AirPods, including Apple AirPods Pro, are perhaps Apple’s most popular product. This is why shady companies have a huge incentive to make and sell counterfeit AirPods.
While counterfeiters are getting better at their craft, there are still a few ways you can tell if the AirPods Pro you bought are the real deal or a knockoff.
1. It’s too cheap
Whether you are buying a new, used or refurbished set of headphones, you should be suspicious if the price is too low. Remember, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is!
2. Packaging problems
Apple is known for its packaging quality. When you open the AirPods, the lid and inner tray should all be stiff and sturdy. Things should fit snugly and nothing should shake inside the box if you shake it (gently).
Counterfeit AirPods often have poor print quality, inconsistencies in the letters, and the materials involved seem too thin and cheap. Counterfeiters want to save as much money as possible, so they have to cut corners on the package. There are also often errors in the model number printed on the box, so enter that model number on Google and see if it matches the type of AirPod you think you bought.
If in doubt, watch an unboxing video for your AirPods model to see what it should look like and what the original article should look like.
3. Fragile accessories
Apple products, such as charging cables, are of good quality, which is why they tend to be more expensive than third-party alternatives. While your fake AirPods might look convincing, it’s likely cheap and flimsy accessories have been included as a way to fatten the profit margin for counterfeiters.
The Lightning cable should fit snugly into the Lightning port of the AirPods Pro case. Speaking of Lightning, if your “AirPods” charge via USB-C, they are definitely fake!
4. Mismatched or uncomfortable earphones
Getting the shape and materials for a pair of earbuds is a much more complex process than it may seem at first glance. Companies like Apple spend a great deal of time and money designing the part of the product that actually gets into your ear.
Counterfeiters simply can’t make exact copies of the materials or mold, so ear tips that irritate the skin, fit poorly, or don’t match each other in color, texture, or shape should be a red flag.
5. Poor hardware tolerances
Apple’s hardware is designed and manufactured to tight tolerances. A true set of AirPods should fit snugly in their holder. When the charging case is closed, there should be no large gaps around the edge.
AirPods should have no loose parts or gaps between panels on any part of the product. Also, check that the size of the charging case and earphones are correct! You can also weigh your AirPods to verify they match official specifications.
6. Bad sound
While AirPods may not offer the best audio quality; no reasonable person could consider the sound quality “bad” by any stretch of the imagination. If your “AirPods” sound disappointing, they are defective or they are not genuine AirPods.
7. Transparency, spatial audio, and noise cancellation don’t work well or not at all
For AirPods Pro or AirPods, there are several key features that rely on Apple’s proprietary hardware and software to function properly. While we’re not entirely sure why that’s possible, counterfeit AirPods connect to an iPhone via Bluetooth and will show up as original AirPods in iOS or iPadOS (more on that below!) You won’t see options to turn on transparency, spatial audio or active noise cancellation.
Of course, if you’re using Android phones you won’t even see these options, but you can still test transparency and Active Noise Canceling (ANC) by pressing and holding the force sensor on the earpiece stem. On a fake set of earphones, there is probably no sensor in the stem. If this switch does nothing, your AirPods are fake or broken.
8. Battery life and charging time
A clear clue that your pair of AirPods aren’t a real AirPods Pro is that the battery life and charging time don’t match what Apple specifies. In our experience, AirPods reach their rated battery life in real-world use. Check the Apple website with the different battery life ratings and compare it to what you get from the AirPods you have purchased.
Of course, if you bought a refurbished set from a third-party company, the batteries may not be the same as the original Apple units, even if the rest of the AirPods are real.
9. No firmware update
Since fake AirPods aren’t AirPods inside, firmware updates won’t work on them. If you know that a new firmware update has been released for your AirPods, go to Settings> Bluetooth> AirPods and select More Info.
Scroll down to the Information section and check if the firmware version shown is the latest version.
What about AirPods and AirPods Max?
The original AirPods are perhaps even more fake than the Pro version. Not only have many other companies copied the design (while not being counterfeit), but the popularity of the base model’s wireless earbuds makes it easy for fakes to mix with the original AirPods.
Most of the same rules apply, but in the case of classic AirPods, you don’t have features like special audio or noise cancellation. They don’t even sound that good, since they don’t have a sealed design. This makes it difficult to distinguish them from fakes. Your best bet is to look closely at their physical makeup or things like battery life or firmware update issues. For AirPods Max, try a demo pair on an Apple Store and you should have no doubts whether your set is real or not.
Update to iOS 16
From iOS 16 and later, you will now receive a warning from your iPhone or iPad that if you try to connect counterfeit AirPods that try to trick your Apple device into believing they are real, you will receive a popup warning you that it is a fake product. You’ll get a link to more information and an option to not connect to the headphones, although you won’t be blocked if you want to move on.
Ways you CANNOT spot a fake anymore
At the beginning of the fake AirPods Pro it was simple to go to the warranty coverage webpage of the Apple website at checkcoverage.apple.com and check if the serial number on your AirPods is real or not. If it appeared as an invalid number or for a different product, you probably had a fake product.
These days counterfeiters have realized that they can just put the same real serial number on all of their fake products, and thus these will appear as real if you try to search for them.
The serial number can still be useful if you think you have purchased a new product. Since if the website shows that your AirPods are out of range, clearly something is wrong. Unfortunately, since most fake AirPods are sold as refurbished products, it would make sense for the serial number to indicate that the warranty has expired. It can also make you more tolerant of minor quality issues.
AirPods Pro 2 considerations
As of this writing, the second generation of AirPods Pro has just been released. While there aren’t any fake versions of these earbuds yet, it certainly won’t take long.
AirPods Pro has several features that we don’t expect will be easy or even falsifiable. For example, the case can be tracked as an AirTag with the Find My or iCloud app. It can charge wirelessly using MagSafe discs and can beep using the built-in speakers so you can find it. It should also work with any Qi wireless charger.
If wireless charging doesn’t work, the charging case isn’t a real AirPods Pro 2 case! You will know if your AirPods are real if they can do all of these things as it is doubtful that (for example) Find My will work properly with a counterfeit device.
Avoid the hassle: buy directly from Apple (or an authorized reseller)
The primary way fake AirPods are sold is through used and refurbished channels, but they are also peddled as new products. The only way to avoid this for sure is to stick with reputable sellers. Buy new or refurbished Apple devices directly from the Apple Store or an authorized reseller.
Be very careful when browsing sites like Amazon for offers. While things sold directly from Amazon are rarely, if ever, counterfeit, third-party sellers have become a problem when it comes to counterfeit products.
You can’t even use the reviews of other buyers as a good guide as they can be manipulated. At the very least, make sure that any item you buy from third-party sellers can be returned and that Amazon or whoever owns the ecommerce platform stands behind that promise.