AirPods and Fitness: It Doesn't Always Work Out

I've had my AirPods for a few months now and I consider them one of my favorite tech purchases of the last decade. And until recently, they've also been a great set of workout headphones. Unfortunately, I've had to switch to something more robust for my fitness needs as they just aren't cut out for it.

I work out three or four times a week, and I'm generally very sweaty by the end of each session. I wipe down my Apple Watch and AirPods immediately to keep them in the best condition possible. I'll also do this during a workout if I'm the need arises. I spent many years working on the Genius Bar and have seen my fair share of iPods and iPhones that suffered liquid damage from perspiration, so I'm meticulous about keeping my devices dry.

Unfortunately, it wasn't enough. Several weeks ago, I noticed that my right AirPod had stopped charging. I took a closer look and discovered the telltale sign of liquid damage: green corrosion at the base of the AirPod and a scorch mark where it had shorted out. This was almost certainly due to perspiration. Thankfully, Apple replaced the AirPod free of charge, even though liquid damage isn't covered under warranty.

While my AirPods are functioning normally, the left AirPod does have what I suspect is a very small amount of corrosion in the same place, or I'm being paranoid and it's just slight discoloration or dirt. Either way, I'm no longer using them for workouts.

I did briefly consider a return to my old wireless headphones, but Apple's W1 chip has completely spoilt me1, in much the same way that flying first-class makes you never want to fly coach again. I can't, I won't. Instead, I purchased what are the only set of W1-equipped fitness headphones currently available: the Beats Powerbeats3.

Beats Powerbeats3

At $200, they aren't cheap, though I was able to pick up a set at Best Buy for just $130. All things considered, I'm willing to pay a premium for decent wireless headphones that work, rather than suffer through the agony of buying several sets of cheaper, crappier headphones.

Pairing the Powerbeats3 is as joyous as the AirPods, and the connection just as reliable, thanks to the magic of the W1 chip. Despite having that renowned bass-heavy Beats sound, the quality and volume is still vastly superior to AirPods.

As they're specifically designed for fitness, they're sweat and water resistant, fit better, and are surprisingly comfortable. The Powerbeats3 stay firmly in place and the ear hooks stop them from falling out. I would always worry that one of my AirPods might fall out, especially if I started to sweat or run along the waterfront, so I'd frequently adjust them during a workout, which often resulted in an accidental double-tap that paused playback. While I do miss the miniature size of the AirPods, the Powerbeats3 are neither bulky nor clumsy.

Finally, I hadn't realized how much I missed having volume and playback controls until I stopped using the AirPods. Using the Apple Watch to change volume or music was never really convenient during a workout.

There are many articles and comments about how AirPods can survive tough workouts, marathon running, and even a trip through the washing machine. While these are impressive examples of what the AirPods can put up with, they aren't long-term tests about repeated use under those conditions. Liquid damage of any kind, like most Apple products, is not covered under warranty (though Apple is pretty lenient nowadays). Anyone who has had experience with liquid-damaged tech can tell you: it's not a question of if it stops working, but when.

If you're using your AirPods for working out, keep them dry and clean. If, like me, you're prone to perspiration and/or have intense workout sessions, you my want to consider an alternative set of headphones, particularly the Powerbeats3, for fitness activities.

  1. I've tried other wireless headphones with my Apple Watch, all of which were far too unreliable. If I wanted to listen to music during a workout, I'd have to take my iPhone as well.