Apple EarPods review: They’re free with all iPhones but are they any good?

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Apple’s EarPods have been a common sight on the morning commute for years and it’s easy to see why. They come bundled with every iPhone, the iPhone is the most popular smartphone on the planet and people are lazy.

To be fair, since Apple last revamped the design of its in-box earphones – back in 2012 – and introduced the EarPods, there has at least been a good reason for this. They work, they have a good quality in-line microphone and sound quality isn’t totally awful. That, for many people, is good enough.

The question is, if you’ve broken or lost your much-used and abused Apple Earpods, is it worth spending the money to replace them? Or do you go for a pair of third-party earphones instead?

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Apple EarPods review: What you need to know

There are several things in the EarPods’ favour: the design timeless design, an impressive in-line microphone and the fact that they’re light and comfortable to wear in bed. Unlike in-ear and earbud earphones, the EarPods are a kind of hybrid, designed to rest in the outer part of your ear and protrude only a little way in.

There are two different types of EarPod: the older model terminated with a 3.5mm headphone plug and the newer variant with a Lightning connector, introduced when Apple dropped the 3.5mm jack in the iPhone 7.

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Apple EarPods review: Price and competition

Both the Lightning Connector type and analogue EarPods cost £29. That might seem cheap, but there are plenty of earphones that cost the same or less than this. Two particular models stand out: the Brainwavz Delta at £20, which are wired in-ears with an in-line mic, and the incredibly impressive wireless Bluetooth Creative Outlier One at £20.

Apple EarPods review: 3.5mm EarPods vs Lightning EarPods

For this review I listened to both the 3.5mm and Lightning EarPods, the former taken from the box of an iPhone 5S dating back to 2013 and the newer one sourced from the box of a 2018 iPhone X.

Both models have the same design, build quality and look. However, there’s a slight difference in the sound quality. The EarPods with Lightning connector sound a little flatter and have a mid-range that’s slightly cleaner. The older variant, which I tested with an iPhone X using the official Apple Lightning to 3.5mm adapter, sounded warmer and less revealing.

The bigger difference is the convenience, or lack thereof, of having a Lightning connector earphone or a 3.5mm pair. It’s worth bearing in mind, for instance, that if you opt to replace with a Lightning connector pair, you’re basically restricting the use of your headphones to your iPhone or iPad whereas with a 3.5mm pair you connect them to pretty much any device.

Apple EarPods review: Build quality, design and comfort

The Earpod has a distinctive all-white design. The somewhat alien-looking plastic nozzle is aesthetically pleasing on the eye and they’ve been designed with a one-size-fits all approach.

As someone who wears earphones with medium-sized tips on other in-ear headphones, I had no problems with the comfort. However, if you normally use larger or smaller sized tips, you may struggle to find a good fit.

On the positive front, they sit flush in your ears, which allows you to sleep with them on and they don’t need to be hooked around your ear, and I didn’t hear any cable noise (known as microphonics), when I took them on my daily commute.

The EarPods have a few flaws, though, the biggest being the overall build quality and connection between the cable and both plug and earpieces. The whole thing feels flimsy and fragile to me and I’d advise when removing them to do so by grasping the plug and not pulling the cable itself. I also found they weren’t the most secure in my ears, the glossy plastic shells meaning that they kept slipping out.

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Apple EarPods review: Sound quality

The EarPods are, quite frankly poor, when it comes to audio output quality. If you’ve gone for many years wearing the EarPods and never tried another pair, now is the time to jump ship and here’s why: the bass is all over the place, the earphones have no sub-bass presence whatsoever, and the mid-bass is uncontrolled and lacks definition.

The mids are recessed and pushed back and, as for the top-end treble, it’s completely rolled off. The EarPods offer neither spark nor excitement. On the plus side, the EarPods’ warm overall presentation is easy to get along with and makes for comfortable listening for long periods.

There are some mild positives. The soundstage, though somewhat disappointing, isn’t as bad as you’d imagine given the other sound characteristics. There’s good instrument separation, and relatively good depth, too. Overall, though it’s fair to say, these are among the worst earphones I’ve ever listened to.

Perhaps the EarPods’ one saving grace is that the in-line mic provides excellent call quality and the three-button remote works well for both call handling and media controls.

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Apple EarPods review: Verdict

The EarPods are certainly stylish, and they look great. They’re comfortable to wear, too, and have a good quality microphone. However, they feel fragile and sound quality is sub par, even at this seemingly low price.

If you’ve got a set of EarPods and are happy with them, keep them till they break and then get yourself a pair of Brainwavz Delta for £20 or the incredibly impressive Creative Outlier One for £20 instead; both are miles better than the EarPods.

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