Longform critique is not something that frequently interests me. The pressure to produce something timely and relevant is enough of a deterrent to keep me from investing too much in writing reviews, and the sheer number of voices scrambling to scream similarly into the void about a product or a service or a piece of art typically convinces me that I don't need to pile yet another opinion onto the heap. Yet, every once in awhile there is something that I am so inexplicably captivated by that I can't possibly expel the thought of it from my mind. After experiencing it, I feel compelled to enumerate, to coalesce my thoughts. I search deep within, try to understand exactly what it is that stands out in such an immeasurable way above all else, and then, occasionally, the words appear (shameless plug for my review of depression and anxiety. Spoiler alert: 1/5, would not recommend.)
For the last seven years or so, my preferred way of consuming audio has been through remarkable pairs of in-ear headphones created by Bose. The latest variant I owned were the MIE2i model, but they've all looked and sounded similarly. You've likely seen them. The cord is an unmistakable two-tone black and white twist, like a flexible candy cane wrought of carbon rather than ruby. The earbuds themselves are unique in the sense that they never create a full seal when worn. Instead, the fitted rubber tip slips loosely into the ear canal, a hook made of the same soft material extends upward in an arch to brace itself along the ridge of the ear. The result is a pair of buds that feel as though you're barely wearing them, yet there is never any fear of them falling out. They're easily the most comfortable headphones I've ever worn.
They also sound fine. As you audioheads out there have probably deduced by my use of the word "remarkable" in the previous paragraph, it is obvious that I am but a mere plebeian in the world of acoustics. If anything, "remarkable" is a better term to describe how it is I've managed to dress myself successfully the last three decades. How do I procure sustenance on a routine basis? Dear god, it's a wonder that I have managed to hold down a job and consistently pay my bills with actual money instead of beans, what with my affinity for the products crafted by the Bose Corporation. Alas, we'll have to wonder together, dear reader (and far superior hearing person), and live with the reality that these headphones are perfectly pleasing to my proto ears. Fist eggplant emoji.
Truly, the only unremarkable thing about these headphones is how—without fail—the cord begins to fray at the base of the jack after a year-and-a-half-to-two-years' usage, leaving an indeterminable amount of time between when the fraying begins to when the cable inevitably ceases to carry audio, at which point you find yourself at Best Buy, scrounging together what little beans you have leftover from rent to buy a new pair of Bose earbuds, with the knowledge that in a few short years the cycle is destined to repeat once again. Planned obsolescence, indeed.
Aside from that, though, you know, pretty good headphones.
Somehow, I managed to squeeze a good three years out of my latest pair. It was only a matter of time before they failed me.
Enter AirPods: Apple's solution to their dastardly scheme of removing the headphone jack of all things from their latest iPhone. When they were announced in September, I was interested. Skeptical, but interested.
Also, what did past Keenan know that slightly less past Keenan did not?!
Why hadn't I jumped on the wireless headphone bandwagon (aside from the fact that I still had a perfectly good pair of wired headphones, of course)? Wireless audio quality didn't deter me like it does for some, but there were some major compromises in the offerings that existed at the time; overall bluetooth pairing and connectivity (oof), product design (most were ugly and I didn't want a half-necklace dangling around the back of my neck), and charging solutions (fuck micro-USB cables) were all things I was far more apprehensive about. Apple's impossible solution seemed to address all of these issues. A slick carapace (iconic white, naturally), each AirPod not much bigger than the existing EarPod design, sans wire, and smart enough to know when you're actually wearing them. Handy charging case that was small enough to take with you, no extra cables necessary. And W1, which promised to simplify the pairing process and seamlessly sync the headphones between your various Apple devices.
In other words: magic. You know, the thing Apple used to sell before Tim Cook literally shit all over everything and single-handedly ran the company into the ground in that alternate universe where Internet commenters live. If Apple delivered what they promised, the first great wireless audio solution would be upon us.
So they promised October. Upside-down smiley face emoji.
By the time they launched late December, the buzz from those who snagged a pair made it seem as though AirPods lived up to the hype. I couldn't help but feel excitement. What a weird feeling to have about an Apple product nowadays.
Then I tried them. It was one of the few truly wow moments I've experienced from technology lately. It was enough to convince me that I had to have them.
It helped that later that very same day, I realized the cable at the base of the headphone jack on my current headphones had begun to fray. Good timing, motherfuckers.
It also helped that it would cost just $30 more to go with AirPods than replace my Bose headphones with the current model. I had an inkling that the convenience of going wireless would more than make up for the little extra I'd spend.
I was right.
If you follow me on Twitter, you've probably seen at least one of my tweets gushing about AirPods. Further gushing has happened in private channels, I assure you. I can only imagine how much my friends in various Slack channels wish to god I'd shut the hell up about them already. But I'm enamored with these little things. My thoughts feel vast and a bit nebulous. I'll do my best to get them out here. Bear with me.
Like most people, the first experience I had with AirPods was connecting them to my iPhone. Miraculously, W1 completely delivers here. It provides absolutely painless pairing, unlike anything else I've tried. With the swift flip of the case's lid and a single tap on the screen, AirPods and iPhone are one. I'm frankly floored at the difference this makes. My wife was impressed. My wife doesn't care about pairing bluetooth devices.
The second experience I had was wearing them for the first time. I wasn't expecting to smile putting earbuds in, but they emit a pleasant little chime, as though to say, "Hi! Hello! We're ready to go! Let's do this." Every time I take them out of the case and place them in my ears, their gentle greeting gets me grinning.
I also truly dig their style. Sleek. Simple. I'd even go as far to call them cute when they're just straight chilling on the table, waiting to be popped back into your hearholes. They look friendly, like so many Apple devices, which is a welcome shift from basically any other ear apparatus out there. I know aesthetics are entirely subjective, and, yes, I've seen the comments describing them as looking like miniature toothbrushes sticking out of your ear (what), or like you broke a Q-tip off in your ear and left it dangling (which, like, you shouldn't be putting Q-tips in your ears, can we stop please). You don't have to like the look of them, but something tells me the vast amount of revulsion in these hot takes stems from the fact that they're just... a bit... different than what we're used to, rather than any inherent problem in their overall design. To me, whether they're being worn or not, AirPods look better than pretty much anything else on the market. Especially when they're in your ear, they're so simple and innocuous, I can't imagine not liking how they look. A little taste of science-fiction flairPods.
They're light. They fit comfortably in my ears. I never worry they're going to fall out, even though it's easy to forget that I'm wearing them if I pause what I'm listening to for a moment.
And they sound good. Not incredible. Not mind-blowingly better than standard EarPods (though they do sound a bit better). Not "I'm going to permanently replace my $700 cans with these little buddies" amazing. Simply good. A sufficient replacement for my dying Bose headphones. I've listened to hours and hours of podcasts on them, as well as hours and hours of music. I'm surprised at the bass they produce. I'm surprised at their overall clarity. I am frequently delighted when I remove one for a moment, pausing the audio, only to have it pick up immediately the second I put the AirPod back in.
It bears mentioning that transferring audio from one Apple device to another is seamless, nearly instantaneous (except for the Apple TV, which you still have to pair the old-fashioned bluetooth way because we're all just savages and nothing makes sense anymore let's just give up).
Battery life easily meets my needs, though I have run them down a couple times due to the fact that I like wearing them. They're so easy and satisfying that I go out of my way to use them whenever I can. Without wires, it makes a lot more sense to me to pop headphones in when I'm lying down in bed, watching a few videos or listening to a podcast before I fall asleep.
To that point, fast charging is incredible (dead to one-hundred percent in thirty minutes flat). The little carrying case is brilliant. Snapping the lid shut is as satisfying as everyone says, but it's also just as enjoyable to return the AirPods to their cradle and watch them click into place. This product is full of little details that most companies wouldn't even consider. You can truly feel, see, and hear the incredible amount of thought and care that went into their creation.
Oh! I like that I can give one bud to a friend and we can listen to something together when the need arises. SharePods.
I like the freedom they provide. I can move around my apartment or my office without being tethered to my phone while listening to something. I don't have to worry about a cord getting caught on a button or a zipper on my jacket. I don't have to be strategic about which pocket I put my phone in. It wasn't until I started wearing AirPods that I realized how many subtle accommodations I'd made for wired headphones. This epiphany dawned on me the other day when I took my messenger bag off after I got home. I lifted the strap over my head and placed the bag on the ground and realized afterward that I didn't have to temporarily remove my earbuds in the process. I always hated the feeling of the bag's strap tugging at my wired headphones, so I made it a habit to wear the cord over the strap. With nothing there, I didn't even need to consider it, and that was lovely. Such a seemingly inconsequential moment, but being able to subconsciously revert those little behavioral changes add up to create a great overall experience.
On the other hand, the double-tap gesture continues to be a little wonky to activate. I don't usually get it on the first try. Annoying, but not enough to make me rip out my hairPods.
Although I guess that means it saves me from having to interact with Siri, right?! Au contrairePods.
I, honestly, don't really mind Siri. Maybe I haven't set my expectations high enough. Weird little shrug dude emoticon. Regardless, she works as expected here. If you are like me and don't have any major problems with her on other devices, then there won't be a change here. If you think Siri is indicative of Apple's inability to stay ahead of the competition and provide a compelling AI platform and she will ultimately be the misstep that causes them to be overwhelmed by the sheer software and services prowess of Google, Amazon, and Microsoft? Well, I am just so very excited to read your Medium post about how it turns out that AirPods are the final straw; Tim Cook personally let you down for the last goddamn time and you'll gladly watch Apple's inevitable spiral downward, fretfully clinging to the side of the toilet bowl until they are finally washed away. Thanks for nothing, Siri. Also Touch Bar. Also 16GB RAM. Also Maps. Also also also.
Long live Steve.
To summarize: since they're small, light, and stylish, they're extremely easy to wearPods; they can be barePods or hidden under layerPods. I simply pop them in and go about my day. Out of all the options available to me, they're easily my preferred pairPods. Whether I'm vacuuming, walking the dog, or cooking dinner, it's easy for me to dance around like Fred AstairePods. I haven't had any issues dropping them, but I know others have. They are compact and a little slippery, so I'd definitely recommend you handle with carePods. If they do somehow end up on the floor, be careful where you step, because they're quite difficult to repairPods. I'd hate for you to break them, as I know that'd cause me a great deal of despairPods. Furthermore, it's great to have the option of watching the Apple TV without disturbing anyone. I can sit alone, late at night, and watch House of Cards. They're fantastic Frank and ClairePods. This is great, because the last thing I'd want is to be on the receiving end of my wife's glarePods. All things considered, I don't think about my Bose headphones anymore. They don't even comparePods. There's just something so magical, so enticing about these things, a product like this is incredibly rarePods.
If this all seems like a really roundabout way of me saying that I like the little bastards, I get it. I really, really like them. I even maybe love them a little bit (a lot a bit). It's hard to nail down what exactly it is that enamors most about them. There are plenty of things I can readily measure, and I've tried. But in the midst of everything I can clearly identify, there's so much that I find difficult to grasp. To me, it's all of the intangibles that speak so much more about the success of AirPods. The smile on my face when I put them in my ears. The insatiable desire to wear them whenever I can. The thought that somewhere at Apple there is a team of people that had an idea for a product. They wanted to iterate and refine and perfect. They wanted to live up to the reputation that preceded them. They wanted to introduce something that sounds impossible, something that it couldn't work, and they wanted to surprise and delight us all by proving all of our assumptions wrong. They wanted to get it right and show the world what is possible when you truly care about doing something and doing it well.
And they did. They got it right.
They got it so right.
The photo used in any thumbnails and on Apple News is provided courtesy of Apple.