An epic quest for the ultimate wireless headphones

The wait for Apple’s AirPods was excrutiating, so I found my audible pleasure elsewhere

Features

21 Mar 2017

I was quite excited when Apple unveiled its all-new AirPods last year. I’m a longtime user of the standard white earbuds that Apple gives away for free with its iPhones and these seemed like a decent upgrade. I liked the fact that they were ‘true wireless’ headphones, ie. there were no wires connecting the right and left ear piece, and each bud contained a noise-reducing microphone so you could make and receive calls without having to take your phone out of your pocket. You could also use them to talk to Siri and battery life was solid – five hours, extendable by another three if you popped them into the dental-floss like carry case for 15 minutes. Best of all was the new W1 chip which meant you only had to pair them with one of your devices and they would then connect with all of them. As someone who owns three iPads, two MacBook Pros and an iPhone, that clinched it for me. (Yes, I’m a sucker for Apple products.)

But there was a snag: they’re impossible to get hold of. Shortly after Tim Cook pulled them out of his hat six months ago, I jumped on Apple.co.uk only to discover that they wouldn’t be available until December. That seemed like an unnecessarily long wait, but I thought to myself, ‘All good things…’

On December 23 I duly popped into Peter Jones in Sloane Square and headed upstairs to the fourth floor where the Apple products are on sale. When I told the pretty shop assistant I’d like to buy some AirPods she practically laughed in my face. Didn’t I know they weren’t out yet? She directed me towards another set of wireless headphones, the Beats Solo3.

Now, I have to confess, these were seriously sexy and the sound quality wasn’t half bad either. But how could I justify spending a whopping £249 on a pair of headphones for myself when I knew I was going to get the £159 AirPods as soon as they came out? Then I had a brainwave: Why not get them for my wife as a Christmas present? She never listens to music, so I could use them as often as I liked and avoid feeling guilty about spending too much on myself.

Needless to say, Caroline absolutely loves them – ‘Best Christmas present you’ve ever given me’ – and won’t let them out of her sight. Very satisfied user, with one important caveat: she can’t get them to pair with her MacBook Air. Which is a bit rum, considering Beats is now a wholly owned subsidiary of Apple. So they’re good for the treadmill, not so good for watching Grey’s Anatomy in bed.

But she had it easy compared to me. When the AirPods eventually did go on sale, Apple advised they’d take at least six weeks to ship. What fresh hell is this? A friend advised me to go to the Apple Store at Westfield in Shepherd’s Bush – he claimed you could buy them over the counter – but that proved to be a red herring. This time the shop assistant really did laugh in my face.

Clearly, I’d have to cool my heels another couple of months, so I decided to buy myself a pair of inexpensive wireless headphones while I waited. After a lot of exhaustive research, ie. trawling through the customer reviews on Amazon.co.uk, I plumped for a pair of Cowin E-7 Active Noise Cancelling Blootooth Headphones. A snip at £65.99.

Now, I don’t want to be too harsh about these because they’re not terrible. Just mediocre. As with my wife’s Beats, they have difficulty pairing. I eventually got them to pair with my new iPad Pro, but only after several attempts, and I still can’t pair them with my iPhone. The sound quality is a bit crappy too. There’s a low feedback-type hum in the background that becomes irritating after you’ve been wearing them for more than an hour. They also have an annoying little light on the side that switches on when they’re in use, which means Caroline forbade me to wear them in bed after she’s turned out the lights.

I waited until March, then went back to the Apple Store in Westfield, only to be told there were still no AirPods in stock and they weren’t expecting any for at least six weeks. At which point, I lost my rag and decided I could wait no longer: I got hold of some Master and Dynamic MW50 On-Ear Headphones – a snip at £399.60. Now these, my friends, are the bollocks. Beautifully designed, crisp, clear sound and so light and comfy you barely know you’re wearing them. Moreover, an absolute doddle to pair with all my Apple devices. Instant.

I’m in love with them. I even wear them on the Overground to work so I can listen to the QPR podcast ‘Open All Rs’, something I always thought I’d be too embarrassed to do. (Not listen to a QPR podcast, but wear headphones in public.) They are a joy and I’m pretty sure that I won’t now be buying the AirPods when they eventually go on sale. Pretty sure…


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