It's January 6th, and I can't find Airpods Pro anywhere. I've checked four Apple stores in three states, and every electronics shop in the immediate area. They straight up don't exist around me, and the folks who work in these stores tell me they've been sold out for days and have no idea when more are arriving. The Apple Store app says it can't ship me AirPods Pro for over a month. The explosive popularity of these headphones have guaranteed they don't exist around me.
Instead of waiting for them to ship, I decided to check out Facebook Marketplace to see if anyone was selling any that were gently used or at a slight bump in price. A couple of hours later, I was holding that white cardboard box with the Apple logo and the AirPods Pro image on the side. But the hardware I found inside was not quite right, and it's impressive how long it took me to be sure these weren't real.
A thorough check was not enough
According to Fred, he was switching from iOS to Android and couldn't use AirPods Pro anymore. Fred was really happy with his new Galaxy Note 10 and was excited to make the switch. He handed the AirPods Pro over and patiently watched as I inspected the box and its contents.
I pulled the battery case out of the box, lifted the cardboard separator, and saw the additional ear tips and USB cable were right where they were supposed to be. Lifting the lid on the battery case revealed the power LED to confirm the headphones had a charge, and instantly the start-up dialog popped up on my phone to connect these Airpods. I lifted an Airpod out of the case, and it looked exactly like a set of Apple Airpods Pro. The case was clean, and all of the pieces were intact. Satisfied that these were legit, I handed money off and went back to my car.
As soon as I started the engine, I finished pairing these earbuds to my phone and started listening to music. The audio quality was exactly what I remembered, not amazing, but a reasonable amount of bass and decent clarity. I reached up to my left ear, squeezed the shaft of the AirPod Pro to pause the podcast I had switched to, and noticed I hadn't heard the telltale click AirPods make when you activate one of these buttons. The podcast still paused, but the sound was missing. I tried again and the same result. It occurred to me maybe there was a setting I was missing.
I didn't find the setting I was looking for, but I did find the active noise cancellation and transparency modes. Only, when I tried to activate them, nothing happened. It didn't matter if I was in the Bluetooth settings or long-pressing the earbuds, the noise cancellation features weren't working at all. The UI would switch the icons, but no sound change.
Still not totally convinced this wasn't some software problem, having remembered early press review models of AirPods Pro had some intermittent issues similar to this, I looked up how to update the firmware on the headphones. That's when the illusion was shattered because while the Bluetooth menu seemed convinced these were real Airpods, the firmware update page for the AirPods didn't exist in the Settings menu at all. And when that happened, I started looking at the fine print. The serial number on the box didn't match the serial number on the AirPods Pro, the font and kerning of the tiny print weren't quite right, and the battery case reported a much smaller battery than Airpods Pro are supposed to have.
These were counterfeit Airpods Pro, and there was nothing I could do about it.
Be careful out there
Counterfeit Apple hardware is nothing new, in fact, in many cases, it's a booming industry of its own. However, the amount of energy spent making these seem real enough was impressive. I've handed these off to people who own actual AirPods Pro and have their AirPods Pro sitting right there next to them, and it usually takes at least a few minutes for them to be convinced these aren't real even after I've told them I was certain.
I reported my new friend Fred as a Scam on Facebook Marketplace after confronting him. Fred's story changed, swearing he had gotten these AirPods Pro from eBay and had been using them with no problem and didn't understand why I was saying they were fake. I doubt Facebook will do anything about this because I handed him cash, and Facebook Marketplace can't really do anything about that.
Bottom Line — If you absolutely need AirPods Pro to live, do yourself a favor and wait for them to come back in stock at Apple. The counterfeit market is way too sophisticated, and it's not worth the risk.
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