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Which AirPods are right for you? Top picks across generations

Apple wins again with its line of AirPods and AirPods Pro models, so it's just a matter of which one to buy. ZDNET has compared the best AirPods, AirPods Pro, and AirPods Max across generations to help you decide which suits your needs and budget.
Written by Lena Borrelli, Contributing Writer on

Apple has come a long way, especially in recent years, expanding its line of successful products to include a variety of devices. Many associate Apple with the iPhone, but the truth is that there are many more products to be considered, especially when it comes to Apple AirPods. These headphones and earbuds combine innovation with performance for a spectacular listening experience. 

Also: The best AirPods and AirPods Pro deals

But which ones should you buy? This is everything you need to know about the best AirPods, AirPods Pro, and AirPods Max before you head to the store. If you can't decide between them, this guide will help. We compared pricing, features, and everything else you need to know about Apple's flagship earbuds and headphones. 

Pros & Cons
  • Phenomenal audio quality
  • Active noise cancellation
  • Comfortable fit
  • Lacks USB-C charging
  • Missing EQ adjustment
More Details

Tech Specs: Type: In-ear | Chip: H2 | Battery: 6 hours | Water-resistant: Yes

Apple wins again with its AirPods Pro, a set of in-ear Bluetooth headphones that features Apple's new H2 chip. This model has 2x more Active Noise Cancellation to keep out pesky sounds that can interfere with your listening. Also embedded are both Personalized Spatial Audio and Adaptive Transparency, so your audio automatically adjusts to your environment. They are both sweat- and water-resistant with an IPX4 rating. The battery is not the greatest at just six hours, but you get 24 more with the charging case. Besides, with such fantastic sound, you may not mind. 

Read the review: Apple AirPods Pro 2nd Gen review

Pros & Cons
  • Affordable
  • Lightweight fit
  • Bluetooth connectivity
  • Awkward fit for some
  • Upgrade needed for wireless charging case
More Details

Tech Specs: Type: In-ear | Chip: H1 | Battery: 5 hours | Water-resistant: None

The Apple AirPods (2nd Generation) are a step down from the Pro, using the H1 headphone chip. They automatically turn on and connect to your favorite Apple device for easy access, and Siri is incorporated for voice control. It is a simple matter to switch between devices and take calls, making use even easier. You receive three hours of battery on a single charge. 

Read the review: Apple AirPod Gen 2 review

Pros & Cons
  • Spatial audio
  • Fantastic performance
  • Excellent battery life
  • Lacks noise cancellation
  • Trouble with fit for some users
More Details

Tech Specs: Type: In-ear | Chip: H1 | Battery: 6 hours | Water-resistant: Yes

Apple AirPods (3rd Generation) make listening a simple matter. You simply put them in your ears, and they automatically turn on for easier use. The audio itself is great, too, including spatial audio and Adaptive EQ, which automatically tunes music to the best listening possible. There's a longer battery life, too, at six hours, which matches the AirPods Pro and exceeds the 2nd Generation Apple AirPods. With an open design, they are also sweat- and water-resistant. 

Read the review: Apple AirPods 3rd Gen review

Pros & Cons
  • Solid construction
  • Exceptional sound
  • Very long battery life
  • Poor case
  • Pricey
More Details

Tech Specs: Type: Over-ear | Chip: H1 | Battery: 20 hours | Water-resistant: Yes

If you are serious about your audio and have a little more to spend, the Apple AirPods Max are your pick. These over-ear headphones are plush and comfortable but don't slack on audio, either. There is both Active Noise Cancellation and Transparency Mode, as well as spatial audio, to take listening to a whole new level. Incorporated is Apple's dynamic driver for better audio, and the entire system uses the H1 chip. Plus, the battery is exceptional with 20 hours of use before a charge is required. 

Read the review: AirPods Max review

What are the best Apple AirPods?

It can be confusing to differentiate between all the different models of Apple AirPods, so check out our comparison chart below to help you find the best Apple AirPods for your needs and preferences.

Best Apple AirPods




Apple AirPods Pro (2nd Generation)


6 hours

Apple AirPods (2nd Generation)


5 hours

Apple AirPods (3rd Generation)


6 hours

Apple AirPods Max


20 hours

Which are the right Apple AirPods for you?

These suggestions may help you find the best Apple AirPods for your needs.

Choose this pair of Apple AirPods...

If you want...

Apple AirPods Pro (2nd Generation)

Performance and value, all in one

Apple AirPods (2nd Generation)

Budget-friendly AirPods

Apple AirPods (3rd Generation)

A comfortable fit

Apple AirPods Max

The best sound

How did we choose these Apple AirPods?

There are several factors we consider when evaluating the best Apple AirPods.

  • Chip - The type of chip lets you know about power and performance. Apple has both the H1 chip and H2 chips, which will tell you what kind of speed and performance to expect.
  • Features - Noise cancellation, adaptive transparency, and spatial audio are all features we consider in Apple AirPods. Some water resistance is included, as well. 
  • Battery life - Your Apple AirPod is useless if it is constantly low on battery, so we consider the battery life of each model, looking for those with a longer battery life.
  • Cost: Budget is always a priority for most shoppers, so we look for affordability wherever possible.

What are Apple AirPods?

Apple AirPods are some of the best Bluetooth headphones that you can buy today. Along with the iPhone 7, Apple launched the Apple AirPods in September 2016. These wireless headphones automatically communicate with your other Apple devices and can also connect with your other devices through Bluetooth.

What are the best cheap Apple AirPods?

Apple AirPods can range in cost between $100 and $480, with the 2nd Generation Apple AirPods being the cheapest Apple Airpods you can buy.

How much do Apple AirPods cost?

Apple AirPods range in cost based on the year and model. The best Apple AirPods range in cost between $100 and $480, depending on the pair you choose.

Are there alternative Apple AirPods worth considering?

Apple offers many products, but that is everything for its latest AirPods line up. There are still many companies out there that have similar products, so check out our picks for the best headphones and the best noise-canceling headphones.

To learn more about other Apple products, check out the best iPhones and the best iPads!

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