Looking at the AirPods 1st and 2nd Generation side by side, it can be a little difficult to tell what exactly differentiates the two. After all, the AirPods 3rd generation completely reworks the shape and size of the AirPods.

Naturally, it’s easy to tell the difference between the latest AirPods and AirPods 1st and 2nd generation. Obviously, the same cannot be said about AirPods 1st and 2nd generation. There are differences, though. And boy, are there several. You just have to know exactly what you’re looking for.

Let’s put the AirPods 1st and 2nd generation side by side, paying close attention to the internal and external specs that set them apart. From there, we’ll examine the more apparent features of the AirPods 1st and 2nd generation.

These are going to be the identifiers most important to you in distinguishing between the two. In the end, we’ll examine the history of the AirPods to see how and why these two different generations came to be. Let’s first begin with a side-by-side comparison of specs.

AirPods 1st vs 2nd Generation: Specs

AirPods (1st Generation)AirPods (2nd Generation)
Release DateDecember 13th, 2016March 20th, 2019
Price at Launch$159$159 (charging case); $199 (wireless charging case)
Battery Life5 hours of listening time5 hours of listening time
Total Listening Time24 hours per case24 hours per case
ChipsetApple W1Apple H1
Bluetooth ConnectivityBluetooth 4.0Bluetooth 5.0
Charging CaseLightningLightning, Qi Wireless
Model NumbersA1523, A1722A2032, A2031
DiscontinuedMarch 20th, 2019October 18th, 2021 (wireless charging case only)

Telling the Difference Between AirPods 1st and 2nd Generation

Now that we’ve examined these internal and external specs, let’s focus on the differences you can actually notice yourself. It’s not likely you’ll be cracking open your AirPods to see the chipset just to find out which generation you have.

From the location of the battery light to the type of case to the actual AirPods model number itself, here’s how to tell the difference between AirPods 1st and 2nd generation.

Step 1: Look for the Battery Light

airpods
The AirPods 1st generation do not have a battery light on the front of the case.

A great way to distinguish between the two AirPods generations is to check for the location of the battery light. That’s the thing that glows green or orange, or stays unlit, depending on your battery life and your AirPods connectivity.

The AirPods 2nd generation moved the battery light to the outside of the case, right underneath where the case opens up. The AirPods 1st generation has the battery light inside the case, right between where the two AirPods are housed. Above all else, this might be the most obvious thing that sets the two generations apart.

Step 2: Check the Case for Wireless Charging

airpods
The AirPods 1st generation do not support wireless charging.

Another big thing that sets the AirPods 1st and 2nd generations apart is the wireless charging case. The 1st generation model does not support wireless charging and only comes with one case option —the standard wired charging case with a Lightning port on the bottom.

The 2nd generation model, on the other hand, offers wireless charging in addition to this wired Lightning charging case. If you flip your case over and see that there’s no charging port, then you can know for certain you’ve got a 2nd generation model.

Step 3: Test the AirPods’ Internal Specs

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Siri is exclusive to the 2nd generation model.

This is the tricky part, as you can’t exactly see what’s going on inside your AirPods (without taking a hammer to it, of course). Nevertheless, there are some internal specs that you should be able to pick up on without physically destroying the thing.

Firstly, the aforementioned ability to wirelessly charge or not. Secondly, the AirPods’ responsiveness to you saying “Hey, Siri.” This feature is exclusive to the 2nd generation model. Thirdly, the amount of time you can talk on the phone. AirPods 1st generation have an hour less of talking time compared to the 2nd generation.

Step 4: Read the Model Numbers

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The AirPods 1st generation model number can be found inside the case.

Lastly, there’s the simple fact that AirPods 1st and 2nd generation have different model numbers. You can pin down these model numbers in one of many places. They’re printed on the underside of the AirPods as well as inside the charging case itself.

Both locations are a little difficult to see, but they’re nonetheless there. The AirPods 1st generation model numbers are A1523 and A1722. Conversely, the 2nd generation model numbers are A2032 and A2031. If all else fails, these model numbers are a surefire sign of your AirPods model.

History of the AirPods

Now that we’ve got the difference between AirPods 1st and 2nd generation under our belts, it helps to know the complete history of the AirPods themselves. One of Apple’s best-selling products in history, the AirPods are sleek, wireless, Apple-branded Bluetooth earbuds first introduced on September 7th, 2016.

Announced in conjunction with the iPhone 7, the AirPods 1st generation was officially released on December 13th of that same year. While compatible with Android and Windows products, AirPods were designed to work best with Apple products iOS 10 or macOS Sierra or later.

Two years after launch, the AirPods had become Apple’s most successful accessory ever. One year after that, Apple was announcing the 2nd generation model. Released on March 20th, 2019, these new and improved AirPods kept the look exactly the same (apart from moving the battery light) while making many improvements to the internal specs.

This included faster processing, longer talk time, better pairing, and support for wireless charging, among other betterments. With the release of the 2nd generation, Apple effectively discontinued the 1st.

The biggest change to the AirPods came with the release of the 3rd generation model on October 18th, 2021. Instead of keeping with the design of the 1st and 2nd generation models, the AirPods 3rd generation borrows from the look of the AirPods Pro instead.

This means shorter stems on the AirPods themselves, not to mention a wider charging case that supports Lightning, MagSafe, and Qi wireless charging. The 3rd generation also brings six hours of listening and 30 hours of the total charge in the case. Interestingly enough, the 2nd generation models remained for sale after this release.

Other AirPods Models

This only begins to cover the entire history of the AirPods family, which also includes the AirPods Pro 1st and 2nd generation as well as the AirPods Max. The AirPods Pro 1st generation were announced on October 28th, 2019, and were released two days later on October 30th.

Mere months after the release of the AirPods 2nd generation, the Pro model brought noise cancelation, more comfortable earbud tips, and altogether improved audio. Apple priced the Pro model higher than the base model AirPods: $249.

The 2nd generation AirPods Pro are practically brand new, having dropped on September 23rd, 2022. Boasting an improved processor, better connectivity, greater sound quality, longer battery life, a wider variety of earbud tips, and more, the AirPods Pro 2nd generation are an all-around improved version of the previous Pro model.

Improved charging is another huge benefit, offering Lightning, MagSafe, and Qi wireless charging. A first for AirPods, you can even charge the Pro 2nd generation case with an Apple Watch charger. These are similarly priced at $249.

Beyond the base and Pro model AirPods, Apple also has a much more expensive offering—the AirPods Max. While retaining the AirPods name, the interesting thing about the Max model is that they aren’t actually earbuds.

They’re actually over-the-ear headphones. A move considered strange, since Apple already owns Beats headphones. With a 20-hour battery life, excellent sound quality, and a number of colors to choose from, the AirPods Max still see plenty of sales. They were released on December 15th of 2020 and are priced at $549.

How to Tell the Difference Between AirPods 1st and 2nd Generation FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

When did the AirPods come out?

The AirPods 1st generation were released December 13th, 2016.

What's the latest AirPods model?

The latest AirPods model is the 3rd generation, released October 18th, 2021.

What are the key differences between AirPods 1st and 2nd generation models?

The AirPods 1st and 2nd generation can be distinguished by the location of the battery light and the support—or lack—of wireless charging. You can also compare model numbers.

What's new about the AirPods 3rd generation?

The AirPods 3rd generation improves battery life, sound quality, and connectivity, as well as redesigns the look of the AirPods to closely resemble the AirPods Pro.

When will they release the AirPods Max 2nd generation?

As of the time of writing, there aren’t plans for AirPods Max 2nd generation. That’s not to say some won’t emerge eventually. After all, the Max model is still relatively new, having been released in December 2020.

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