AirPods, the brand for Apple’s wireless headphones, now spans three products: AirPods, AirPods Pro, and AirPods Max. They’re priced at $159, $249, and $549 respectively, though you can often find them on sale.
This FAQ will help you better understand the features of AirPods, how the three models differ from one another, and how they work together with your Apple gear. For those about to rock, an AirPods guide.
Updated 12/22/20: Updated FAQ with information on AirPods Pro and AirPods Max, spatial audio, and more.
What’s the difference between AirPods, AirPods Pro, and AirPods Max?
AirPods are Apple’s original true wireless earbuds. They come in a little charging case about the size and shape of a pack of dental floss, and were first introduced in 2016 with a very slightly improved second-generation version in 2019.
AirPods Pro feature a slightly changed design with shorter stems and earpieces with soft rubber tips to create a seal in your ear. They have active noise cancellation technology, support Apple’s spatial audio, and always come with a wireless charging case (which is an optional upgrade on regular AirPods).
AirPods Max are Apple’s top-of-the-line luxury headphones. They’re big over-the-ear cans made to offer superior noise cancelling technology and sound quality.
How much do AirPods cost?
Regular AirPods cost $159, or $199 with a Wireless Charging Case.
AirPods Pro cost $249, and always include a Wireless Charging Case.
AirPods Max cost $549 and don’t have a charging case as they are larger, over-the-ear headphones.
It’s quite common to find AirPods and AirPods Pro on sale from online retailers (but not Apple) for around $30 to $50 off. At the time of this writing, AirPods Max are hard to find at all, but once supply catches up we wouldn’t be surprised if it was frequently on sale from online retailers, as well.
What’s this Spatial Audio thing?
If you have AirPods Pro or AirPods Max, you can get a surround-sound experience in certain circumstances. You need at least an iPhone 7 or an iPad made in the last few years, you have to be running iOS/iPadOS 14, and you need to play audio from a supported source.
Open Settings > Bluetooth, tap on the (i) symbol next to your AirPods Pro or Max, and enable Spatial Audio. Then, when listening to multichannel audio (5.1, 7.1, or Dolby Atmos) from a supported app, your AirPods will create a really very impressive faux surround experience.
It even uses accelerometers and gyroscopes to rotate the sound stage as you turn your head, so “forward” always sounds like it’s directed toward your iPhone or iPad screen and not just in front of your head. Neat!
Spatial Audio unfortunately does not yet work on a Mac or Apple TV, though. Apple TV support would be especially welcome, as that device exists primarily to watch exactly the kind of content that Spatial Audio is made for.
How to pair AirPods to an iPhone and Apple Watch
Pairing your AirPods to an iPhone or iPad for the first time is ridiculously easy. All you have to do is flip open the lid of the AirPods charging case near your iPhone and you’ll see a message asking if you want to connect. If your phone is locked, you have to unlock it first and then tap the Connect button.
For AirPods Max, take them out of their Smart Case and hold them near your iPhone to get the prompt. (If you haven’t updated to iOS 14.3 yet, you’ll want to do that first.)
That’s it, you’re done. Your AirPods will stay paired to that iPhone—and the Apple Watch that is paired with it if you have one of those. If you start playing a song on your iPhone, and then you start another song playing on your Apple Watch, the AirPods will switch to the Apple Watch.
How to pair AirPods with a Mac
If you’ve already paired the AirPods to your iPhone, and it’s signed into the same iCloud account as your Mac (running at least macOS 10.12 Sierra), you don’t have to go through the pairing process again. Just click the Bluetooth icon in your Mac’s menu bar and you’ll see the AirPods there.
Mouse down over them and click the word Connect when it comes up. Or you can Option-click the volume icon in the menu bar (System Preferences > Sound > Show volume in menu bar if you don’t see it already) and choose AirPods as your Mac’s output device.
How to use AirPods with Apple TV
Want to listen to your Apple TV (the hardware box, not the app) without disturbing others? Use your AirPods! They pair to your Apple TV just like all your other Apple products with the same Apple ID.
As long as your Apple products are signed in to the same iCloud account and you’ve updated to iOS 14, iPadOS 14, tvOS 14, or macOS Big Sur, your AirPods will automatically switch between devices. If you’re listening to something on your Mac and you want to listen on your iPhone, just start playing music or watching a video or whatever on your iPhone and your AirPods will switch over.
You can hop over to the Bluetooth settings and tap the (i) button next to your AirPods to disable this feature if you like.
If you want to switch devices manually, you’ll find your AirPods listed in the Bluetooth sound devices of all your Apple products signed in to the same Apple ID. Just select them as you would any Bluetooth headset.
How to pair AirPods to anything else
What if you want to use the AirPods with an Android phone, or a Kindle Fire tablet, or other non-Apple product? You can! The AirPods don’t have a pairing button on them, but the charging case does. Stick the AirPods in the charging case, and then look for a round, white, barely visible button on the back of the case.
With the case’s lid open, press and hold that button, and you’ll see the teeny-tiny LED inside the case turn white. That means the AirPods are in pairing mode, so you should be able to use the menus on the device you’re trying to pair with to get them connected.
For the AirPods Max, press and hold the noise control button until you see the little status light flash white to put them in pairing mode.
How to check the AirPods battery
There are a couple of ways to check the battery level on your AirPods. You can ask Siri by saying “Hey Siri, what’s my battery level?” Siri will tell you if any of your devices—iPhone, Apple Watch, and AirPods—is running low on battery.
If both AirPods are in the charging case, you can flip open its lid and you’ll see a pop-up on your paired iPhone that displays the battery life of each AirPod, plus the case.
Or, swipe down from the top-right corner of your iPhone to show Control Center, and long-press on the pane that shows your Music app. If your AirPods are connected, you’ll see them above the playback controls with a blue connection icon to the right. Tap that icon, as if you were going to change the playback device, and you’ll see how much battery each AirPod has left.
How to invoke Siri
The default way to invoke Siri on regular AirPods is to double-tap on either AirPod with your finger. On AirPods Pro, you can change the “press and hold” action for the force sensor on the stem to active Siri. On AirPods Max, press and hold the digital crown.
On any model of AirPods, you can simply say “Hey Siri” to invoke it, too.
In Settings > Bluetooth, then tap the lower-case (i) icon next to your AirPods in the list of Bluetooth devices. This is where you can change controls for double-tapping or press-and-hold functions of your AirPods.
How to control playback and volume
You can take one AirPod out of your ear to pause the music, and then stick it back in your ear to start it playing again.
You can use whichever Apple device you’re using your AirPods with to control volume, or use Siri. Here are a few Siri commands you can use, and these work whether you’re listening to the Music app or another app like Spotify.
Turn it up
Turn it down
Skip this song
Set volume to 75 percent
If you are listening to the Music app, you can ask for specific songs, albums, artists, and playlists (in your library if you aren’t an Apple Music subscriber, or across the whole Apple Music service if you are), and you get more Siri commands.
Start this song over
Play more like this
Add this to my collection
Obviously, using Siri to control playback has some lag. First you have to double-tap or press-and-hold on the AirPod and wait for the chime that lets you know Siri is listening. Then you have to speak your query and wait for the iPhone to parse it.
How to charge the AirPods and their case
The AirPods will last for about five hours (give or take), but the case has a battery in it, too. You stick the AirPods back in the case to charge them. The little light inside the case glows orange when the AirPods are charging. Each AirPod fits exactly in one of the two openings, so as long as they’re in there and you can close the lid, they should be properly seated for charging.
With the original case, just connect a Lightning cable to the port on the bottom. Then connect the other end to an AC power adapter or a USB port on a Mac.
With the Wireless Charging Case or AirPods Pro case, you can either plug in a Lightning cable or place the case back-side-down on any wireless charging pad that uses the Qi standard. If your AirPods are in the case, you’ll see an orange light if they’re charging, or a green light when they’re nearly fully charged. If no AirPods are in the case, the light still goes on when you open the lid, but it indicates how much battery life is left in the case itself: orange for needs charging and green for good life left.
To charge AirPods Max, just plug in a Lightning cable.
What if you lose one?
You’ll be pretty sad, but it’s not the end of the world. Apple will sell you a replacement AirPod for $69, or AirPod Pro for $89. You can buy just a replacement charging case, too.
Okay, I didn’t lose my AirPods, I misplaced them. How can I locate my AirPods?
There’s an app for that. Really. The Find My app on your iPhone, iPad, Mac, or Apple Watch can locate your AirPods. Open Find My, move to the Devices tab, and scroll down to select your AirPods. You can make then play a sound or get directions to their last known location.
Find My works with all AirPods models, but you may not get the ability to play a sound through them until your iPhone or iPad gets close enough to connect.
You don’t buy AirPods (or AirPods Pro) because they deliver the ultimate listening experience. You buy them because they sound good, are super easy to connect to all your Apple gear, are incredibly compact, work hands-free with Siri, and are incredibly comfortable.
It’s not hard to find wireless earbuds that do one or two things better than the AirPods Pro, but for users of Apple products, it’s really hard to find earbuds that do so many things so right.The AirPods Pro live at the sweet spot of comfort, ease of use, features, and sound quality.
I have written professionally about technology for my entire adult professional life - over 20 years. I like to figure out how complicated technology works and explain it in a way anyone can understand.