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The Apple AirPods are probably not the first headphones that spring to mind when considering a pair for your training. They don’t look the part, for starters, since they appear to have a very loose fit that’s likely to see them fall out the moment you start moving, let alone exercising.
That’s certainly how I felt before using them, but after a couple of weeks with the AirPods they’ve become my go-to option and for running in particular. That’s not to say the AirPods are without flaws, and mixed reports elsewhere suggest not everyone experiences the same secure fit, but they are a surprisingly good pick for active types.
The good points first. I found the AirPods’ fit was as secure as almost any type of wireless bud I’ve tried, even ones with earhooks or wings. They’re so lightweight that constant juddering does little to shift them. The only session during which I couldn’t rely on them to stay in was a sweaty, jumpy HIIT session. For running outdoors, they’re spot on – stuck in place but allowing enough ambient noise to creep in so you stay aware of your surroundings. If you try them and find, as others have, that the fit is not so secure, you can buy silicone wings and other attachments (opens in new tab) to help lock the AirPods into your lugs.
Other positives of the AirPods come with no caveats. At five hours the battery life is impressive for completely wireless headphones, and the case will charge the AirPods four to five times before it needs to be plugged in itself. They also charge incredibly quickly (15 minutes nets you three hours of use) and even the case doesn’t need to be plugged in for long – one hour took me from single digits of battery percentage to fully charged.
The connection is also the best of any Bluetooth headphones I’ve tried, although I’ve used them almost exclusively with other Apple devices, which they obviously should be quick to link to. Phone, laptop and smartwatch all found the pods with ease, and they never lost their connection during exercise. It’s also simple to link to only one pod, which should be a feature on more wireless buds, because keeping one ear open is often preferable when running next to and continually crossing roads. When using one pod the sound automatically shifts to mono, which saves you having to adjust the settings each time yourself.
A double-tap on the headphones brings up Siri, or alternatively you can set the action to control your music – skip forward/backward and play/pause – which I found more useful. The quickest way to pause your music is simply to take a headphone out. When you put it back in the AirPods will automatically start playing music again. It’s a neat trick and especially useful in the office.
One thing you can’t do is turn the AirPods off without putting them back in their case. Most of the time you will have the case to hand when you finish a run or workout, but almost every week I travel to meet people for a run, which results in either leaving the AirPods on the whole time even when not using them, carrying the case with me on the run, or leaving them behind and going without on the journey there and back. The pods seem to enter a low-power mode when not in the ear, so their battery life is longer than five hours if they’re in your pocket but not in their case, but being able to turn them off doesn’t seem a lot to ask.(opens in new tab)
Apple has played its cards close to their chest when it comes to how waterproof the AirPods are, giving no details. I used them for runs in the rain and sweaty workouts and had no issues, but whether that’s a wise thing to do over time, I guess I’ll find out. Again, it doesn’t seem much to ask for an IP rating which will tell you how much moisture they can withstand.
I was impressed by the sound quality of the AirPods. Perhaps that’s because using Apple’s standard headphones in the past has lowered expectations, but several types of music sounded satisfyingly full-bodied, though maybe a bit light on bass for some people. They’re not going to satisfy you if sound quality is your number one concern, but then no truly wireless earbuds will.
They’re not without their flaws but what the AirPods get right, they really nail. They fit well, the battery life is great and the connectivity is excellent, which makes them very easy to use both when you’re working out and when you’re not. There are few things as irritating before a run or training session as fiddly, unresponsive headphones.
At £159 they are expensive, but not outlandishly so for truly wireless earbuds – for example, the Jaybird Run are £169.99, and the Sol Republic Amps Air are £149.99. If you are looking for Bluetooth buds for your exercise sessions, do not rule out the AirPods; if you’re a runner I’d say it’s very close between them and the Jaybird Run as to which are the best headphones you can get.
Nick Harris-Fry is a journalist who has been covering health and fitness since 2015. Nick is an avid runner, covering 70-110km a week, which gives him ample opportunity to test a wide range of running shoes and running gear. He is also the chief tester for fitness trackers and running watches, treadmills and exercise bikes, and workout headphones.
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