New Apple AirPods Review: Great Sound, if They Stay in Your Ears
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New Apple AirPods Review: Great Sound, if They Stay in Your Ears

The third-generation AirPods feature better sound, battery life and water resistance, but have a different shape that might not fit your ears.

By Nicole Nguyen
Tue, Oct 26, 2021 11:59amGrey Clock 4 min

I was leaning over the sink, washing my face, when one of the new third-generation AirPods had a brush with death. The right earbud popped out and bounced, then bounced again, before landing inches from the wide-open drain.

Unlike their predecessor, these AirPods are water-resistant. I’m just glad the bud didn’t fall where only the bravest would follow. Many an AirPod has tumbled into subway tracks, sewer grates and toilets, and unfortunately the latest generation won’t prevent more from meeting the same fate. But they do sound better.

A new version of Apple’s AirPods wireless earbuds start shipping Tuesday. At $279, they’re more expensive than the previous generation, now down to $129 from $159. And they’re not quite as full-featured as the most expensive option, the $399 AirPods Pro with active noise cancellation.

There are several reasons an early AirPods adopter might want to upgrade to the third generation. The stem-squeezing capacitive touch controls are much easier to trigger than the original’s tap-based gestures. The battery life is an hour longer, with up to six hours of listening and four hours of talk time. The case conveniently snaps to MagSafe wireless chargers (sold separately). They’re now sweat- and water-resistant. And the stems are shorter, like the ones on the AirPods Pro. You’ll still look like a cyborg, but a little less so.

My chief concern is the fit: The new bud might not work for ears that held the original AirPods well.

A Different Fit

Everyone has a slightly different ear shape and so earbuds can be a highly personal choice—yet the non-Pro AirPods continue to be one-size-fits-all. The new AirPods fell out of my ears more often than the older ones, which I wore daily until I upgraded to the AirPods Pro. The new bud is more oval, and the tip has a larger, less-tapered end than the second-generation AirPods.

As is the case with all AirPods, every time I took off a sweater or tucked my hair behind my ear, a bud could go flying. But something about the new design caused the earbuds to drop when I was just eating or washing my face. Body movement seems to be less of an issue than jaw movement: I went on a run and the new ’Pods stayed put. The AirPods Pro, which come with three different sizes of silicone gasket, are the most secure in my ears. Meanwhile, my husband Will tried on the new AirPods and they work fine for him.

An Apple spokesman said the rounder shape is designed to make wearing the AirPods more comfortable. But the new fit and improved sound won’t make a difference if the earbuds can’t stay in your ear.

My advice? Try them on at the Apple Store before buying, or take advantage of Apple’s 14-day return policy. If they don’t fit, consider the AirPods Pro, which can be sized.

Better Audio

Most people aren’t buying AirPods for their sound. The killer feature is the quick-pairing setup for people who use iPhones, iPads and Macs.

For those who are paying attention to sound, the new AirPods have noticeably improved quality. Songs sound more detailed compared with the previous generation, and the bass is punchier in tracks ranging from the Supremes’ classic “You Can’t Hurry Love” to Billie Eilish’s room-shaking “Oxytocin.”

And if you don’t have an ear for music, you’ll still hear the difference when watching supported TV shows or movies with a compatible iOS device or Mac and spatial audio turned on. The feature enables three-dimensional audio from apps such as HBO Max, Disney+, Netflix and Hulu. (YouTube and Amazon Prime Video don’t support it yet.)

As you turn your head, the immersive sound feels like it’s emanating from the screen you’re watching. It’s confusing at first. It’ll sound like audio is playing out loud rather than in your earbuds. Try it with the first episode of “Squid Game” on Netflix. (That climactic scene, where the participants realize what’s up—that will hit you differently.)

Apple Music offers spatial audio on many tracks. The sound is sometimes amazing and three dimensional—check out “Latch” by Disclosure—but often you won’t notice anything at all.

My voice sounded better over the new AirPods’ microphones, too. The buds have the same mic and wind-minimizing material as the more expensive Pros, which came out on top in my testing last year.

Pros Vs. ’Pods—Or Something Else?

Apple has three earbuds in its lineup: second-gen AirPods for $219, new AirPods for $279 and AirPods Pro for $399.

Rubbery ear tips aren’t for everyone, but I still believe the Pros are the best earbuds iPhone users can buy. They’re $120 more, so they pose a confusing decision for upgraders.  This past week, I really missed the Pros’ active noise cancellation. Walking down the street I had to crank up the AirPods’ volume to hear a podcast. And later, while working from home, I couldn’t tune out my neighbour’s leaf blower. The Pros’ noise cancellation isn’t as good as what you get in over-ear headphones, but it’s better than the in-ear competition.

While the new AirPods are a compelling upgrade from the original, $279 is a lot for earbuds without noise cancellation. Amazon’s bulkier Echo Buds 2 have active noise cancellation and come with optional wing tips for an even more secure fit.

AirPods also can’t simultaneously connect to two non-Apple devices at once like Jabra’s Elite 85t, and don’t have on-device volume control like Sony’s WF-1000XM4s.

And unfortunately, AirPods, like most wireless headphones and earbuds, are disposable. Their batteries, which will eventually degrade, can’t be replaced. Apple says it will recycle dead buds for you at any Apple Store, but there’s no trade-in credit.

Still, there’s a reason why AirPods are the bestselling wireless earbuds with 23% market share world-wide, according to the latest unit-sales estimate from Counterpoint Research. Earbuds work best with devices made by the same company, when they’re optimised for connection reliability and quick pairing. And for people who live in Apple’s walled garden, that means choosing AirPods—and trying not to lose them. The third-generation AirPods feature better sound, battery life and water resistance, but have a different shape that might not fit your ears.

Reprinted by permission of The Wall Street Journal, Copyright 2021 Dow Jones & Company. Inc. All Rights Reserved Worldwide. Original date of publication:October 25, 2021.


This stylish family home combines a classic palette and finishes with a flexible floorplan

35 North Street Windsor

Just 55 minutes from Sydney, make this your creative getaway located in the majestic Hawkesbury region.

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Retro Kitchens Are Everywhere—and the Ultimate Rejection of the Sterile Luxury Trend

Playful 1950s style spotlights details like coloured cabinets, checkerboard and mosaic tile patterns, vintage lighting, and SMEG appliances

Mon, Apr 22, 2024 6 min

The 1950s spawned society’s view of kitchens as the heart of the home, a hub for gathering, cooking, eating and socializing. Thus, it makes perfect sense that the same decade could inspire today’s luxury kitchens.

“The deliberate playfulness and genius of the era’s designers have enabled the mid-century style to remain a classic design and one that still sparks joy,” said James Yarosh, an interior designer and gallerist in New Jersey.

That playful style spotlights details like coloured cabinets, checkerboard and mosaic tile patterns, vintage lighting, and SMEG appliances—all of which are a conspicuous rejection of the sterile, monochrome kitchens that have defined luxury home design for years. One of the hottest brands to incorporate into retro-style kitchens, SMEG is turning up more these days. But the question is: How do you infuse a colourful refrigerator and other elements from this nostalgic era without creating a kitschy room?

“The key to a modern, fresh look in your kitchen is to reference, not imitate, signature looks of the 1950s,” said New York-based designer Andrew Suvalsky, who often laces retro style throughout the rooms he designs. He said using the period as inspiration will steer you away from imagining a garish space.

“When it comes to incorporating that retro-esque look, it’s a fine dance between looking beautiful and looking kitschy,” added Lisa Gilmore, a designer in Tampa, Florida. Gilmore suggested balancing contemporary pieces with vintage touches. That balance forges a functional yet attractive design that’s easy to live with while evoking a homey atmosphere––and ultimately, a room everyone wants to be in.

Colour Reigns Supreme

Suvalsky said one way to avoid a kitschy appearance is to mingle woods and colours, such as lacquered base cabinets and walnut wall cabinets, as he did in his Montclair, New Jersey, kitchen.

“Mixing colours into your kitchen is most effective when it’s done by colour-blocking––using a single colour across large areas of a space––in this case, zones of cabinetry,” he explained. He tends to lean toward “Easter egg colours,” such as baby chick yellow and pale tangerine. These soft pastels can suggest a starting point for the design while lending that retro vibe. But other hues can spark a vintage feel as well.

A mid-century-inspired kitchen by Blythe Interiors.
Natalia Robert

“Shades of green and blue are a timeless base foundation that work for a 1950s vintage look,” said designer Jennifer Verruto of Blythe Interiors in San Diego. But wood isn’t off the table for her, either. “To embrace the character of a mid-century home, we like a Kodiak stain to enhance the gorgeous walnut grain,” she said. “This mid-tone wood is perfect for contrasting other lighter finishes in the kitchen for a Mid-Century Modern feel.”

Since colour is subjective, a kitchen lined with white cabinetry can assume a retro aesthetic through accoutrements and other materials, emanating that ’50s vibe.

“The fun of retro designs is that you can embrace colour and create something that feels individual to the house and its homeowner, reflecting their tastes and personality,” Yaosh said. He recommended wallpaper as an option to transform a kitchen but suggested marrying the pattern with the bones of the house. “Wallpaper can create a mid-century or retro look with colours and hand-blocked craftsmanship,” he said. “Mauny wallpapers at Zuber are a particular favourite of mine.”

Suvalsky suggested Scalamandre wallpapers, for their 1950s patterns, and grass cloth, a textile that was often used during that decade. He also likes House of Hackney, a brand that “does a great job reinventing vintage prints in luscious colours,” he noted. “Many of their colourways invert the typical relationship between light and dark, with botanical prints in dark jewel tones set over light, more playful colours.”

Materials Matter

Beyond wall covering, flooring, countertops and backsplashes can all contribute to the 1950s theme. Manufactured laminate countertops, specifically Formica, were all the rage during the decade. But today’s high-end kitchens call for more luxurious materials and finishes.

“That’s a situation where going the quartz route is appropriate,” Gilmore said. “There are quartzes that are a through-body colour and simple if someone is doing colorued cabinetry. A simplified white without veining will go a long way.” She also recommended Pompei quartz Sunny Pearl, which has a speckled appearance.

A kitchen designed by James Yarosh that incorporates pops of yellow.
Patricia Burke

But for those who welcome vibrant colour schemes, countertops can make a bold statement in a vintage kitchen. Gilmore said solid surface materials from the era were often a colour, and quartz can replicate the look.

“Some brands have coloured quartz, like red,” she said. But keeping countertops neutral allows you to get creative with the backsplash. “I‘d pull in a terrazzo backsplash or a bold colour like a subway tile in a beautiful shade of green or blush,” Gilmore said. “Make the backsplash a piece of art.”

Suvalsky also leans toward bright and daring––such as checkerboards––for the backsplash. But depending on the kitchen’s design, he’ll go quieter with a double white herringbone [tile] pattern. “Either version works, but it must complement other choices, bold or simple, in the design,” he explained.

Neutral countertops with a bold backsplash, designed by Lisa Gilmore.
Native House Photography

Likewise, his flooring choice almost always draws attention. “My tendency is more toward very bold, such as a heavily veined marble or a pattern with highly contrasting tones,” he noted. Yarosh suggested slate and terrazzo as flooring, as these materials can make an excellent backdrop for layering.

Forge a Statement With Vintage Appliances 

As consequential as a kitchen’s foundation is, so are the appliances and accoutrements. While stainless steel complements contemporary kitchens, homeowners can push the design envelope with companies like SMEG when making appliance selections for a retro-style kitchen. Although Suvalsky has yet to specify a SMEG fridge, he is looking forward to the project when he can.

“I think they work best when the selected colour is referenced in other parts of the kitchen, which helps to integrate these otherwise ‘look at me’ pieces into the broader design,” he noted. “They are like sculptures unto themselves.”

“For our mid-century-inspired projects, we’ve opted for Big Chill and the GE Cafe Series to bring a vintage look,” Verruto added. Similar to SMEG, Big Chill and GE offer a vintage vibe in a wide selection of colours and finishes, alongside 21st-century performance.

Can’t commit to a full-size appliance? Sometimes, a splash is enough. Gilmore tends to dust her retro kitchens with a coloured kettle or toaster since her clients are likelier to add a tinge with a countertop appliance or two. “Mint green accessories make it pop, and if in five years they are over it, it’s not a commitment,” she said. “It’s a great way to infuse fun and colour without taking a major risk.”

Deck out the Breakfast Nook

Kitchen dining areas present the opportunity to introduce retro lighting, furniture, and accessories to complete the look. Flea markets and antique markets are excellent places to hunt for accompaniments.

“Dome pendants and Sputnik chandeliers are iconic styles that will infuse vintage charm into your kitchen while also easily complementing a variety of other styles,” Verruto said.

A retro breakfast nook desinged by Andrew Suvalsky.
DLux Editions

Suspend a vintage light fixture over the classic Saarinen table, and you can’t go wrong.

“Saarinen Tulip Tables are almost always guaranteed to deliver a home run in nearly any interior, especially a 1950s-themed kitchen,” Suvalsky said. “The simplicity of its form, especially in white, makes it nearly impossible to clash with.”

To really channel the vibe of this era, Verruto suggested local vintage stores and brands such as Drexel Heritage and Lexington. Dressing the windows counts, too. “Cafe curtains in a chintz pattern will make for a fabulous finishing touch,” she said.

Meanwhile, Yarosh delights in selecting tabletop items, including novelty stemware and other trappings ubiquitous in the 1950s. “Mid-century kitchens also need to have pedestal cake plates and maybe a cloche to keep a cake,” he mused. “I love the opportunity to curate these details down to the correct fork and serving pieces.”

35 North Street Windsor

Just 55 minutes from Sydney, make this your creative getaway located in the majestic Hawkesbury region.

Consumers are going to gravitate toward applications powered by the buzzy new technology, analyst Michael Wolf predicts

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