I've got AirPods envy – but here's why I’ll never wear Apple’s iconic earbuds

I've got AirPods envy – but here's why I’ll never wear Apple’s iconic earbuds
(Image credit: What Hi-Fi?)

I'll admit it – I've got AirPods envy. All I want is a pair of Apple's iconic wireless earbuds, but it seems I can't have them.

Why do I want them? For one, those distinctive white stems are now so ubiquitous that I can't remember the last time I had a conversation with someone who didn't have them sticking out of their ears. Obviously, I'd hope they'd stopped playing their tunes while I was talking to them (hard to tell sometimes), but my eyes are drawn to people's ears these days rather than their eyes – because I can't stop myself from jealously admiring the smooth, clean white stems and the seemingly great fit they provide while being the perfect audio partner to those folk's iOS devices. Secondly, I am an iOS user with an almost-latest model iPhone, and I want a pair of affordable, Apple-branded Bluetooth in-ears to go with it (I spent all my cash on said phone). 

But this is denied to me, because Apple's buds simply refuse to fit my earholes.

The company's distinct earbuds design, that to me resembles an alien hairdryer (do aliens have hair? Antennae-dryer perhaps?), has been much the same since the wired versions that came boxed with a new iPhone or iPod similarly failed to fit my ears.

I can't believe I'm alone with this, either. I mean, just look at them – these things don't appear as though they'd fit anyone's lugs well enough to provide a good seal. On the contrary, they seem to me to be the opposite of an ergonomic design, unlike, say, the more sensible bullet-shape of a pair of Cambridge's Melomania buds. And yet I feel like a total freak because it seems that everyone but me gets on with the AirPods’ shape like a house on fire, including every other member of my family (whose AirPods, to add insult to injury, I bought for them).

Ear today...

Apple AirPods

(Image credit: What Hi-Fi?)

A recent attempted purchase of a pair of Airpods for myself didn't work out, of course. I'd convinced myself that my earlugs might somehow have become more Airpods-shaped since I last attempted to use a pair of Apple's buds. But sure enough, like a particularly stupid baby trying to force a square into the round hole of a shape-sorter, the Airpods sat in my ears and played tinny music unless I put my fingers in my ears to secure the seal. No bass to be heard, and consequently the longest bus ride ever. 

The AirPods 2 went back to the Apple Store (who were very nice about it) at the next opportunity; yet still I declined to be upsold to some AirPods Pro with the promise of different interchangeable tips. Why? First off, I refuse to pay a premium because my ears are apparently wrong; and secondly I fear that those Pro tips will also fail to provide a seal, and I haven't got the cash to chance it. At £169 / $179 / AU$279, the price at which we tested them, the AirPods 3 are pricey enough; £249 / $249 / AU$399 for the AirPods Pro 2 just feels a little too steep.

According to Apple's designers around the time the latest iteration came about, in 2012, the bud is the shape it is to "fit the geometry of the ear". But I refute the idea that one size could possibly fit all – and is it fair to some users that it doesn't? 

My bus ride with the latest ’Pods tantalisingly offered everything I want from a pair of earbuds – seamless integration and pairing with my iPhone 13, convenience and ease, intuitive touch controls and more. Everything except sound, due to the lack of bass resulting from a poor in-ear seal.

I can't possibly be alone, can I? Surely Apple could provide a choice of tips with the standard models, rather than tax the weird-eared among us by forcing us to go Pro. I can only dream that one day the AirPods might finally see a kind redesign, or at least the inclusion of a choice of different tips at that level. Until then, if I'm staring at your ears, don't think me rude.


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Production Editor

Chris is What Hi-Fi?'s Production Editor. He has 25 years under his belt as an online and print magazine journalist, editing and writing about music, film, sport, video games and more. Having started his career at the NME, he spent 10 years on staff at legendary lad's mag Loaded, and has since been Editor of Rhythm and Official Xbox magazines.

  • CHFels
    Amen, Chris! Apple's pod shape never fit my ears either. But I got my AirPod Pros for the price of normal pods -- actually a bit less -- when ordering an iMac. (The iMac is a bit of a lemon, sadly...)
  • Mech986
    For God’s sake Chris, go back to the Apple Store and ask to try a test fit with the AirPods Pro 2 and the various ear tips they supply, bring some alcohol wipes if you’re concerned about cleanliness, be sure to clean your ears of any earwax as well. This way you can give the AirPods Pro a proper chance.

    The AirPods Pro offers an ear tip fit test to check the seal. If it fits and seals well, the difference between audible transparency and full noise cancelling is startling - I can be standing next to a noisy dryer or vacuum cleaner, trigger the noise cancelling and poof!, the noise is just gone. GONE!

    IME, the AirPods Pro sounds very good, seals well in my ear canals, and offers a very good listening experience, especially with spatial audio, plus allows control of iPhone music and sound functions with various presses. They last about 3-4 hours of heavy listening yet can recharge to over 80% from 10% in less than 30 minutes, sometimes faster. The carry case / charger also charges quickly and has enough for 5-6 charges before needing its own charge.

    Considering what some HiFi mags suggest one spends on various Audio devices, speakers, cartridges, turntables, sources, wire, etc., the cost of AirPods Pro 2 is a pretty good value for what it delivers. Plus you CAN precision track them with Find My and iOS 16.5 on your iPhone if you misplace one, both or even the case, and you can ping and have them sound off to help you find them.

    I know you have an aversion to spend this much, but once you try them out, and assuming they can and will fit, IMO, you’ll be hard pressed to stay away from them. They really are that good and that well integrated into Apple’s audio ecosystem. Oh, and you can pair them with iPads, your iMac, and even an Apple TV 4K for private or after hours watching/listening.

    Let us know if you proceed and what you find.
  • Navanski
    So let me get this straight, your yearning for a pair of Airpods has nothing to do with the quality of the product, physical or auditory. The only reason seems to be aesthetic and an ovine tendency to merge with the rest with the rest of the flock.
    Do I need to point out that the title of the site and magazine is 'What HiFi'?
  • Hifiman
    I think Mech986 is correct. One of the AirPods Pro 2 bud options will almost certainly fit and the noise cancelling and sound quality are both excellent. Just need to save up a little longer.