e can go on and on about how great Apple AirPods ($159) are and how they’re arguably Apple’s best first-generation product ever. (Better than the first iPod or the first iPhone? Possibly.) The fact that they were released in 2016 and, without being updated or replaced by a second-generation product, are still the most popular true wireless earbuds out there speaks volumes.
Of course, in the roughly two years since Apple released its AirPods, there have been quite a few other true wireless earbuds that have been also hit the market. Many are good, with different features, styles, fits and sound signatures that some people will definitely prefer over Apple’s AirPods. It’s well documented that AirPods don’t fit in everybody’s ears, for example, and I still wouldn’t work out with my AirPods; they’re not sweat-resistant.
Most of the best true wireless earbuds are in the $150 to $200 price range, so at $159, Apple’s AirPods are right in the middle of the pack. Still, they aren’t cheap. And if you lose or break one, that’s gonna run you another $69. If you really want AirPods, but don’t want to pay that much, there are other options out there. You’ve probably seen them while scrolling through the product purgatory that can be Amazon.com: AirPods selling for a fraction of their normal price. Only they’re not AirPods at all. They’re knockoffs. Fake AirPods.
You won’t see many knockoffs that look like Bose’s, B&O’s or even Jabra’s true wireless earbuds. You will see a lot of AirPod lookalikes, however; imitation is the highest form of flattery. These knockoffs are made by companies that you’ve likely never heard of — I hadn’t — but because they’re super cheap, some starting at just over $10, you might be tempted to pull the trigger and click “Add to Cart.” So should you? What’s the catch?
The thing with these AirPod knockoffs, or so I realized after researching them, is that they disappear. Vanish. You can save a product page and then come back to it a day later, sometimes even less, and there’s a “404 error” page and you’re meeting one of Amazon’s many beautiful dogs. Is it sketchy? Absolutely.
Still, I was intrigued enough to pull the trigger and purchase three sets of knockoff AirPods. All were priced between $20 and $30 and made by companies, likely fake, that I had never heard of: “Gianny,” “To Toplay” and “Chyu.” When they arrived and I started to play around with them, it became apparent that despite looking different and coming in different packaging, all three knockoffs were made by the same company.
When pairing, they all were named either “TWS-i7” or “tws-i7.” They were all much bigger than AirPods — probably double the size — and had one “multifunction” button on the side of each earbud. These buttons were used to pair the earbuds, as well as to play/pause and skip tracks. The instruction manuals that came with each knockoff pair were all a bit different, with amusing grammatical mistakes. “Dust-proof mesh” was advertised as a key feature in all of them, which was hilarious.
AirPods Vs Knockoff AirPods: The Big Differences
• Not small. Each knockoff AirPod was roughly twice the size of an AirPod. Basically, unless you’ve never seen an AirPod before, nobody is going mistake these knockoffs for real AirPods. In fact, you might even get some more awkward gazes; people looking at you and thinking, “that doesn’t look right.”
• Lights? Different from Apple AirPods, all three knockoff pairs had lights built into each individual earbud. These lights flickered blue and red every few seconds. It wasn’t super noticeable in the daylight, but it was a different story when the lights went out.
• No quick pairing. None of the knockoff AirPods had Apple’s W1 chip to help instantly pair with my iPhone. To pair, I had to go the old school route through Bluetooth Settings.
• Physical buttons. None of the knockoff AirPods had optical sensors, so they wouldn’t automatically turn on and off when I put them in or took them out of my ears. To turn each earbud on or off, I had to manually press and hold the “multifunction” button.
• Less charge. The battery life of each earbud was not extraordinary, lastly around 1.5 hours, which is half as good as what you’d get with Apple’s AirPods.
• Zero bass. As for as sound quality, none sounded quite as good as Apple’s AirPods. Sound quality was passable, but there was a notable lack of any kind of bass.
• No Lightning port. The AirPod knockoffs that come with a charging case require a micro-USB connection, so you won’t be able to use your Lightning cable. These are definitely not “MFi-certified” by Apple.
Editor’s Note: As stated before, none of the Amazon links to the below knockoff AirPods are still live — they all direct to “404 error” pages. This underlines the sketchy nature of even shopping for fake AirPods. All the below links point to an Amazon search page. The below prices reflect what I paid for each knockoff AirPods.
AirPod Knockoffs #1: To Toplay Wireless Earbuds
Thoughts: Of the three knockoffs, these were probably the most AirPod-like, as they came with a charging case and were white. Pairing was seamless and straightforward. The multifunction button worked well; a tap on either earbud played/paused the music, while a longer press would skip tracks.
Should You Buy? No. These earbuds are still huge. Plus they light up blue and red, so very few people are going to mistake these for AirPods.
AirPod Knockoffs #2: Chya Earbuds Mini Twins
Thoughts: I had the most trouble with these knockoffs. Pairing them to my iPhone was a nightmare. Despite it being the same pairing process as the other knockoffs, these individual earbuds didn’t want to play together, and it took me numerous attempts to get the audio playing out of both earbuds. The multi-function button on either earbud was erratic; most times a short press would skip tracks instead of play/pause. Also, these knockoffs didn’t come with a charging case. Instead, the earbuds were loose in the box and required a pin-like dongle, which I needed to stick into the bottom of each earbud to charge. It was bizarre.
Should You Buy? Please no. Hard pass.
AirPod Knockoffs #3: Gianny Bluetooth Earbuds
Thoughts: There’s a niche market for black AirPods and, if you’re willing pay extra, companies like ColorWare will professionally paint them for you. So, in that sense, these knockoffs are decently neat, but they’re essentailly just black versions of the To Toplay earbuds (knockoffs #1). They’re large and come with a bulky charging case. The biggest difference, however, is that these knockoffs came with a set of silicone wingtips, so I could make each earbud fit more securely; it’s a nice a little add-on if you’re going to exercise with these knockoffs.
Should You Buy? Not unless you are desperate. Although these were probably the pick of the bunch (the extra silicone tips push the scale in their favor), the black colorway doesn’t make them look any cooler in your ear — in fact, they stand out even more.