Are Apple’s Free EarPods Really That Bad?


If you misplace your best headphones, you might need to turn to Apple’s free EarPods for listening to music instead. Most of us have a few pairs lying around the house, so it isn’t necessarily a big deal if these go missing as well.

The problem is that Apple’s headphones suck. Or at least, that’s what their reputation would have you believe.

We don’t think that’s an entirely fair analysis. So in this review, we’ll discuss what’s good and bad about Apple’s earbuds and build a case for why they might be worth using after all.

An Overview of Apple’s EarPods

Apple EarPods plugged into Lightning port on iPhone
Image Credit: Jessica Lewis/Pexels

Perhaps the best aspect of Apple’s EarPods is that you get a free set with any iPhone or iPod you buy. Back in the day, Apple used to give these out with new iPads as well, though that isn’t the case anymore.

In 2012, Apple revised the earphone design, making them more ergonomic and comfortable. Since removing the headphone jack from iPhones, Apple also released a Lightning-connector version of the EarPods. As a result, this does mean you need an adapter to use those EarPods with other devices.

Apple’s EarPods used to come in a hard case for safe storage. But now you only get some disposable cardboard packaging. The EarPods are also equipped with a remote for volume control, phone calls, Siri, and more.

Your EarPods are covered by Apple’s standard warranty. If you have any problems with them that aren’t your fault, Apple should replace the EarPods free of charge for as long as the warranty lasts.

Apple EarPods Sound Quality

Woman listening to Apple EarPods looking out a window
Image Credit: Feliphe Schiarolli/Unsplash

If you haven’t used Apple’s EarPods in a while, you might be pleasantly surprised to find the sound quality on them is far better than it once was. Apple’s older headphones had pretty dire sound quality. But Apple changed the internal drivers in the 2012 redesign, bringing vast improvements.

The treble is surprisingly punchy. There’s an unexpected richness to the bass that doesn’t overpower the sound. And the overall tone compared to Apple’s older EarPods is actually pretty good.

Unfortunately, the mid-range is weak. This is a problem that’s exacerbated by the fact that EarPods don’t employ any passive sound isolation. There aren’t silicon tips to create a tight seal in your ear, as you find with the AirPods Pro. This means the sounds around you wash out any clarity from the midrange.

Apple’s EarPods are also leaky. Anyone near you will hear a lot of noise coming out of your EarPods as you listen to music. They thus aren’t ideal for libraries and other quiet environments.

Despite this design flaw, the EarPods hold up well when listening to a variety of musical styles. Apple doesn’t design its products for one target market, so it makes sense that Apple EarPods should sound good with a range of musical genres. That said, for a standalone price of $29, it’s not worth buying a set of EarPods for the sound quality alone.

Apple EarPods Comfort and Design

EarPods hanging upside down in front of black background
Image Credit: Mateo Abrahan/Unsplash

Apple designed the EarPods to sit loosely in your ears, rather than forming a seal for a tighter fit. The smooth plastic design is largely inoffensive—they’re not uncomfortable. But if you’re used to sound-isolating silicon buds, they tend to lack the snug fit that you might like.

Like the sound quality, the form of these newer EarPods is a massive improvement over the previous design.

A particularly good aspect about the new design is that they don’t get caught on your ear if you yank them out suddenly. The use of anti-tangle rubber is also a nice touch. It certainly helps, but you’ll still spend time untangling them every now and then.

Of course, to ditch wires altogether, you should look at buying Apple’s AirPods or AirPods Pro. But that’s a totally different ballgame.

One problem with the design is that EarPods move around a lot. They slip and twist in your ear, negatively affecting the sound quality. They also fall out when you move too much.

Apple’s EarPods are particularly bad for running, cycling, and other high-energy activities because you constantly need to put them back in your ears.

Apple EarPods Durability and Build Quality

EarPods plugged in to iPhone on a white surface
Image Credit: Plush Design Studio/Pexels

Apple’s old headphones were known for their poor build quality, and EarPods do little to buck the trend. They still feel flimsy and the materials used are quite soft. At the points where the cable joins the earbuds and connector, you’re likely to experience loose connections.

There’s a lot of flex in the plastic used for the remote control. Once this breaks, there’s nothing to protect the wire within. It’s hardly surprising that EarPods have maintained their reputation for dying suddenly. It’s probably what you should expect from free headphones, but as we already pointed out, Apple prices them at $29.

One way you can mitigate damage is by storing them properly. Look into getting a third-party pouch or case to keep your EarPods in. If that doesn’t feel like enough, take a look at our advice for protecting your headphones, much of which applies to EarPods as well.

Should your EarPods break, Apple covers them under the same AppleCare warranty as everything else. That warranty includes the Lightning cable, power adapter, and the device itself. If you bought your EarPods standalone, they still get a year of coverage.

The warranty is only for manufacturer defects, rather than accidental damage. But a Genius bar appointment costs nothing, and Apple might surprise you with what it considers a manufacturer defect.

Are Apple’s EarPods Worth the Price?

EarPods lying next to iPhone with colorful background
Image Credit: priyash vasava/Unsplash

For free, Apple’s EarPods represent excellent value for money. But if you’re thinking about shelling out $29 for a new pair, there are better alternatives available to you.

If you want a cheap pair of earphones and you’re not worried about the best sound quality, you can spend less and get more for your money elsewhere. Find some cheap earphones that use silicon tips for better noise isolation instead. Just make sure you can use them with your iPhone if you have a newer model without a headphone jack.

If you want to spend a little more on high-quality earphones, take a look at this list of the best Lightning connector earphones available. They cost more than Apple’s EarPods, but you get much better sound quality and isolation.

Alternatively, head to a local headphone shop and speak to the staff. They should ask about your use, your budget, what sort of music you listen to, and even offer you a few different pairs to try out.

Extra Features on Apple’s EarPods

EarPods sound okay, but they won’t knock your socks off. They’re distinctly inoffensive. Apple’s design is flawed in terms of ambient noise and sound leakage with the build quality leaving a lot to be desired. But they’re good enough for everyday use.

One particularly useful feature of Apple’s EarPods is the versatility you get from the remote. With these three buttons, you can control the volume, play and pause music, skip tracks, and even rewind music. Take a look at all the cool tricks you can do with your Apple EarPods.

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