How to choose the greatest AirPods in 2024

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Are AirPods even worth it?

It’s a fair question — Apple is known for making excellent tech, but also for way overpricing that tech even when competitors have better options at cheaper prices.

Which is why you might be wondering if the AirPods Max, for instance, which were released in 2019 and are priced at $549, are actually $120 better than the latest over-ear headphones from Bose released last year, or $150 better than Sony’s flagship headphones released in 2022.

SEE ALSO:

Sony WH-1000XM5 headphones review: New design and improved sound quality

For people who love to stay cocooned safely within the Apple ecosystem, that splurge might be worth it. But for most folks, not so much. If you’re going to be paying premium prices, you’ll want to know that’s money well spent. Fortunately for Apple lovers, we’ve consistently rated the brand’s iconic buds as some of the greatest wireless earbuds on the market.

Based on our in-depth reviews of the current AirPods lineup (and the competition), we’ve made this guide to help you find the greatest AirPods for you.

What AirPods are available for purchase in 2024?

Right now, you can find four primary AirPods models available for sale from the Apple Store and other retailers. This includes three pairs of wireless earbuds and the AirPods Max headphones:

  • AirPods (Second Generation) — $129 (often on sale for $89 to $99)

  • AirPods (Third Generation) — $169

  • AirPods Pro (Second Generation, USB-C) — $249 (often on sale for $189)

  • AirPods Max — $549 (often on sale for $489 to $499)

You might be able to find a couple older models, like the Second Gen Lightning port AirPods Pro, at retailers like Amazon or Walmart, but likely from a third-party seller, and likely not for a consistent price. We’ve also heard rumors that Apple will be dropping a new AirPods Max model and more affordable noise-cancelling AirPods later in 2024. For this guide, we’ll be focusing on the greatest AirPods available at the time of writing, but if you’re not in a rush, you may want to wait.

SEE ALSO:

iOS 18: A mysterious new audio feature is reportedly coming to Apple Music

Our AirPods recommendations are based on in-depth and hands-on reviews. Because the right product for you may depend on your budget, we’ve taken price and discounts into account, too. We’ve been consistently tracking the greatest Apple deals biweekly for the past two and a half years, and we’re confident we can help you pick the right headphones for the greatest possible price.


Greatest for most people: Apple AirPods Pro (USB-C)


Check out our full review of the AirPods Pro (Second Generation, USB-C).

Who it’s for:

The newest Apple AirPods Pro are for the person who wants the greatest of all worlds: well-rounded sound, impressive active noise cancellation, plenty of portability, and a price that (if you catch it at the right time) doesn’t exceed $200. In other words, most Apple users looking for earbuds should start here.

Why we chose this:

“The first time I turned on active noise cancelation while walking down a busy street, I was in awe. The sounds around me disappeared almost completely,” Mashable’s Stan Schroeder wrote in his review of the second-generation AirPods Pro (before the USB-C version hit the market). He went on to say, “These are the first pair of earbuds I’d actually consider taking on an airplane (instead of my much larger and clunkier over-ear headphones).”

The newer AirPods Pro equipped with USB-C are pretty much the same, except now you can throw away your lightning cables (exempting, of course, anyone with an iPhone before the iPhone 15). The button on the stem is less sensitive than touch controls you’ll find on other earbuds, and the four sizes of silicone ear tips allow you to find the greatest fit, and therefore the greatest seal possible, maximizing both the sound of your music and ANC power.

As for how these headphones actually work, 11mm dynamic drivers do an excellent job of delivering a clear and robust sound signature. We do wish Apple offered a customizable EQ, but we appreciate the presets. (If that’s a dealbreaker for you, you might want to check out the Sony WF-1000XM5 earbuds).

One final buying tip for these Apple wireless earbuds — they go on sale often, dipping to at least $199, but we’ve also seen them hit $189 a few times, and even $179. So, if you’re not in a rush to buy, we recommend waiting and keeping an eye on our deals coverage.

Battery life: 6 hours per charge with ANC (30 hours with case) | Colors: White | Active Noise Cancellation: Yes


Greatest without noise cancellation: Apple AirPods (2nd Generation)

second generation airpods and case on denim

Credit: Zlata Ivleva / Mashable


Apple AirPods (2nd Generation)

Check out our full review of the AirPods (2nd Gen).

Who it’s for:

For the no-frills headphone user, the one who doesn’t really care about ANC and would rather save some cash while remaining in the AirPods family, we recommend the second-generation AirPods. Yes, the ones released in 2019, not the wildly overpriced (even for Apple) third-generation AirPods from 2021.

Why we chose this:

These earbuds aren’t the latest and greatest. In fact, they’re five years old, and you can definitely find cheap wireless earbuds from other brands with better features. However, if you’re an AirPods user who doesn’t want to make the jump to ANC prices, you’re better off with these second-gen AirPods over the newer third-gen buds.

For starters, there’s about a $70 price difference between these earbuds. The second-gen AirPods technically have a $129 list price, but they are pretty much permanently on sale at $99 these days (and are known to dip even lower). Third-gen AirPods also go on sale with some regularity, but you’ll usually find them at their full price of $169, so we’d say that $70 price difference is accurate. Yes, the newer buds are going to look sleeker and more like the Pros. They also offer a better sound signature and six hours of battery per charge instead of the five hours you’ll get with the second-generation AirPods.

Even so, there’s no reason to pay $169 for earbuds without noise cancellation in 2024. Basically, our case for the second-gen AirPods is more a case against the third-gen model, but if you’re dead set on AirPods and don’t care about ANC, the more affordable option will give you the the greatest bang for your buck.

Battery life: 5 hours per charge (24 hours with case) | Colors: White | Active Noise Cancellation: No


Greatest over-ear option: Apple AirPods Max


green airpods max against wooden background

Check out our full review of the AirPods Max.

Who it’s for:

Over-ear headphones usually provide the greatest sound and noise cancellation due to their larger design and secure fit. If you’re looking for the greatest of both and have the cash to burn, the AirPods Max will be your Apple headphones of choice (and the only Apple headphones for now). That being said, you can find better headphones for the money, so only buy these if you’re determined to stay inside the Apple family or love the design and comfort.

Why we chose this:

Again, these are technically the only over-ear headphones from Apple, so making this recommendation wasn’t all that difficult for us. Though we maintain that, in most cases, these headphones are simply too expensive for what they are, we can’t say they’re without merits, or an audience that is likely to love them.

Before we get into said merits (and they do have a lot of them), let us try to talk you out of buying them first. If the option for a wired connection is a dealbreaker, then you’ll need to opt for other headphones, as these simply don’t have an audio jack. Prefer a carrying carrying case? Well, you technically get a Smart Case, but calling that a case is basically like calling a sock a shoe. It just doesn’t do the same job. The ear cups also don’t fold, so portability isn’t their strong suit unless you’re wearing them 24/7 (which many people do, as their modern design and cool colors have made them something of a fashion accessory). It isn’t easy to make the most of their 20 hour battery life because they don’t ever turn off, and at most go into a low battery mode when placed in their “case.”

Okay, so now that we crapped on these Apple headphones for a paragraph, why are we still recommending them? Well, even though there’s no EQ you can customize, they do sound damn good, and they offer Adaptive EQ for folks who trust Apple to pick the ideal bass and treble levels. The active noise cancellation certainly holds its own with other premium headphones (though, as we mentioned in the intro, these other headphones tend to be about $100 cheaper). For movie lovers, the spatial audio also provides an immersive experience. And for folks who love design, you won’t find anything else like them.

So, that leaves us with a very specific audience for these wireless headphones: people who love the look, crave great sound and top-notch ANC (but don’t care too much about adjusting it themselves), and are willing to sacrifice some other basic functionalities in the process.

Battery life: 20 hours | Colors: Silver, pink, green, sky blue, space gray | Active Noise Cancellation: Yes

Mashable Deals


Greatest AirPods alternative: Beats Studio Buds +


white beats studio buds + on green surface

Who it’s for:

If you want the basic experience of AirPods and either own an Android or don’t want to pay AirPods prices, the Beats Studio Buds + offer active noise cancellation, great battery life, and a well-balanced sound profile.

Why we chose this:

AirPods are popular with iPhone users because of how smoothly they’re integrated with iOS. As Apple’s other headphones brand, Beats pretty much replicates the experience for a fraction of the price.

Though there’s no EQ on these headphones, they sound nice out of the box, and they do big favors for bass-heavy tracks. The ANC isn’t quite up to the AirPods Pro level, but unless you need elite noise cancelling, these are likely to do the job. If you’re not a fan of the stemmed AirPod design, you’ll be happy to know these Studio Buds are stemless and compact. They still have on-earbud button controls, which are slightly more awkward to use than AirPods, but by no means inelegant.

The battery life is comparable to the AirPods Pro, giving you about five and a half to six hours of continuous listening time with active noise cancellation. If you have an Android, these earbuds are compatible with Google Fast Pair. And they come in several colorways, including a unique transparent one for folks who like more of retro vibe.

Sure, you won’t get fancy extras like spatial audio or customizable EQ, but to be fair, the AirPods Max also do without the latter, and so these are the earbuds to get if you want a pair that epitomizes the phrase “good enough.” At the $169.95 asking price (and a frequent sale price of $129.95 or less), these earbuds are $80 less than the $249 AirPods Pro. In other words, they’re also our budget AirPods Pro pick.

Battery life: 6 hours with ANC, 9 without (27 hours with charging case) | Colors: Ivory, black, transparent, silver | Active Noise Cancellation: Yes


How we test AirPods

We’ve been reviewing AirPods at Mashable for a while, with current and past editors and staff writers contributing to our pool of reviews. For this shopping guide, we consulted our editors and past reviews. Mashable has dedicated reviews for all of the AirPods featured in this article, and our shopping experts spent weeks (and often months) evaluating their sound quality, battery life, comfort, and overall feature set.

We don’t have a dedicated review for the Beats Studio Buds +, but we did test them recently for our guide to the greatest headphones of 2024. For this guide, we retested these Beats earbuds to make sure they still had the battery life, noise cancellation, and sound quality to make them a worthy AirPods alternative.

Obviously, some of these models came out a few years ago. That’s why we made sure to note where they might be lacking and alternatives that might offer a better value in 2024. We considered any missing features that are now more common among premium headphones, including customizable EQ and powerful noise cancelling, and evaluated where Apple’s headphones held up and where they fell short. We’ve also been tracking prices on AirPods for years, allowing us to make recommendations on when to buy (and therefore, squeeze the most value out of your purchase).

As mentioned earlier in this guide, we do expect Apple to release new AirPods products in 2024. Once we have confirmed release dates for any new AirPods, we’ll be sure to update our recommendations accordingly.