AirPods vs Beats: which headphones or earbuds should I buy this Black Friday?

AirPods versus Beats Black Friday
(Image credit: Apple)

It probably won't surprise anyone to know that both Apple's AirPods and Beats ranges of headphones and earbuds are due to see substantial discounts over Black Friday 2021, as well as the following Cyber Monday. In fact, we're already seeing some great early AirPods Black Friday deals and Beats headphones deals ahead of the online sales period.

If you are looking for a new pair for yourself, or as a gift for Christmas, it's well worth checking out our buying guides for the best AirPods and best Beats headphones to get a general understanding of what each product offers in terms of features and how much they'll cost you.

But if you can only buy one AirPods or Beats product, which should you choose? While Beats is owned by Apple, there are some big differences between Beats headphones and Apple headphones - and lots of similarities, too. There's really no right or wrong answer, as there's a variety of headphones and earbuds to suit a variety of styles and budgets. In this guide, we'll be comparing each brand directly to help you figure out which pair is the right fit.

the apple airpods 3 next to their wireless charging case

The Apple AirPods 3. (Image credit: TechRadar)

AirPods vs Beats Price

Prices vary significantly between AirPods and Beats brands, but the four AirPods products (those being the AirPods Pro, AirPods Max, AirPods 3 and AirPods 2) are on average more expensive than their Beats counterparts.

AirPods are definitely Apple's premium range of audio products, the cheapest of which being the AirPods 2 at $129 / £119.

They were given a permanent discount when the AirPods 3 launched, with Apple;s latest buds costing $179 / £169. The AirPods Pro are the next tier up, costing $249 / £249, putting them at the pricier end of the true wireless earbuds market.

Finally, the AirPods Max are the only over-ear headphones available in the range, and they're not cheap at $549 / £549, which is very steep (even if they do sound incredible).

beats powerbeats pro

The Beats Powerbeats Pro. (Image credit: Beats)

If you're on a tighter budget, then, or if you're not happy with the relatively slim amount of options in the AirPods lineup, then a pair of Beats might just be for you. 

Immediately, you have two fantastic options in the form of the on-ear Beats Solo Pro and over-ear Beats Studio 3. Both are significantly more affordable than the AirPods Max, at $299.95 / £269.95 for the Solo Pro and $349 / £299 for the Studio 3. Still by no means cheap, but very worthwhile alternatives to the AirPods Max.

On the smaller side we have the Beats wireless earbuds, and the two we'd recommend are the Beats Studio Buds which cost $149.99 / £129.99, and the Beats PowerBeats Pro, which retail at $249 / £219.

If these price points are still a bit out of your range, it's worth keeping an eye on the Black Friday deals. Most of the aforementioned products are known to be discounted over the sales period, and we're already seeing early deals for both AirPods and Beats products.

Waiting for Black Friday is a great idea, as you're likely to net a 20 - 30% discount on AirPods, and potentially up to 50 - 60% off Beats products, as we've seen in previous years. We expect AirPods to have smaller discounts over the sales period, but are likely to sell out faster given their closer ties to the Apple ecosystem. Beats headphones will certainly be more readily available in this regard, and will probably feature steeper discounts.

Today's best AirPods and Beats deals

AirPods vs Beats: design

Both the AirPods Pro and AirPods 3 have very basic, yet elegant designs for wireless earbuds. But if comfort is important to you, then the AirPods Pro are preferable in this regard. Not only do they fit better than the AirPods 3, they also allow for interchangeable eartips, including memory foam tips if you so desire.

The AirPods 2 are exactly the same as the original AirPods, with protruding stems and a 'one-size fits all' approach. Not everyone will like the design of the second-gen AirPods, but they're undeniably popular.

The AirPods Max also certainly deliver on the comfort front, with a knitted mesh fabric that's easy on the ears. However, it's worth noting that these cans are a little on the heavy side, so those of you who are sensitive to on-head pressure might prefer a lighter pair of Beats.

Speaking of Beats, comfort seems to have been more of a priority from Apple here. The Beats Solo Pro are a supremely comfortable pair of on-ear headphones that feature some pretty dense cushioning. The exact same can be said for the Beats Studio 3, so either is a great pick in this regard. And ultimately, we think comfort should be an important factor for anyone. After all, headphones can only sound so good if they're constantly irritating the sides of your head.

Heading on over to Beats earbuds, the Beats Studio Buds are among the most comfortable in the business, especially at their relatively affordable price point. The charging case features a nice rounded design, too.

The PowerBeats Pro feature more of a specialized design that's perfect for exercise. These running earbuds are designed with a secure fit in mind, meaning they're the ideal choice for anyone who exercises or runs on the daily.

Finally, we have to say that Beats headphones and earbuds win on the aesthetic front. While there is something to the said for the simplicity of the AirPods, Beats products are usually available in a variety of different colors. This is a great thing for anyone looking to add a splash of color to their outfit.

AirPods Max

The Apple AirPods Max. (Image credit: Apple)

AirPods vs Beats: audio performance

Older models of AirPods earbuds, such as the AirPods 2, had a reputation for sounding a little tinny, almost as if you were listening to the music through a plastic cup. However, Apple has stepped up its game since then with the AirPods 3 and AirPods Pro; and while their sound isn't quite class-leading (that accolade has to go to Sony's WF-1000XM4 true wireless earbuds) both have support for Spatial Audio, giving them a fuller, richer sound profile overall.

The AirPods Max are quite different in this regard. They simply sound phenomenal, rivalling the competition when it comes to best-in-class sound. However, a lack of hi-res audio support means they fall just short of a wholehearted recommendation from us. The AirPods Max are also purely wireless, with no 3.5mm headphone jack, meaning you're stuck with Bluetooth connectivity if you buy these cans.

Beats headphones and earbuds, meanwhile, have a bit of a reputation for sounding extremely bassy. That's both a positive and a negative. If you wear headphones while working out, that extra pump of bass can give you the push you need to set new personal bests or just to get the most out of your exercise.

On the other hand, the less-balanced audio could turn audiophiles away, especially if you're looking for a cleaner listening experience - and this is what lets down slightly older models like the Studio 3 or Solo 3 headphones. Thankfully, later Beats models tend to be more balanced in sound and much better for a casual listening experience. These include the Beats Studio Buds and Beats Solo Pro, which offer an overall cleaner sound.

Beats Solo Pro

The Beats Solo Pro. (Image credit: TechRadar)

AirPods vs Beats: features

Both AirPods and Beats are manufactured by Apple, but the former are most optimized for the iPhone ecosystem. If you own an iPhone, iPad or a Mac, then, you'll be able to get the most out of a pair of AirPods with extra features like Spatial Audio, an adaptive EQ that aims to adjust to the best possible sound depending on your surroundings, and integration with the Siri voice assistant.

Beats headphones and earbuds are also preferably used with Apple products, but many work just fine with Android devices, too. More recent Beats products make use of Apple's H1 chip, bringing them more in line with the AirPods feature set. These include the Solo Pro over-ears and (potentially) the rumored Beats Fit Pro tipped to be launching in November. 

That's not the case for all Beats headphones, though. The Studio Buds use a proprietary Beats headphone chip, as opposed to the H1 chip found inside the AirPods Pro. That’s good news for Android users – but it does mean that the Studio Buds don’t support iCloud device syncing or multipoint pairing like the AirPods Pro.

Moving onto battery life, AirPods have improved in recent years, but there's nothing class leading here. Beats products fare much better in this regard, not least of all the Solo Pro which can last up to 40 hours from a single charge. The AirPods Max can hit up to 20 hours with active noise-cancelling enabled, which is respectable, but still falls short of its Beats counterpart.

Most contemporary AirPods and Beats iterations do feature active noise cancellation as a standard feature. Active noise cancellation (or ANC for short) is the act of dimming or removing background noise around you while wearing your headphones or earbuds. This could be anything from other peoples' conversations to even rain and traffic on models with stronger ANC.

Over-ear headphones tend to fare better with ANC over earbuds, as evidenced by the fantastic ANC offered by the AirPods Max and Beats Solo Pro. However, earbuds are catching up, with both the AirPods Pro and Beats Studio Buds offering decent ANC. The one exception here are the AirPods 3, which unfortunately don't have active noise cancellation as a feature.

A woman wearing the beats studio buds in white

The Beats Studio Buds. (Image credit: Beats)

AirPods vs Beats: takeaway

Both AirPods and Beats products have some excellent features, no matter which pair or brand you end up going with. While AirPods are typically priced much higher than Beats, they offer better sound quality overall, and stronger integration into the Apple ecosystem make AirPods the ideal choice for owners of iPhones, Macs and more.

There's a wider range of Beats products, and they tend to be more affordable, but that doesn't make them any less worthwhile. The bassy sound profile might be just what you're looking for on some models, and their high level of comfort and color options also make them a solid choice if you care about style. Battery life tends to be higher all round with Beats, too, meaning they'll last longer without needing to charge.

There's strong pros and cons to both AirPods and Beats, then, so be sure to keep in mind the above information when shopping on Black Friday. And of course, we'll keep you posted of any and all excellent discounts for both AirPods and Beats products on, before and after the sales event.

Rhys Wood
Hardware Editor

Rhys is TRG's Hardware Editor, and has been part of the TechRadar team for more than two years. Particularly passionate about high-quality third-party controllers and headsets, as well as the latest and greatest in fight sticks and VR, Rhys strives to provide easy-to-read, informative coverage on gaming hardware of all kinds. As for the games themselves, Rhys is especially keen on fighting and racing games, as well as soulslikes and RPGs.