Apple AirPods is hailed by many as the final word when it comes to wireless earbuds. Their popularity is reflected in the sales figures. Between 2017 and 2020, around 120 million people picked up a pair.
Apple AirPods aren’t cheap, though. Prices start around $150 and go up to $300 or more for the higher-end models. Despite this, most would argue that you get your money’s worth in terms of quality, functionality, and durability.
But what about sustainability?
There is one aspect of wireless technology that has become an important factor in how we use our devices – battery life and lifespan.
If you asked some of the 120 million people who bought AirPods in 2017 or 2018, they would tell you that by 2019 or 2020, those AirPods weren’t very useful anymore.
Apple AirPods are many things…
But they won’t last forever. Like all battery-powered devices, they have a finite lifespan. And this lifespan can be drastically affected by the user and the environment.
As I mentioned, earbuds do not come cheap. So, it’s important to know what kind of mileage you can expect to get out of a new pair of AirPods, as well as how to maximize that mileage. That’s why I’ve decided to take an in-depth look at “How long do AirPods last?” so you are more informed about future purchases. Let’s get started with…
What’s the Battery Life of AirPods?
The average battery life of AirPods is a hard thing to determine. The life of a battery can vary depending on the average playback volume and the features used.
When it comes to listening to tunes, you’re looking at around six hours of playback time. For making and receiving calls, the time drops to around 4.5 hours since most folks use ANC features.
The charging case will hold around two to three additional charges; this translates into a total of 20 to 24 hours of playback and talk time.
According to the engineers at Apple…
They perform all their tests at 50% volume to get their figures. And, in the case of phone calls, they test with ANC activated. The age of your device will also greatly affect your battery life since all batteries degrade over time.
Those are the public figures. Now, let’s look at the lifespan of different AirPod generations and what you can expect regarding the battery. So, how long do AirPods last? See for yourself.
Third Generation AirPods Pro[bl]
- Six hours of playback time (Spatial Audio turned off).
- Five hours of playback time (Spatial Audio turned on).
- Four hours of talk time.
Placing the AirPods in the charging case will give you around an hour of play and talk time if you’re battery is low or empty. Leaving the AirPods in the charging case for around fifteen to twenty minutes will give you a full charge.
The third-generation AirPods Pro ships with the MegaSafe case. This type of case extends your listening time to around 30 hours and your talk time to around 20 hours. The case takes around an hour to an hour and a half to fully charge.
Second Generation AirPods Pro[bl]
- Around six hours of playback time (ANC turned on).
- Roughly five and a half hours of playback time (Spatial Audio and Head Tracking turned on).
- About four and a half hours of talk-time (ANC turned on).
The second-generation charging case will deliver around an hour of playback and talk time from a five-minute charge. The case will fully charge in around an hour.
The second-generation AirPods Pro also shipped with a MegaSafe charging case. Again, this will extend your AirPods listening time to around 30 hours with ANC turned on and around 24 hours of talk time with ANC turned on.
Original (First Gen) AirPods Pro[bl]
- About five hours of listening time (ANC turned off).
- Around four to four and a half hours of playtime (ANC turned on).
- Roughly three and a half hours of talk time (ANC turned on).
Unfortunately, the Original AirPods Pro did not ship with a Megasafe case. However, the standard case can increase your total playtime to around 24 hours and your talk time to about 18 hours.
Second Generation Standard AirPods[bl]
- Around five hours of playtime.
- About three and a half hours of talk time.
If your battery is running low, you can get around 180 minutes of playback time or 120 minutes of talk time from fifteen to twenty minutes in the charging case. The case itself will fully charge in around an hour and a half.
The second-generation standard AirPods shipped with a standard charging case that will increase your total playtime to around 24 hours and your talk time to around 17 hours.
What is the Expected Lifespan of a Pair of AirPods?
The actual battery is the main limiting component when it comes to a battery-powered device. This is also the case when it comes to the Apple AirPods. Understanding the lifespan of a battery will also help you answer the question, “How long do AirPods last?”
Aside from unintended damage, like exposure to extreme heat or cold, or water damage, the thing that wears a battery down the most is the act of charging. Every time you charge the AirPods, or the charging case, you lose a little bit of the device’s overall battery capacity.
This decline is an inevitable consequence of using a battery-powered device. Eventually, the batteries will completely lose the ability to retain a charge. Good quality batteries have a practical amount of total charging cycles so that you can get a few good years of mileage out of them.
Apple AirPod batteries…
These are VartaCoin Lithium-ion coin cell batteries. If you have a brand new pair of AirPods, these batteries should retain at least 80% of their initial capacity for the first 500 charging cycles.
After about 500 cycles, you will begin to notice a much more rapid decline in the ability of the batteries to retain a charge. The batteries will also start taking much longer to fully charge.
According to most of the figures online…
The average lifespan of a good-quality lithium-ion battery is around two or three years. Or 300 to 500 charging cycles. This figure was calculated using the premise that the batteries are fully charged once a day every day.
According to most of the users online, the first and second-generation Apple AirPods last for about two years on an average charge cycle of once a day. After about two years, the batteries quickly degraded to the point where they got less than an hour of listening time on a full charge.
Of course, these figures can vary a lot depending on how you use your pair of AirPods. If you want to make your AirPods last as long as possible, there are a few things you can do to maximize their lifespan.
Making Your Apple AirPods Last Longer
There are a couple of things you can do to try and extend the lifespan of your AirPods. The first part entails simply treating the AirPods as best you can. This will help to increase the lifespan of every charge.
The second part is getting your AirPods repaired when the batteries inevitably reach the end of their lifespan.
Extend the Duration of Each Charge
To maximize the duration of every charge, you need to pay attention to the following things. These might seem small or trivial, but they make a substantial difference. And doing these things will help you answer the question, “How long do AirPods last?”
Here is how to extend the battery life on any AirPod model:[bl]
- Reduce your overall listening volume. This is not only good for your battery but for your ears as well.
- Turn off ANC and Transparency modes when you don’t use them. These are very battery-intensive features.
- Disable as many of the “smart features” as possible. This includes Spatial Audio, In-Ear Detection, and Automatic Source Device Switching.
- Use only one earbud at a time when you make or receive phone calls. Alternating between the two will dramatically increase the lifespan.
- Make sure to turn off the AirPods when you are not using them.
Prevent Premature Charging Cycles
Premature charging cycles are one of the biggest contributors to the decline of a battery’s lifespan. This happens when the device is placed on charge when there is still quite a lot of charge left in the battery.
To counteract this, get into the habit of not placing your AirPods in the case if they have 40% or more left in the battery.
This does place you at a higher risk of losing the AirPods or perhaps having them stolen. So, you might consider getting an extra container like a mint tin to keep your AirPods in when you aren’t charging them.
Extending The Overall Lifespan of Your AirPods
Another factor that is not as common as premature charging cycles but can do just as much damage is deep discharges. It is good to maximize the usage you get from every charge. But it’s never a good idea to let the batteries die out completely.
When a Lithium-ion battery gets overly discharged, it has the potential to cause irreparable damage to the anode and cathode. If these components get damaged and the batteries are connected to a charger again, a short circuit can occur, which is never good for electronics.
Not only can this potentially damage other components it also has the effect of decreasing the overall lifespan of the batteries.
AirPods Charging “Sweet Spots”
Ideally, you want to place the AirPods in the charging case when they reach 40% to 20% battery capacity. 10% is what you might call “cutting it close.”
Luckily, if you are using your AirPods with an iOS device, you will receive a battery warning in the form of a pop-up when the battery level of your AirPods drops to 20%.
Optimized Battery Charging
This article might start to sound a bit contradictory at this point. You see, just as much as you don’t want your AirPods to go completely flat, you don’t want them to get full, either.
Furthermore, a full charge can be even more detrimental to the health of your AirPods than a deep discharge. The mechanical stress of having to hold a full charge inside the cell for an extended period can severely impact the lifespan of the battery.
Thankfully though, the engineers over at Apple are good at building all kinds of features into devices that we don’t even know we need. One such feature is Optimized Battery Charging.
This feature is designed to extend the overall battery life…
It does this by minimizing the time that the AirPods remain fully charged. The charging case will charge the AirPods until they reach 80% capacity; they will then remain at this level until just before you listen to music.
This means that the battery will never have to hold a 90% to 100% charge for longer than a few minutes. In turn, this decreases mechanical stress and extends the lifespan of the battery. The Optimized Battery Charging feature is only available on iOS devices with version 14.2 or later.
The other important requirement is that you keep to a regular schedule when it comes to using and charging AirPods. If you have a more varied routine, it will be better for your battery if you turn this feature off.
Storing AirPods at Half Charge
If you know that you won’t be using your AirPods for quite a while, it is a good idea to charge them to about 50% capacity and then place them in another container. This will also help to extend the overall lifespan of your device.
The AirPods Charging Case
An aspect of the AirPods package that is just as impressive as the AirPods themselves is the charging case. Additionally, the AirPods would be very impractical if you weren’t able to charge them on the go.
Newer AirPod models feature Qi wireless charging…
For many users, this is one of the most appealing AirPod features. Unfortunately, it’s not very healthy for the battery.
Wireless or “inductive” charging takes a lot more energy and time. That means the charging components inside the case will have to work much harder for much longer during every charging cycle. This inevitably degrades the battery much faster.
Next time you feel like showing off your fancy wireless charging mat, think about how hard that poor case will need to work. Instead, just use a lightning cable for charging. It’s going to save power and time.
Getting Your AirPods Repaired
So, you think that you’ve got enough tools and knowledge to repair your AirPods yourself. Well, the AirPods aren’t an old transistor radio. They are made using proprietary materials and methods, which means it’s not as simple as taking them apart and soldering some wires.
DIY Parts Service from Apple
Apple has expressed its endorsement of users attempting DIY repairs on their products by creating a DIY replacement parts service. Apple is prepared to ship users the parts they need to fix their broken devices.
But there’s a catch…
Apple will determine whether your device is repairable or not. So, you are at the mercy of their assessors. Users have noted that it is sometimes notoriously hard to get parts from this service.
Even if you do get cleared by the engineers at Apple, it’s not as simple as just getting your parts and doing the repairs. For starters, the Apple AirPods were designed without any screws.
Instead, the outer shell and many of the other components are held together with glue. If you have the right tools, a very steady hand, and a near-limitless supply of patience, you could attempt some repairs on your Apple AirPods.
But I don’t recommend this at all…
For those who considering DIY AirPod repairs, the online platform iFixit has rated every single AirPods repair scenario as unfixable.
Getting Your AirPods Looked At
For most people, doing repairs themselves will not be a feasible option. So, let’s look at some of the best places for getting your AirPods serviced.
If you fall within the warranty period of your purchase, or you purchased AppleCare+ with your device, then Apple will be able to clever the costs of repairs or replacements.
The process works by either making an appointment and taking the device to the shop or sending them through the mail. Make sure you have your serial number, proof of purchase, or the original packaging handy when you make your appointment.
If you are no longer within the warranty period, you can also pay Apple for a battery service which will set you back around $50 per earbud.
Podswap allows you to trade in your old AirPods for another pair that has been spruced up. However, this service is presently only available in the US for 1st and 2nd generation AirPods.
Why Is It Important To Pay Attention to the Lifespan of Your AirPods?
Batteries have been around for a long time, and we cannot deny their usefulness. The thing is that no battery, even the rechargeable kind, is sustainable in the long run. Another thing to consider is that batteries are also not “green.”
Despite multiple requests, Apple has not released its LCA (Life Cycle Assessment) figures for the impact of AirPods on the environment. This is understandable due to the sensitivity of this information.
The extraction and processing of finite minerals like lithium carbonate, nickel, gold, and cobalt that go into batteries have adverse effects on the immediate environment. The negative impacts don’t end with the extraction and processing. That’s because batteries end up in landfills when they reach the end of their lifespan in most cases.
The best thing you can do to minimize the impact of your pair of AirPods is to maximize their lifespan by following the guidelines in this article. Also, try not to throw them away when they are no longer usable. You can send them back to Apple, which will ensure that they are recycled properly.
If you wish to explore alternatives to environmentally damaging battery-powered devices, there are some things you can try:
- Go wired – Using wired earphones removes batteries from the equation. It also supports lossless audio transmission, which, in most cases, means you’ll be getting better sound quality.
- Invest in Bluetooth earbuds that also have an audio jack – Lots of wireless earbuds are equipped with 3.5mm audio jacks. That means you can still use them after the battery has reached the end of its lifespan.
- Invest in earbuds that can be repaired – Many manufacturers offer repair and service options with their products. This makes them better value for money since they can last longer and will also have less of an impact on the environment in the long run.
Need More Help with our AirPods?
We can help. Take a look at our handy articles on How to Clean your AirPods Pro, AirPods Connected But No Sound, How to Reset AirPods and AirPods Pro, How to Make Your Airpods Louder, and Why are my AirPods so Quiet and How to Fix Them for more useful tips and advice.
Also, check out our in-depth reviews of the Best AirPods Alternative, the Best Apple AirPods Pro Alternatives, the Best iPhone Earbuds, the Most Comfortable Earbuds, the Best True Wireless Earbuds, as well as the Best Wireless Earbuds For Small Ears you can buy in 2023.
How Long Do AirPods Last? – Final Thoughts
The Apple AirPods are some of the best wireless earbuds you can buy. But, they do need batteries that use finite resources to make and end up becoming unrecycled pollutants in rivers and landfills. Luckily, Apple has taken a serious approach to recycling. Therefore, you can send Apple your old pair of earbuds or headphones when they are no longer usable.
Remember to make AirPods last as long as you can, and try to look at some wired or repairable alternatives when you make your next purchase. If you take care of them, your AirPods should last you a good two and a half years. So, enjoy the time you have together.
Until next time, happy listening.