7 signs to upgrade your AirPods

Signals include — but aren’t limited to — draining battery life, a desire for better features, and wanting to ditch Lightning cables.

7 signs to upgrade your AirPods

It's hard to believe that the first AirPods were announced all the way back in 2016, with the iPhone 7. It's fair to say that they've been a success, selling in their millions. If you own Apple products, AirPods are something of a no-brainer. They work perfectly with your Apple gear, offer great sound quality, and maintain the status-symbol white look that's been around since the first iPod.

7 signs to upgrade your AirPods

AirPods have come a long way since the first-generation nearly a decade ago, however, and there comes a time when you might be thinking about investing in a new pair of AirPods. Can you really justify the expense, however, when you already own a pair? Well, the answer may just be yes. Here are seven clear signs that it's time to upgrade your AirPods.

1 Your battery life is dropping

Batteries don't last forever

7 signs to upgrade your AirPods

Nothing lasts forever, and never is this more true than with rechargeable batteries. If you've owned an iPhone, you'll know the pain of your aging iPhone eating through battery like Pacman through ghosts. If you find that the battery life of your AirPods is dropping, it's only going to get worse.

7 signs to upgrade your AirPods

If you have AppleCare+ and your battery holds less than 80% of its original capacity, you're eligible for a free battery replacement for the AirPods and charging case. If you don't have AppleCare+, you can get a battery service from Apple, but this will set you back $49 per AirPod, and another $49 for the charging case.

If you're going to fork out $148 to service all of your batteries, you're probably better off stumping up the difference and upgrading to a brand-new pair.

2 You want better sound quality

Upgrade for upgraded sound

7 signs to upgrade your AirPods

Technology continues to advance at a frightening pace. Generative AI can already do things that would have been deemed impossible just a few years ago, as long as it doesn't involve drawing realistic hands. The same is true of tech hardware; newer models of AirPods include upgraded components that make them even better than the older versions.

Take the AirPods Pro, for example. The original AirPods Pro offered great sound quality, but the second-generation AirPods Pro offer even better sound. In our hands-on review of the AirPods Pro (second-gen), we found them to have a wider soundstage than the original AirPods Pro, with richer bass and improved clarity in the mid-range.

7 signs to upgrade your AirPods

Older AirPods can also suffer from issues such as crackling and other sound defects as they get older, and more dirt and grime find their way into the workings. If you're looking for even better sound from your AirPods, it might be time to upgrade.

3 You want active noise-cancellation (or you want it to be better)

ANC is a game changer

7 signs to upgrade your AirPods

Sound quality is great, but even the best sound quality in the world can be ruined by external noise. Trying to listen to your favorite tracks with a screaming baby in the plane seat behind you is not going to be a great audio experience.

It works by listening to the external noise around you and playing sound waves that are 180 degrees out of phase with that noise, effectively canceling it out.

Active noise cancellation can help to drown out the noise of the outside world. It works by listening to the external noise around you and playing sound waves that are 180 degrees out of phase with that noise, effectively canceling it out. ANC isn't perfect, but it can significantly reduce external noise and make your listening experience way better.

ANC isn't available on all models of AirPods, however, so if you don't have it on your current pair, you're going to need to upgrade either to a set of AirPods Pro or the over-ear AirPods Max. Both offer ANC and a Transparency mode to let the sounds of the outside world in again.

7 signs to upgrade your AirPods

If you already own a pair of first-gen AirPods Pro, you'll already have ANC available. However, we found the ANC on the AirPods Pro (second-gen) to be a significant improvement, so you might still want to consider upgrading. The AirPods Pro 2 also offer Adaptive Audio features that can adjust the volume of your AirPods based on your surroundings or enhance voices in front of you if you're trying to have a conversation.

4 You've thrown out all your Lightning cables

It's what the EU would want

7 signs to upgrade your AirPods

Thanks to the EU, Apple has finally made the switch from the proprietary Lightning charging port to the industry-standard USB-C. However, if you're rocking anything other than the latest USB-C model of AirPods Pro 2, then your AirPods will still have the Lightning port for charging.

And while it's possible to use a wireless charging case to charge your AirPods wirelessly, the chances are that you're going to want to use wired charging at some point. This means you'll still need to hold on to your Lightning cables for a little longer.

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7 signs to upgrade your AirPods

The alternative is that you upgrade to the USB-C AirPods Pro (second-gen) and then you really can get rid of those Lightning cables once and for all. Unless you have a Magic Mouse, that is.

5 Your AirPods are playing up

Nothing lasts forever

7 signs to upgrade your AirPods

It's a sad fact of life that as we get older, more things start to go wrong. Our hair turns gray or falls out, everything starts to ache a little more, and we're not as sharp as we used to be. The same is true of your AirPods.

Over time, you will see a degradation in the performance of your AirPods. My colleague Sam Smart covers this in our take on the downsides of wireless headphones after we lost the headphone jack on many smartphone models.

7 signs to upgrade your AirPods

The once excellent sound quality may not sound quite so good. Your microphone may start to sound a little quieter. You might find that your AirPods are pausing randomly.

While there are ways to try to fix these problems, eventually there's going to come a point where fighting fires just becomes too much effort.

While there are ways to try to fix these problems, eventually there's going to come a point where fighting fires just becomes too much effort. At this point, you may decide that upgrading to a new set of AirPods is worth the cost just to have a pair of headphones that work perfectly again.

6 You want Precision Finding with Find My

Makes finding AirPods all the easier

7 signs to upgrade your AirPods

By design, AirPods are small (AirPods Max aside) but to paraphrase Uncle Ben (the Spider-Man one, not the rice one), with great smallness comes great loseability. It's all too easy to lose your AirPods down the side of the sofa.

To paraphrase Uncle Ben (the Spider-Man one, not the rice one), with great smallness comes great loseability.

You can use Find My to locate your AirPods easily enough, but annoyingly, you can only get your AirPods to play a sound to help you track them down if they're not inside the charging case. And the chances are, you'll keep them in the charging case most of the time. This makes the otherwise useful feature almost completely redundant.

7 signs to upgrade your AirPods

Unless that is, you own a pair of AirPods Pro (second-generation). That's because the latest model of AirPods will let you play a sound from the charging case as well as the AirPods, meaning you track them down quickly whether they're in the case or not.

Not only that, but the second-gen AirPods Pro also includes the U1 ultra wideband chip in the charging case, allowing you to track using Precision Finding. If you keep losing your AirPods, then upgrading to the AirPods Pro (second-gen) may save your sanity.

7 You want some over-ear headphones

Upgrade your AirPods to the Max

7 signs to upgrade your AirPods

Apple's headphones have always been iconic, but from the very first white earbuds that shipped with the first iPod, they've always been in-ear headphones. That is, until the launch of the AirPods Max.

7 signs to upgrade your AirPods

Apple's first in-house over-ear headphones are excellent, with ANC that surpasses even the AirPods Pro (second-gen) and sound quality to match. They're much pricier than in-ear AirPods, but if you don't like the feel of wearing headphones in your ears, or just want longer battery life, then it might be time to upgrade to a pair of AirPods Max.

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