If you're thinking of buying AirPods any time soon, you've got a few options to choose from. Apple currently has four models in the range, but how do they compare in terms of features? In this article we take a look at which AirPods are the best for your needs, not to mention your bank balance.

What types of AirPods does Apple sell?

At the time of writing, Apple has four different models available. These range from the standard AirPods right up to the over-the-ear AirPods Max. Here's the list:

  • AirPods (2nd generation)
  • AirPods (3rd generation)
  • AirPods Pro
  • AirPods Max

Apple also sells the EarPods (either with Lightning connector of 3.5mm plug) and in addition Beats is a subsidiary of Apple, so Beats headphones often include Apple-specific features. See our round up of the best Beats headphones.

Apple previously sold the 1st generation Apple AirPods. They launched in December 2016 and were discontinued in March 2019. The 2nd generation AirPods came with a choice of charging capabilities: the set with a Wireless Charging Case had a higher price. The 2nd generation AirPods that are still on sale include the lightning charging case rather than the MagSafe option. 

How much do AirPods cost?

As the models vary quite a bit in terms of construction and features, the range also encompasses a wide span of pricing. Here's how they all breakdown:

If those prices look a bit high to you then there's always the £19/$19 Apple EarPods. But if it has to be wireless, check out our round up of the best wireless headphones.

Of course you may be able to get any of the above AirPods at a discounted price - including the generations no longer on sale. We'll include the best pricing right now in the sections below.

What are the main differences between the AirPods?

Depending on the features you desire, there is almost certainly an AirPod model that will deliver the goods.

We'll run through each below, explaining what they offer in comparison to the other options.

AirPods (2nd gen)

Best AirPods buying guide: AirPods (2nd gen)

  • H1 processor
  • 5 hours battery life
  • Tap controls for Play/Pause
  • Microphone
  • Siri compatibility
  • Bluetooth 5.0
  • Charging case with 24hrs of listening time

If you want a simple, relatively affordable pair of earbuds for listening to music, podcasts and audiobooks and taking phone calls, then the AirPods (2nd gen) will do all of this very happily. They also, due to their age, work with some older devices such as the iPhone 6 and iPhone 5s, as well as the iPad mini versions 3 and 4. To read more about them, take a look at our AirPods (2nd Generation) review.

Best price for AirPods 2nd gen (RRP £119/$119)

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AirPods (3rd gen)

Best AirPods buying guide: AirPods (3rd gen)

All of the above, plus:

  • 6 hours battery life
  • Multiple taps controls
  • IPX 4 Water and Swear resistance
  • Spacial Audio
  • Adaptive EQ
  • Custom high dynamic range amplifier
  • Inward facing microphone
  • Charging case with 30hrs of listening time and wireless charging

Moving up to the AirPods (3rd gen) adds IPX4 sweat- and water-resistance, so you can wear them while working out or walking in the rain. There's also an inward-facing microphone for better control of Siri and clearer call quality, plus an additional hour of battery life. Apple added various tap controls on this model too, allowing you to not only play and pause music like on the 2nd gen, but also skip forward and backwards through tracks, and launch Siri. Oh yes, and the case supports wireless charging.

In terms of audio quality, the 3rd-gen AirPods come with Adaptive EQ which is claimed to adjust the sound to suit the shape of your ear, plus there's also Spatial Audio for a more immersive listening experience. For more details, read our AirPods (3rd generation) review.

For a more detailed comparison, read our AirPods 3 (2021) vs AirPods 2 (2019) review.

Best price for AirPods 3nd gen (RRP £169/$179)

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AirPods Pro

Best AirPods buying guide: AirPods Pro

All of the above, plus:

  • Active Noise Cancellation
  • Transparency mode
  • 4.5 hours battery life
  • Charging case with 24hrs of listening time and wireless charging

The main differentiator of the AirPods Pro is the shorter stems, making them a more compact design, and Active Noise Cancellation. The latter means you can listen to audio content in louder environments without background noise drowning things out, plus the Transparency mode introduces a small amount of ambient sound so you can still remain aware of the world around you while enjoying music.

There is a cost to this, though, in that the AirPods Pro have the shortest battery life of all the range, offering just 4.5 hours of listening time, compared to 5 hours on the AirPods (2nd gen) and 6 hours on the AirPods (3rd gen). We cover more details in our AirPods Pro review.

Best price for AirPods Pro (RRP: £239/$249)

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AirPods Max

Best AirPods buying guide: AirPods Max

  • Active Noise Cancellation
  • Transparency mode
  • Spatial Audio
  • 2 x H1 chip
  • Siri compatibility
  • 20 hours listening time
  • Adaptive EQ
  • 9x Microphones
  • Digital Crown
  • Noise Control button
  • Bluetooth 5.0

The AirPods Max are something of a different beast, especially when you factor in the price. At more than twice the cost of the AirPods Pro, these are the definition of a considered purchase. Thanks to the size of the ear-cups, Apple is able to put a H1 chip in each one, as opposed to the single chip that appears in all of the other AirPods.

Like on the Pros, there are features such as Active Noise Cancellation, Transparency mode and Spacial Audio, but the Max doesn't have the custom high-dynamic range amplifier found in the 3rd gen and Pro AirPods, or (more surprisingly) any form of waterproofing. The smart case is also different in that you can't use it to charge the AirPods Max, but this isn't as bad as it sounds, as the onboard batteries provide around 20 hours of listening time.

Again, thanks to the size of the AirPods Max, controls are handled not by taps but a Digital Crown similar to that found on the Apple Watch, and a dedicated Noise Control button. There are also multiple microphones to aid with noise cancellation, plus updated sensors for better performance. For a comprehensive look at the AirPods Max, read our full review.

Best price for AirPods Max (RRP £549/$549)

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Is now a good time to buy AirPods?

It's always a good idea to check whether a device you're intending to purchase is about to be replaced with a newer model. To that end, here's when the various AirPods were released and when we expect them to be given an update or retired.

For more help read: Should I buy AirPods now or wait?

AirPods (2nd generation)

The second generation of the standard AirPods was first introduced back in March 2019. This does make them a little old, but with Apple adding the 3rd generation in October 2021 while still keeping the 2nd gen models in the catalogue, it looks a pretty safe bet that they will remain on sale for some time yet.

AirPods (3rd generation)

As mentioned above, Apple released the 3rd-gen AirPods in October 2021. This makes them pretty much bang up to date. It's also worth noting that Apple doesn't make yearly upgrades to the AirPod range, but instead often leaves a couple of years between generations. With that in mind, now is a very safe time to buy the AirPods (3rd generation).

AirPods Pro

Apple introduced the AirPods Pro back in October 2019, which does make them a prime candidate for an upgrade soon. In fact, as you can see from our AirPods Pro 2 guide, we fully expect a new version to appear some time in 2022.

AirPods Max

At the top of the AirPod tree is the Max model. These differ from the other members of the family as they feature an over-the-ear design in the style of classic studio headphones, rather than the in-ear aesthetic favoured by the AirPods and AirPods Pro.

Released in December 2020, they are now around a year old, but as we've seen with other AirPods, Apple hasn't yet developed a yearly upgrade-cycle, so we'd say it's a reasonably safe bet that it may be another year before the AirPods Max 2 arrive.

Which AirPods should I buy?

As with most tech purchases, your budget and how you intend to use the device should be the first considerations. It's true the AirPods (2nd gen) are the cheapest available and offer a good experience, but for the extra £/$50 the AirPods (3rd gen) bring you some significant advantages, the best of which are waterproofing, longer battery life and improved audio.

It's a more sizeable step up to the AirPods Pro, but you do get Active Noise Cancellation, which could be invaluable on busy trains or if your home is prone to noise. The price is quite high, though, for most people when it comes to earbuds. Plus with new models expected soon you might want to wait a little longer.

Finally, the AirPods Max give the best audio and comfort, plus some advanced control options, but that price is enough to put off all but the most ardent of audiophiles.