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9to5Mac Gift Guide: AirPods vs AirPods Pro buying guide and the best accessories

With the holiday shopping season now in full swing, one of the most popular gifts this year will undoubtedly be AirPods and AirPods Pro. With three different variations to choose from, making a buying decision could be tricky. Read on as we compare the AirPods vs AirPods Pro, plus some tips on the best accessories to complement the gift this year.


The standard AirPods are the most affordable way to enter the AirPods ecosystem. These AirPods offer what Apple describes as a “universal fit” in which each AirPod rests on the inside of your ear (but not inside ear canal). Because of this design, you don’t get any sort of noise cancellation technology.

Furthermore, the design is not customizable at all. When Apple says that AirPods feature a “universal” design, what it really means is that they are “one-size-fits-all.” If the AirPods don’t comfortably fit in a person’s ears, they are out of luck — apart from certain aftermarket ear hook accessories.

The standard AirPods are powered by Apple’s newest H1 chip, which gives you access to always-on Hey Siri support, as well as support for automatic device switching with iOS 14 and macOS 11 Big Sur. Other features of the H1 chip include Audio Sharing and Announce Messages:

  • Voice-activated Siri uses the H1 chip to enable hands-free “Hey Siri” to play a song, increase the volume, make a call or get directions.
  • Audio Sharing makes it easy to listen to the same song or watch the same movie with a friend by simply bringing a second pair of AirPods close to iPhone or iPad.
  • Announce Messages automatically and conveniently speaks incoming messages as soon as they arrive, and when on a phone call or sharing media via Audio Sharing, Siri knows not to interrupt.
  • Automatic device switching allows your AirPods to switch between your iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, Mac, and Apple Watch paired to the same iCloud account.
AirPods 2 battery sheet

AirPods feature up to 4.5 hours of battery life, while the accompanying charging case brings the total to more than 24 hours of battery life. The charging case can only be recharged via Lightning connectivity. To control playback using AirPods, you can tap on the sides of the earbuds, or use Siri.

The standard AirPods retail for $159, but you can oftentimes find them on sale at much lower prices from various retailers. Be sure to keep an eye on 9to5Toys for details on the best AirPods sales throughout the holiday season this year.

AirPods with Wireless Charging Case

The mid-point of the AirPods lineup are the AirPods with Wireless Charging Case. These AirPods include all of the same features as the standard AirPods: the H1 chip, 4.5 hours of battery life, Hey Siri support, automatic device switching, announce messages with Siri, and audio sharing. The “universal” design is also identical.

AirPods 2 Mophie Wireless Charger

The difference is that these AirPods include a charging case that be recharged wirelessly. You can simply place the charging case on any Qi-enabled charger to recharge it. These AirPods can also be recharged using Apple’s new MagSafe Charger, and the forthcoming MagSafe Duo Charger.

AirPods with Wireless Charging Case retail for $199, but again, you can regularly find them on sale from multiple retailers. The folks over at 9to5Toys will have all of the details on those sales throughout the holiday shopping season.

It’s also worth noting that you can buy the Wireless Charging Case separately for someone who might already have the standard AirPods with the wired charging case.

AirPods Pro

Finally, we have AirPods Pro at the high-end of the AirPods lineup. The biggest differentiator here is the design, with AirPods Pro featuring a “customizable” in-ear design. Apple includes three separate ear tip sizes in the box with AirPods Pro, giving users more control over how they fit in their ears.

Apple also touts that AirPods Pro are certified for IPX4 water and sweat resistance, which means they can withstand up to water and sweat splashing for up to 10 minutes. This isn’t the same as full waterproofing, but it’s a nice added benefit for AirPods Pro vs AirPods.

AirPods Pro ear tips

In addition to the design, AirPods Pro also feature Active Noise Cancellation support. Apple says that AirPods Pro use a combination of software and two microphones to block out outside noise for users, something that’s not available on the standard AirPods.

AirPods Pro also support Transparency mode, which allows users to simultaneously listen to music while still hearing the environment around them. AirPods Pro use outward- and inward-facing microphones “to undo the sound-isolating effect of the silicone tips so things sound and feel natural.”

AirPods Pro are powered by the same H1 chip as the standard AirPods, giving you features including Hey Siri support, automatic device sharing, audio sharing, and announce messages with Siri.

A key feature exclusive to AirPods Pro is support for spatial audio, a new capability in iOS 14 and iPadOS 14. Spatial audio is an immersive experience using directional audio filters to “play sounds virtually anywhere in space, creating an immersive sound experience,” Apple says. This will put surround channels exactly in the right spot, even as you turn your head or move your device.

AirPods Pro review

Apple says:

Spatial audio with dynamic head tracking brings the movie theater experience right to your AirPods Pro.11 By applying directional audio filters and subtly adjusting the frequencies each ear receives, spatial audio can place sounds virtually anywhere in space, creating an immersive surround sound experience. Using the gyroscope and accelerometer in your AirPods Pro and your iPhone, spatial audio tracks the motion of your head as well as your device, compares the motion data, and then remaps the sound field so that it stays anchored to your device even as your head moves.

Whereas standard AirPods require you to tap on the sides for playback control, AirPods Pro feature a “Force Sensor” that lets you perform common tasks by pressing on the side of the earbuds:

  • Press once to play, pause, or answer a phone call
  • Press twice to skip forward
  • Press three times to skip back
  • Press and hold to switch between Active Noise Cancellation and Transparency mode

AirPods Pro feature up to 5 hours of battery, with the accompanying charging case adding more than 24 hours of additional battery life. The battery case can be recharged via Lightning connectivity or via Qi wireless charging, including Apple’s MagSafe Charger and the upcoming MagSafe Duo Charger.

Finally, in terms of sound quality, the in-ear design of the AirPods Pro inherently gives them a leg-up on the standard AirPods. For many people, however, sound quality is objective, and even AirPods Pro won’t compare to more expensive over-ear headphones for most people.

All of these added features, however, come at a cost. AirPods Pro retail for $249, though deals are common this time of the year. If you can score AirPods Pro at their common sale price of $199, they become much easier to justify over the standard AirPods.

Best AirPods and AirPods Pro accessories

Aira Base Station Pro

If you’re looking to complement your AirPods with an accessory gift this holiday season, or you’re shopping for someone who already has AirPods, there are several notable categories of AirPods accessories. Here are some of our recommendations.

Qi chargers

A great complement to the AirPods with Wireless Charging Case or the AirPods Pro is a Qi wireless charger.

One of my personal favorite recommendations here is pricey, but a great standalone gift for someone who already has the latest AirPods and iPhone hardware. The Nomad Base Station Pro features a 3-in-1 wireless charging surface that uses FreePower technology to power up devices no matter where they’re placed.

The Nomad Base Station Pro retails for $229.95, though it’s currently on sale for $159.95. A more affordable option is the standard Nomad Base Station, which retails for $99.95 and can charge two devices at once with two coils.

Read our full review of the Nomad Base Station Pro right here.

AirPods cases

One popular way to personalize your AirPods is with a case for the charging case. Here are some options for the standard AirPods as well as the AirPods with Wireless Charging Case, which can make excellent stocking stuffers.

AirPods Pro cases

Wrap-up: AirPods vs AirPods Pro holiday buying guide

The AirPods and AirPods Pro are bound to be the most popular gifts this holiday season, and hopefully, this guide offered some clarity on the difference between Apple’s three tiers of AirPods, plus some of the best accessories to complement an AirPods purchase.

For most people, the standard AirPods are a great way to join the AirPods ecosystem. If you’re going to jump beyond the entry-level AirPods, however, the AirPods Pro offer a complete feature set with noise cancellation, a more customizable design, and spatial audio. This is especially a good value when you can get them on sale for less than $200.

What do you think of the AirPods vs AirPods Pro decision? Are you planning to buy AirPods for anyone this holiday season? Let us know down in the comments!

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Avatar for Chance Miller Chance Miller

Chance is an editor for the entire 9to5 network and covers the latest Apple news for 9to5Mac.

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