$160 AirPods vs. $20 Amazon AirPods review

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Today, I’m excited to bring to you a review that’s been a long time coming: $160 AirPods vs. $20 Amazon AirPods. I’ve been using a pair of Amazon knock-offs for the last few weeks to see how they hold up against the original (which I have been known to criticize for their price). In this post, I’ll compare the two based on my own experience with each.

Let’s get into it!

Why I ditched my AirPods for Amazon knock-offs

It wasn’t long ago that the AirPods were launched to ridicule and jokes, and it wasn’t much longer after that before the product became one of Apple’s biggest successes of all time.

I was early to the AirPods hype train but had already gotten rid of them by the time they took over the world. The reason I ended up ditching them was primarily due to two reasons:

  1. My AirPods became almost unusable after 18 months. The mic in each AirPod stopped working, and both only held a charge for about thirty minutes.
  2. The financial and environmental cost is too high. For a product that has almost no real purpose aside from convenience (you can easily use a pair of wired EarPods instead), they are an extremely expensive product. It’s no coincidence that AirPods soared to popularity through a meme about them being a social status. And on top of that, they’re just wasteful given how quickly they breakdown.

For these reasons, I decided to buy a $20 pair of wired EarPods and move on. But last week, my wired EarPods of nearly three years were chewed to pieces by my pet. And since I’ve been a dissenter of AirPods for so long without offering a wireless alternative (not everyone wants to keep using wired EarPods) I decided to grab a pair of Bluetooth headphones from Amazon that were clearly meant to be knock-offs of the $160 originals.

How I chose my Amazon AirPods knock-offs

If you’ve ever shopped on the internet and looked for cheaper AirPods, you know that the marketplace is littered with fakes. Every popular product tends to have lots of imitators, but AirPods in particular struggle to fend off fakes.

There are a few reasons for this (they’re an easy product and design to cheaply emulate) but I’ll focus on this from the consumer perspective. And that perspective is that the knock-off market is a minefield.

When looking on Amazon, I found so many random brands that had thousands of reviews of which half were negative. People’s orders arrived damaged or inoperable on arrival. They stopped working after a week, they sounded terrible, etc.

My criteria for looking for a pair of knock-offs on Amazon was as follows:

  • Moderately priced for a pair of basic Bluetooth headphones (under $40)
  • Close enough to the original AirPods design that you can walk around the mall without arousing suspicion
  • Similar sound quality to AirPods
  • Similar basic features to AirPods (tap to Play/Pause, access Siri, etc.)
  • Reasonable and believable Amazon reviews (I wasn’t expecting perfect reviews, but at least 4 stars and above)

This criterion led me to this pair of Amazon AirPods knock-offs, the HSPRO Bluetooth 5.0 earbuds. They match all of my criteria and came in just under $20, which was even less than I was originally planning to spend.

Without further ado, it’s time to answer the all-important question: Can these overthrow the original Apple AirPods?

$160 AirPods vs. $20 Amazon AirPods review: What do I think so far?

I’m impressed! I was completely prepared for them to arrive and be total garbage. I expected one of them to not work and the other to sound garbled.

But honestly, they feel and sound pretty solid. There are some drawbacks, of course, which I’ll get into. But for the most part, I’m surprisingly satisfied with the purchase. I was planning on returning them after this review and going back to another pair of wired EarPods, but now I think I’ll hang on to these for a while.

In short: If you want a decent pair of Amazon AirPods knock-offs (plays music in reasonable quality with reliable performance) then these are a good fit. You will notice that they aren’t as good as standard AirPods, but I feel that you’re only sacrificing half the perks of regular AirPods for 1/8th the price.

Amazon AirPods: What I like

Aside from the price, here’s what I like. First, the design. They’re just as comfortable as standard AirPods, and they don’t feel that much cheaper. The case is spot on, with all the little magnetic clicks that AirPods have to offer.

I also like the music quality. Admittedly, though I love music, I’m not much of an audiophile. So I won’t pretend to know how good they are or aren’t. What I will say, though, is that I can’t really tell the difference between these and my EarPods or the AirPods I used to own. Maybe there’s a bit of quality drop-off at max volume, but eh? Not distracting, and I don’t even listen to them at that volume anyway, so who cares?

Amazon AirPods: What I don’t like

As expected, it’s not all good. These are, after all, $20 imitations. There’s going to be a lot lacking.

My biggest pet peeve with these Amazon AirPods is the tapping. On regular AirPods, you can tap them to change songs, start/stop music, talk to Siri, etc. And once you get the feel for this feature, it works pretty well. I remember being able to trigger these tap features by tapping around my ear, it was so accurate.

The HSPRO Bluetooth earbuds don’t work so well. Instead of working via vibration, they have a capacitor button at the top of each bud.

This button works via touch, like your smartphone’s screen. You can tap that silver button if you like, or just gently touch it with your fingertip to trigger it. This means that I’m constantly triggering these buttons in bed, when I scratch my head, etc.

I’ve also found the pairing to be a little lackluster. About half the time that I put them in my ear I have to put them back in the case and then back in my ear to get them to pair properly.

But more on that below.

Comparing Apple’s AirPods against Amazon AirPods

Ok, so now that I’ve given you the gist of these buds, I’m going to deep dive into all the essentials. I’ll be comparing them to the original AirPods, which I owned for a year and a half. I’ve only owned these for two weeks, so keep that in mind for this comparison. For all I know, they’ll break down after another two weeks of use (though Amazon reviews suggest they have a good lifespan).

Let’s get into it!

Price

There’s no competition when it comes to price. It’s no secret that Apple sells overpriced products, but few products are as ridiculously priced as AirPods. The fact that everyone has collectively decided that it’s ok to spend nearly $200 on generic-sounding Bluetooth headphones is frustrating, to say the least.

I’m not a product designer, so maybe there are hidden costs/values in AirPods that I’m not aware of, but it’s hard for me to believe that the product couldn’t be priced at $80. For $100 more, you could get an Apple Watch SE, which is an incredible feat of engineering and design.

It’s laughable to me, especially when you consider how short the lifespan of a pair of AirPods is.

There isn’t much else to say. The HSPROs are priced perfectly for a pair of Amazon AirPods. The value you get for the price is great.

Design and style

At first glance, it might not seem like there’s much separating these Amazon AirPods from the originals. The design is pretty similar, the case is almost indistinguishable, and there isn’t much difference in comfort.

But as you start to look at them closer, they do fall short in a few ways.

Namely, these buds don’t have a Lightning port. Instead, they rely on micro-USB, which is a pretty uncommon cable for iPhone users. They do come with this cable, to be fair, but it’s a bit lame.

Also, even though the buds are a decent imitation of Apple’s AirPods, the big silver circle on the side gives them away pretty quickly. So if you’re buying these hoping to fool people into thinking you own AirPods, I wouldn’t recommend them.

Build quality

Out of everything I have learned about these Amazon AirPods so far, this is the most concerning aspect of them. But let me talk about my own experience first.

My experience has been that they’re pretty solid. The case feels much lighter than the standard AirPods case, but it doesn’t feel flimsy. The hinge works great. The buds themselves feel pretty good. You can tell that they aren’t as robust as the Apple version, it doesn’t feel like crap, either.

That said, I have found a significant amount of reviews for the HSPROs claiming that they stopped working after less than two months. And about half of these reviews also claim that they stopped working after just two weeks.

I haven’t gotten any hint that these are going to stop working yet, but I also wouldn’t be surprised. These are knock-offs made overseas, which leads me to believe that beneath the surface-level build quality is a lot of cut corners. The battery is probably underpowered or implemented poorly, which causes it to corrode and die quickly. I believe that this is probably the primary point of failure for these headphones.

To be fair, there are far more people satisfied with these headphones than upset. Only about 20% of the reviews are negative, and many of those have problems unrelated to the AirPods failing shortly after purchase (they didn’t like the fit, battery life, tapping experience, etc.).

In short, I recommend caution. And, if you don’t care about the AirPods “look”, shell out $10 more for a decent pair of Bluetooth headphones from a company doing something original. You’ll get better quality, better customer support, and you won’t feel like you’re taking a gamble when you buy them.

Pairing

You may remember a few paragraphs ago when I said I would revisit the pairing of these Amazon AirPods.

That time is upon us.

The pairing on the HSPROs is shoddy at best. Once connected, they’re good to go. Sometimes they’ll disconnect and then reconnect instantly (they just go quiet for a split second). But that’s not a big deal to me.

And since they use Bluetooth 5.0, they have a decent range. I just walked from my office to my kitchen, about twenty feet and one wall, and they did cut out a bit. My AirPods, on the other hand, generally worked when my iPhone was inside my house and I was outside in my car in the front yard. So of course, there’s a tradeoff, but not a dealbreaker in my opinion.

No, it’s specifically the pairing process that I find so frustrating.

The HSPROs are trying to imitate how the AirPods pair to your iPhone (instantly) without the H1 chip that makes AirPods pairing so smooth. So instead, they just automatically pair to your last-paired device as quickly as possible.

This generally results in a loud announcement (“Pairing Mode”; “Pairing Complete”) and some flashing red and blue lights on the buds. If you try and switch them to a different device, such as a Mac, after they’ve already connected to your iPhone, they’ll usually fail. It takes a few attempts to get them to switch, and oftentimes you end up needing to turn Bluetooth off of one device to get them to connect to the other.

Another problem I’ve run into is that lots of times, the right HSPRO bud will connect while the left bud remains silent. To fix this, you have to place them both back in the case, close it, then pull them both back out again. This does usually fix the issue, to be fair, but it’s still kind of annoying.

Sure, it’s a bit of a first-world complaint. It’s not as if they don’t pair at all. It’s just a subpar feature, and it can’t compete with Apple’s AirPods pairing, which is often compared to magic (and rightfully so). But I would’ve preferred these headphones to have no flashing lights or capacitor button and instead paired more seamlessly.

Sound quality

When it comes to most pairs of headphones, sound quality is a key factor. However, I’ll argue that this isn’t true when purchasing Apple or Amazon AirPods. Most users are just looking for passable, inoffensive audio. No clipping, no delays, decent highs and lows, etc.

On that front, I think the HSPROs and Amazon AirPods are more or less the same. The HSPROs are a little tinnier, and you can tell that the sound quality degrades slightly when maxed out. I’ve also noticed that certain sounds come across as muffled.

For instance, I’m currently listening to a song with a tambourine in the background, and it sounds like it’s happening in a different room from the rest of the track.

However, for $20 the sound is far from bad. It doesn’t feel atrocious or like I wasted my money or anything like that. It just sounds like a budget pair of headphones, which these are.

Features

This is probably where the HSPROs fail the most. To such a large degree that I don’t even use the features these Amazon AirPods offer.

By “features”, I’m referring to the tap to pause/play/skip/Siri in each bud. All of these features are there, but they’re so inconsistent that I don’t even bother.

As mentioned, the capacitor on each bud is way too sensitive. I find myself triggering them by accident or triggering a double-tap when I meant to single-tap.

Additionally, these features aren’t customizable like they are on the original AirPods. So you’re left to memorize the taps laid out in the instructions. I just haven’t used them, relying on my Apple Watch to adjust volume, play/pause, skip/repeat.

Battery life

The battery life on these has been pretty good for me so far, though I’ll remind you that there are lots of reviews claiming that the battery failed after just a few weeks.

According to the Amazon AirPods page, these Bluetooth headphones get 5 hours of playback each, with an additional 15 hours if you’re using a fully-charged case. That’s 20 hours total.

I’ve been using these for a few days without charging the case, so I think this claim is probably accurate, at least up to a certain point.

I have had one issue where one of the buds “died” after five minutes of use (the other was fine). However, when I put it back in the case, the charging indicator turned off after a minute and it was good to go again.

In short: I haven’t had any real issues, at least when you consider the price. So I am tentatively calling the battery life on these things “ok”. Bear in mind, though, that plenty of reviews contradict this.

Comfort

Last but not least, how comfortable are these things? Since they have a nearly identical fit to the original AirPods, the HSPROs provide about the same level of comfort.

If you’ve never used the original AirPods, the consensus seems to be that they’re comfortable for some people and unbearable for others. I’ve never had any issues with them and used to wear them all day long. Other people hate the way they feel or claim that they fall out of their ears constantly.

Although these Amazon AirPods are pretty similar to the originals, I have noticed that they’re slightly less comfortable than I remember the original AirPods being. They make my ear a tiny bit sore, and I have noticed that they fall out a bit more than I remember my AirPods doing.

That said, the comfort is fine. You’ll probably notice they’re there, and if you don’t like standard AirPods/EarPods then you won’t like these. But for those who like the fit of AirPods, you’ll find the HSPROs are bearable.

Verdict: Would I recommend Amazon AirPods over the real deal?

Honestly, no. I would not recommend $20 Amazon AirPods over Apple’s offering. Here’s why.

First, for just a little more cash, you can get a way better deal. There’s a broad variety of options on Amazon alone ranging between $30 and $50. You can get all kinds of different designs, levels of comfort and features, reliability, and so on.

There are even trusted brands like Skullcandy offering in this price range. And for under $100 you can get a well-liked, higher-end option from a brand like Raycon or Anker.

Second, while I’ve been comparing these to AirPods in my points, I’m really trying to justify these over a $20 pair of wired Apple EarPods with a lightning connector for my iPhone. And honestly, I can’t. I don’t trust the quality of these headphones, I doubt they were made very ethically, they fall short in a lot of areas, and cause far more frustrations than a wire does.

My verdict is that I wouldn’t recommend these or AirPods. Both are pretty wasteful, have short lifespans, and leave you feeling like your money could have been better spent elsewhere.

Of course, that won’t change the popularity of AirPods or their imitators. So on that note, I encourage you to make up your mind and find whatever headphones work for you.

Until next time!

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