It’s raining cats and dogs here in New York, with even a few hamsters coming down in the mix. So I’m holed up in the MajorHiFi Review Headquarters, checking out the new Apple Airpods 2. Priced at $199, Apple’s newest wireless in-ear headphones won’t completely destroy your wallet. But what kind of sound can you expect from them? And is that sound worth the price?
Apple AirPods 2 Review
For our review, we got ahold of the new AirPods 2 with Wireless Charging because we wanted to see what all the fuss was about…until we found out there’s no wireless charger actually included…so we essentially paid more for that feature. Don’t be like us and get the wireless charging version, unless you already have a Qi charger or plan on buying one. Anyway, you can get the same earphones for less if you forgo the space-age case. Either way, this review will focus more on the “sound quality” of the Apple AirPods 2…
The AirPods 2 come in an Apple-esque white box with a charging cable, the AirPod case, and some booklets. I didn’t read the booklets.
The AirPods 2 look identical to the Original Recipe AirPods. In fact, the only difference I could discern between the two models was a little LED light on the front of the charging case. That, and the wireless charging capability. But there’s no wireless charger included in the box. You have to buy that separately, because Apple.
As mentioned, the overall design, shape, feel, and weight remain equivalent to the old AirPods Gen 1. Even the battery life is the same, except if you’re talking on the phone all the time. Then you’ve got a whopping 18 hours of talk time on the AirPods 2.
Fit-wise, they’re just as okay-ish as the original AirPods. They generally stay in my giant punch bowl ears, but the rigid plastic design still gets fatiguing after a while and sucks at sealing out unwanted noise.
Now I have to listen to my loud keyboard while my coworkers argue about which Jimmy Buffet song is the best. (It’s Cheeseburger in Paradise, dammit.)
The biggest difference to the AirPods 2 besides wireless charging? The new “Hey Siri” function that allows you to command playback with your voice, instead of basic motor skills. I tried talking to Siri a couple of times before giving up, mainly because I thought I sounded like a jerk.
Frequency Range: NA
Nominal Impedance: NA
Sound Pressure Level (SPL): NA
As we can see from these specs, Apple doesn’t like giving any numbers on their products. Doing so would probably ruin the “magic” that Apple raves on about. At any rate, the frequency range sounds pretty standard – probably not that far off from your plain-Jane 20-20,000 Hz. Frequency range should be somewhere below 32 ohms, since we’re talking about a wireless earphone. Lastly, sound pressure level seems fair at least; there are no real volume concerns, but they don’t seem like the most sensitive earphones, either.
Pretty much as expected, this is the same low end you heard on the original AirPods. It’s underdeveloped, but still with just enough bass to woo the normies. Crap like the Chainsmokers or Lil Wayne probably sounds slightly less horrible, if only because you’re hearing it with half the detail. Anyway, I suppose this low end can work for rock, electronica, and some hip-hop – it just doesn’t sound very good.
Murky at best, the mids are a sordid affair, lacking the kind of presence you can find in a $50 pair of wired earphones. Even $50 JBL Bluetooth models have better mids. Not by much, but still, better is better. When it comes to the Apple AirPods 2, the midrange lacks real contrast or articulation. Every note sounds blunted or veiled, like my favorite tracks have been run over by a beige steamroller. There’s not a lot of distortion, but the compression reminds me of the cheap $10 on-ear headphones I got with my DiscMan in 2000. Thanks Apple.
Slightly rolled off, the high end is okay for vocals. My girls Demi Lovato and Kylie Minogue sound great. Even Halsey sounds a little smoother and less heartbroken. The downside comes in the form of clipped or squashed instruments that just don’t sound real. While this high end works okay with pop and some electronica, it suffers when Classical tunes make an appearance.
The Apple AirPods 2 don’t necessarily sound terrible if you’ve never heard a good pair of wired headphones or even a good pair of wireless earphones. Honestly, the low-end heavy sound wouldn’t be such a bummer if not for the lacking, recessed-and-compressed midrange and un-spectacular highs. Ultimately, though, the AirPods 2 produce the same bland, generic sound that can be heard on the original AirPods.
For calling, the AirPods 2 aren’t all that bad, really, and this is the only reason I might recommend them. If you need 18 hours of talk time on a pair of buds, by all means, get the AirPods 2.
If you have to take a lot of phone calls on the go, or if you have a tremendous amount of brand loyalty, or wooden ears, by all means, get the AirPods 2. The only thing the Apple Airpods 2 do better than other earphones is (1) charge without a cable and (2) suck.
For folks who want to hear their music with even the most basic sense of detail, shell out less money for the RHA TrueConnect (which, in addition to sounding better, also uses removable eartips for a more secure fit – and all for $169).
But what if you want the best? The kind of true wireless earphones you can photograph sitting next to a cup of premium dark roast, or placed casually on top of an ethically-sourced faux-fur throw? You want the Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless. While more expensive at $299, it’s the best sounding, best fitting, best made, best looking earphone you can get.
But what if you said, Screw you, Carroll, I don’t want to spend more than $199. What then? Save yourself $50 and a lot of regret and pick up the $149 Shure SE215 Bluetooth Version. It comes in four colors. It has bass. It has detail. Music sounds like music. You can talk into it. Yes, it only has 6-8 hours of battery life, but you won’t lose one earbud because they’re attached to a cable that hangs around your neck.
At $199, the Apple AirPods 2 won’t cost you too much when compared to other True Wireless options out there. But that’s probably the best thing about this earphone, because, apart from battery life in relation to talk time, they generally suck. For the most basic, humdrum listening activities, they might suffice, but if you’re truly looking for decent-sounding earphones, better alternatives exist.
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