No-name electronics clones abound on Amazon. Apple Airpods cost five times as much as these cheap clones, but do they sound five times better? You might be surprised at what we found.
Apple’s AirPods were the first notable wire-free earphones. They’ve since been eclipsed by many other models that sound better, stay in place more securely, and are easier to control. But no other model offers Apple’s iconic design, which is why it can still charge up to $200 for a pair.
But why spend that much when you can get wire-free earphones that look like AirPods for a fraction of the price? We ordered a $32 pair of unbranded AirPod clones from Amazon to see if they’re a legitimate deal, or if you get what you pay for.
The full name of the earphones were “Wireless Bluetooth Headphones-Wireless in-Ear Headphones-Running Headphones for Women Men-Sport Bluetooth Earphones-Best Sport Wireless Earbuds-Outdoor Portable Bluetooth Earphones1.” I say “were” because the product page isn’t there anymore. After seeing the earphones in person, I can understand why. These don’t evoke or seem inspired by AirPods; they’re straight rip-offs in design. I can’t believe they were even available through Amazon long enough for me to buy them.
Like AirPods, But Cheap
The nondescript box includes the two earphones, a charging case, and a short cable for charging the case (which then charges the earphones). The case and the earphones look almost exactly like the AirPods and their charging case. Each earbud has a large teardrop shape and prominent stems with silver caps that feature holes for the charging connectors in the case. The case is a simple curved white box. A casual glance would lead anyone to think these are AirPods.
The details and feel of the earphones and case belie their true, unbranded nature. Instead of touch controls, the earphones have clicky buttons on the back. The charging case also has a clicky power button on the front next to two holes for the battery LEDs, and a fairly ugly little micro USB port on the back. The battery LED holes are questionable; even after keeping the case plugged in for hours, only the right hole lit up blue when I pressed the button to check the battery level. I don’t even know if there’s a second LED behind the other hole.
Then there’s the plastic. The earphones and case feel very cheap. It’s flimsy, light white plastic that gets about as far from Apple products as you can get while still keeping the color scheme. The plastic on the case is so cheap that you can see light from the LEDs bleed through it when they’re lit up. The lid is also awkwardly tight and hard to open. The parts all feel like overly smooth, light, low-quality junk.
After scowling at the feel of the earphones and their case for a few minutes, I tried to connect them to my phone and listen to some music. This is where things got really surprising.
Sounds Like a Deal
These AirPod knockoffs actually work. They pair pretty easily and don’t sound horrible. After powering each earphone on separately, a voice in both said they were connected. The earphones then appeared in my phone’s Bluetooth list as “tws-i7” and I paired them without incident. The process was simple, painless, and actually worked. I could listen to music on both earphones, without needing to pair each earpiece separately or otherwise wrestle with the connection.
Even more surprising? They don’t sound awful. They don’t sound particularly good, but the performance is about what I’d expect from a more legitimate, branded pair of wireless earphones (not even wire-free) that cost $30. I listened to some tracks from our audio testing playlist and I didn’t find the experience horrible.
Yes, the bass notes in The Knife’s “Silent Shout” sound weak and hollow, and distort at maximum volume. Yes, the higher frequencies in Yes’ “Roundabout” are flattened out and the track sounds like it’s on the radio. Yes, the vinyl texture in Massive Attack’s “Teardrop” sounds more like static than rain. Yet despite all of these things, the earphones aren’t painful to listen to.
I could pick out all of the elements of each mix, and I didn’t mind hearing music or podcast through them. They don’t come close to my Jabra Elite Active 65ts, but they don’t sound like ice picks in my ears, either. They just sound like cheap earphones, branded or not.
Are These Clones Worth Even $32?
I was getting ready for some total trash with these $32 blatant AirPod knockoffs. They aren’t great, but they aren’t entirely garbage bin material either. I’m shocked, but these cheap wire-free earphones are downright usable. I’d go so far as to say that they’re appropriately priced, though you can spend a bit more for better sound and much, much better build quality. (It’s worth noting that the AirPods themselves are far from our favorite true wireless earbuds; in fact, we even prefer Apple’s own Powerbeats Pro.)
Of course, none of this accounts for how long they might last. With the flimsy plastic and unknown electronics, they might fall apart in a week (and I don’t plan on using them again, because I have much better earphones). But for $32, these knockoffs are almost decent.
Originally published at https://www.pcmag.com on June 9, 2019.