The best AirPods 2024: which Apple headphones are right for you?

The best AirPods, and Apple headphones more broadly, are known for being top quality in terms of sound, performance, features and design. While they typically sit at a higher price range – just like most Apple products – they do give you your money's worth.

Apple headphones have come a long way from the flimsy wired EarPods that came with every new iPhone. They did the job, but not particularly well. Fast-forward to today and Apple is a true contender in the audio space. In fact, AirPods are among the best wireless earbuds and best over-ear headphones on the market and since Apple acquired the Beats brand back in 2014 the best Beats headphones are part of the brand's audio portfolio.

After testing every single pair of AirPods and Beats headphones that have been released, we've put together this list for you, breaking down their special features and specs to help you find the most ideal choice based on your needs, budget and preferences. 

The Quick List

If you're keen to cut to the chase and find out which AirPods and Beats buds are the best, you’ll find a roundup of our choices below. You can also jump to a more detailed review of every pick, along with our price comparison tool at the bottom of this post to help you find the best deals.

Written by
Matt Bolton
Written by
Matt Bolton

I've been testing and reporting on cutting-edge audio products since 2012, stretching back to iPod dock speakers and early neckband wireless earbuds. I've used every pair of AirPods released to date personally, and I've tested all the Beats products in this guide too. The list below is my recommendation for which AirPods are best to focus on, and which Beats products fill the gaps between them, while still offering smart features for Apple users.

Recent updates

June 3, 2024
Added additional details to each write-up about why readers should or shouldn't consider buying each of the recommend products.

The best AirPods of 2024

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The best AirPods for most people

The best AirPods overall

Specifications

Weight: 5.3g
Drivers: Custom Apple design
Battery life : 6 hours (earbuds) 30 hours (charging case)

Reasons to buy

+
Incredible active noise cancellation
+
Apple's best in-ear sound quality
+
New easier-to-find case

Reasons to avoid

-
Some may not want in-ear fit
-
Apple's most expensive earbuds
BUY THEM IF

✅ You want excellent noise cancellation: No other Apple earbuds in this list deliver such accomplished noise cancellation, wrapping you in a cocoon of sound.

You want a long battery life: You'll find better battery from other brands, but as far as AirPods are concerned, these are top of the class, with 6 hours in the buds.

DON'T BUY THEM IF

You don't have a big budget: They're good value compared to other premium buds, but still expensive overall.

You don't like an in-ear fit: The ear-tip fit isn't for everyone – if you like the outer-ear fit, or to not be cut off from the world as much, the AirPods 3 may suit you better.

The highly-anticipated Apple AirPods Pro 2 entered our best AirPods guide in the top spot because they're a significant upgrade over the original AirPods Pro, offering fantastic audio performance and astounding ANC in a compact, wireless, and still very AirPods-esque, design.

The Apple AirPods Pro made waves when they first launched, bringing ANC and better audio to the AirPods form factor. Now the Pro 2 offer much more, including fantastic audio performance thanks to new drivers and amplifiers. There’s also better ANC on-board too which, during our testing, we found to be remarkably effective, blocking out almost all external sounds.

Battery life has had a decent boost over the originals as well. It’s good for all-day listening at 6 hours from the buds and 30 hours from the charging case. The case has been revamped too, with an IPX4 water resistance rating for light showers and sweat as well as a built-in speaker so you can find it if you lose it.

If you already have a pair of AirPods Pro buds you might not be able to justify an upgrade, despite some of the changes. However, if you're looking for the best Apple has to offer, the AirPods Pro 2 are the top option, rivalling many of the top wireless earbuds from the likes of Bose, Sennheiser and Sony

Read our full review: Apple AirPods Pro 2

The best over-ear AirPods

The best AirPods for sound quality

Specifications

Weight: 350g
Drivers: 40mm dynamic
Battery life: 24 hours

Reasons to buy

+
Unbelievable audio performance
+
Fantastic user experience
+
Brilliant extra features for iOS
+
Great noise cancellation

Reasons to avoid

-
Very expensive compared to rivals
-
No 3.5mm audio port
-
Limited features for Android
-
Ineffective carrying case
BUY THEM IF

✅ You want the very best sound: The audio quality offered here is exceptional. You can't go wrong if you care about best-in-class sound from a pair of over-ears.

You care about noise cancellation: The AirPods Max are an almost unbeatable choice if you need excellent ANC that blocks out the world around you.

DON'T BUY THEM IF

You can't afford the huge expense: Yes, they're a phenomenal pair of headphones, but they've got a high-end price tag to match.

You want a 3.5mm port: Fine, you can buy a USB-C to 3.5mm audio port adaptor, but it doesn't seem right there isn't one built-in for listening via a wired connection.

The Apple AirPods Max were some of the most highly-anticipated headphones ever. Rumors and speculation about what they'd look like and sound like have been swirling for years. So do they live up to the hype now they're here? Well, yes and no. 

When we finally got our hands on the AirPod Max we found that, as you might expect, the audio quality was nothing short of extraordinary. The design and build was also solid and unmistakably Apple and they were comfortable too. We also appreciate the use of physical controls as opposed to the voguish swipe controls that most wireless headphones seem to favor these days. 

We particularly liked the reprisal of the Apple Watch's Digital Crown, which allows you to precisely adjust the volume and easily control your music playback. What's more, they have brilliant quality of life features for those already devoted to the Apple ecosystem. 

But it isn't all good news. The most obvious drawback is the price. Apple has always created luxury tech with a higher-than-average price tag, but these are $549 / £549 / AU$899 and it's still quite hard to find them more cheaply even though they've been out for a long time now. In our review, we didn't think the performance (although great) matched the sky-high price, and we can understand why many would prefer to shop for budget headphones instead.

The AirPods Max also come with a case that automatically puts them into a low power standby mode, and into an even lower power mode after 18 hours. That's useful, but the case itself is exceptionally ugly, doesn't offer significant protection and leaves the headband of the AirPods Max totally exposed. 

Read our full review: Apple AirPods Max

The best mid-tier AirPods

A huge improvement on the AirPods 2

Specifications

Weight: 4.28g
Drivers: N/A
Battery life: 6 hours (earbuds) 24 hours (charging case)

Reasons to buy

+
Impressive spatial audio
+
Easy to use

Reasons to avoid

-
No active noise cancellation
-
No interchangeable eartips
BUY THEM IF

✅ You're keen to experience Spatial Audio: These are the cheapest AirPods model to support Spatial Audio, which is especially good if you watch lots of movies.

You don't like an in-ear fit: These sit just outside the ear canal, unlike the into-the-ear fit of AirPods Pro.

DON'T BUY THEM IF

You want noise cancellation: There's no ANC here, and the design means passive noise cancellation isn't great either. Look at the Pro buds instead.

You want the absolute best value for money: For not that much more, you can get the far superior-sounding and better-featured AirPods Pro 2 – or better-sounding options from other brands.

The Apple AirPods (3rd generation) represent a big step up from their predecessors in terms of audio performance, connectivity, and design. Features like Spatial Audio support and Adaptive EQ set these buds apart from the competition, while a new, more subtle design brings force capacitive sensors to the true wireless earbuds.

The AirPods 3 are unsurprisingly optimized for use within the wider Apple ecosystem, so Android users miss out on a lot of the extra features that set them apart from other true wireless earbuds on the market. Plus, the lack of noise cancellation means they aren’t the most high-spec earbuds at this price.

The third generation of AirPods is also the one were battery life was extended to the 30 hours that the latest AirPods Pro 2 have since maintained – despite it not matching other rivals in the market.   

Read our full review: Apple AirPods (3rd generation)

The best budget AirPods

The most popular AirPods are still worth considering

Specifications

Weight: 4g (38g with case)
Drivers: Dynamic
Battery life: 24 hours

Reasons to buy

+
Faster pairing
+
Wireless charging

Reasons to avoid

-
Wireless charging case costs extra
-
Audio hasn't improved since originals
BUY THEM IF

✅ You find a good deal: These older AirPods have already had a significant price cut, but if you see them even cheaper, they can be worth it.

You like a really small case: They have the smallest, sveltest case of nearly any wireless earbuds, but definitely of the AirPods.

DON'T BUY THEM IF

You want top audio quality: These older AirPods have fallen behind the budget earbuds competition when it comes to audio bang for your buck.

You can afford the AirPods 3: Choosing the cheaper pair is tempting, but if your budget can stretch, the AirPods 3 are a significant upgrade.

The second generation Apple AirPods may have been usurped by the AirPods 3, but they still sport some cool features that may make them worth buying if you're an iPhone user in particular. They've also been given a permanent price cut, making them the cheapest AirPods you can buy. 

A lively soundstage and the inclusion of Apple's H1 headphone chip means that the AirPods 2 work really well as a pair of earbuds for casual music listening or making phone calls - just don't expect audiophile sound. The AirPods (2019) also come with an optional wireless charging case means you can use a Qi-compatible charging mat to power the case, rather than sticking a cable into the Lightning charging port in the bottom of the case. 

Read our full review: Apple AirPods (2019)

The best Beats headphones

Apple headphones aren't just limited to AirPods. When Apple acquired the Beats brand back in 2014, it expanded its audio portfolio considerably. Today, the best Beats headphones rank highly among our best workout headphones for their Apple smarts. 

Best Beats buds overall

The best Beats buds for most people

Specifications

Weight: 5g
Drivers: N/A
Battery life : 24 hours

Reasons to buy

+
Great sound quality
+
Comfortable to wear
+
Very good price

Reasons to avoid

-
ANC could be stronger
-
Lackluster call quality
BUY THEM IF

You want a comfortable pair of buds: These buds manage to be both stylish and exceptionally comfortable – a rare combination.

You want a good value pair of buds: You'll find cheaper options, but these buds are more affordable than the AirPods Pro while offering solid all-round performance.

DON'T BUY THEM IF

You want the best noise cancellation: It's great that there's ANC here – and it should be fine for most listeners – but the AirPods Pro 2 are far superior.

You want all-day listening: Battery life isn't bad at 5 hours from the buds, but it isn't the best either, and won't suit anyone who wants uninterrupted listening all day.

The Beats Studio Buds are rock-solid true wireless earbuds with active noise cancellation and support for Apple’s Spatial Audio with Dolby Atmos format. They sound great, with a lively sound quality that elevates the highs and lows of your music, and feel supremely comfortable to wear for long periods of time. 

They're not without some drawbacks, though. Chief among them is their lackluster call quality and lack of an H1 Wireless Chip. Battery life with either ANC or Transparency mode turned on is a little short at only five hours (15 hours with the case), and their noise cancellation isn’t exactly class-leading, either. 

Saying that, they're a very low price compared to AirPods Pro, while still bringing almost all of the same features. That makes them a more budget-friendly option if you want to buy a pair of Beats earbuds – especially now that they recently gained a younger brother (above).  

Read our full Beats Studio Buds review

Best Beats over-ears overall

Best over-ears overall

Specifications

Weight: 260g
Drivers: 40mm
Battery life: Up to 24 hours (ANC on), up to 40 hours (ANC disabled)

Reasons to buy

+
Gorgeous looking
+
Very easy to use
+
Good sound quality

Reasons to avoid

-
No multipoint for iOS
-
No wear detection
-
Tight fit
BUY THEM IF

✅ You want lossless via USB-C: Want lossless sound from an iPhone 15 or other USB-C device? That's possible here.

You want good-looking headphones: Beats headphones always look stylish, but these over-ears are minimal, sleek and fold up nicely.

DON'T BUY THEM IF

You want the best battery life: The battery here isn't bad at 24 hours with ANC on, but most over-ear noise-cancelling rivals can beat it.

You want all of the finest features: No multi-point pairing or wear detection isn't a big deal but if you want a premium experience with all the trimmings, this isn't it.

The Beats Studio Pro are our top pick if you want Beats headphones with an over-ear design. Unfortunately, they lack Apple's H1 or H2 chip, multi-point pairing and wear detection. But there are enough basic features on offer to make them practical for everyday use, like choosing between noise cancellation modes. You also get lossless audio and EQ options, but only via USB-C and not Bluetooth. 

In our review of the Beats Studio Pro we wrote that these over-ears sound good and have powerful bass. For Apple users, support for personalized spatial audio and Dolby Atmos provides a noticeable boost, alongside head tracking. Android users get standard spatial audio without head tracking. 

The Beats Studio Pro have a simple and sleek over-ear design. They're lightweight at only 270g and fold inwards, making them easy to pack up and put in a bag. The over-ears have physical buttons, which work well compared to some rivals with only gesture controls, but we still didn't enjoy the feeling during our testing. The only issue we had with the design of these nice-looking over-ears is they're quite tight. Yes, you can adjust the fit but we think if you have a head that's on the larger side these might get uncomfortable. 

The Beats Studio Pro are a solid pair of over-ears that may not have the bells and whistles of rivals but will deliver good sound and ANC. We also rate the battery life, which is 40 hours with ANC switched off, while there's 24 hours with ANC enabled. This is, admittedly, fairly typical for the price but does mean they should last you the week in most cases, while Fast Fuel gives back four hours in just 10 minutes.

Read our full Beats Studio Pro review

Best Beats buds for design

The newest and best-looking Beats earbuds

Specifications

Weight: 5g
Drivers: N/A
Battery life : 6 hours from buds, 24 hours including the case

Reasons to buy

+
Great looks, including Transparent option
+
Good noise cancellation plus a transparency mode
+
Configurable on-bud controls

Reasons to avoid

-
Overly crisp sound quality
-
No wireless charging
BUY THEM IF

✅ You want stylish buds: Beats has always been a good-looking brand, but these buds are exceptionally cool with a transparent design.

You want a comfortable, reliable fit: Not only do they look good, they feel great. They're lightweight enough to wear for hours and gym-proof for working out.

DON'T BUY THEM IF

You want to tweak the sound: These buds don't have an iOS app to customize the sound, which is a shame as they have an overly crisp sound signature.

You need wireless charging: They charge using a USB-C port on the case instead, putting them behind most rivals.

Beats went back to the drawing board for its May 2023-issue Studio Buds Plus, making improvements to the call quality, noise cancellation and design of the original. 

Beyond ANC, the new earbuds feature configurable on-bud control buttons, Siri voice command support, Find My for iOS and Find my Device for Android. They also support spatial audio, letting you listen in a 360-degree sound field when playing music and movies mixed in Dolby Atmos. There’s certainly enough going on here feature-wise, though the lack of a wireless charging option is a disappointment.

The crisp sound of the Beats Studio Buds Plus should appeal to those who value sonic sharpness and clarity above all else. When compared to other wireless earbuds with a more neutral and natural presentation, however, it seems that Beats went overboard in that respect. Noise cancelling is effective and so is the buds’ transparency mode, so the company hit its mark when it comes to those features.

The Buds Plus also provide a firm fit – four silicone ear tip size options are provided – that holds up even during strenuous exercise, and they are comfortable enough to wear for hours at a time. A solid overall wireless earbud option for commuting and exercise.

Read our full Beats Studio Buds Plus review

Best Beats buds for sports

The best Beats equivalent to the AirPods Pro, but geared for fitness

Specifications

Acoustic design: Closed
Drivers: N/A
Battery life (on-board): 6 hours

Reasons to buy

+
Active noise cancellation
+
Spatial audio on Apple Music
+
H1 chip for hands-free Siri 

Reasons to avoid

-
More expensive than studio buds
-
Android users don't get all features
BUY THEM IF

✅ You're looking for a solid pair of workout buds: Built for sport, they're perfect for workouts. They're comfortable, sweat-proof, have a wing tip and deliver a bassy sound.

You want Apple H1 chip features: You'll get Spatial Audio support and hands-free Siri access, which basically no other workout buds offer.

DON'T BUY THEM IF

You want a small case: These have a big, bulky case to carry around – far beyond the AirPods Pro 2's case size.

You want best-in-class ANC: The noise-cancellation on offer here is good, but it won't beat the likes of rivals from Sony, Bose or the AirPods Pro.

The Beats Fit Pro are essentially AirPods Pro in disguise: they have the same H1 chip as Apple's earbuds, and that means the same hands-free access to Siri and Spatial Audio in Apple Music. But they're slightly cheaper, and their IPX4 rating means they should be sweat-proof for workouts and running.

We do have a few criticisms. They're not as loud as some rivals, and they seal so tightly that they can start to get uncomfortable after long periods. And while Android users can use these headphones quite happily, they don't get the Apple-specific features of the H1. 

If you don't do workouts or other intensive fitness activities these probably aren't the Beats for you. But if you do, these are superb in-ears that stay put and deliver excellent audio and call clarity.

Read our full Beats Fit Pro review

How to choose the best AirPods

How to choose the best Apple AirPods

If you know you want a pair of Apple headphones, then there isn't a huge amount of choice between AirPods and Beats buds. However, there are a few key considerations to bear in mind that should help you pick the right Apple headphones – whether it be AirPods or Beats buds – for you.

The most important consideration to begin with is the design. Do you want a pair of over-ears, like the AirPods Max or the Beats Studio Pro? Or do you want a pair of true wireless earbuds, like the AirPods Pro 2 or Beats Studio Buds? Some people like the feel of a pair of over-ears, but many like the convenience and flexibility of true wireless earbuds. It all comes down to personal preference. 

Next up, which features are most important to you? For example, if you want great noise cancelling, then the Apple AirPods Pro 2 provide exceptionally immersive sound. If that's not a priority for you, then the Apple AirPods (3rd generation) might be a good option – and you'll save some pennies, too. 

Finally, consider whether you definitely want a pair of earbuds or headphones from Apple. As you can see from this guide, Apple creates some excellent audio products, but if you're on a budget you might be disappointed by the lack of options here and can generally find a solid pair of all-rounder buds or headphones much cheaper elsewhere.

How much do Apple AirPods cost?

The Apple AirPods (2nd Gen) cost $129 / £119 / AU$219, while the AirPods (3rd Gen) cost $179 / £169 / AU$279. On the other end of the spectrum, the AirPods Pro 2 are more expensive at $249 / £249 / AU$399, and the AirPods Max are the most expensive at $549 / £549 / AU$89. All models are regularly discounted (though not by much) – read our guide to the best AirPods deals for the latest price cuts.

Are Apple headphones worth buying?

It depends on what you're looking for – if you want easy pairing with your iPhone, you can't go wrong with Apple or Beats headphones. But if you're looking for pure audio fidelity, you're better off looking at competitors like Sony and Bose, though the AirPods Max sound very good indeed.

Because all of the Apple AirPods are more expensive than a lot of their competitors, budget is a big consideration here too. Although we do think most of the AirPods are great value for money, you will find similar audio quality, designs and comfort in headphones that are significantly cheaper.

If you know you want to buy Apple AirPods but you're struggling to decide between AirPods models, our Apple AirPods vs AirPods Pro guide should help. 

Can I work out with Apple headphones?

Yes. The best Apple headphones for working out are the Beats Fit Pro, thanks to their earhook design and sweat proof IPX4 rating. Other models, like the AirPods Pro 2 also have an IPX4 rating, but their design means they're more liable to fall out during vigorous exercise. For a more detailed overview of which AirPods are waterproof, read our guide. 

Can AirPods connect to Android phones?

Yes, they can. You might find they're marginally slower to pair than they would be with an iPhone, but the difference is negligible. However, if you are using AirPods with an Android, you'll miss out on features like auto-pause or the ability to customize noise cancellation. That's worth considering if you have an Android phone and you're about to pay quite a hefty price for a pair of AirPods. 

For more information about how AirPods work with Android phones and step-by-step instructions, read our what non-iPhone users need to know about Apple earbuds guide. Alternatively, if you're looking to connect your AirPods for the first time or wondering how to connect your AirPods to a laptop, then read our step-by-step instructions for more.

Do AirPods drain your iPhone battery?

A little bit, but they shouldn't make a massive difference to your iPhone battery life. When you're connected normally to your iPhone (as opposed to using AirPlay, which uses more power) your Bluetooth connection will use some battery power. 

However, Bluetooth is designed to be a low power technology so even all-day streaming shouldn't do much damage to your battery life. AirPlay is more demanding because it uses the more power-hungry Wi-Fi to transmit and receive data.

The bigger drain on your battery isn't your AirPods connection: it's streaming music from the internet to your phone, especially when you're using mobile data rather than Wi-Fi. 

If you're finding that you're only really listening to music and your battery isn't lasting all day, you might want to use your music app's offline mode and download the music to your phone rather than stream it when you're out and about.

But there are plenty more ways to make your AirPods battery life last longer. Read our guide to check your AirPods' battery level and learn how to make them last longer. After all, the battery – like with all earbuds – determines how long AirPods last so it's important to take care of it.  

How we test the best AirPods

We've tested hundreds of audio devices over the years, which means that we know what makes an excellent pair of earbuds or over-ear headphones. 

Each of the earbuds and headphones have been tested rigorously for sound quality, comfort, design and, in some cases, additional features, like ANC. We take earbuds out running and headphones on busy commutes, so we can say with authority how they work out in the real world. 

In our guide above, we've listed all of the best Apple AirPods. And, because there aren't many models available, most of the Apple AirPods and Beats headphones you can buy today are included. However, that's not because we want to fill up the guide but because all of the products we've listed are genuinely excellent, all offering a brilliant Apple-esque design, solid sound and good features, too. 

It might seem tempting to say all Apple products are great solely because they're from Apple. But in the guide above, we've detailed the pros and cons of each product. And we're not afraid to recommend other brands where we think you'd get better value for money, either. 

Latest updates to the best AirPods

June 3, 2024
Added additional details to each write-up about why readers should or shouldn't consider buying each of the recommend products.

March 4, 2024
Added additional images to each write-up and extra copy throughout the guide that links out to more how to and explainer articles related to AirPods.  

December 6, 2023
Added new quick menu navigation to make it easier to scan all the products in this list. Updated the list based on our latest reviews, including adding in the Beats Studio Pro.