AirPods vs BeatsX: Which is the Best to Buy?
Apple AirPods and BeatsX are close in every way, but which one of them is the best to buy?
Both have merits but, as we shall see, one pair wins out.
1. Style, design and fit
Like smartphones and smartwatches, headphones are as much a statement of your personal style as a functional item. Yes, you want good sound, but you also want them to look good.
AirPods and BeatsX take different approaches to answering the question of what makes a good-looking pair of headphones. AirPods are unique, and probably the most recognisably-Apple product I’ve seen for years. There’s no physical connection between the two pods, each sits individually in your ears. The white plastic design is instantly familiar to anyone who has seen the conventional wired iPhone headphones.
There are no physical controls on the AirPods but you can pause the audio by tapping on a pod and invoke Siri by double-tapping. Cleverly, the audio also pauses if you remove one of the AirPods from your ear, which makes up for the awkward tapping issues.
BeatsX have an in-ear neck-band design where the two earpods are connected via a cable that wraps around your neck. As a true in-ear design they sit within the exterior meatus of the ear. This results in louder audio than the AirPods, which sit on top of the exterior meatus instead. It’s a setup that also gives better audio isolation and makes BeatsX less likely to fall out of your ears if, for example, you’re exercising.
Overall, the design of BeatsX is less advanced but more useable than the AirPods. Style is a personal thing and AirPods may appeal to you on this count, but the design and fit of BeatsX are more practical.
2. Battery life
Apple gives a rough guideline of five hours battery life for AirPods, while Beats claims BeatsX should deliver around eight hours of use.
However, five hours isn’t the end of the story for AirPods. They come with a nifty little charging case, which combined with the AirPods delivers around 24 hours of continuous use.
Both AirPods and BeatsX charge via a Lightning connection, so you can top them up using the same cable as your iPhone, which is one less charger to carry around with you.
Overall, the clever case means AirPods offer superior battery life. How important this is to you will depend on how you use them, but the ability to take AirPods away for a weekend or more without having to worry about charging is a major plus point.
Both BeatsX and AirPods use Apple’s W1 chip, which increases the range and reliability of Bluetooth connections, and helps increase overall battery life. The addition of the W1 also means you gain the advantage of “smart” Bluetooth pairing and connectivity if you’re using a macOS or iOS device.
4. Sound quality
The sound quality of Beats headphones is always a controversial topic of discussion. Unlike a lot of headphones and earphones, Beats are tuned specifically to have heavier bass and, to my ears, high frequencies. Middle is generally a bit lacking – recessed.
BeatsX are no exception to this rule but even given this they have one major advantage over AirPods: the in-ear design means less audio leakage, better bass and less need to crank up the volume to unsafe levels. By comparison, AirPods sound quiet unless you crank the volume up.
As well as sound going into your head, there’s also the sound coming out of your head to consider. Both AirPods and BeatsX have microphones built-in but the ones on AirPods are significantly better. In a quiet room, someone you’re talking to at the other end of a call will hear you perfectly well in both cases but outdoors I found BeatsX really took a hammering from the breeze, to the point where the person you’re calling can’t hear you at all.
Overall, the winner depends on how you’ll use the headphones. I wouldn’t recommend AirPods if you spend a lot of time listening to music, but they’re fine for occasional use or use with podcasts and spoken word. AirPods have a big advantage with their better quality microphones, but for music BeatsX are the best bet.
So which should you buy? The BeatsX are marginally cheaper, but the price difference is small enough not to matter.
AirPods have the advantage in battery life, at least once you factor in the incredibly cool case. They’re also marginally easier to pair and have a slight edge in terms of Bluetooth range – although in both cases, thanks to the W1 chip, you can walk a long way from your phone before the signal drops off.
That leaves the major factor of design and here personal preference comes into play. BeatsX are a more traditional headphone design and one that’s been executed extremely well. They’re light, comfortable, easy to wear, have physical controls and the attention to detail is fantastic. AirPods are a more adventurous design that comes with some benefits but aren’t as practical for day-to-day use.
Overall, I think BeatsX offers the best balance of sound, performance, convenience, smart design and price. There are two exceptions to this. First, if you’re someone who uses the microphone a lot – for example, using the earphones to make a lot of phone calls. And second, if you just hate the “Beats sound” with its emphasis on bass. Otherwise, BeatsX should be your first port of call.
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