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Apple AirPods vs. AirPods 2

With the holidays coming up, and with rumors of the AirPods 3 coming early next year, it’s a great time to score a deal on a pair of current or older AirPods. But which to choose? The AirPods with Wireless Charging Case (aka the second-generation AirPods 2) look suspiciously like the first-gen AirPods with Charging Case. In fact, aside from some minor aesthetic changes for the then-new Wireless Charging Case, they’re identical when it comes to design. This isn’t exactly making the choice any easier.

So what’s the difference between these twin pairs of true wireless earbuds? We’ve put together a detailed comparison of the first-generation AirPods (which, although discontinued, are still available at Amazon and other retailers), and AirPods 2, so you can decide which right for you.

Once you determine which model is right for you and your budget, take a look at the best AirPods deals available now.

Wired vs. wireless case

As mentioned, the charging cases for both the old and AirPods 2 are essentially identical, but if you opt for the wireless case — which will raise the price from $159 to $199, you’ll notice that the LED has been moved from inside the case to the front. This is so you can see the status of your AirPods when placed on a Qi wireless charging pad (sold separately).

As AirPods owners already know, amber means it needs a charge, green means it’s good to go. It should be noted, though, that the light goes away pretty quickly, so you can’t give it just a visual glance. You’ll need to pick it up and set it back down again.

If you’re not looking to upgrade your AirPods, but you’d still like the convenience of wireless charging, you can also buy the wireless charging case separately for an even higher premium of $79.

Déjà vu

Pull either set of AirPods out of their glossy white case and you’ll see they are exactly the same when it comes to design; the same golf tee antennas hanging down and the same little black acoustic screens. Unfortunately for the more active listeners among us, Apple didn’t add any waterproofing, sports fins, or other additions to make them stay in during your workout. We prefer the design of the Galaxy Buds and Galaxy Buds Plus

When it comes to playback time, battery life is the same as it was in 2016, with 5 hours per charge and up to 24 hours of reserve time in the case, which is still relatively impressive, but better options have definitely stepped over Apple in the last few years. Plus, those 5 hours of playback are just over half what you’ll get from the latest Apple headphones release from its Beats brand, the $200 Powerbeats Pro.

Similar battery life upgrades from multiple other true wireless earbuds have already arrived, so while the AirPods’ 5-hour playback time is still solid for fully wireless earbuds at present, it’s a benchmark that is quickly changing and Apple would have done well to raise the stakes a bit there.

The touch controls are also the same, which in some ways is too bad, as we would have loved a touch control for volume. Like the old AirPods, a double tap allows you to play and skip forward, with more options to swap in or out in your Bluetooth settings. As before, they still pause when you pull them out — if you’re using an iPhone, that is.

Apple AirPods
Riley Young/Digital Trends

When it comes to sound performance, AirPods 2 are exactly the same too. If you liked the old AirPods sound, that may be good news, but those looking for a bit more detail and definition won’t find that here. Unless your old AirPods are gunked up, you won’t hear any sonic improvements.

What’s the difference?

So what is different? Well, aside from the wireless charging case, it’s really all about the H1 chip, which replaces the original W1 chip to give the AirPods 2 some added features and better Bluetooth performance efficiency.

Talk time goes from 2 hours to 3 hours, for instance. That’s great if you really like to chat or you use your AirPods for multiple conference calls, but that extra hour of gabbing probably won’t be much of a boon for average users.

If you use Siri frequently, then the always-on Siri function with AirPods 2 could be a very appealing feature for you. It allows users to simply say, “Hey, Siri,” to trigger a Siri command. Siri responds immediately, and it’s currently the only way to adjust the volume on your iOS device without using your hands. This always-on function is also supported by PowerBeats Pro. 

The AirPods 2 has a faster response and connection time for calls and a bit of a clearer call quality if you’re standing in a loud or windy environment. It works to isolate the sound of your voice over everything else. Between iOS devices, these buds also create less lag if you’re gaming. While these upgrades are useful and put AirPods 2 in competition with other true wireless earbuds, our team personally would’ve preferred upgraded features like waterproofing, a more secure fit for the gym, or full noise-canceling features. Apple enacted those upgrades on the AirPods Pro instead. If you need those mentioned features, it could make the $250 price tag worth it.

The bottom line

Users can find AirPods 2 with the wireless charging case for virtually the exact same price as first-gen AirPods and the AirPods 2 with the standard case. We recommend it because, at the same cost, you’ll get a speedier connection, access to “Hey Siri,” and stronger functionality. Suppose you don’t need a new pair right now, the hold out for the upcoming year. AirPods 3 are on their way, and new updates for the AirPods Pro are likely on the way.  

$160 from Amazon

Editors' Recommendations

Ryan Waniata
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Ryan Waniata is a multi-year veteran of the digital media industry, a lover of all things tech, audio, and TV, and a…
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