple TVs, and more will effortlessly connect to AirPods via iCloud Keychain without any prompting at all. Now you can switch from device to device without skipping a beat.
The next thing to consider is your budget. Let’s face it, AirPods aren’t cheap with prices upwards of $549. If you’re on a budget, then the Apple AirPods (second generation) are the cheapest model starting at $129.
Although you can find them on sale at Amazon or Target for less, a pair is going to set you back more than other top tier wireless earbuds from Samsung, JBL, Sony, and others. But be warned, you’re not going to get the same features—like seamless syncing across devices and access to the Siri voice assistant—from other brands.
Speaking of Siri, AirPods have quick access to the voice assistant when paired with an iPhone simply by calling out “Hey, Siri.” This comes in handy, if you’re listening to a podcast and want to make a quick phone call. Instead of picking up your smartphone and scrolling through your contacts, you can just say, “Hey, Siri! Call my mom” and the voice assistant will automatically make the call for you. Please note that this feature is limited to iPhone users only.
Additionally, every AirPods model has some sort of touch controls built-in for volume or music navigation, so you don’t have to fiddle with your smartphone. You can simply remove one AirPod to quickly turn your music off or place it back in your ear to resume playback. Touch controls can come in handy, if you want to talk to someone without any interruptions, want to turn on active noise-canceling, or if you just want to skip to the next track in Spotify or Apple Music.
As far as active noise-canceling, only two of the four models come with the feature—Apple AirPods Pro (second generation) and the Apple AirPods Max. Active noise-canceling is a setting that blocks out just about all background noise, so you can really focus on your favorite music and podcast. It’s a very good feature to have, if you work in a busy office or just want to get some peace and quiet from the outside world. In fact, the AirPods Max go a step further with their over-the-ear design, which physically covers your ears and blocks out ambient noise, in addition to active noise-cancelation.
If you don’t want noise-canceling because it may be too expensive or you don’t want to feel completely isolated, then the Apple AirPods (third generation) are the ones for you. They have an open-back design, so you can comfortably listen to music for longer periods of time.
One of the reasons why AirPods are so popular is their unique features, like spatial audio. This makes it feel like your music or the movie that you’re watching is completely surrounding you— think of it as virtual surround sound. It’s only available for the AirPods (third generation), AirPods Pro, AirPods Max, and select Beats wireless headphones and earbuds.
When it comes to wireless charging, the AirPods Pro are the only model that comes with it out-of-the-box. But the other AirPods earbud models are compatible with wireless charging, but you have to pick up a wireless charging case for an additional cost. The over-the-ear AirPods Max headphones charge with a Lightning cable and don’t come with wireless charging at all.
What Is the Best Apple AirPods Alternative?
Looking for an AirPods alternative? Since Apple owns Beats by Dre, the audio company’s wireless earbuds and headphones have some of the same features—including access to Siri, seamless pairing across devices, spatial audio, and more—as the AirPods, but at a much lower price, starting at just $70. Beats might actually have a leg up on AirPods because they look better with dozens of styles and colors to pick. Aside from the AirPods Max, AirPods come in just the color white—which can be quite boring and uniform.
Overall, getting the most out of AirPods is completely dependent on if you’re an iPhone, iPad, or MacBook user. Only Apple users can access useful features like seamless syncing across devices, spatial audio, access to Siri, and much more. However, if you’re an Android user, you can certainly sync AirPods to your device via Bluetooth, but there are better headphone and earbud options out there for you.