Apple's AirPods are very popular, but unfortunately also expensive. In the Apple Store the cheapest AirPods are £159/$159, while you can pay £249/$249 for the AirPods Pro (not to mention the AirPods Max at £549/$549).
It's no wonder that many people are on the look out for a bargain, and luckily you can often find the popular white headphones much cheaper, for example on Amazon has almost £60 off the price of the AirPods Pro right now (here), check our round up of the best AirPods deals for more. But what if you find an even better deal somewhere like Ebay? Can you be sure that the supposedly brand new in the original packaging AirPods are the real deal?
More and more often, the supposed bargain turns out to be a counterfeit product that deceptively resembles the expensive original. Counterfeit products are not a new problem, but fake AirPods Pro are often found on sales platforms. The high price and great demand for this product makes the AirPods Pro ideal for product counterfeiters thanks to the good profit margin even after high counterfeiting expenses.
One of our German readers fell for such an offer and only noticed the fraud too late. The fake AirPods were an excellent copy and we have been able to take a closer look at them.
Packaging and accessories
It is easy with some copies of Apple products: The packaging quality is often poor, typing errors such as "Dseigned by Apple" or translation errors are spotted in the labelling. However, in this we only found some inconsistencies in the packaging after a second glance. The packaging read: "Compatible with iOS device, iPadOS device, Apple Watch or Mac with the latest software Works with Qi-certified chargers." There is a missing full stop before Works (period in US English). In the German section there were missing umlauts.
Incidentally, you can get a photo of the original packaging without any problems on the web, for example here. Admittedly: Who reads such labels for no reason?
Check serial number
You don't even have to unpack the device, the first step is to check the serial number. This can be found on the side of the packaging and can be entered into the Apple website. In the case of our fake device, this was immediately identified as invalid exposing the device as a copy.
Unfortunately, according to reports, this check does not always work, apparently some forgers from Apple use serial numbers that are recognised by Apple. Because of this it can be necessary to open the box and do a few tests.
At first glance, most of the fake devices look perfectly fine, and the accessories are complete. Our test device has all the usual papers and instructions, along with real-looking AirPods Pro including housing, a lightning cable and alternative plugs.
However, the enclosed instructions would make some people suspicious: The print quality of the instructions was moderate and the type was blurred. Very unusual for Apple leaflets - but actually this is still not really proof.
The device's firmware was even stranger. On our device the Firmware is 0A2097, which is an ID that Apple never used. It would not even be possible to update the device.
Are they recognised by an iPhone or Mac?
The one thing a fake AirPod won't have is a W1 chip, which is a special chip from Apple. This chip ensures that AirPods are recognised by and synced immediately to an iPhone, iPad or Mac.
When you open the charging case, a nearby iPhone should immediately recognise and connect to the AirPods. (Excuse the German screen shot, 'Taste gedrückt halten' translates to 'Hold down the button' and 'Taste auf der Rückseite des Ladecase gedrückt halten' means 'Press and hold the button on the back of the charging case').
A window did open on our iPhone when we activated our AirPods, but the big difference was that we were instructed to press the button on the back of the case. Only then would the iOS earphones be integrated. If these were original AirPods this additional key press would be omitted.
We also found that due to the lack of a W1 chip use with a Mac mini was unreliable and switching between Mac and iPhone was only possible via the Bluetooth menu. There were also problems recognizing the microphone.
However the concerning thing is that, even in this case, the iPhone assumed that we had placed AirPods Pro in front of it and showed the usual instructions for use. And when we tapped on the info symbol next to the listed device under Bluetooth, the AirPods preferences opened.
The most informative test is the functionality check. The problem is that depending on the quality of the fake, the devices sometimes support more and sometimes fewer functions.
For example, we were able to carry out the fit test for ear inserts on our fake device. However, all was not as it seemed: the test always succeeded. Even when we were wearing just one of the earphones the optimal fit of both earphones was certified.
One of the most complex functions of the Pro models, however, is the Active Noise Cancelation, which is based on the high-quality microphones of the AirPods. To our surprise, we were able to activate this function and also switch on the Transparency mode. However, as we quickly found out, we couldn't hear the slightest difference with activated and deactivated noise cancellation - an obvious bluff.
Unfortunately, this test doesn't always work: some victims of fake AirPods have reported a functioning noise suppression, apparently there are some fakes with real microphones.
In general, however, the counterfeiters seem to save money on the microphones. In our test the fake AirPods delivered hair-raising sound quality - these earphones were not suitable for phone calls.
The audio quality was also very mediocre and not on the level of current Bluetooth headphones. When we listened to music there was a lack of clarity and bass.
Obviously the counterfeiters have installed components of poor quality, so it is hardly surprising that the new 3D audio function is not even displayed and that wireless charging does not work either.
Too bad: Such fakes are not even suitable as a second device and can actually only be returned or disposed of.
A look inside
There are further indications that these are fake: We quickly notice some processing defects. For example, the small plastic cover on the outside suddenly fell off after a few minutes of use. The cap at the bottom of the "stems" was also relatively easy to pull off to reveal the inside.
According to iFixit, we should actually come across a high-quality small microphone here. Instead, we see a circuit board with the label dxc-t18U8 - and no microphone, which explains the lack of recording option. These FakePods have no microphones and instead use the speaker as a microphone - which works in principle, but explains the horrific quality. For a further analysis you would need to break open the case, but we are postponing this for the time being.
How to get a refund
But what should you do if you have identified your new earbuds as rubbish? If the online shop or Ebay seller is still active, a return or refund should be attempted. Usually sellers can be persuaded to reimburse the purchase price with a bit of emphasis and repeated insistence on replacement. If the buyer only notices the counterfeit after the withdrawal period has expired, it becomes a little more difficult. However, in most cases it is an obvious defect that the seller needs to fix. A complaint is also possible, but you shouldn't expect too much here: the amount in dispute is usually quite low. An alternative is to notify Apple.
Our final advice is that with such bargains you should forego payment options without buyer protection, such as a cash payment.
Or pick up your bargain AirPods from our round up of the best AirPod deals.