This is a Macintosh Quadra 700, released by Apple in October of 1991. The Quadra 700 is easily recognized by its unusual vertically-oriented floppy disk drive. It was not a particularly successful or iconic product, but it was a “legacy” Mac I have always had a strange fascination with.
This is Apple’s first laptop, the very heavy Macintosh Portable, which proceeded their much more successful PowerBook series. If you like lead acid batteries this is the laptop for you.
This is a “Twentieth Anniversary Mac,” introduced in 1997 at a cost of $7500. While Apple never sold many TAMs and the design language is nothing like Apple’s current portfolio, this machine somewhat hinted at Apple’s future design philosophy.
This is a dental floss container.
This is the charging box for Apple’s AirPods. My AirPods came with the original non-wireless-charging version, so my box does not have the little light on the front.
This is Tim Cook wearing AirPods. If I were to stroll through a pedestrian-filled area today I would likely see at least one person wearing a pair just like them.
I would not normally have spent $170 on these, but the Apple Education Store has a “free AirPods with select Mac or iDevice purchase” offer, so I now own a pair myself.
For the most part, much like the Twentieth Anniversary Mac, AirPods are a design marvel. The two earpieces snap via magnets into the beautiful dental floss-looking box, which connects to a power source via . . .
The included USB-A to lightning cable? Macs, including my brand new MacBook Pro, feature nothing but USB-C ports, and that has been the case since 2016 or so.
Yes, that means if I need a dongle to use a brand new product which includes a cable with a proprietary plug (lightning) on one side and a “legacy” plug (USB-A) on the other. Apple does sell a more expensive version with wireless charging.
Before I further explore these wireless ear buds I find myself asking “Why?” not just with AirPods but with wireless portable headphones in general. I cannot think of a time when, wearing wired Apple ear buds of the past, I thought “these wires between my ears and my device are really creating a problem that would be solved by them being wireless.” Even if I had thought such a thought, I am not sure if I would have gone on to continue thinking, “And having wireless ear buds is so important to me that I would be willing to contend with them needing to be charged, needing to carry some kind of charging device around, paying an extra $140 or so, looking silly, and having a potential choke hazard around small children.”
I suppose now I can wear headphones while my iPhone is plugged in, being charged. Except now I have to worry about charging the headphones, so I’m solving a problem by creating another problem.
Using the AirPods, I am reminded of wonderful things about corded ear buds that I had taken for granted. The cable keeps the pair together. The cable allows the microphone piece to be in an optimal location. The cable makes them easier to spot and hold. Long live cables.
Overall these, and wireless ear buds in general, remind me of the Onion article “new remote control can be operated by remote.” Wireless printers are handy. Wi-Fi is handy. But a wireless connection between headphones and a device two or three feet away does not make a whole lot of sense to me, and so far, after using them a bit it still does not make a whole lot of sense to me.
Let’s try them on.
There have been a number of complaints about the “universal” fit of AirPods just plain not working with some peoples’ ears, or at best allowing an imperfect fit without the best bass response. These fit my ears (which are on the huge side) perfectly.
Setting these up was particularly painless in a particularly pleasing “Apple way.” Just hold them near your device, and the device allows the user to click a single button and voila! AirPods! The AirPods will also take Siri commands, and they can be figured so double-tapping the left or right AirPod can do a function like “next track.” There is no inline volume control. There could have been if these had a cable.
These make sort of a chime noise to let the user know when they are being “paired” or “unpaired” with a device, and they pause when they are removed from the ear. They are also labeled “L” and “R.” Everything about using them provides the user with the famed “Apple” experience that no one else can seem to replicate.
As someone who likes traditional big studio cans, the sound of these is not great but deceptively pleasant. It is tailored for “what people like to hear,” with enhanced bass and mids, allowing vocals and such to really pop out but hiding details by masking certain frequencies. This can make music deceptively pleasant to listen to but does not reveal what the recording truly sounds like.
There is a major problem here in the area of isolation. These are not canal phones, and they are completely open back. Some audiophiles like open back headphones, and some Grados and such use a non-isolating open back design. But those Grados are designed for audiophile-listening in a quiet environment. AirPods are designed for use on noisy public transit and the like.
Because these do not attenuate outside sounds at all (they do, however, seem to reduce outside treble a bit, making it hard to understand people speaking), what we tend to do when we are in noisy environments is to simply crank up the volume to block out ambient noise. And after not too long that damages our hearing.
I believe that was also the case with the original Apple ear buds, but I feel like more recent versions have been somewhat “closed back-ish” and noise-attenuating.
Apple makes a version called “AirPods Pro” that look like canal phones, and I would wager those attenuate outside sounds. But they are ludicrously expensive.
Although these are cool looking in their box, they have a way of looking extraordinarily dweeby while being worn, which is odd, because the old iconic wired Apple ear buds were sorta hip looking. They said “I am a hip person listening to tunes while I ride the bus or lift weights” rather than “I am a businessperson ready to take a phone call on my bluetooth earpiece.”
These seem like they would be very easy to lose. They seem like they could fall out of someone’s ear and end up being swallowed by a cat or something, or they could end up in a storm drain. It would be easy to lose the charging box on a subway or in a university lecture hall.
Although I was critical of it earlier in this very review, I am somewhat glad the product comes with a USB-A to lightning cable, as those are so easy to lose. You can never have enough of those.
I wonder how often people put floppy discs into the Macintosh Portable backwards. I wonder what happened if people did. Did the machine just not accept them? Could you jam or destroy the disk drive? I realize in typing this how I am no longer used to spelling “disk” with a “K.”
Although I am very pleased with my new MacBook Pro, the AirPods are not what folks today would call a “game changer.” They are another nice-looking, well-built engineering marvel with as many flaws as the Macintosh Portable. C-