A gift that always goes down well with Apple fans, no matter the time of year, is a brand-new pair of AirPods. But it’s important to ensure you pick the right pair out of the four on offer if you really want to impress.
In our AirPods buying guide, we’ll help you choose between AirPods 2, AirPods 3, AirPods Pro, and AirPods Max — and highlight some of the best cases and charging accessories to go with them.
This post contains affiliate links. Cult of Mac may earn a commission when you use our links to buy items.
Best AirPods: Your gift guide for Apple earbuds
Launched in 2016, AirPods are widely considered one of the most impressive products Apple ever made. They’re certainly some of the best wireless earbuds you can pair with an Apple device. No matter which model you buy, you can be sure of a great experience.
With prices starting at as little as $129 — or even less if you shop around — AirPods deliver excellent sound quality, long battery life, and effortless pairing. Some models also offer fancier features like active noise cancellation and Spatial Audio.
If you’re thinking about gifting AirPods this holiday, our AirPods buying guide will help you choose the best model.
AirPods buying guide: Table of contents
- Best AirPods overall: AirPods Pro
- Best open-ear AirPods: AirPods 3
- Best AirPods for outstanding audio: AirPods Max
- Best AirPods for kids: AirPods 2
- AirPods feature comparison
- Best AirPods accessories
- Don’t forget free engraving
- Frequently asked questions
Best AirPods overall: AirPods Pro
AirPods Pro are Apple’s best in-ear buds, boasting the latest technologies the company has to offer. You not only get great active noise cancellation, but it’s two times more effective than in the original AirPods Pro models, reducing noise at a whopping 48,000 times per second.
That’s thanks in part to an upgraded H2 chip that also brings lossless audio, high-definition sound and ultra-low-latency connections. You’ll also enjoy personalized Spatial Audio, Transparency Mode that lets you hear what’s going on around you, and the same six hours of battery life as AirPods 3.
Genuinely useful add-ons like Conversational Awareness, which automatically lowers the volume of what’s playing when someone speaks to you, make AirPods Pro some of the most advanced headphones on the market. They’re also more comfortable and more secure in your ear than other AirPods models, thanks to their soft silicone tips.
AirPods Pro are usually priced at $249, but you currently can get $10 off at B&H Photo, or $50 off on Amazon.
Best open-ear AirPods: AirPods 3
If you don’t want your ear canals sealed up with silicone tips, your best option is the redesigned AirPods 3. These midrange AirPods’ open-ear design lets in some external noise, making them good for situations when you want to hear what’s going on around you.
AirPods 3 take everything that makes AirPods 2 so good and combines it all with an improved design that adds a Force Sensor for accessing common functions — such as skipping tracks and answering calls — with a simple squeeze of each stem. They sport a much more subtle look, plus IPX4 sweat resistance.
You also get better battery life (up to six hours between charges) and an upgraded feature set with AirPods 3, which includes Spatial Audio and dynamic head tracking. These things help music and movies even more immersive by making your audio sound as if it’s filling the room around you.
AirPods 3 also pack enhanced Find My tracking, which is great for anyone who’s forever losing small devices. When they go missing, you’ll be able to see how close they are with proximity view in the Find My app on iPhone.
Priced at $169 in the Apple Store, AirPods 3 typically can be found elsewhere for a lot less. Best Buy and Amazon currently list them for just $139.99.
Best AirPods for outstanding audio: AirPods Max
For the ultimate AirPods experience, it has to be AirPods Max. They’re the only over-ear headphones in the AirPods lineup, and while they may be pretty pricey at $549 (or $450 on Amazon), AirPods Max are sure to fill any audiophile with glee.
With a stainless steel frame, anodized aluminum cups, and pillowy mesh ear cushions, AirPods Max truly feel like a high-end Apple product. A built-in Digital Crown — just like the one on Apple Watch — lets you control your music and adjust volume, while telescopic arms ensure a comfortable fit on any head.
AirPods Max feature active noise cancellation, Spatial Audio, and all the other features we’ve come to expect from AirPods, but with greater, even more immersive audio quality. Read our hands-on review of the AirPods Max. Their dynamic drivers let you hear the finest details in your favorite tracks, even at full volume, while six outward-facing microphones work to block out every distraction around you.
There are also six sweet color options to choose from, which you don’t get with other AirPods models.
Buy from: Amazon
Best AirPods for kids: AirPods 2
AirPods 2 are the most affordable of the bunch, and they remain excellent wireless earbuds. In addition to great sound quality, they pack an Apple H1 chip that allows for features like hands-free “Hey Siri,” and the ability to speak incoming messages so you don’t have to take your iPhone out to read texts.
AirPods 2 are particularly great for kids and teenagers, striking a great balance between features and affordability. They might not offer active noise cancellation or spatial audio, but like other AirPods models, they support seamless switching between all Apple devices, and Audio Sharing — allowing kids to enjoy content with friends.
With five hours of battery life between charges, AirPods 2 are also ideal for anyone looking to pick up great wireless buds on a budget. They’re priced at $129 if you buy them from Apple or Best Buy, but if you follow the link below to Amazon, you’ll regularly find them on sale for under $100 (they’re just $99 right now).
Buy from: Amazon
AirPods feature comparison
(24 hours with case)
(30 hours with case)
(30 hours with case)
Don’t forget free engraving
Although you can almost always get AirPods at a discount when you don’t buy them from Apple, there is a big advantage to using the Apple Store: free engraving. On all AirPods models, you can have letters, numbers, and even emoji etched on at no extra cost, making your gift even more personal.
Free engraving is also available on most other Apple products. However, bear in mind that taking advantage of the service will delay your shipping time a little bit, so don’t wait until too late to place your order. It’s also worth noting that engraving can impact the resale value of Apple goods.
Best AirPods accessories
Once you’ve decided on the best AirPods to buy, it’s time to think about accessories. If you’re buying anything but AirPods Max, you’ll want to pick up a good case — it only takes a stern look to scratch the shiny white plastic cases that ship with other models. If you’re buying AirPods with a wireless charging case, you’ll want a wireless charger, too.
Here are some of our top picks:
Best AirPods 2 cases
Best AirPods 3 cases
Best AirPods Pro cases
Best AirPods Max cases
Best AirPods wireless chargers
Before you pick up a wireless charger for AirPods, it’s important to note that not all AirPods models ship with wireless charging capabilities as standard. AirPods 2 and AirPods 3 require a different case — an optional extra. And you can only charge AirPods Max with a Lightning cable.
Frequently asked questions
What are the best AirPods for running?
Thanks to their silicone tips, which provide a more secure fit, AirPods Pro are likely your best option for running. They also tend to be more comfortable in the ear over long periods, and they’re sweat-resistant.
What are the best AirPods for Android?
All AirPods models are compatible with Android — and just about any other device that can connect to Bluetooth headphones. You simply need to pair them manually by holding down the button built into the charging case until the status light flashes white. You can then connect to them from within the Bluetooth settings on your Android device.
What are the best AirPods for the gym?
AirPods Pro are great for the gym and other workouts because their soft silicone tips provide a more secure and more comfortable fit. However, if you prefer on-ear headphones, AirPods Max will also work well.
What are the best AirPods for small ears?
If you have smaller ears and you tend to find that wireless earbuds are uncomfortable to wear, we recommend trying out AirPods Pro. They come with three sets of silicone tips, including a small size option that plays nicely with narrower ear canals. Failing that, on-ear headphones like AirPods Max may be a better choice.
What are the best AirPods for calls?
All AirPods models offer excellent call quality. You’ll not only enjoy excellent sound quality, but thanks to Apple’s excellent microphones, others will have no problem hearing you, either. If you want an even greater experience, pick up AirPods Pro. They offer noise cancellation and the ability to filter out background noise when you’re speaking.