AirPods in Review
Listening to Shakespeare, especially the uneven, but exceptionally useful LibriVox versions, which, as of now, I also include some Marlowe and even Kyd’s Spanish Tragedy, wireless headsets are important to me. I’m on my third or fourth set, and second, or third phone that uses them.
I mostly lost track.
With the AirPods, the sound quality has been exceptional — especially with my established penchant for inexpensive gear.
However, this changes with the recent amount of opera I’ve been listening to?
Wagner: Der Ring des Nibelungen – Hans Swarowsky, Czech Philharmonic Orchestra, Prague National Theatre Orchestra, Liselotte Becker-Egner, Angelika Berger, Hilde Rosner, Rolf Kühne, Ruth Hesse, Rolf Polke, Heidemaria Ferch, Otto von Rohr, Takao Okamura, Herbert Doussant, Rudolf Knoll, Fritz Uhl, Herold Kraus, Ursula Boese, Gerald McKee, Ditha Sommer, Nadezda Kniplova, Margit Kobeck, Bella Jasper, Hilde Roser, Erica Schubert, Ingrid Goritz, Siw Ericsdotter, Artist Unknown & Richard Wagner
I picked up this digital copy for two reasons, one, it was cheap, two, it was complete — the entire Ring Cycle, 14 or 15 hours of opera. All four, all the way through. Just one, long, continuous cycle of “Lady sings the blues,” which will be one of my reviews.
Between that very version of the opera cycle, and the reading of the Shakespeare plays, I have good baseline for audio delivery through those Apple AirPods.
In part, this is a factor of age, experience, and years of abuse. How many years did I listen to loud rock and roll, and how many years did I work around even louder motorcycles?
Might account for some of the problem.
However, part of this is just that the audio quality that I get from a speaker, in a room that is still, that noise is better.
So — for me — the Apple AirPods perform exceptionally well for several tasks. One would be phone conversations. For that? Exceptional. I can average a dozen — or more — hours a week on the phone, so that matters. The problem with the audio is that the two sources of recoded material that I’m using as a baseline, that copy of The Ring Cycle and the complete works of Shakespeare, read aloud? Those suffer. Shakespeare suffers less, but that opera — granted it’s not a great copy — suffered mightily.
The challenge is the opening bars, the beginning strains, as the orchestra is just getting warmed up, those strings are getting ready to saw through three hours of heavy mental music, the musical motifs that are set in the very beginning pieces. Leitmotif? Too light, too low, just not loud enough. However, if I crank the volume up so I can hear it, a few moments later, a booming operatic voice starts yelling at me in German — it is a German opera.
So part of the issue is the uneven quality of that, specific, opera recording. But part of the problem is the audio reproduction in the AirPods. Good. Not great. Very good, but not stellar?
There’s a series of passages in one copy of the plays, and the elder speaking part gets lost, it is too quiet. I can crank up the volume, but that does nothing for the rest. Again, this from a totally free service, and while absolutely fabulous as a source, it is not always the highest quality. So, occasionally, the audio — through the AirPods, suffers.
With phone calls? Not a problem — at all. Been not just good, but great, certainly better than any other headset I’ve ever used. Sometimes, to me, it seems like the phone’s Air Pod pairing audio quality is better than any regular phone.
The final problem has been battery life. I get a little over an hour out of AirPods before the battery gets low. No more than a few minutes in the case, and the little earpieces are charged again. Plus, it is possible to charge one, while still talking, then charge the other.
When I first received them, I was really freaked about losing them, as I tend to be careless — hard — on equipment. The first accessories for an accessory that I ordered was a set of connecting rubber bands, keep the earpieces linked. Nice idea, used it a few time, but not really that useful, as the connecting strap has to be peeled off in order to charge the AirPods.
Which brings me back to the battery life issue, for me. I can’t listen to a whole play, or any of the three longer operas in that cycle, not all the way through, not on a single charge. Pop the AirPods in their case for a mere moment, and the charge is back up, but a single commute to and from Austin, with a workday in between?
This review is almost a year in the making, so the Apple Air Pods are still intact, been updated some, and the original pair I bought still work well. Think there was an update that helped with the battery life, but practically, I can only get a little over an hour, maybe hour and half, of talk time when using the phone as a phone. In the last year, though, the wired set of earbuds have almost never been used. I do tend to leave a pair near my desk for some hard-core readings, but that’s more about my clients than the work — or the hardware — itself.