From the AirPods to the AirPods Max, we take a detailed look at the battery life for all of Apple’s AirPods wireless headphones to find out which is the best overall…
In the space of just a few short years, Apple went from not making any type of headphones to being the biggest headphone manufacturer on the planet. And it did the vast majority of this with its original AirPods. Since then, it has launched a couple more additions in the form of the AirPods Pro – first and second gen – and its AirPods Max.
As of right now, Apple’s AirPods Max are the most expensive – and best-sounding – headphones you can buy in the AirPods lineup. They’re also over-ear headphones similar to Bose’s QC45 and Sony’s WH-1000XM5 and feature Apple’s unique spin on Active Noise Cancellation. But it is the AirPods and AirPods Pro that are the company’s biggest sellers.
Of course, different sizes and styles of headphones mean different battery performance, so which out of Apple’s current stable of headphones – AirPods, AirPods Pro, and AirPods Max – are the best? Let’s find out by comparing each model inside a quick n’ easy to digest table – we’ve included all models too, such as the first and second-gen AirPods and the first-gen AirPods Pro.
AirPods Battery Life Comparison Table
|AirPods Model||Battery Life (Hours)|
|AirPods (1st Gen)||5 Hours|
|AirPods (2nd Gen)||5 Hours|
|AirPods (3rd Gen)||6 Hours; 5 w/ Spatial Audio|
|AirPods Pro (1st Gen)||4.5 Hours (w/ ANC); 5 Without|
|AirPods Pro (2nd Gen)||5 Hours (w/ ANC); 6 Without|
|AirPods Max||20 Hours (w/ ANC)|
Which AirPods Have The Best Battery Life?
As you can see, if battery life is your major concern the AirPods Max have the best battery life by a considerable margin – 20 hours on a single charge is very impressive. In addition to this, if your AirPods Max battery does run out, a simple five-minute charge will deliver around 90 minutes of battery life.
This battery rating includes having ANC and Spatial Audio active too, whereas on Apple’s AirPods and AirPods Pro, switching on Spatial Audio on its cheaper AirPods shaves off around 30 minutes of battery life, taking it down from 6 hours to around 5.5 hours – or thereabouts.
With the AirPods Pro and AirPods Pro 2, you get both ANC and Spatial Audio but Apple has managed to keep the battery life fairly respectable, even with these switched on. You’ll get roughly 4.5 hours of listening time on the first-gen AirPods and around 5 hours on the second-gen AirPods Pro.
I know, I know – four or five hours does not sound like a long time, and it isn’t, really. Not if you’re on a long-haul flight. But what you have to remember is that ALL of Apple’s AirPods and AirPods Pro come with a charging case and, providing it is fully charged, you have up to 24 hours of additional battery life stored inside it, so all you have to do, when you’re not using them, is pop them back in the case and they’ll top themselves up.
If you were on a flight, for instance, that was eight hours long. You could use your AirPods Pro for a few hours and then place them back in their charging case while you eat your in-flight meal and watch a movie. Once you take them out again, perhaps and hour or 90 minutes later, they’ll be fully charged and you can use them for the remainder of your flight.
In most instances, commuting to work, going to the gym, or walking to and from the pub, four to five hours is plenty of battery life. I’ve been using AirPods Pro since they came out and they haven’t once run out of battery life on me. So long as you ensure the charging case is fully topped up at all times, you’ll never really have to worry about battery life. This applies to Apple’s standard AirPods too.
Do AirPods Pro Last Longer Than Standard AirPods?
The AirPods Pro, both the 1st and 2nd gen, come with Spatial Audio and Active Noise Cancellation (ANC), whereas on Apple’s latest entry-level AirPods you only get Spatial Audio. If you pay for things like ANC, you’re going to want to use them. Apple knows this so it engineered its AirPods Pro models to have more or less the same battery life as its entry-level AirPods. You get 4.5 hours on the first-gen AirPods Pro with ANC and approximately 5 hours with ANC on the AirPods Pro 2, making them more or less the same as Apple’s cheaper AirPods which will do anywhere from 5 to 6 hours on a good day.
The upshot of using the AirPods Pro is that they feature Apple’s very impressive ANC technology which uses not only external microphones to block external sounds, but also internal ones too, so noise on both sides of the seal is eradicated. Most ANC headphones only use external microphones and this is what really makes the AirPods Pro’s ANC so very, very impressive. It is actually a little startling just how good it is when you first put them on. If you fly or take the train a lot, they’re a literal godsend.
Which AirPods Come With ANC?
If you know you want ANC on your AirPods, you’re currently limited to the following models:
- AirPods Pro (1st Gen)
- AirPods Pro (2nd Gen)
- AirPods Max
Apple’s entry-level AirPods, which do not feature soft earbuds like its Pro models, as of the 3rd generation, come with Spatial Audio but they do not have ANC – Apple reserves its noise-canceling tech for its more expensive models.
Which AirPods Are Cheapest?
If you want a pair of AirPods but don’t want to spend a great deal of money, like millions of other users you’re going to best off going with Apple’s entry-level AirPods. These start from $179/£159 and come with Spatial Audio support, unlike their predecessors, but you do not get ANC included. Battery life is fairly strong though with 5-6 hours of playback time with Spatial Audio activated.
The AirPods Pro are, of course, more expensive. But you could do what I did and pick up a pair of used / second-hand AirPods Pro. I paid $150 for mine and they look and function as good as new. When I unboxed them, I literally could not believe they weren’t brand new. They had all the official packaging and wrapping. Basically, everything you’d expect from a brand new product from Apple.
But then if you do that you’re missing out on all the improvements Apple introduced with the AirPods Pro 2. Again, the AirPods Pro 2 are not cheap headphones but they are very good headphones that sound amazing, feature market-leading ANC tech, and have decent battery life. If you want the best wireless ANC earbuds on the market right now, I’d definitely recommend going with them – especially if you’re already using an iPhone.
Overall, though, Apple’s standard, non-ANC AirPods are the cheapest AirPods you can buy right now. And they’re decent enough with Spatial Audio and excellent battery life (compared to the AirPods Pro). The AirPods Pro are the second most expensive, and the AirPods Max are the most expensive. If you go with the AirPods Max, you’ll get the best sounding audio of any of Apple’s AirPods, the best battery life, and the best ANC performance. But, again, they are very expensive.
Which of Apple’s AirPods Are Best? Closing Thoughts…
My personal preference would be the AirPods Pro simply because they sound brilliant, thanks to Apple’s insane ANC and Spatial Audio tech, they’re comfortable to wear, they have water and dust resistance, and, perhaps most importantly, they’re relatively affordable, costing less than $300. For me, the AirPods Pro offer more utility. I like going for runs in all kinds of weather and you simply cannot do that with the AirPods Max – or any over-ear headphones from Bose or Sony.
If you want the best sounding audio, brilliant ANC, and access to Spatial Audio, and you prefer over-ear headphones, the AirPods Max are a great pair of headphones. But they do lack water and dust resistance, as most over-ear headphones do, and they do cost quite a lot more than Apple’s AirPods Pro. I don’t like worrying about the weather, so I prefer the AirPods Pro as they have the same great sound, they’re infinitely more portable, meaning they’ll fit inside your pocket with zero hassle, and to top it all off they’re also water and dust resistant and they support wireless charging to boot.
Richard Goodwin has been working as a tech journalist for over 10 years. He is the editor and owner of KnowYourMobile.