The Apple AirPods are among the most popular wireless earbuds on the planet, with their iconic protruding stem design resulting in a huge influx of true wireless earbuds manufacturers paying homage to the buds.
Their popularity has only been cemented by the release of the Apple AirPods Pro, which brought active noise cancellation to the earbuds - and more recently, the launch of the Apple AirPods 3, which saw in an upgraded design and support for Spatial Audio.
While there are plenty of legitimate AirPods-alternatives on the market today (some of which are actually far better than Apple’s earbuds in terms of design and audio quality), the popularity of the AirPods has given rise to a troubling trend for fakery.
The high price of Apple headphones and earbuds, along with the rarity of great AirPods deals, has lead to people pouncing when they appear at a discounted sum. Unfortunately, not all of these Apple AirPods deals are quite what they seem, with fake buds popping up all over Amazon and eBay.
If you’ve bought or received a pair of AirPods but are unsure if they’re the real deal, there are a few telltale signs that you should keep an eye out for that will help you determine whether they are what they say they are.
Check the serial number
The quickest way to check the authenticity of your AirPods is to look up the serial number, which can be found on the underside of the lid of the charging case. It also appears on the bottom of the right earbud.
Enter that number at check.coverage.apple.com, and if your buds are authentic, you’ll be able to review your Apple warranty status. If your serial number is fake, this won’t work.
Connect to an iOS device
When you pair AirPods or AirPods Pro with an iPhone, iPad, or Mac, you’ll see a little AirPods icon next to your device in the Bluetooth settings menu. You should also be able to view the serial and model numbers once connected.
How do they look?
Checking the serial number is the simplest way to know if you have fake AirPods, but there are a few design anomalies that could give the game away even sooner.
First, Apple packaging is always very neat, and the lid of the AirPods box should fit snugly and tightly, with the entire package wrapped in plastic. Of course, this is quite easy for fraudsters to replicate, so you shouldn’t base your conclusion on the packaging alone.
Even so, typos are a dead giveaway that your AirPods are fake, both on the outer packaging and in the accompanying documents inside the box.
The earbuds themselves can be checked pretty thoroughly against the product images on the Apple website. In particular, look out for misaligned vents and microphones.
Check the bottom of your earbuds for clues, too. The original AirPods have an oval-shaped vent at the bottom (not circular), while the AirPods Pro have no vent at all.
Finally, be sure to check the charging case. It should come with a Lightning port, not USB-C, a status light on the front, and the lid should snap magnetically into place.
How to avoid fake AirPods
Of course, there are plenty of legitimate AirPods 2, AirPods 3, and AirPods Pro earbuds available to buy on Amazon and eBay from third-party sellers – and if you’re looking for a bargain, you may want to buy second-hand.
If you are on the lookout for second-hand buds, check out seller reviews and carefully examine photos of the product – but bear in mind that these won't always be legitimate.
In many cases, it may be better to look for cheap AirPods alternatives instead of trying to buy second-hand buds, particularly if you're worried about being ripped off with fake AirPods.
There are lots of fantastic true wireless earbuds out there, and many are cheaper than Apple’s earbuds. The Lypertek PurePlay Z3 2.0 are one such example, offering fantastic audio and an unbelievably long battery life for a low price. For noise-cancelling alternatives to the AirPods Pro, check out the Sony WF-1000XM4, which we have crowned the best true wireless earbuds around.
If it’s the design of the AirPods that you're a fan of, then there are plenty of manufacturers making earbuds with long ear stems. Check out wireless earbuds from Urbanista, JBL, and Huawei for cheaper alternatives.
Those who really have their heart set on the Apple AirPods, AirPods 3, or AirPods Pro should keep an eye out for deals – they may not always see huge discounts, but you will be able to pick up Apple's earbuds for a little less than the retail price.
- Apple AirPods vs AirPods Pro: which Apple earbuds should you buy?
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Olivia was previously TechRadar's Senior Editor - Home Entertainment, covering everything from headphones to TVs. Based in London, she's a popular music graduate who worked in the music industry before finding her calling in journalism. She's previously been interviewed on BBC Radio 5 Live on the subject of multi-room audio, chaired panel discussions on diversity in music festival lineups, and her bylines include T3, Stereoboard, What to Watch, Top Ten Reviews, Creative Bloq, and Croco Magazine. Olivia now has a career in PR.