The first discussions about wireless headphones Apple already died down. After all, AirPods is arbitrarily high-tech, but absolutely utilitarian device. The main issues of concern to potential buyers — “Not lost?” and “How often do you have to charge?” already found the answers. But this approach is not entirely fair to AirPods. Even the way they positioned Apple itself gives the impression that they are just a wireless version of the EarPods.

As such, AirPods, quite frankly, an expensive toy, especially in Russia, where they stand not less than 12 thousand rubles. And this price in the online Apple store after the recent decline, however, for the sake of cheapness will have to wait for delivery within six weeks. Other sellers are asking for AirPods an average of 14 990 rubles (according to the March 15).

But what if you mentally put AirPods on a par with other compact headphones (“ear buds” in-ear and) their price category, and no matter wired or wireless, and evaluate at their main parameter is the sound quality? It turned out that such information about the AirPods from qualified sources on the Internet are hard to find. For example, we found only one hardware test with measured frequency response, nonlinear distortions, etc. In the vast majority of related research AirPods sound quality boils down to subjective impressions of the author and should not be transparent, exactly reproducible technique.

Would be appropriate here, the phrase “and we did a hardware test!”, but alas — for 3DNews is still not profile direction. However, there is a decent alternative in the form of standardized testing protocols that are used in competitions speakers. For example, the methodology FSQ (Fast Sound Quality), in 2001 presented the Acoustic center of the Department of broadcasting and electro-acoustics of the Moscow technical University of communications and Informatics (MTUCI).

FSQ was originally designed for the evaluation of automotive acoustics as an alternative method IASCA (Inernational Auto Sound Challenge Assotiation) and subsequently adopted by the international society AES (Audio Engineering Society). Pretty quickly FSQ began to be used in testing home speakers. Experienced readers will probably remember that in the middle of “zero” FSQ has adopted and computer press. Since then, however, the technique lost popularity outside of automotive topics and has been, unfortunately, almost forgotten Russian IT publications. It is to FSQ we sought to clarify the vague and often contradictory assessment of the AirPods.

Apple AirPods: design and construction

May we decided to consider the AirPods in the first place in terms of quality of sound, at first still recall about the structure of the headphones and laid them in functions. From the point of view of design AirPods repeat standard headphones that accompany the iPhone starting with the fifth model. It looks like Apple found ideal from the point of view of its engineers form, which is not going to change. The key idea behind the design of the EarPods and AirPods, is to overcome the main shortcoming of headphone of this type — narrow sound stage. The sound of each “drop” comes out two holes, one of which is directed inside the ear canal and the second forward in such a way that the reflected wave from the bend of the ear. Additional opening on the outer side of the earpiece allows the speaker cone to vibrate freely and, thus, to better reproduce low frequencies.

However, the new headphones is not an exact copy of the EarPods. The main difference — thick leg AirPods, which houses the battery (with a capacity of 90 mW⋅h), and antenna. However, the drops themselves have changed. Made them a little bigger, to expand space for additional electronics and a larger speaker (the cone diameter is 7.5 mm instead of 7 mm EarPods). By the way, Apple has rejected a paper membrane in favor of the transparent rubber-like material. How did it affect the sound quality, we’ll find out later, but it is obvious that the headphones are now better protected from moisture. Should help and strip glued to the bars on the inside. Officially the device does not have IP level of protection against environmental influences, but users have found that AirPods survive short-term immersion to a depth of three meters and a full cycle in the washing machine.


Photo by iFixit

Black spots on the outer and inner side “drops” is infrared sensors, which electronics determines that the earphone inserted in the ear. Inside there are a couple of accelerometers to launch Siri in response to the tapping on the hull, but it could have been and the only sensor. Using two AirPods registers the vibration of the skull during a conversation, that it is safer to separate the voice from background noise.

Each earpiece has two microphones: a primary at the end of the legs with the function of beam shaping and support under point hole to eliminate noise from a recording of the sound (active noise reduction headset has). By the way, fringing the main microphone is made of metal, not painted plastic, so it will not RUB off over time. It also has a utilitarian function: the bezel is divided into two parts, the headset is charging in the container.

Well AirPods are floating in the ears, depends on the shape of the ears themselves. The fact that AirPods a little bigger than the EarPods, and improves the “grip”. The experience of the author, how can anything shake his head and earphones will not slip out. Another thing — fear of loss, which only helps with the cap tightly stretched over the ears (a hat made out of foil not recommended — will weaken the signal). Fortunately, according to Apple, authorized service centers you can buy separately any part of the AirPods set (headphones and a container) for a third of the official price. In iOS version 10.3 will also be a function of search AirPods — either on the horn or on the map, but in the latter case, the headphones will not be found until you get in range of any of the devices owner.

The container itself contains a battery with a capacity of 1.52 W⋅h and is charged via a Lightning connector (cable USB connector Type-A on the other end is included in the package). Tri-color led shows the current charge level of the headphones: red — charging, green — can be removed. White color is included if to press the button that starts the pairing process for Bluetooth (to link with Apple devices it is not needed, but more on that later). The lid of the container, just like the earphones themselves, in the closed condition holds the magnet, and a spring-loaded hinge opens her instantly. Your air from container no.

Apple W1: Bluetooth healthy person

Bleutooth does not have a very good reputation among lovers of quality sound, so many pre-disappointed when it became known that in AirPods used BT 4.2, rather than any proprietary solution. But in the end, Apple has done everything to reveal the advantages of the interface and to avoid trouble, so familiar to all who ever chose headphones working via Bluetooth.

Contrary to popular belief, Bluetooth problem in the signal transmission are connected not with compression. AirPods transmit data via the standard Bluetooth A2DP profile, which has a capacity of up to 500 Kbit/s — more than enough for compression with high bitrate. For example, the music in iTunes is encoded in AAC with a bitrate of 256 Kbps. AAC is also used directly in the transmission of data between gadgets and Apple certified Bluetooth devices. According to Apple’s requirements for third-party peripherals, the codec options are 264,63 KB/s constant bitrate and 44.1 KHz.

Thus, the software part of the interface does not prevent AirPods to provide high-quality sound — at least in a pair of “Apple” technique. If the signal passes the device of any other manufacturer, come into force certain limitations. Apple refused to license the codec aptX, owned by Qualcomm that provides up to a bitrate of 352 Kbps and supported by several top-end Android smartphones. With the latest AirPods reported according to the standard Protocol SBC (bitrate up to 345 Kbit/s, but with relatively lower quality coding).

The real problem with sound via a Bluetooth signal is weak, underlies specific interference in the audio. At the same time, a powerful transmitter and amplifier requires a corresponding battery capacity. To find the balance between signal quality and power consumption, Apple has gone so far, which was designed for AirPods special Apple chip W1. A complete set of its functions are unknown, but it is easy to assume that the encoding/decoding of the audio signal, the suppression of background noise during a call, managing power consumption and transfer of security keys.

The Apple chip W1 (above) — photos from iFixit

Channel in the Apple W1 operates on standard power Bluetooth Class 1 (while most consumer devices are Class 2). At least judging by the specs of the new Beats Solo Wireless 3 in which it is installed. Whether this AirPods, it is not entirely clear. However, in our tests the headset to transmit audio from the iPhone 7 (which, it is known, is compatible with Class 1) at a distance up to 25 meters is more than Class 2 (10 m), but less than Class 1 (max 100 m and 20-30 m in most cases). Audible disturbances arose at half that distance. Despite this distance and therefore quite a strong signal to the transmitter, a tiny battery in the AirPods (90 mW⋅h) was calculated at 5 hours of continuous operation (when the volume of the 50% of the maximum).

Another point: each earphone has a separate communication channel with your smartphone, and sync audio between the headset, apparently, through interface BLE (Bluetooth Low Energy) is the same as pairing the headphones with Apple devices.

Binding and control, battery life

Like all Bluetooth headphones, AirPods you must first bind to the host device. If iPhone signed into iCloud, enough to bring him the open container with the headphones, and confirm the pairing in the pop-up window. After that, all devices registered to the Apple ID of the owner (including Macy’s), will be associated with the AirPods. Several owners can use the headphones without the need every time to repeat the bind to a new Apple ID.

To connect with iPhone attached, it is sufficient to open the container. If you do this near the device, the familiar window will show the charge level of the components of each earcup and the container. When AirPods fall into the ears, iOS automatically switches on them, and you can start to listen to music or talk (if necessary, this feature can be disabled in the iOS settings). Is removed one earphone from his ear, and the music will be on pause, take out both the sound source will change to speaker phone.


If you make calls from your iPhone, the app allows you to choose where voice — in speaker of a smartphone or headset. Incoming connections automatically use AirPods, if they are in my ears. When speaking use a microphone one headphone. Which is determined automatically but in iOS settings you can choose. With beam forming and noise canceling microphones are extremely sensitive. Siri is much better to recognize the command using AirPods than the iPhone’s microphone, and voice typing is more accurate.

Double punch your finger on any headset launches Siri or, depending on the settings, controls pause/play music. You need to knock clearly, otherwise it may not work. Even better, if you have the Apple Watch. The clock can control the player smartphone and adjust the volume of the sound in the headphones is the rotating “crown” of the head. Apple Watch and AirPods communicate directly, so the clock you can download music from my iPhone and not take the phone out for a walk.

In MacOS, switch to AirPods have to manually, this headset is detected and is activated not as fast as in iOS.

For automatic pairing, instant activation and other joys is based on Bluetooth LE need an iPhone no older than five model. Owners of iPhone 4s devices from other manufacturers will have to follow the standard procedure of finding and binding a Bluetooth accessories. Early iPhone hardly compatible with AirPods because of the version of Bluetooth (2.1), although we have not tested. In addition, it is not clear what other gadgets besides iPhone 7, support Bluetooth Class 1 and how it affects the quality and distance of communication with headphones. In Android double blow to the earphone only works as a pause button.

Apple claims that a single charge headphone enough for continuous playback music for 5 hours at 50 volume%, and the container contains a charge for 24 hours. 15 minutes in the container the headphones needs to gain energy for 3 hours. According to our tests, this is absolutely correct data. At maximum volume the headphones lasted 2 hours 10 minutes. Microphone when speaking reduces the operation time slightly for 15 minutes.

The sound quality

The FSQ method in its standard version includes 14 test tracks, which are assessed the following characteristics of the acoustic system:

  • stock sound tract undistorted volume level;
  • the correct phasing of the audio equipment;
  • the presence of resonances, noise and interference in audio path;
  • the ability of the audio section to reproduce the lowest sound frequencies;
  • the flatness of the sound path;
  • the linearity of the stereo image width of the sound scene;
  • micro-dynamics and separation of soundstage depth;
  • the position and focus of the stereo image in the horizontal and vertical planes, and the naturalness of the transmission of musical attack;
  • musical and timbral balance of the sound of musical instruments and vocals;
  • the linearity of sound in terms of volume and macrodynamics.
  • Wishing to test their own audio system or headphones suggest to download a test disk “Autodoctor FSQ” and test instructions from the page of the Acoustic center of MTUCI. One of the advantages of this method is that a clear evaluation criteria, which compensate for subjective testing. In many tests, the expert only need to answer if he can hear on the recording the sounds that it should be, or Vice versa — those that should not be.

    Next, we sequentially list the results of the listening test recordings FSQ for AirPods. Each test will be accompanied by a brief description of the user to the “Autodoctor FSQ”. For comparison, we also tested the EarPods supplied with the iPhone connected to the iPhone 7. The test records the FSQ was previously converted from WAV to Apple Lossless format (ALAC).

    Track number Description of the test Apple EarPods Apple AirPods

    The margin of undistorted volume

    Magic Pump, “Open The Door” RDM CD RDM 801201, “Our Town”

    Undistorted volume level is determined at the first track test disc. It sounds a piece of music where vocals and bass are additionally compressed. The volume level will increase from zero to the onset of congestion, when the bass and vocals is clearly beginning to be tapped harmonic distortion, perceived by the ear as wheezing

    AirPods not wheezing at maximum volume, which is 70 dB (C-weighted). EarPods connected to the iPhone 7, develop the same volume without noticeable distortion
    2 – 4

    The phasing of the audio path between channels

    The narrator’s voice is in phase/out of phase, midrange (300-3, 000 Hz), HF (5 000-22 500 Hz), LF (10– 50 Hz)

    On the track the recorded voice of the announcer: “MIDs. Phase”. These words should be heard from the center of the sound stage. Next, the speaker says: “mid-range. Opposite phase”. In this case the narration should be played with less volume and (or) defocused to the listener and (or) offset in either direction from the center. Similarly, check the phasing in the HF band and the LF band

    The phasing in the headphones can only be assessed on the localization of sound, not volume. Both headsets do not have obvious problems with the coordination of the phases, although in the range of low frequency sound in phase is localized a little less clearly
    5 – 6

    The presence of noise, rattles, abnormal sounds and noise in the audio path

    Sliding tone, left/right channel (20-15, 000 Hz)

    Tonal (sinusoidal) signal, whose frequency continuously varies from the lowest to the highest frequencies. Separately, first for left and then right channels

    In the lowest frequencies quiet, on the verge of distinction, “the rustle”. The rest of the range is free from overtones up to the highest frequencies Bass clearly audible in a quiet non-rhythmic clicks, MIDs are clean, on private land very high frequencies there is a very quiet non-rhythmic crackling

    The set of frequencies to test LF path

    Soundtrack, first left and then right channels, contains a record of the number of fixed sound frequencies bass range. First, the speaker reports that sounds of the reference frequency of 60 Hz. Then the speaker announces: “20 Hz”, “25 Hz”, “30 Hz” and so on. The first low-frequency pure tone (no distortion and turbulent vultures), coinciding with the control volume, and determines the lower operating frequency of the sound path. In the ideal case, the volume of the other tones up to 150 Hz should be the same

    The bass is audible starting frequency of 25 Hz. However, subjectively equal loudness frequency gain when in track there is a jump from 80 to 125 Hz. Up to 125 Hz the sound is very quiet. All low frequencies are accompanied by a very quiet medium to high frequency ringing In AirPods you can hear the bass starting with 20 Hz. Observed the same jump in volume between the frequencies 80 and 125 Hz, however, and up to 125 Hz the bass is heard much louder than the EarPods. In all test frequencies, except for the 65 Hz, there is a quiet but well-marked pulsating noises, passing at a frequency of 150 Hz in a barely noticeable high frequency rustle

    The uneven frequency response in the mid audio frequencies

    The soundtrack is a high quality stereo recording of applause from a large number of audience. Clapping in a rather resonant room equivalent uniformly distributed on a spectrum of diffuse field noise. However, against this background, the monotonous noise of the human ear manages to distinguish the beginning of claps (bursts). On the audio path with a linear frequency response do you hear the applause, but uneven (“the fence”), they become similar to the noise of the pouring rain

    Headphones both models the entry is identified as an applause, not rain. But EarPods the bulk of the cotton is still merged into a single background, and the AirPods on the contrary

    The linearity of the stereo image by the width of the sound stage

    Moving drum, IASCA Competition CD

    The soundtrack contains seven drum beats, smoothly moving from left to right across the width of the stereo image. Punches accurately localized in the direction of, and moving them linearly in space, i.e. the angles between the strokes of equal

    Headphones both models sound sources equally well positioned horizontally

    The micro-dynamics and soundstage depth

    Alex Rostotsky Trio, “Intro”, the POPE Musik PM1014-2, “Boiled Borsht”

    The soundtrack is a small piece of music with two instruments — bass and drums. Both musicians are in the back of the stage.

    Unacceptable depth of sound stage is if the musicians are visually in the foreground. If unsatisfactory micro-dynamics not heard the quiet beats the drums and cymbals, and play bow on the bass are difficult to see. Micro-dynamics can be considered satisfactory if the drums, cymbals, and the bass is audible, but the sound of the double bass can not be heard tapping on the fretboard fingers of the musician and (or) when playing the bass bow you clearly don’t hear the “resting” of the movement of the bow across the strings. And microdrivers would be good if the fingers of the bass player is heard clearly. An excellent micro-dynamics has an audio path, if you hear a very quiet murmur, when the drummer accidentally hurt elbow plate and immediately clamps her hand

    Headphones both models on the soundtrack is heard and the shock of the fingers on the fingerboard, and even the occasional touching the plate with his elbow drummer. However, these AirPods sounds louder, more clearly, the friction of the bow on the strings of the double bass. Headphones of this type cannot fully capture the depth of the scene, but the EarPods and AirPods at least put musical instruments in the middle plan, not entirely inside the head of the listener

    Naturalness in the sound transmission musical attack, the position and focusing of sound stage width and height

    Ron Tutt, “Improvisation”, Sheffild Lab CD-14/20

    The soundtrack presents a fragment of a drum solo. Unacceptable passing attack is if the drums sound dull, it has no elasticity and “meatiness”. Barely acceptable — if the sound of drums dynamically, but has the element of “cardboard” in the zone. Unacceptable or barely acceptable is if the sound stage is already space between sound sources. Unacceptable or barely acceptable, if the cymbals and hi-hat are at the same height or the difference is negligible

    Compared to EarPods the transfer of attack and timbre of the drums in the AirPods is on a completely different level. As for EarPods and AirPods positioning of musical instruments height is almost nonexistent, but there is a sense of the breadth of the stage, beyond the head of the listener

    Timbre and musical sound balance

    Mighty Sam McClain, “Give It Up To Love”, Audioquest, XRCD, “Got To Have Your Love”

    The soundtrack is a piece of jazz songs with male vocals. Unacceptable or barely acceptable, in terms of timbral balance is if any of the instruments sound unnatural and (or) if the vocal timbre has a sharp or unpleasant in nature. Unacceptable or barely acceptable is if the vocal or some musical instrument stands out for the volume level is pushed forward or pushed back

    Headphones are very similar in the transmission of timbre: the sound is pronounced “bright” and bluff to force accented medium-high and high frequencies. Have AirPods this feature is expressed even a little stronger than the EarPods, but kompensiruet relatively deep bass

    The linearity of the audio path at the volume level, its macro-dynamics and the ability to transfer polyphonic sound image

    A. Schnitke, “Childhood”, Gorenstein/R. S. O., POPE music PM 1007-2 1996, “Gogol Suite”

    The soundtrack contains high quality recording of a Symphony orchestra, performed in the Bolshoi hall of the Moscow Conservatory. The fragment consists of four main parts, which differ from each other with volume levels and dynamics.

    Unacceptable or barely acceptable is if the string pizzicato in the first part quite inaudible, or sounds too quiet, dull and indistinct compared to the next, more loud part. Unacceptable or barely acceptable is if in the third part (after the entry of the cello and double basses) have not felt a noticeable jump in volume and then, in the final, another leap. Unacceptable or barely acceptable can be considered when in the third and fourth parts of the soundtrack is clearly audible harmonic distortion or no distortion, but the orchestra is clearly not up to the volume to forte fortissimo. Unacceptable, if the orchestra for the third part starts to sound a “total mess”, a separate group of instruments is weak are distinguishable or completely indistinguishable

    Compared to EarPods AirPods louder and more artikulieren sound in the first, quiet part of the track and provide a more visible transition to the final, loud parts. However, the difference between forte and fortissimo in both models is not as pronounced as it should be ideally. AirPods are clearly shared by group of instruments and individual instruments within them a rich polyphonic part of the record. To EarPods the picture is blurred

    Additional audio track to evaluate the sound quality of the low sound frequencies

    Guiseppe Verdi, “La Donna E Mobile”, Telarc CD 80447

    The soundtrack contains an excerpt debatecountry sound of a Symphony orchestra, which is composed of a large (Turkish) drum with a very low register. It can be heard only in the presence of high-quality subwoofer, naturally reproducing frequency of 20-25 Hz

    In both models of headphones to hear a big drum, but the sound is extremely quiet

    As a result of listening say that AirPods give a very good sound in the class of in-ear headphones. In particular, far better than the Apple wired headset.

    Have AirPods and the EarPods have a common dignity. A strong feature of both models is their open design, which occurs detailed sound panorama. Of course, headphones of this type, and headphones in General cannot capture the depth of the scene, but the EarPods and AirPods, at least, there is the feeling that the sound source is in the mind of the listener. Both models have good phasing of the speakers, which is based on clear positioning of the sound sources horizontally, although AirPods has a slight advantage due to the active sync headphones by radio.

    EarPods and AirPods have a similar timbral balance that emit medium-high and high frequencies, making the sound becomes very “bright” on the verge of field. The AirPods amplifiers in the amplifiers in the EarPods with a Lightning interface, are configured in such a way that at maximum volume was not any audible nonlinear distortion. The volume capacity is relatively small. Because of this, and even for open design headphones Apple hard to listen to music in noisy places.

    The other aspects of the AirPods sound significantly superior to its wired counterpart. Both models can best cope with the MIDs, but AirPods sounds in this range are better articulated, much less “mess”. The AirPods sound is a very distinct attack and micro-dynamics and bass, extremely deep for “liners”, though it is not the same as headphones in-ear design and larger form factor.

    Annoying problem AirPods noise in the low frequency range, which is not in the EarPods. Shame it’s not Bluetooth, which in conjunction AirPods — iPhone works brilliantly, and electronics of headphones. It’s good that people rarely listen to the “bare” sine wave, as in the corresponding test, the FSQ, and the real sound of the noise is lost.


    At first glance, AirPods is a very simple thing: Apple just stripped wires standard “inserts”, which are attached to the iPhone. But this wireless headset stands out among similar devices by how well it works together with other equipment Apple. Although instant pairing (in other manufacturers, as a rule, NFC) is nothing new among Bluetooth accessories, very few headphones then just as quickly determined, when they need it, and Apple only allows a single action to bind the headset to all devices of the user. It uses not any proprietary radio link, but only the standard features of Bluetooth LE. Special mention deserves the fact that the headphones are automatically activated when they enter the ears.

    AirPods are so compact as can be wireless headphones. The battery life itself is quite modest, if not charging container. Due to it Apple decided to another problem — how to store the headphones, so they are not lost.

    The last factor that can shift the scales is the sound. Radio in AirPods works perfectly, but the “ear” to achieve high quality sound for a set of attributes, perhaps, more difficult than from the headphone Jack of some other type. Apple has made almost everything possible. Due to the orientation of the holes headphones create open beyond the head of the listener. The sound has good dynamics and attack, and if to make allowances for the form factor, very good bass. But in the end, whether AirPods to you personally, depending on their tonal balance. Due to the accented high frequencies they have a very “bright”, sharp sound and really deep bass, like it or not, you need to look for in the headphones of a different type.


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