If you value great quality audio then Apple headphones are a fine choice, especially if you already own Apple gear. They're optimised to work best with Apple devices and many of them are designed to deliver technologically-enhanced sound that'll improve your listening experience, whether you're playing music, taking in a podcast or enjoying an audiobook.
The size of the Apple headphones range, however, means that it can be tricky to decide which ones are right for you. Do you want Apple-branded headphones or Apple-owned Beats? Wired or Wireless? In-ear or over-ear? Here we can help you narrow things down with our guide to the various Apple headphones on offer.
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.
What are the different types of Apple headphones?
There are three main lines of Apple headphones. The headline brand at the moment is Apple's range of wireless AirPods. These used to be strictly in-ear headphones, but that changed late in 2020 with the introduction of AirPods Max, a premium set of wireless over-ear cans. The original AirPods were released in 2016 and updated in 2019, while the much-improved AirPods Pro hit the market in 2019.
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 2021?
Since the launch of AirPods Max in 2020, nothing much has been happening on the Apple headphones front, but we're expecting some product refreshes this year. Most exciting is the possible launch of updated AirPods Pro; we've heard that they may come in two sizes and without the instantly-recognisable stem.
The original AirPods are due an update, too, and it's been suggested that they'll look a lot more like AirPods Pro, with shorter stems (but no silicone ear tips or any of the Pro's advanced features like active noise cancellation. This being Apple, though, the first we'll know about them for sure will be when they're announced. Watch this space.
Apple headphones: Apple-branded models
Apple's AirPods drew plenty of shade when they first appeared in 2016, but they've quickly become a must-have accessory. The latest AirPods offer high quality, tonally-balanced audio; they don't boost the bass like other headphones do. They also feature a built-in microphone that filters out background noise and allows phone calls, and you can also use it to talk to Siri.
By tapping your AirPods twice you can pause audio, and audio is automatically paused when you take them out of your ears. Battery life is pretty good; you'll get about 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.
If you have a wireless charging pad and you're willing to pay a bit extra, AirPods with a wireless charging case will save you having to spend $79/£79 on buying the wireless case separately. This beautifully-designed device is lightweight, sturdy and easily pocket-sized, and it works with all generations of AirPods. A tiny LED lets you know how much charge your AirPods have left, and the case itself can be charged either wirelessly using a Qi-compatible charging mat or with the Lightning connector. Honestly, though, if you want a wireless charging case, we'd recommend spending just a little bit more on...
Apple's AirPods Pro are a higher-end version of the standard AirPods, with a number of must-have improvements. They feature silicone ear tips in three sizes, giving you a much better fit and drastically reducing the chances of them falling out. They're sweat and water-resistant too, making them ideal for using when you're exercising. The real selling point, though, is the audio quality.
Using built-in H1 chips to deliver computational audio, the AirPods Pro have an Adaptive EQ system that gives you the best possible sound at all times. You also get incredible active noise cancellation as well as a transparency mode that lets you hear what's happening around you. Playing and pausing audio, as well as other controls, can be done by squeezing the stems, and you can activate Siri by simply saying, "Hey Siri". They're easy to set up and come with a wireless charging case as standard; if you can afford it, they're well worth the extra expense.
If you thought AirPods Pro were pricey, AirPods Max would like to have a word. There's a lot to love about them; they use all the computational audio tricks found in the AirPods Pro and take them up a level to give you stunning high-fidelity audio, active noise cancellation and transparency mode, with a super-comfortable fit, long battery life and fantastic build quality.
That price, though. If they supported high-resolution audio, let you use a 3.5mm cable and weren't effectively tied to Apple gear, they'd be properly impressive headphones, capable of besting the sort of ludicrous audiophile cans that cost thousands. As they are, though, they're top-quality wireless headphones that cost a bit too much.
First introduced in 2012, the EarPods are the most old-fashioned type of Apple headphones still on sale today. If you've bought an iPhone over the past ten years then you probably have a pair gathering dust on a shelf somewhere. But if you don't, and all you really need is a cheap, no-nonsense pair of wired in-ear headphones that provide decent sound, these 'classic' wired headphones are still worth a try.
They're basic (the lack of silicone ear tips will be a massive turn-off for many) but EarPods do have some useful features. They'll let you adjust the volume, control the playback of music and video, and answer or end calls with a pinch of the cord, and they'll 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
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.
In these 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 really good and not over-bassy like previous Beats. If it wasn't for the pesky AirPods Max, these would be the best full-size Apple headphones; now they're simply the best full-size Apple headphones that don't require a second mortgage.
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), but in a more compact form factor that makes them look more 80s than 70s. Despite their reduced size, though, 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.
If you want to listen to music, podcasts or whatever when you're out for some exercise, Beats Powerbeats Pro are worth a look: wireless, ear-hook headphones made specifically for such purposes.
Their slim nozzles and choice of four different ear tips mean that they'll fit snugly and stay in place, however much you move about. There's a volume rocker and play/pause/skip button on the logo, so you can control your listening without having to fish your phone out of your pocket. In addition, 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.