If Apple actually made wired AirPods Pro like this weird hack, I'd be first in line

AirPods Pro with a black USB-C wired connector, on gray background
(Image credit: Ken Pillonel)

Ken Pilonell is a Swiss engineer famous for being the first to modify an iPhone with a working USB-C port in 2021, and subsequently doing the same for the AirPods and AirPods Pro cases. Now, he's is back with what he's calling his “most innovative project so far”. And these are USB-C wired AirPods. 

I get that it was an April Fool gag. Yes, let's all laugh at the audiophiles lurking in the shadows, their wired headphones and top portable DACs gently blowing in the cold night air.

As spotted by 9to5 Mac on April Fool's Day, Ken showed off his deconstruction and upcycling of a set of 2020 AirPods on his YouTube Channel (shared below), with a black USB-C cable to create a proposition which was likely intended as jokes – AirPods that don't actually work over the airwaves, get it? – but one that I think could easily beat the best AirPods one can buy today. I'm not laughing. I want this product! 

You see, I still think Apple's wired EarPods are arguably better than any AirPods for sound quality alone, and if Tim Cook's behemoth could finally bring Apple Music Lossless listening to something with the speaker quality of AirPods Pro 2, plus the AirPods Pro head-tracked spatial audio special sauce with noise cancelling, I'd be first to buy.

It's no secret that I think the Lightning port on iPhones has been a scourge of the product since its introduction in 2012, and that I cannot wait for USB-C music on my iPhone

I want actual AirPods with wires much more than I want the USB-C ported AirPods Pro which you were able to fashion years before they were spotted in the wild, not two weeks ago, Ken. This is because even if the hotly anticipated (albeit unannounced) Apple AirPods Max 2 come with with USB-C charging, it could be limited to just that – a charger. Simply put, the AirPods Pro 2, like the AirPods Max, are a wireless product. And they do not suppport hi-res audio.

Opinion: until the Bluetooth connection able to support Apple Music's Hi-Res Lossless arrives, wires are the way 

I want the world to know about USB-C audio, because until Bluetooth technology truly catches up to the leaps and bounds made in the world of hi-res music streaming, wires are where it's at.

The main perk of active USB-C headphones (ie. where the digital-to-analogue conversion process happens inside the headphone, rather than in your device) is to prolong a digital signal state and bypass your iPhone's internal components – all that distortion from other smartphone signals and so on.

All of which is a roundabout way of saying: USB-C ports mean much easier access to 24-bit hi-res audio.

Remember, high-resolution audio refers to any file that has been mastered above CD quality bit-rate and sampling frequency, at 16-bit/44.1kHz. Common hi-res figures are 24-bit/96 kHz, aka the maximum resolution of Apple Music's Lossless tier, and 24-bit/192kHz – where Apple Music's Hi-Res Lossless offering maxes out.

The thing is, to have at these Hi-Res Lossless files (which Apple gave to its Apple Music subscribers at no extra cost almost two years ago) on your iPhone, you currently need a clunky wired system commencing with the Apple Lightning to USB camera adapter (which is limited to 24-bit/48kHz) then a third-party portable DAC to get you up to resolution, then a set of good wired headphones. This is too complicated for all but the most devoted audiophile – although Astell & Kern's latest cheap DAC does it all for little money, if you're interested.

white earpods on black background

How can these be the only Apple buds that support hi-res audio? (Image credit: Apple)

Why the DAC outsourcing though, Apple? Why not do better here? Even Apple's most recent iPhone 14 Pro Max can only output CD-quality digital audio, so it cannot support Apple Music's own top-tier hi-res files. You need another, better one to do the heavy lifting. And yet, if Apple made these things – think of it! A little hi-res DAC nestled into its wired wired AirPods – I'd be the first to buy them.

Standalone USB-C DACs are another area where where Apple could give us gold if it only chose. See, all USB-C wired headphones are not created equal. They can either be passive (meaning you're still beholden to the DAC in your phone for quality) or active, meaning the conversion process happens in the headphones. And it’s not always apparent which headphone models are active and which are passive, so you need to go full Sherlock Holmes to work out whether or not the set you're considering will give you hi-res audio.

I want this, Apple. And thanks to the dominance of the best true wireless earbuds and AirPods alternatives, wired earbuds are back in fashion. Literally – influencers and celebs have been seen using them. So give me the super-cool USB-C wired AirPods that grant access to your own Apple Music Hi-Res Lossless tier, and that ride the wired fashion wave.

Becky Scarrott
Senior Audio Staff Writer

Becky is a senior staff writer at TechRadar (which she has been assured refers to expertise rather than age) focusing on all things audio. Before joining the team, she spent three years at What Hi-Fi? testing and reviewing everything from wallet-friendly wireless earbuds to huge high-end sound systems. Prior to gaining her MA in Journalism in 2018, Becky freelanced as an arts critic alongside a 22-year career as a professional dancer and aerialist – any love of dance starts with a love of music. Becky has previously contributed to Stuff, FourFourTwo and The Stage. When not writing, she can still be found throwing shapes in a dance studio, these days with varying degrees of success.