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).
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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