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The best Apple headphones for 2020

Apple headphones: Billie Eilish wearing Beats Solo headphones
(Image credit: Apple)

Apple headphones are some of the best headphones around, and a great choice if you're already an Apple user. Optimised for your devices, Apple headphones guarantee a quality audio experience, whether you’re listening to your favourite music, audiobooks or podcasts.

There are, however, quite a confusing number of Apple headphones to choose from, including classic designs and more recent ones. So which should you opt for? In this buying guide, we look at the various ranges of Apple headphones, and which model is likely to best suit your needs.

If you're after devices to match your Apple headphones, then also check out our guide to the best Apple Watches. But if it's not necessarily Apple headphones you want, check out the best wireless headphones, the best noise-cancelling headphones, and the best running headphones. And we've also got the best headphones for video editing covered too.

What are the different types of Apple headphones?

Apple headphones currently come under three broad product lines. The most talked-about right now are the AirPods range of wireless in-ear Bluetooth headphones. The first generation of AirPods, released in December 2016, were replaced by a second generation in 2019. These come with an optional wireless charging case.

A separate group of Apple headphones are those that come under the Beats umbrella. Previously known as Beats by Dr. Dre, this brand was bought by Apple in 2014 for a reported $3.2 billion, and has since become a subsidiary of the company. Beats headphones are designed explicitly to optimise the listening experience for hip-hop and pop music. 

The third group of Apple headphones are EarPods. These wired earbuds, first launched in 2012, were originally designed to be used with the iPhone 5. The most recent model was introduced in 2016, along with the iPhone 7, but is still on sale today.

Apple headphones: What can we expect in 2020?

There are strong rumours right now that Apple is about to launch a new range of over-ear headphones, which are likely to be Apple-branded (rather than Beats) and called either Apple AirPods Studio or Apple AirPods X. It’s believed they’ll come with smart ear-detecting sensors and, like the AirPods Pro, also feature noise cancellation. They’ll reportedly cost $349.

We stress, though, that this information is entirely based on rumours and leaks, so has to be taken with a pinch of salt. The moment that Apple actually confirms or denies any of it, we’ll let you know. In the meantime, here’s our roundup of the best Apple headphones you can buy right now...

Apple headphones: Apple-branded models

Apple headphones: AirPods

(Image credit: Apple)

01. Apple AirPods

The Apple headphones everyone's talking about.

Headphone type: In-ear wireless | Listening time: 5 hours | Noise cancellation: No | Waterproof: No | Wireless charging: No

Great sound
No Active Noise Cancellation
Only standard charging case

Every half decade or so, Apple hits all the sweet spots, and brings out a product that combines sleek design and slick functionality in such a way that it blows the competition out of the water. Not only does it become desirable, it becomes that thing all tech brands crave: fashionable. And that's certainly the case with these wireless Bluetooth earbuds. 

Widely mocked when they first appeared in 2016, AirPods are now a status symbol sported by the rich, the famous, and everyone else who wants to be. But it's not just how they look: they perform pretty darned well, too. 

The latest version of AirPods, titled 'AirPods 2019', offer high quality, tonally-balanced audio; they don't boost the bass like other headphones do. Switching between connections using Bluetooth is smooth and efficient, just like you'd expect from Apple. And there's also a nifty feature called Audio Sharing, which lets you connect a second pair of AirPods to a single iPhone. Allowing two people to listen to the same music simultaneously is a stroke of genius, and a great reason to buy if you're in a couple, or share music tastes with your friends.

Also note that AirPods aren't just about listening: they also feature a built-in microphone that filters out background noise, and allows phone calls, as well as talking to Apple's digital assistant, Siri. 

Additionally, you can pause audio by tapping your AirPods twice, and audio is automatically paused when you take them out of your ears. You get around five hours of listening time or three hours of talk time on a single charge from the included charging case. All in all, the AirPods represent excellent sound quality and great performance.

Apple headphones: Airpods being placed inside wireless charging case

(Image credit: Apple)

02. AirPods with wireless charging case

Spend an extra $40 / £40 and get wireless charging.

Headphone type: In-ear wireless | Listening time: 5 hours | Noise cancellation: No | Waterproof: No | Wireless charging: Yes

Includes wireless charging case
Cheaper than buying case separately
Good for long journeys
More expensive option

If you can find an extra $40 / £40, then you can buy your AirPods with a wireless charging case, which is a big saving from buying one separately at $79 / £79. This beautifully designed device is lightweight, sturdy, and fits in your pocket nicely. It works with with all generations of AirPods and a level-indicating LED on its front makes it easy to keep track of how much your AirPods' battery has left. The case itself can be charged either wirelessly using a Qi-compatible charging mat or with the Lightning connector.

Apple headphones: AirPods Pro

(Image credit: Apple)

03. AirPods Pro

The best in-ear Apple headphones today.

Headphone type: In-ear wireless | Listening time: 4.5 hours | Noise cancellation: Yes | Waterproof: Yes | Wireless charging: Yes

Customisable fit
Active Noise Cancellation
Sweat and water resistant
Most expensive AirPods

As the name suggests, the AirPods Pro are a higher-end version of the standard AirPods. Firstly, they come with silicone ear tips in three sizes, so you've got a better chance of them actually fitting your ears properly. They're also sweat and water-resistant, which could prove useful if you're going to use them for workouts, runs or other sporting activities.

The AirPods Pro feature two microphones for active noise cancellation, and have more advanced tap controls than the normal AirPods. For example, you can play, pause or answer a phone call via one tap on the stem; skip forward with two taps, and back with three. You can also switch Active Noise Cancellation on and off with a press and hold.

More broadly, the AirPods Pro also offer better sound quality, faster connections to your devices, and come with a wireless charging case as standard. So overall, while they're expensive, they're well worth the extra money if you can afford it.

Apple headphones: EarPods

(Image credit: Apple)

04. EarPods with Lightning Connector

Classic Apple headphones with a wired connection.

Headphone type: In-ear wired | Listening time: N/A (not wireless) | Noise cancellation: No | Waterproof: No | Wireless charging: N/A

Don't need charging

First introduced in 2012, the  EarPods are the most old-fashioned type of Apple headphones still on sale today. But if you're just looking for something cheap and cheerful which provides a decent, if not outstanding performance, then these 'classic' wired headphones are still worth a try. 

While basic, the Earpods do let you adjust the volume, control the playback of music and video, and answer or end calls with a pinch of the cord. They work with all devices that have a Lightning connector and support iOS 10 or later, including iPod touch, iPad and iPhone.

Apple headphones: Beats-branded models

Apple headphones: Woman wearing Beats headphones

(Image credit: Apple)

05. Beats Studio 3 Wireless

The best full size, over-ear Apple headphones.

Headphone type: Over-ear | Listening time: 22 hours or 40 hours without noise cancellation | Noise cancellation: Yes | Waterproof: No | Wireless charging: No

Good looking
Rich, full sound
Long battery life

The Beats Studio 3 Wireless headphones are full-size, over-ear 'cans' that cover your whole ear, just like classic headphones did back in the 1960s and 1970s. One of the best reasons to buy these, to be frank, is to look cool. With their retro-modern looks and distinctive logo, Beats remains a deeply hip brand across the globe; "The Jordans of headphones," as Eminem once called them. But that's not all they have to offer.

In this new headphones, released at the end of 2019, you also get active noise cancellation, the rechargeable battery lasts for up to 22 hours (40 hours when noise cancellation is turned off), and the sound quality is very decent. Indeed, while previous Beats headphones were too bass-heavy, this latest model offers a more balanced sound, giving equal weight to lows, mids and highs. 

Apple headphones: Billie Eilish wearing Beats Solo headphones

(Image credit: Apple)

06. Beats Solo Pro

The best medium size, over-ear Apple headphones.

Headphone type: Over-ear | Listening time: 22 hours or 40 hours without cancellation | Noise cancellation: Yes | Waterproof: No | Wireless charging: No

Sleek design
Don't need to switch on

Also released at the end of 2019, the  Beats Solo Pro headphones basically contain the same clever tech as the Beats Studio 3 Wireless headphones (above), just in a smaller pair of cans. Looks-wise, then, they're more 1980s than 1970s. Despite their size, they're very sturdy and feel very comfortable in use. Also note that they don't actually feature a power button: they automatically just switch on when you unfold them. 

Apple headphones: woman wearing Powerbeats headphones

(Image credit: Apple)

07. Beats Powerbeats Pro

The best Beats headphones for working out.

Headphone type: Ear-hook wireless | Listening time: 9 hours | Noise cancellation: No | Waterproof: Yes | Wireless charging: No

Customisable fit
No noise cancellation
No wireless charging

Want to listen to music while working out at the gym, going for a run, or playing sports? Then you need to check out Beats Powerbeats Pro: wireless, ear-hook headphones made specifically for such purposes. 

With a slim nozzle and four different ear tips to choose from, you should find it easy to fit them in your ears securely, however much you move about. You get a volume rocker plus a play/pause/skip button on the logo, so you can control your sounds with either your left or right hand. Plus, usefully, they're sweat- and water-resistant.

The Powerbeats Pro offer crisp, clear sound that's not too heavy on the bass, up to nine hours of listening time, and the same kind of controls and fast connectivity you find in the AirPods (not surprising, as the internal tech is the same). On the downside, there's no wireless charging or noise cancellation, as there is in the AirPods Pro.

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