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Marshall Mode II vs. Apple AirPods: Which wireless earbuds should you buy?

Marshall Mode II vs. Apple AirPods
(Image credit: Regan Coule/Future)

This Marshall Mode II vs. Apple AirPods comparison breaks down two popular wireless earbuds models, helping you decide which pair best meets your needs and your budget.

The Marshall Mode II is the company’s first-ever true wireless release. These buds blend bright and lively sound into a retro-aesthetic design that's synonymous with the Marshall name. A customizable EQ, Transparency Mode, and wireless charging come part of the package as well.

Despite the noise-cancelling AirPods Pro being more coveted, the second-gen AirPods continues to sell well and holds up impressively, thanks to recent iOS updates that have brought new features into the mix. Enjoyable audio, hands-free Siri, and superb call quality with longer talk times add to the Apple buds' appeal.

There are several things to like about each model, but only one can be the better pair overall. Read on to see if the Mode II has the performance chops to overthrow a consumer favorite like the AirPods.

Marshall Mode II vs. Apple AirPods: Specs compared

Marshall Mode IIApple AirPods
Price$179.99$159; $199 (with wireless charging case)
Wireless Charging CaseYesYes (optional)
ChipNot statedH1
Battery Life (Rated)5 hours (25 hours with charging case)5 hours (24 hours with charging case)
Water ResistanceIPX4None
Case Size1.1 x 2.8 x 1.4 inches1.7 x 0.8 x 2.1 inches
Case Weight1.2 ounces1.4 ounces
Special featuresCustomizable EQ with presets, digital assistant support, Find My Buds, Transparency ModeAudio sharing, "Hey Siri" voice activation, auto switching, customizable sound via iPhone settings, Live Listen, smart controls, wireless charging

Marshall Mode II vs. Apple AirPods: Price

Compared to luxury options like AirPods Pro and Bose QuietComfort Earbuds, these are two reasonably priced offerings. The AirPods in particular: this pair is usually $159 standalone or $199 with wireless charging case. In fact, the wireless charging bundle is currently on sale for $149 on Amazon.   

Recently launched, the Mode II is available for $179 and probably won’t be discounted for weeks to come, which makes the Amazon AirPods deal even more enticing right now.   

We recommend bookmarking our best cheap AirPods deals and best headphones deals pages to stay up on the latest Apple and Marshall deals.

Winner: Apple AirPods

Marshall Mode II vs. Apple AirPods: Design

Marshall Mode II vs. Apple AirPods

(Image credit: Future)

Some people love the AirPods design and others absolutely hate it. I don’t see anyone disagreeing about how chic and cool the Mode II looks. Not only are Marshall’s buds well built, boasting durable plastic casing with IPX4 water resistance, but they can also be worn discretely and still capture the attention of fashion-forward audiophiles. The rubberized finish feels premium and does a fantastic job of fending off scratches, and the script M logo pops without being too flashy.

Marshall Mode II vs. Apple AirPods

(Image credit: Regan Coule/Future)

Personally, I find the AirPods ugly, but there is something to be said about a design that practically set the stage for thousands of knock-offs to follow; imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Still, it’s become stale over the past two years, and the long-stem silhouette sticks out like a sore thumb. More importantly, Apple’s buds are not equipped to take on dirt, moisture or water (at least the AirPods Pro comes IPX4-certified). They aren’t built to withstand daily abuse and will break easily if stepped on.

Marshall Mode II vs. Apple AirPods

(Image credit: Regan Coule/Future)

The charging cases for these two models are conveniently portable, but when factoring in appearance and materials, the Mode II easily has the more attractive accessory. Everything from the textured, leather-like finish to small details like the gold-plated pairing button and brand-established seal on the inside give Marshall’s case swagger. Its compactness is even more impressive.

The AirPods case, by contrast, is just cheaply constructed. If it isn’t the all-plastic frame being a scratch-and-scuff magnet, then it’s the flimsy lid that doesn’t keep the buds safely stowed. The fact that it has been knocked off to death by numerous fake AirPods manufacturers hasn’t done much for its image either.

Winner: Marshall Mode II

Marshall Mode II vs. Apple AirPods: Comfort and fit

Marshall Mode II vs. Apple AirPods

(Image credit: Future)

It’s amazing how much of a difference ear tips can make, which is the sole reason why I give the Mode II this round. You do need to adjust the buds to achieve the best possible fit, but once completed, they provide decent on-ear stability. The angled sound port nestles comfortably into your ear. Marshall also includes four sets of tips to accommodate different ear sizes, unlike the one-size-fits-all AirPods.

Marshall Mode II vs. Apple AirPods

(Image credit: Regan Coule/Future)

The AirPods' bud design might be ugly, but it is is extremely light. Each one rests gently on the concha and won’t weigh down your ears. However, these buds are also the poster children for poor fit. There's a reason why Apple integrated ear tips into the AirPods Pro, mainly because the AirPods’ “universal” fit isn’t effective, and results in serious slippage. Seriously, one of them will hit the ground whenever bending your head sideways or bumping into something. You can purchase third-party ear tips online, but no one should have to spend extra to get the fit they desire.   

Winner: Marshall Mode II

Marshall Mode II vs. Apple AirPods: Controls

Marshall Mode II vs. Apple AirPods

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Apple's headphones are more reliable for playback, call management, and digital assistance. Despite the limited controls (Siri, Play/Pause, Next Track and Previous Track), you’ll be satisfied with the accuracy of double-tap and hold gestures on the AirPods. On-ear detection is available as well to automatically pause playback when removing the buds. 

The star of the show is “Hey Siri” voice activation, which is exclusive to Apple and Beats products and instantly turns on the AI bot whenever speaking the phrase. It works flawlessly and registers voice commands as quickly as it receives them. Google Assistant can be triggered when using the AirPods on Android devices, though you need to download an app like Assistant Trigger to access it.

Marshall Mode II vs. Apple AirPods

(Image credit: Regan Coule/Future)

The Mode II has some of the worst touch controls I’ve ever tested. The touch panels hardly ever acknowledge multi-taps or holds. Single taps seem to be the only command they register, and that is maybe half of the time, if you’re lucky. You’re better off using the motion sensors, which accurately detect when you’re removing both buds to pause music. Google Assistant and Siri operate smoothly as well.   

Something else to note is that both the AirPods and Mode II can be used in mono mode, should you enjoy listening to music or taking calls on one earbud, while storing the other in the charging case.   

Winner: Apple AirPods

Marshall Mode II vs. Apple AirPods: Audio quality

Marshall Mode II vs. Apple AirPods

(Image credit: Regan Coule/Future)

Marshall knows audio better than Apple, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the Mode II delivers the better listening experience. Its soundstage leans more towards the bright end of the sound spectrum, feeding your ears crisp mids and highs.   

The Mode II lends itself well to most music genres. Instrument separation on Jazz records is fantastic, as horns and strings sound serene, while the percussive impact from drums and hi-hats have a vibrancy to them. Bass is limited, which doesn’t exactly make the Mode II favorable for EDM and hip-hop lovers, though you can still get some punch out of the low end on certain tracks. Also, sound can be customized in the Marshall app (more on that in the next section), but if you’re someone who cares little about emphasized bass, then there is much joy to be had from Marshall’s default EQ.

Marshall Mode II vs. Apple AirPods

(Image credit: Future)

You won’t get grade-A sound from the AirPods, but at least it’s an improvement from the wired Apple EarPods and better than what some of the best cheap wireless earbuds pump out. Apple’s warm sound profile gives bass some kick, especially on hard rock songs, and the midrange is clean. Highs aren’t given much, if any, priority. That isn’t to say they are nonexistent – just very recessed.   

Had the AirPods come with an adaptive EQ and the all-new spatial mode, two features found on the AirPods Pro and AirPods Max, this round may have been in Apple’s favor. Instead, the Mode II claims sonic bragging rights.   

Winner: Marshall Mode II

Marshall Mode II vs. Apple AirPods: Special features and apps

Marshall Mode II vs. Apple AirPods

(Image credit: Future)

Apple has done an outstanding job of extending functionality on the AirPods without having to upgrade the hardware. Of course, exceptions had to be made for powerful features like noise cancellation, hence why the company developed the AirPods Pro with stronger specs. However, the H1 chip is still a solid performer, and the latest round of iOS updates have given the AirPods new life.   

Features like the aforementioned “Hey Siri” voice activation, audio sharing, and Live Listen, which acts as a transparency mode, are all standard. The release of iOS 14 tack on a bunch more, including auto device switching, battery notifications, optimized battery charging, and Headphone Accommodations to amplify sounds and adjust frequencies for those hard of hearing. More features are bound to be introduced with future iOS updates.   

The Mode II supports Marshall’s mobile app and gives access to a small number of features. At the top of the list is the EQ with two customizable profiles and six preprogrammed presets: Rock, Spoken, Pop, Hip-Hop, Electronic, and Jazz. You can create your own music profile, but it isn’t necessary since the default EQ is already great. The extra presets are also well engineered and enhance the sound for their respective music genres. Apple hates to advertise it, but users can also personalize sound on the AirPods by going through their iPhone’s Settings (Music -> EQ) and selecting from a huge number of presets.

Marshall Mode II vs. Apple AirPods

(Image credit: Regan Coule/Future)

Marshall developed a Transparency Mode for the Mode II that lets you control how much ambient noise you want to hear. It doesn’t work well. Active noise cancellation (ANC) is something Marshall has at its disposal, but why they chose to omit it on the Mode II remains a mystery.   

Rounding out the Marshall app are a Find My Buds setting, battery level indicators, and firmware updates.  

Apple’s ecosystem has made it effortless for all of their products to connect with one another, and this is best demonstrated with the AirPods. A pop-up notification appears on your iPhone or iPad screen to instantly pair the buds. Even with Bluetooth 5.1, the Mode II struggles to maintain connections with devices and has a short wireless range: audio begins to stutter around the 30-foot mark. 

Winner: Apple AirPods

 

Marshall Mode II vs. Apple AirPods: Call quality

Marshall Mode II vs. Apple AirPods

(Image credit: Regan Coule/Future)

The one hallmark that has remained consistent on the AirPods has been call quality. Apple’s dual-mic system amplifies vocals in loud settings, so those on the opposite end can hear you loud and clear. Wind resistance is something the AirPods don’t get enough credit for, which is shameful since the buds hold up well in drafty conditions. If there is one complaint, it’s that the AirPods don’t block out high-frequencies noises as well as their ANC brethren. 

Marshall Mode II vs. Apple AirPods

(Image credit: Regan Coule/Future)

I wouldn’t recommend using the Mode II for calls because Marshall’s mic array picks up a lot of external sounds. This created many distractions during calls. Some of the people I spoke with also mentioned that my voice sounded hollow when inside the house and very muffled when stepping outside.   

Winner: Apple AirPods

Marshall Mode II vs. Apple AirPods: Battery life

Marshall Mode II vs. Apple AirPods

(Image credit: Future)

Let’s not sugarcoat anything here. Overall battery life on the Mode II and AirPods is insufficient, which cancels out both models in this category. Playtime is rated at 5 hours on a single charge, but power drainers like volume and voice activation decrease it by about 30 minutes. Apple doesn’t say that the AirPods have quick charging, but claims they can generate 3 hours of listening time on a 15-minute charge, while Marshall confirmed that the Mode II doesn’t support the feature and fully charges in 1 hour and 10 minutes.

Marshall Mode II vs. Apple AirPods

(Image credit: Future)

The charging cases share almost the same playtime as well, with the Mode II (25 hours) slightly edging out the AirPods (24 hours). Is either enough to keep you powered on the go? Of course. It’s just annoying that you’ll have to keep either set of buds stored in the charging case to extend playtimes throughout the day. Also, there are competitors out there that have much longer playtimes and charging cases. Both models support wireless charging, but it comes at an extra cost for AirPods owners. 

Winner: Draw

Marshall Mode II vs. Apple AirPods: Overall winner

This was a pretty close battle, but in the end, the Apple AirPods have more going for them than the Mode II. Apple’s controls are more functional and intelligible, call quality is on point, and the company’s commitment to expanding features via iOS updates increases their value. Not to mention that sound quality, while not the greatest, is good for what it is and can be personalized through your iPhone. Battery life and fit are turn-offs, but ones that you may consider living with when taking into account everything else the AirPods offer.

Marshall Mode IIApple AirPods
Price and value (5)34
Design (15)1310
Comfort and fit (10)87
Controls (15)912
Audio quality (20)1815
Special features and apps (15)1012
Call quality (10)68
Battery life (10)66
Total score (100)7374

The Marshall Mode II is a notable true wireless debut for the brand, backed by great sound and a sleek design. It is cool that Marshall gives you different options to personalize audio, and how they managed to create such a compact case that supports wireless charging is remarkable. At the same time, terrible touch controls, along with a weak transparency mode and underwhelming battery life hinder its performance. These shortcomings are what make recommending it over the AirPods very difficult.