Apple AirPods – love and limitations

When Apple announced that the AirPods will be available by the end of 2016 I had already decided to get them. I was using the EarPods, that came with my iPhones, nearly every day for years, so I knew the AirPods would fit me.

Since I got my iPhone 7 in October I had to carry two EarPods with me - one with the Lightning connector and one with the old 3,5 mm audio connector - the AirPods would be able to connect with all my devices: MacBook, iPhone, iPad and Apple Watch.

When the AirPods finally became available on the 13th of December I got lucky and was able to hit the small window of time, before the were out of stock. So I got mine on the 21st of December - my personal Christmas present?

Now, after 3 months of using them I finally got time to write this post about my experiences with the AirPods. As usually there are good and bad things to say, first the good things:

I really ❤️ my AirPods! Some say it was the best Apple product of 2016 - I would agree to that though I really like the iPhone 7 a lot too. The AirPods somehow changed when and how I listen to podcasts and music - I do it more than before I had them. For example now I am often still listening while brushing by teeth before going to bed, I never did that with EarPods because the cable was restraining me.

A lot has been written about the hardware quality of the AirPods and their case, it is in typical Apple fashion a piece of perfect industrial design and manufacturing. You want to pop the case open and close it again and again just to hear that satisfying click sound.

The pairing process also could not be easier and works as expected with the touch of one button. The AirPods show up on all the devices connected to you iCloud account and switching between them works great - no fiddling with the bluetooth settings.

However there are two things that diminish my excitement about the AirPods a little bit:

I was expecting to connect them to my MacBook and my iPhone at the same time, so that when I am listening to music on my MacBook while working and the phone rings, I could just pause the music and take the call via the AirPods. As I found out on the first day, the AirPods can only be connected to one device at a time and for switching from the MacBook to the iPhone, I had to manually switch to them via the control center on the iPhone.

The second “problem” I have with my AirPods is that the sound quality sometime gets terrible. It took me some time to find out what causes this but I found the reason for it, just no solution until now. It only occurs when their microphone is activated and the AirPods are connected to my MacBook.

Here is an example of the audio quality when recorded via the AirPods connected to my iPhone:

And here is the recording done via the AirPods connected to my MacBook:

The same happens for the quality of the played music every time the microphone of the AirPods is activated by the MacBook - for example when doing a Slack voice call, a Skype call or even when activating Siri on mac OS.

The reason is that mac OS switches into a completely different Bluetooth protocol called SCO. When listening to music the AAC codec is used. You can see that when Alt-clicking on the Bluetooth menu bar item:

Maybe this is something that could be changed in the future by a software/firmware update. There are many forum post about it, I will keep an eye on it.

Oh, and no, they do not fall out of your ear - you can headbang and jump, you won’t get them out.