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From AirPods to Surface Earbuds, why are big tech’s earbuds so ugly?

If the AirPods were created by anyone other than Apple, even fervent Cupertino worshipers would agree: They’re ugly.
There have been a million toothbrush-in-the-ear memes about Apple’s incredibly popular wireless earbuds — and many asides about how the eartip-free form inhibits function with a form that offers poor noise isolation and bass response — and yet Apple hasn’t changed the exterior design in two generations.
Today, Microsoft announced its own entrant into the true wireless headphone space: the Microsoft Surface Earbuds. On specs alone, they appear to be a capable pair of headphones, and, unlike the AirPods, they actually have proper eartips. But they have the same big problem as Apple’s earbuds and so many of their contemporaries: They’re hideous.
Mondo-sized discs attached to an inner section that slips into your ears, the Surface Earbuds make virtually anyone who wears them look like their ears have been stretched by cheap plastic gauges from Hot Topic. And they’re far from unique in this department.
From Google’s woeful Pixel Buds to Bose’s true wireless Soundsport Free, far too many true wireless earbuds from major tech companies look like they were designed for some modern-day Frankenstein’s monster, jutting out of your ears like oddly formed mushrooms while you’re jamming around town.
Bose SoundSport Free
So why are big brands so bad at making good-looking earbuds? Maybe it’s because they don’t want to.
One of the key aesthetic features of the AirPods is just how much they catch the eyes of those around you when you’re out and about. They’re ugly, sure, but they’re also distinctive.
This is probably most evident in the popular meme-ification of AirPods ownership as a visual status symbol. Because they feature such a distinctive design, it’s easy to tell exactly who’s wearing them, making them arguably the most visible pair of headphones ever created.
Apple AirPods
Sure, many people agonize over which pair of headphones to buy by poring over reviews, but many simply buy the pair they see the most, assuming it is the best (or at least among the best).
And yet, there is still a way to remain both distinctive and distinguished. Look at the gorgeous offerings from audio-dedicated brands like Klipsch, Master & Dynamic, and Sennheiser, and you’ll notice that they offer both style and substance, aiming to deliver the best possible experience to their listeners while also giving them a little something to flash out in public.
Frankly, while the better-looking true wireless headphones out there make us feel a bit less weird with two earbuds sticking out of our ears, I’d like to see more of what companies like 1More and Jabra are doing with their true wireless offerings: Striving foremost for a fantastic fit, rather than using our ears as flashy billboards to sell more product.
That’s one reason the aptly named 1More Stylish remain at the top of our list of the best true wireless headphones. They look good, they sound good, and they fit great.
1More Stylish review
And so Microsoft, Apple, Google, and others, I implore you: Enough with the wacky designs.
Instead of trying to stand out with your funky take on ear paraphernalia, how about putting a bit more function in your form and a bit less hype in your style?
Wireless earbuds may never be truly fashionable, but they don’t have to be garish either. Personally, I just want to listen to my favorite music around town, in the gym, or at my desk — without looking like I’m headed to Warped Tour 2007.

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