I don’t know if there is a single gizmo in existence that has added such a subtle, yet unbelievably significant quality of life improvement to my daily life as AirPods.
I know what some of the persnickety Twitter people are going to say: AirPods are just one of a plethora of completely wireless headphones out in the world, you just happen to have picked them, but any pair would give you the same experience.
I do freely admit that I have not tried every pair of wireless headphones out there, or even a majority, but I have sampled a fair number of them. A while ago, I picked up a set of Sony WF-1000XM3 wireless earbuds, thinking they would elevate the experience I was having with my old, worn-out AirPods (which I have since replaced with AirPods Pro).
You want to know the surprising thing about that? I kind of hated them. Sure, they sounded really good, but I couldn’t stand how heavy they felt in my ears. I detested how they so completely blocked out the outside world (even with the ambient mode enabled). Although I greatly appreciated that they used a USB-C connection to charge (come on, Apple, just switch from the Lightning connector for Pete’s sake), I positively despised the case. For one, it was gigantic, making it either impossible or at the very least uncomfortable to carry with you in your front pocket all day. And worst of all, they made my ears hurt. Perhaps it’s just the way my ears are made, but I developed an ear ache soon after using them. Once I stopped for a day or two, the ear ache went away. Ultimately, I ended up giving them to my partner.
There’s something to be said specifically about AirPods. The case is absurdly small. You can carry them with you everywhere you go. They fit in the little pocket watch pocket on the front of your pants and stay out of the way, but the case can take a beating, rubbing up against keys and coins without too much wear and tear, so tossing them in your main pocket is totally fine, too.
They’re comfortable and light in your ears. They don’t so completely block out the world that they take you out of it, they just delightfully complement the world and allow you to move through it more enjoyably.
In the case of the AirPods Pros, the noise cancellation can remove the distractions when I need to focus, or bring me comfort when the noise of the world is wearing me down. A lot of folks don’t know this about me, but I believe I have misophonia (self-diagnosed, I should add), and being able to go into my own sound bubble when I encounter noises from others that make me feel discomfort is such a lovely thing to be able to do.
They have completely transformed the mundane day-to-day tasks. A boring, unpleasant trip to the grocery store is a chance to catch up on a podcast. Taking my trash out to the dumpster or walking across the street to grab a bottle of soda is a perfect time to revisit a favorite playlist.
Even around the house, I can pop them in while I fold laundry or sweep the floor, and can jam out to music without disturbing my neighbors. I do have a set of noise canceling headphones (Sony WH-1000XM3s) that sound terrific when I want to get the best quality possible, but the headphones are heavy, and make my ears feel hot, especially on warm days. And when I try to do something active, they slip off my ears, or try to fall off my head. For day-to-day tasks, where perfect sound is less important than being lightweight and virtually unnoticeable, the AirPods can’t be beat.
I notice when I’m out in the world that others must feel the same way, because I see so many folks wearing these. There’s an argument to be made against this, I suppose: that everybody is isolated, barely taking part in the human experience, going through life in their own sonic bubbles. I tend to see the opposite. Everyone is marching along to the soundtrack of their lives, elevating their day by adding in things that make them feel comforted, and in many cases, taking time they wouldn’t otherwise have to learn more and be more informed.
The other great thing is that they’re so subtle. If you go to a coffee shop or are on a bus, and put on a set of headphones, you’re making a statement. You are going to be noticed. You’re going to become the headphone guy. But putting in a couple tiny earbuds? You’re just going with the flow. You’re not out of the environment, you’re part of the environment.
There were other wireless earbuds before AirPods, and there are wireless earbuds with more features and better sound than AirPods, but I don’t think any wireless earbuds have had the impact that they have had in re-shaping the daily experience for most people, and the experience of the total package (price, weight, size, battery life, sound quality) is virtually unmatched by any others at the moment. One day, maybe they will get USB-C charging capabilities, and a case that isn’t so slippery. But wow, what terrific little devices they are, and what an improvement they make in day-to-day life.