Best Apple AirPods for 2022 – CNET

There are so many Apple AirPods it can be hard to tell the difference between them — are the AirPods Pro better than the AirPods Max? It’s down to your earbud preference, really, but that’s why CNET’s here to help. Apple has an older entry-level AirPods model that goes for as low as $89 during sales and three sets of true wireless headphones competing in the $180 to $200 range. Except for those baseline AirPods — often referred to as AirPods (second-generation) or AirPods 2 — all of the other models listed below are compatible with Apple’s new spatial audio features, but none of them will deliver the maximum quality of Apple’s lossless audio format, which is too rich for the current Bluetooth wireless standard to handle. 

Check out some of the features highlighted below to pick the best AirPods for you or your loved ones. Many times it can come down to balancing function and price, so we’ve mapped out the most current pricing for you as well. Without further ado, here are the best options as you search out Apple AirPods deals this year. We even included a few sets of earbuds that serve as an AirPods alternative, just to give you more choices in the search for a true wireless earbud. 

Read more: Best true-wireless earbuds for 2022

AirPods pricing 2022

Model Apple Store price Best price right now Best all-time price
AirPods 2 $129 $110 $89
AirPods Pro 2021 $249 $189 $169
AirPods 3 $179 $170 $175
Beats Fit Pro $200 $200 $200
AirPods Max $549 $479 $429

We update this story frequently to reflect current pricing. 

Sarah Tew/CNET

Although they were released in 2019, Apple’s AirPods Pro remain top true-wireless earbuds, thanks to their comfortable fit, decent sound, Active Noise Cancellation, and compelling feature set, which includes Apple’s spatial audio virtual surround feature. Their transparency mode, which allows you to hear the world around you during wear, is also the gold standard. This is the best true wireless earbuds and excellent for making calls. 

With the third-gen AirPods getting MagSafe compatibility, Apple updated the AirPods Pro to include MagSafe, so just be careful to get the latest version of the new AirPods Pro (the updated version sells for the same price as the “older” model).

While the AirPods Pro’s list price is still $250, the new model — with the MagSafe charging case — is generally available for around $190 at Amazon (and occasionally dips lower).

Read our AirPods Pro review.

David Carnoy/CNET

The newest Beats headphones aren’t AirPods, but — except for lacking a case with wireless charging and MagSafe compatibility — they pretty much pack most of the features found on the AirPods Pro in a sportier design, and are available in multiple color options. You should definitely check these out before buying the AirPods 3 or AirPods Pro at nearly the same price. Read our Beats Fit Pro review

David Carnoy/CNET

The newest 2021 AirPods deliver better sound quality than their predecessors while maintaining an open design. Slightly larger and shaped more like the AirPods, they should be a better fit for more people’s ears, but at the same time, they may not fit those with very small ears who got a perfect fit with the AirPods 2nd Generation.

Because they’re brand new, we haven’t seen any serious discounts yet. Read our AirPods 3 review

David Carnoy/CNET

Apple’s first full-size headphones are chock-full of high-end features like noise cancellation, spatial audio and easy integration with Apple devices. Yes, paying about the same as you would for a PS5 may sound crazy, but here’s the crazier thing: They’re actually kinda worth it, so long as you don’t feel burned by their lack of support for full lossless audio and lack of an included cable for wired listening (it must be purchased separately).

As of November 2021, prices have dipped to as low as $430 on certain colors. Otherwise, they’ve been hovering around $479. Check out all the early Black Friday sales on AirPods Max here to save big.

Read our AirPods Max review.

Apple’s AirPods 2nd Generation remain in the line but no longer includes a wireless-charging option going forward. Apple has dropped the official price of the AirPods 2 to $129, though you’ll find them for less. They usually hover around $115, but recently hit $89 at Walmart and will hopefully settle in around $100. 

They’re not as feature-packed as the other AirPods on this list, but they remain an appealing option for folks on a tighter budget or those who’ve worn out their original pair but love their fit and simply want to replace them. 

Read our AirPods review.

What are the newest AirPods?

Technically, the newest AirPods are the 2021 third-generation AirPods with enhanced functionality, which arrived in stores on Oct. 26. They feature an updated design, improved sound and better battery life. That said, the Beats Fit Pro — which share most of the same features as AirPods Pro — arrived on Nov. 5. While they’re not AirPods by name, we and others have referred to them as “the sports AirPods you always wanted.”

Note that an updated version of the AirPods Pro with MagSafe compatibility was released at the same time as the AirPods third-generation. The MagSafe compatibility is the only difference between the “old” and “new” AirPods Pro versions.

Are the new Beats Fit Pro better than the AirPods Pro?

Yes, in some ways the new Beats are better than the AirPods Pro for around the same price. We think they have slightly better sound and their battery life is better — up to 6 hours with noise canceling on compared to up to 4.5 hours for the AirPods Pro. The Beats Fit Pro’s noise canceling appeared to be on par with the AirPods Pro’s and so did their transparency mode. The integrated wingtips also lock the buds in your ears for sporting activities and everyday use. While the Fit Pro should fit most ears comfortably, some people don’t like the wingtip design. 

The Fit Pro are missing wireless charging and the MagSafe compatibility found in the updated version of the AirPods Pro, which was released at the same time as the AirPods third-generation.

Should I buy AirPods in the Apple Store?

If you can help it, no: The various AirPods models typically sell for less online at other retailers like Amazon and Walmart. Amazon, meanwhile, typically matches the lowest price at other retailers. Generally, we’d only buy AirPods at the Apple Store if we want engraving, which isn’t available elsewhere. That said, if you opt to go into an Apple Store for Apple deals, you should ask about price matching. While Apple doesn’t seem to have any official policy, it’s been reported that it will offer up to 10% price matching. As an example, that would be $25 off the AirPods Pro, which list for $249. That’s not much, but it’s worth asking to see if you can get 10% off. 

Does spatial audio sound different on different AirPods?

The short answer is, not really when you’re talking about spatial audio with head tracking for movie and TV watching. While the AirPods Max offer the best sound overall, using the spatial audio virtual sound feature is largely the same experience on all the AirPods that support it.

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