There's something almost uniquely intimate about sharing a set of headphones: two people in close proximity, sealed off from the world, listening to something everyone around them cannot hear. Happy memories of the 1990s, there.
As with many tech experiences of the past, you can now recreate this in a better form. Audio Sharing, a feature added to iOS 13 and iPadOS 13, lets you output audio from an iPhone or iPad to two sets of AirPods or Apple Beats headphones at once.
With Audio Sharing you can share the audio without sharing the earwax, and both get the full stereo effect of your individual headphones. And you're not tied together by a wire any more, although you're quite at liberty to see next to each other if you like.
What do I need?
First of all you need a compatible - which is to say, pretty recent - iPhone, iPad or iPod touch, and this device needs to be running iOS 13.1 or iPadOS 13.1 or later. (Here's how to get iOS 13.)
In terms of iPhones, the 8, 8 Plus, X, XR, XS, XS Max, 11, 11 Pro and 11 Pro Max all support Audio Sharing.
The 9.7in iPads from 2017 and 2018, iPad 10.2in, iPad mini (2019), iPad Air (2019), and any iPad Pro from 2017 or later are compatible with the feature.
Finally, the seventh-gen iPod touch works too.
The headphones also need to fit the requirements. Despite the feature being referred to in some contexts as Audio Sharing With AirPods, it isn't restricted to the AirPods, but it does require each participant to be using a set of headphones with one of Apple's H1 or W1 chips.
That means any AirPod or AirPod Pro model, plus the Beats Solo3 Wireless and Studio3 Wireless, BeatsX, Powerbeats3 Wireless and Powerbeats Pro. If in doubt, check the tech specs and look for an H1 or W1 processor.
How to share audio with a second pair of AirPods
- First make sure your headphones are connected to your iPhone or iPad as normal.
- To set up Audio Sharing, get your friend to bring their AirPods (in the charging case) close to your iPhone or iPad, and then open the lid of the case. A dialogue will pop up reading 'Temporarily Share Audio'. Tap this.
- Follow the instructions that follow. At one point you'll have to press and hold the button on the back of the case, but don't be alarmed: you're not resetting the AirPods, or setting up a permanent connection. It's all temporary.
What if they're listening to something else?
Ah. If the second pair of AirPods is currently in use, the method is a little different.
Start up the audio you wish to share. From the Now Playing screen - you can view this in Music, or from the widget in Control Centre, accessible by swiping down from the top-right corner of the screen - you should tap the AirPlay icon, and then hit Share Audio. The other person will have to tap Join on their device.
Sharing with Beats headphones
The method above works for AirPods and AirPods. Things are slightly different for Beats headphones.
Turn on the Beats and connect them to their usual iPad or iPhone (not the one you're going to be sharing audio from) in the usual way. Now press the power button on the Beats for about a second, and bring them close to your device. You should see a Temporarily Share Audio option pop up; tap this to activate the feature.
Using the Audio Sharing feature
Be aware that you are now controlling the audio running to the second pair of headphones as well as your own. This includes, by default, the volume level; try not to deafen them by turning it up.
Handily, it is possible to adjust the volume on the two sets of headphones separately. To do this, open Control Centre and do a hard/long press on the volume slider. This will then pop out into a larger widget showing two separate volume controls.
How to turn off Audio Sharing
Tap the AirPlay icon on the Music app's Now Playing screen (or in Control Centre or on the lock screen) and then tap the tick next to the other person's pair of headphones. This will end the connection and turn off Audio Sharing.
We hope this tutorial has been helpful. For more general advice on getting the most out of your headphones, read How to use AirPods.