Best AirPods 2024: Top Apple wireless headphones tested and rated

Apple AirPods models on a stone floor showing AirPods Max, AirPods Pro, AirPods Pro 2 and AirPods 3
(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

When Apple unveiled the first pair of AirPods in 2016, little did we know that they would go on to shape the true wireless earbuds market. 

Unlike Apple-owned Beats headphones with a variety of models geared towards specific types of wearers and lifestyles, AirPods have just three main models that run to the original AirPods, AirPods Pro, and AirPods Max. Each design continues to rank among the best wireless headphones we've ever tested thanks to the slick iOS integration, superb comfort and sound quality, making it easy to understand why they're so well regarded.

The designs may not be for everyone but, nevertheless, they have become synonymous with the wireless earbud sector and triggered every rival maker to introduce their own wireless earbuds to get in on the action. Some even figured out how to create smaller, sturdier, and more stylish AirPods alternatives.

Despite a narrow choice of models compared to Beats, AirPods designs are seriously versatile and stand out among the best wireless headphones, best wireless earbuds, best noise-cancelling earbuds, and the best sports headphones we've ever tested. 

To find out which model is right for you, keep reading and we’ll explain all about the best Apple AirPods headphones we've tested.

The best Apple AirPods you can buy right now

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AirPods Pro 2 in charging caseEditor's Choice

(Image credit: Future)
The ultimate ANC earbuds for iPhone users

Specifications

Size: 1.22 x 0.86 x 0.94 inches (per bud); 1.78 x 2.39 x 0.85 inches (charging case)
Weight: 0.19 ounces (per bud); 1.8 ounces (charging case)
Battery life (rated): 6 hours; 30 hours (charging case)
Bluetooth range: >30 feet (10 meters)
ANC: Yes
Water resistance: Yes (IPX4 rated)

Reasons to buy

+
World-class noise cancellation
+
Volume controls right on the stem
+
Dolby Atmos spatial audio
+
Battery life improved over original model

Reasons to avoid

-
Lackluster call quality
-
Lanyard costs extra

We have been blown away by the AirPods Pro (2nd Generation) since Apple launched them in September 2022. They are without doubt the best earbuds with active noise-cancelation for iPhone users, and the most versatile model for all kinds of lifestyles. This next-gen model brings significant upgrades to the popular original AirPods Pro to take performance to the next level. Externally, they look pretty similar to the first generation (below), but battery life has been increased to offer 6 hours on a single charge from the earbuds and a further 30 hours from the wireless charging case. 

Designed for iPhone owners looking for a more tailored listening experience, we think the AirPods Pro 2 are the pinnacle of Apple technology. While testing them out for all kinds of active lifestyle activities, we found that the fit had been improved to the point where they're a viable option for the best sports headphones and suitable for runners and gym workouts alike. Not only are the earbuds IPX4-rated for protection from sweat and light showers, but now too is the case itself. 

On the audio front, Apple has included a new H2 chip with custom amp and driver that delivers better lower and higher frequencies, and you can use the iPhone's TrueDepth camera to create a personalized spatial audio sound to listen to some of the best Dolby Atmos sound in any pair of earbuds. Noise cancellation is double what the original AirPods Pro offered and is among the best we’ve yet to experience. 

Read our full Apple AirPods Pro 2 review

Renewed Apple AirPods Pro: was $249 now $169 @ Amazon
Although the first-generation AirPods Pro have officially been discontinued by

Renewed Apple AirPods Pro: was $249 now $169 @ Amazon
Although the first-generation AirPods Pro have officially been discontinued by Apple, Amazon has renewed AirPods Pro models on sale for $169. That's the best cheap AirPods Pro sale we've seen from any retailer (for a refurbished model). They're also backed by a 90-day Amazon guarantee. The AirPods Pro offer both sweat and water resistance (IPX4 certified) along with built-in noise cancellation.

The Apple AirPods 3 wireless earbuds and charging casebest value awards badge

(Image credit: Regan Coule/Future)
No noise cancelation, but a great value with superb iOS integration

Specifications

Size: 1.21 x 0.72 x 0.76 inches
Weight: 0.15 ounces
Battery life (rated): 6 hours; 30 hours (with charging case)
Bluetooth range: >30 feet (10 meters)
ANC: No
Water resistance: Yes (IPX4 rated)

Reasons to buy

+
Adaptive EQ with well-balanced sound
+
Spatial audio support
+
Stellar iOS integration

Reasons to avoid

-
Loose fit may not suit all

Apple’s third-gen AirPods are the best value for iPhone users. Minus the eartips and noise cancellation, these buds look remarkably similar to the discontinued AirPods Pro not superseded by the AirPods Pro 2. They share many of the same features of the new Pro 2 version, and incorporate MagSafe wireless charging and skin-detect sensors that accurately discern when the buds are in your ears to enable auto-pause/play. 

During our tests, we found music and movies were a delight to hear with Apple’s proprietary technologies like Adaptive EQ balancing the sound output, and Spatial Audio support with dynamic head tracking. We loved that the Force Sensor was added to this model for seamless playback control. Best of all, the battery life matches the Pro 2 at 6 hours, which is 1 hour more than AirPods 2 model below, along with 30 hours in total via charging case. Simply put, the AirPods 3 are a great buy for iPhone users unconcerned by ANC. The loose earbuds fit might not work for all, but for anyone looking to avoid inserting eartips into their ear canal, these are the best value AirPods you can buy.

Read our full AirPods 3 review.

AirPods Max color options

(Image credit: Apple)
Flagship over-ear headphones with full iOS and spatial audio support

Specifications

Size: 7.4 x 6.6 x 3.3 inches
Weight: 13.6 ounces
Battery life (rated): 20 hours (ANC on)
Bluetooth range: >30 feet (10 meters)
ANC: Yes
Water resistance: Not specified

Reasons to buy

+
Luxury over-ear design
+
Stellar iOS integration
+
Strong noise canceling performance
+
Spatial Audio with headtracking works a treat

Reasons to avoid

-
Large earcups may not appeal to everyone
-
Expensive compared to flagship ANC designs from big-name rivals

Launched in December 2020, the AirPods Max are Apple's luxury over-ear headphones costing $549, although they can regularly be found discounted via online retailers. While the AirPods Pro 2 are a more cost-effective route into Apple's noise-canceling wireless headphones, the AirPods Max demonstrate that you get what you pay for. The impeccable build quality and luxury design offers astonishingly good comfort levels via comfy memory foam earcup padding, and what's more the AirPods Max are available in a choice of five color options including space grey, silver, pink, green, and sky blue.

On a purely technical level, Apple’s first over-ear cans sound absolutely fantastic.  Active noise cancelling performs well enough for the AirPods Max to rank as one of the best noise-canceling headphones on the market. Spatial Audio sound on the AirPods Max is superb, and head tracking creates a striking surround sound effect as you move your head.

The 20-hour battery life with ANC remains pretty healthy compared to rivals, although it is one of the areas we're hoping to see improved when the rumored AirPods Max 2 arrive. It’s worth noting that if you ever want to switch to wired listening you’ll need to buy a separate $35 Lightning cable, but on Bluetooth alone Apples first over-ear headphones are an excellent iOS companion.

Read our full Apple AirPods Max review.