Whether you want to upgrade your AirPods to the newest version or buy a pair for the first time, you’ll have to shell out an astonishing amount for such tiny earbuds.
If you want to boost comfort with over-ear headphones, you can expect to pay at least double the price for a pair of AirPods Max.
AirPods are expensive because they are innovative headphones. The unique design, smart feature, and technology that goes into each earbud drives production costs up. Coming up with new functions and improving each new release means investing into research and development. AirPods are also expensive because they are proprietary products developed by Apple Inc., and they are in high demand.
14 Reasons Why AirPods Are Expensive
Apple is synonymous with innovation. The company might not have been the first to release a smartphone, but it was definitely the first to ditch the headphone jack and introduce the concept of wireless earbuds in the form of first generation AirPods.
This happened back in 2016, and in true Apple fashion, the tech giant released several new versions of AirPods since then. A common factor for each new release has been the exorbitant cost.
Yet, with thousands of alternatives out there, how come AirPods are so expensive? Here are the reasons why you have to shell out hundreds of bucks each time you want to buy a new pair.
1. Brand Reputation
Apple Inc. has developed quite a few awesome products over the decades and built a stellar reputation for itself. All of its products are highly functional and intuitive to use.
The brand is in constant evolution and enthusiasts are eager to try each new product.
Apple products, including its smartphones and AirPods, are also designed to last. You don’t have to own the latest release to enjoy the Apple ecosystem and all the advantages it offers.
Developing and manufacturing products designed to last and that can maintain their innovative feel many years after their release is hard, which is why most Apple products including the AirPods are expensive.
2. High Demand
When Apple introduced the AirPods back in September 2016, the market reaction was mixed at best. These wireless buds were heavily criticized for their looks, overall appeal, and price.
Today, it is clear that the brand is getting the last laugh, with the AirPods being the most popular headphones on the planet.
In 2021 alone, AirPods were the chosen headphones of 34% of Americans. The rest of the market was divided between all other brands, with the top three contenders including Beats by Dr. Dre (15.3%), BOSE (12.5%), and Samsung (12.2%).
This news comes after a separate survey in 2019 showed that Apple sold 47 million pairs of AirPods compared to 42 million pairs of true wireless headphones sold in the same period by all other brands.
Popularity translates into high demand, which drives AirPods prices up.
3. Market Strategy
Since its conception, Apple promised users security and simplicity. Delivering exactly that, the brand appeals to high net worth individuals who need devices that aren’t vulnerable to security threats and information leaks.
This strategy made Apple into a sought-after brand. The company knows that people will buy their products no matter how expensive they are.
Perhaps this is why Apple never developed any products meant for the low and mid-range markets. But while rich people won’t think twice before spending two hundred bucks or more on headphones, the average Joes have to deal with the high cost of AirPods too.
4. Research and Development
Beyond market strategies, demand, and branding, the high prices of AirPods are justified by the amount of money Apple puts into research.
In 2022 alone, the brand spent a record $26.25 billion on research and development. That’s four billion more compared to 2021 and a whopping $25.47 billion more than the company spent in 2007.
With such amounts spent on improving their products, it doesn’t come as a surprise that AirPods – and all other Apple products – are so expensive.
5. Manufacturing Costs
While research and development take a big chunk of Apple’s budget, the company also has to pay the manufacturing costs.
Even though most Apple products are assembled in China, it takes skilled workers to put together flawless devices. These costs are reflected into the expensive costs of AirPods.
Another factor that affects the high AirPods prices is the performance of these headphones.
The wireless earbuds are certified water- and sweat-resistant. You can use them when working out or rushing through the rain without worrying that your sweat or air humidity will damage them.
Certification and proof of conformity costs are then worked out into the final retail price of the product.
7. Apple Ecosystem Integration
Apple enthusiasts know that no other brand will be able to integrate into the ecosystem as well as proprietary products can. This is why iPhone users are really left with little choice when it comes to the headphones they can use.
While there are compatible headphones out there, they might not integrate with Siri or you might have trouble pairing them with your device.
Comparatively, pairing your AirPods with an iPod or iPhone typically takes seconds, and the buds work seamlessly with Siri right from the start. While seamless integration does make the AirPods more expensive than other wireless buds, making your life easier may be worth the premium.
8. Smart Features
Easy integration and compatibility with Apple’s mobile devices isn’t the only reason AirPods have high prices.
Another related reason is the integration of smart features into the earbud’s design.
Despite their tiny size, AirPods are crammed with technology. For instance, they can recognize when you take them off your ears and pause the iTunes player. That’s a sweet alternative to music blasting through your phone’s speakers, especially when you are in a public setting.
AirPods also recognize when you’re only wearing one bud. In this case, audio works only on the earbud that you’re wearing.
Thanks to the integration mentioned above, you can also use your AirPods and a mobile device from Apple (such as your iPhone, iPad, or iPod) to listen in a different room.
All you have to do is turn on the Live Listen function. The mobile device will act like a microphone, picking sound from its surroundings and sending it to the AirPods.
Speaking to Siri or skipping a song is also easy by simply tapping one of the AirPods. Or you can keep listening to music on one cuff while speaking with someone on the phone via the other cuff.
With so many smart features, it doesn’t come as a surprise that these earbuds are expensive.
9. Sound Quality
Stereo sound revolutionized the way audio is reproduced, enabling people to listen to multidirectional sound.
You might think there isn’t much to fine tune about it, but you’d be wrong.
Starting with the third generation AirPods, Apple introduced spatial audio and adaptive EQ. Spatial audio is a sort of elevated stereo playing that makes sound feel like it comes from different directions even though it all comes out of your earbuds.
Meanwhile, the adaptive EQ enables AirPods to adjust sound based on the shape of your ear.
These technologies create a bespoke listening experience for each user of AirPods. How many other brands can brag with the same stuff? It goes without saying that a personalized listening experience comes at a premium, further contributing to the AirPods high prices.
10. Noise Cancellation
The first generation of AirPods lacked a variety of features that users complained about. One of these was the absence of adequate noise cancellation.
Apple spent years perfecting the technology and introduced it with the third generation AirPods.
Today’s earbuds from Apple feature active noise cancellation accomplished by the use of microphones that pick up external sounds and tech components that filter them out.
If instead you do want to hear what’s happening around you, you can activate the Transparency Mode that reduces the volume of audio played through the AirPods and allows you to hear external sounds.
This technology is not only hard to replicate by subpar brands, but it is expensive to develop in the first place. Hence, it drives up the costs of AirPods.
11. Audio Sharing
Another fine feature that AirPods users can enjoy is audio sharing. This function is pretty straightforward: it allows you to share audio with someone else.
This is achieved by Apple devices that allow two pairs of AirPods to be connected and active at the same time.
Not only does this eliminate the need for audio splitters, but it also keeps things hygienic as each listener can use their own pair of AirPods. Obviously, this technology makes AirPods more expensive.
12. Battery Life
AirPods also surprise when it comes to battery life. These earbuds are compatible with a charging case that gives them up to 30 hours of listening time per charge.
Without the charging case, the AirPods Pro deliver up to 6 hours of listening time and it only takes five minutes in their case to extend the lifetime by another hour.
There are very few companies that can brag with the same performance, and none that integrates seamlessly with other Apple products. Which is another reason why AirPods are expensive.
13. Limited Availability
Limited editions of anything are expensive. AirPods are not exactly limited edition products, but Apple is notorious for discontinuing a model line within five years of its launch – often faster.
This makes any specific series limited, and this is also why Apple products maintain their price in time. Hence, even the first generation AirPods are more expensive than a brand-new pair of earbuds from a lesser known company.
14. Duties And Taxes
Lastly, a reason for the high prices of AirPods are the duty fees and taxes Apple has to pay to import its manufactured products from Asia and to export them to different countries around the world.
These fees can vary from country to country, but they are always worked out in the final price of each product.
Why Are AirPods So Popular?
Apple is a popular brand, so it’s only natural that AirPods are popular too. What strikes, though, is the fact that AirPods are popular among non-Apple brands.
In fact, while the AirPods are designed for seamless integration within the Apple ecosystem, they are wireless headphones in essence. They work with any phone or device that can connect to the AirPods via Bluetooth.
Given the amount of technology crammed into the AirPods and their superb performance regardless of the device they are paired with, these buds are popular even between users of mobile devices from other brands.
Are AirPods Actually Worth It?
AirPods are definitely worth it, whether or not you already own a pair.
If you’ve never used AirPods before, switching to these headphones from any other brand may feel like taking a leap into the future. Not only are there very few brands that make noteworthy wireless headphones, but none have as many features as AirPods have.
If you own an older version of AirPods, upgrading is worth it too. They will give you so many extra features that you’ll never want to go back to the old ones.
Do AirPods Last Forever?
AirPods do not last forever, but you can keep using them for as long as you like if the battery is in good condition and you haven’t damaged them.
According to the users, the battery on AirPods allegedly starts to give up after about three to five years, depending on usage.
AirPods are expensive because they are an Apple product. The brand is notorious for its cutting-edge designs and tech innovation, but also for its excellent branding strategies and higher prices compared to most competitors.
Yet, investing in AirPods might be worth the cost if you want seamless integration and a superb listening experience.
Jason is a B2B sales veteran spanning 3 decades and Founder of ApprovedCosts. Jason has scaled sales and marketing teams at a variety of enterprises and is a recognized expert in the field. Jason holds an MBA from NYU Stern School of Business.