Wired headphones are officially in fashion again — and leading the charge are the cheap Apple EarPods that used to come free with your iPhone. Everyone from Bella Hadid to Kim Kardashian has been rocking Apple’s ancient but iconic buds, which have also exploded all over TikTok, thanks to folks championing their “vintage” aesthetic. Yes, EarPods are considered retro now, and I feel old.
To see what all the hype is about — and to temporarily feel famous — I decided to excavate an unused pair of EarPods from my old iPhone 8 Plus and use them as my main headphones for a week. And while doing so came with some frustrations, I was ultimately surprised to find out just how well these $19 earbuds hold up in 2022.
Getting used to EarPods again was rough — at first
As someone who’s been using wireless earbuds almost exclusively since 2018, adjusting to my crummy old EarPods was rough at first. I didn’t miss having to untangle my earbuds every time I wanted to listen to some music, and don’t even get me started on wearing them with a mask (pro tip: mask first, EarPods second). I’ve accidentally knocked my phone off of my desk on multiple occasions as a result of being tethered, and using wired headphones makes it harder to freely pace around the apartment when I’m on calls.
The EarPods felt incredibly loose after years of enjoying the secure silicon fit of the AirPods Pro and, more recently, the Beats Fit Pro. I desperately missed the active noise cancellation (ANC) of those pricier earbuds, particularly when I walked past a construction site or had to hear my dog’s snoring while trying to work. I also found myself frustrated that I couldn’t charge my iPhone while listening to music — a problem I haven’t had to worry about since Apple killed the headphone jack on the iPhone 7 I bought in 2016.
How did I live like this for all those years? I certainly didn’t feel any cooler wearing Apple’s aging but in-vogue headphones, and I frequently had to resist the urge to go back to the convenience of my wireless Beats buds. But I was committed to truly living with the EarPods again, and after a few days of use, I discovered a few benefits to going back to the basics.
The benefits of going old-school
You never have to charge EarPods — and they’re harder to lose
Despite the EarPods’ drawbacks, it feels great going back to a pair of earbuds I never have to charge. The Beats Fit Pro and Jabra Elite 4 Active I’ve been using recently all have good battery life, but I still have to make sure I charge the case every few days if I don’t want to end up with dead buds. It’s nice leaving the apartment knowing my headphones will just work, and I never have to deal with the pairing issues that occasionally pop up with wireless buds. Plus, as someone who has sent many an AirPod flying after dropping their case, I appreciate that the EarPods are much harder to misplace.
They sound just fine for the price
Apple’s wired earbuds aren’t going to impress any audiophiles, but they sound perfectly good for $19. I definitely noticed a lack of bass and overall nuance compared to my Beats Fit Pro, particularly at higher volumes, but they still did a perfectly fine job pumping out the bright guitars and yelpy vocals of my daily emo playlist while I was out on a walk or at home working.
The inline controls are great
I also didn’t realize how much I missed the EarPods’ inline controls, which feel more comfortable and intuitive to use than the various taps, presses and pinches I’ve been performing near my actual ears for the past few years. The EarPods’ controls let you control volume (something even the AirPods Pro’s on-ear controls can’t do), and double-tapping to skip tracks or holding down to summon Siri still feels intuitive. Plus, that big inline button makes it much easier to end a call.
The microphone is better than more expensive earbuds
There’s a reason you see TikTokkers everywhere holding the EarPods’ long, rectangular mic module to their face while recording videos and voice-overs. The microphone quality is shockingly good for a cheap pair of earbuds, and sounded clearer and more consistent than the much more expensive Beats Fit Pro when I compared audio recordings of the two. This is one major perk of having a wired connection free of interference as well as a mic that’s actually positioned near your mouth rather than pointed toward it from your ear.
As much fun as I’ve had with my EarPods experiment, I’m very eager to go back to my trusty wireless buds. I don’t want to deal with wires in the year 2022, and I miss the more secure fit and noise-canceling capabilities of my Beats Fit Pro. Still, it was nice to be reminded of just how good the EarPods are for a pair of cheap earbuds that you might already have lying around.
Apple’s wired buds sound just fine for the price, and their handy inline controls and clear microphone give them an edge on wireless earbuds that are much more expensive. Plus, you never have to worry about running out of battery — or worse, a stray earbud going missing.
If you’re ready to be one of the cool kids (or just need to replace your broken or lost EarPods), note that Apple’s $19 headphones come in two variations. There’s a Lightning connector option that will plug right into your iPhone or iPad and a 3.5mm connector version that will work with standard headphone jacks like the ones on a MacBook. You can also get a $9 Lightning to 3.5mm adapter if you want both options. Unfortunately, Apple no longer includes EarPods for free with its latest iPhones.
I can’t say how much longer Apple’s white wired buds will be all over TikTok or in the ears of your favorite celebrity. But I can say that they’re still a very good pair of $19 earbuds, whether you’re on a tight budget or just want to assure your fellow subway riders that you’re trendy.