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  1. Table of Contents
  2. Top
  3. Design
  4. Sound
  5. Isolation
  6. Active Features
  7. Conclusion
  8. Q&A
Updated , Sam Vafaei

Real vs Fake Headphones
5 Models Compared - Beats, Bose & Apple

Real vs Fake headphones

Headphones are, simply put, portable and personal speakers made for listening to music and audio. However, in the recent years, even casual everyday headphones, have become fashion accessories or status symbols that boast big name brands and big price tags to match. Naturally, some manufacturers figured out ways to benefit from this, by making cheap copies and counterfeits of popular headphone models from brands like Apple, Beats, Bose, Marshall, Shure and many more.

We've decided to get 5 of these knockoff models to compare them to the originals based on their design, sound quality, noise isolation and active features. Should you get the real or the fake version? Are there considerable differences between the two? Let's begin with the difference in price. 

Headphones
(price at purchase)
Real - Price
$ (USD) 
Retailer Fake - Price
$ (USD)
Retailer
 Beats Solo2  195.00  Amazon.com  87.40  iOffer.com
 Beats BeatsX  149.95  Amazon.com  42.50  iOffer.com
 Bose QuietComfort 25  258.84  Amazon.com  100.58  DHgate.com
 Bose SoundSport Wireless  172.30  Amazon.com  59.54  DHgate.com
 Apple Earpods  35.00  Apple Store  9.36  Amazon.ca

The counterfeits and knockoff headphones come in varying qualities depending on the price range. We purchased the highest tier of fake headphones that we could find to have more comparable results with the originals. Below is a brief summary table of the 4 main sections we used to compare real vs fake headphones.

Real vs Fake  Correlation  Real Fake
Design Strong Great Good
Sound quality Strong Great Poor
Isolation Weak Good Mediocre
Active features Strong Good Poor

Design

in the box

In the box picture Beats Solo2 Wireless
In the box
Left is real | Right is fake
Beats Solo2 Wireless
In the box picture Beats BeatsX
In the box
Left is real | Right is fake
Beats BeatsX

There's very little difference in the packaging and in-the-box accessories for both the Beats Solo2 and the Beats X.

Looking closely, you can see that the carabiner hook of the Solo2 is a different color and the manual booklet is a little faded. The Beats logo sticker is glossier, and the box is a slightly different shade of red.

As for the BeatsX, we couldn't get the same grey color variant of the real BeatsX we reviewed. However, they have pretty much the same content in the box. The only difference is the slightly off-color case and the free apple music card which does not have a legitimate serial number to register the (fake) headphones.

In the box picture Bose QuietComfort 25
In the box
Left is real | Right is fake
Bose QuietComfort 25
In the box picture Bose Soundsport Wireless
In the box
Left is real | Right is fake
Beats Soundsport Wireless

There's also not much difference in the packaging and content of the Bose QuietComfort 25 and Bose SoundSport wireless compared to the fakes.

For the QC25, the slightly off color of the Bose logo on the case and the slightly faded box is an indication of the fakes but it's hard to tell the difference without having both headphones side by side.

The SoundSport Wireless are also difficult to distinguish without a side by side comparison, but as you can see in the picture above, the box is also slightly faded and the carabiner hook is not completely black like that of the original.

In the box picture Apple earpods
In the box
Left is real | Right is fake
Apple EarPods

 

Lastly, for the Apple Earpods, since they do not have any additional accessories, they're even harder to tell apart from the case and its content. The real and fake headphones look identical and only the slight blue tint of the original plastic cover is distinguishable from the fakes.

Winner: Draw

Comfort

Comfort of real and fake Beats Solo2
Comfort
Left is real | Right is fake
Beats Solo2 Wireless
Comfort of real and fake Bose QC25
Comfort
Left is real | Right is fake
Bose QuietComfort 25

The most noticeable differences in comfort are with the over-ears. The fake Bose QuietComfort 25, especially, do not have the same degree of motion for their swivel hinge as the originals. While they are still very comfortable, especially for a knock-off, they do not have the same fit and padding as the real QuietComfort 25.

The Beats Solo2 also are a bit different when it comes to comfort. While the original Solo 2 have always been a bit tight on the head, the padding of the fake Solo 2 makes the fit even tighter. The pads on the original are a bit more foldable, similar to memory foam, unlike the fakes which feel like cheap foam cushions. The padding on the fakes is also a bit thicker.

Comfort of real and fake BeatsX
Comfort
Left is real | Right is fake
Beats BeatsX
Comfort of real and fake Bose Soundsport
Comfort
Left is real | Right is fake
Bose Soundsport Wireless
Comfort of real and fake Apple earpods
Comfort
Left is real | Right is fake
Apple EarPods

The in-ears and earbuds, on the other hand, have pretty much the same fit as the originals. Even the StayHear+ tips of the Bose Soundsport Wireless are the same and as comfortable as the originals. 

Winner: Real 

Learn more about comfort

Buttons

Buttons real and fake BeatsX
Buttons
Left is real | Right is fake
Beats BeatsX
Buttons real and fake Bose QC25
Buttons
Left is real | Right is fake
Bose QuietComfort 25
Buttons real and fake  Bose Soundsport
Buttons
Left is real | Right is fake
Bose Soundsport Wireless

Buttons are not the most important aspect of a headphone's design but it can help you spot copies and counterfeits. 

The fake BeatsX have poor feedback for their control scheme compared to the original. It's most noticeable with the volume down button, which barely clicks when pressed.

The fake Bose QuietComfort 25 have decent buttons but the inline remote is cheaply built and of lower quality to the original. It rattles when you shake the cable and it's also a different color to the real QC25's remote.

On the other hand, the fake Bose Soundsport Wireless, have better, clickier buttons than the original. The real Soundsport Wireless have a pretty thick rubber coating on their inline remote (for sweat resistance) which makes the buttons difficult to press.

Lastly, the Apple Earpods and the Beats Solo2 had pretty much the same button layout and feedback as the fakes. They provided the same ease-of-use and level of control.

Winner: Real

Learn more about controls

Build Quality

Build Quality real vs fake Beats Solo2 Build quality
Left is real | Right is fake
Beats Solo2 Wireless
Build Quality real vs fake Beats Solo2 2Build quality
Left is real | Right is fake
Beats Solo2 Wireless
Build Quality real vs fake Beats Solo2 3Build quality
Left is real | Right is fake
Beats Solo2 Wireless

Build quality is one of the key factors to look out for when purchasing fake headphones. The real Beats Solo 2, for example, are noticeably different compared to the fakes.

While they are practically the same weight size and shape, the build quality of the fakes is immediately noticeable as you put the headphones on. The headband is very creaky and its padding came loose, as you can see in the picture above. The padding for the ear cups is also different and much lower quality, as mentioned in the comfort section of this comparison.

Lastly, the casing of earcups is made of a thinner, lower grade plastic which lets the lights of the LED bleed through unlike with the original.

Build Quality real vs fake Bose QC25Build quality
Left is real | Right is fake
Bose QuietComfort 25
Build Quality real vs fake Bose QC25 2Build quality
Left is real | Right is fake
Bose QuietComfort 25
Build Quality real vs fake Bose QC25 3Build quality
Left is real | Right is fake
Bose QuietComfort 25

The fake Bose QuietComfort 25 look the part but have quite a few distinguishing flaws from the original. 

The assembly of the fakes is not as seamless as the original. Looking at the hinges and joints, you can see the gaps and excess plastic that would have been smoothed out or polished in the original.

The material cover of the fake QC25's headband already shows signs of unraveling despite minimal use and the padding feels cheaper than the one used in the original. The fake cable is decently thick but the inline remote is cheaply made, rattles and doesn't have a three-ringed 1/8 TRRS audio jack.

Also, during our testing procedure, the battery got stuck quite often and required a pair of tweezers to dislodge, unlike the real QC 25 which allows the battery to slide out of the compartment when tilted (as shown above).

Build Quality real vs fake BeatsXBuild quality
Left is real | Right is fake
Beats BeatsX
Build Quality real vs fake BeatsX 2Build quality
Left is real | Right is fake
Beats BeatsX
Build Quality real vs fake BeatsX 3Build quality
Left is real | Right is fake
Beats BeatsX

The fake in-ears/earbuds are harder to distinguish from the real ones at a glance.

The fake BeatsX show a bit more gaps and imperfections in the casing of the ear cups and the neckband, most likely due to the lower quality control in the assembly process.

The magnets in the earbuds that help with cable management are also not as strong for the fakes as with they are in the real BeatsX. You can see some of the electronics through the microphone hole of the fake BeatsX and the inline remote is not as responsive. 

Build Quality real vs fake Bose SoundSportBuild quality
Left is real | Right is fake
Bose Soundsport Wireless
Build Quality real vs fake Bose SoundSport 2Build quality
Left is real | Right is fake
Bose Soundsport Wireless
Build Quality real vs fake Bose SoundSport 3Build quality
Left is real | Right is fake
Bose Soundsport Wireless

The fake Soundsport Wireless are surprisingly well made and are very hard to distinguish from the real ones

They feel solid, the cable is as thick as the original and the earbuds are well put together with very few imperfections. The most noticeable difference is that the Power and Bluetooth Led lights slightly bleed through the plastic casing of the earbuds, as you can see in the picture above.

Build Quality real vs fake Apple earpodsBuild quality
Left is real | Right is fake
Apple EarPods
Build Quality real vs fake Apple earpods 2Build quality
Left is real | Right is fake
Apple EarPods
Build Quality real vs fake Apple earpods 3Build quality
Left is real | Right is fake
Apple EarPods

Lastly, the Apple Earpods are the most identical to the original. The earbud casing is as dense as the real one, the audio cables are the same thickness, and the inline remote is equally well made.

It's easy to confuse the fake and the real earpods since they have essentially the same build quality. 

Winner: Real (in-ears/earbuds are much closer to a draw)

Learn more about build quality

Sound

Frequency response

Frequency response real Beats Solo2 WirelessFrequency Response
Real
Beats Solo2 Wireless
Frequency response fake Beats Solo2 WirelessFrequency Response
Fake
Beats Solo2 Wireless

Beats Solo 2 Audio Test (Real)

Beats Solo 2 Audio Test (Fake)

Sound, unlike design, is a lot harder to copy and reproduce. Most of the fake headphones, in this comparison, are easy to detect once you look at the response measurements or listen to the provided audio clips. 

The fake Beats Solo2 are one of the worse performers in this aspect. The bass response is significantly higher in the fakes, making them sound darker than the real Solo2. This extended bass continues into the midrange which drowns instruments and vocals and results in a boomy and muddy response that's made worse by the poorly balanced treble frequencies. 

Overall, the fake Solo2 sound much worse than the real ones with a dark and muddy sound that would be a dealbreaker for even the biggest fan of the Beats Solo2.

Frequency response real Beats X
Frequency Response
Real
Beats BeatsX
Frequency response fake Beats X
Frequency Response
Fake
Beats BeatsX

BeatsX Audio Test (Real)

BeatsX Audio Test (Fake)

As for the Beats X, the fakes also sound much worse than the real ones and the left and right channels are flipped.

The authentic Beats X have a surprisingly balanced sound that makes them one the most recommended in-ears in our buying guides. In contrast, the fake Beats X are poorly balanced, mismatched and out of phase. They have too much bass and a more inconsistent treble range. This makes them sound a bit boomy overall and noticeably darker than the real BeatsX.

Frequency response real Bose QC25
Frequency Response
Real
Bose QuietComfort 25
Frequency response fake Bose QC25
Frequency Response
Fake
Bose QuietComfort 25

Bose QuietComfort 25 Audio Test (Real)

Bose QuietComfort 25 Audio Test (Fake)

The fake Bose QuietComfort 25 are not as bad as the Beats Solo2 or the Beats X but still sound noticeably different to the real Bose QC25.

The dip in the mid-range makes the fake QC25 sound less forward with instruments and vocals. The mismatched treble range is sharper and more inconsistent when compared to the real QC25. This makes their overall sound somewhat exciting but less balanced, and a bit too sharp on already bright tracks.

In this case, the fake Bose QC25 will sound decent for most and sound better than some real headphones we've tested but they just won't be as balanced or reproduce instruments and vocals as well as the real QC25

Frequency response real Bose Soundsport
Frequency Response
Real
Bose Soundsport Wireless
Frequency response fake Bose Soundsport
Frequency Response
Fake
Bose Soundsport Wireless

Bose Soundsport Wireless Audio Test (Real)

Bose Soundsport Wireless Audio Test (Fake)

The fake Bose Soundsport Wireless also sound better than expected but not as balanced as the real Soundsport Wireless.

The audio reproduction of the fake Soundsport has a less low-bass than the real ones. They also emphasize the mid-range more, which makes them sound boxy and boomy and a bit too forward with instruments and vocals. They also have a slight dip in the treble range which results in a slight loss of clarity and detail.

However, the fake Soundsport do not have poor sound and would be adequate for casual listening.

Frequency response real Apple earpods
Frequency Response
Real
Apple EarPods
Frequency response fake Apple earpods
Frequency Response
Fake
Apple EarPods

Apple Earpods Audio Test (Real)

Apple Earpods Audio Test (Fake)

The fake Apple Earpods are one of the worst sounding headphones that we've measured so far.

Unlike the original Earpods, which lacked low bass, and had a slightly forward and bright sound, the fake Earpods sound piercing on most tracks. They're uncomfortable to listen to and so poorly balanced that you only hear the over-emphasized treble range. The left and right channels are also flipped and out of phase by 179° which gives them a poor imaging performance. 

In all the cases, the fake headphones sounded worse but the Earpods and Beats Solo 2 have a noticeably poor sound quality.

Winner: Real

Learn more about sound quality

Imaging

Imaging real Beats XImaging
Real
Beats BeatsX
Imaging fake Beats XImaging
Fake
Beats BeatsX
Imaging Real Apple earpodsImaging
Real
Apple EarPods
Imaging fake Apple earpodsImaging
Fake
Apple EarPods

 In the case of imaging, most of the fake headphones do considerably worse than their real counterparts.

The QuietComfort 25 have a pretty high phase error but the Beats X and the Earpods have reversed Left and Right channels. This means whatever you're supposed to hear on the left side of your track will now be to your right, which flips the stereo image, and does not reproduce songs as intended by the artist, not considering the worse frequency response of the fakes overall.

Driver Mismatch (Phase) Real Fake
Beats Solo2 76.1° 104.5°
Beats BeatsX 21.6° 258.2°
Bose QuietComfort 25 19.1° 132.6°
Bose Soundsport Wireless 11.5° 10.8°
Apple Earpods 13.7° 178.3°

Winner: Real

Learn more about imaging

Isolation

Noise isolation

Great isolation for the real Bose QC25Great Isolation
Real
Bose QuietComfort 25
Good isolation for the fake Bose QC25Good Isolation
Fake
Bose QuietComfort 25

Bose QuietComfort 25 Isolation Test (Real)

Bose QuietComfort 25 Isolation Test (Fake)

For noise isolation, most of the fake headphones in this comparison have the same or similar measurements to the real ones.

However, since the QuietComfort 25 are active noise canceling headphones, the performance varies slightly between the fakes and the real ones. As you can see in the noise isolation graphs above, the real QC25 has more attenuation overall, especially in the high bass and throughout the mid-range.

On the upside, the fake Bose QC25 perform surprisingly well, easily beating some of the real noise-canceling headphones we've previously tested from lesser known brands. This places them quite high in our noise isolation rankings.

Comparison noise isolation fake real headphones

Winner: Draw except for ANC headphones

Learn more about noise isolation

Leakage

High leakage real Beats Solo2 WirelessHigh Leakage
Real
Beats Solo2 Wireless
Medium leakage fake Beats Solo2 WirelessMedium Leakage
Fake
Beats Solo2 Wireless

The leakage level for the fake headphones is also quite similar to the real ones which you can check here. The most noticeable difference was with the Beats Solo 2s.

The cushion material of the ear cup pads for the fake Solo 2 does not block a lot of noise but, surprisingly, does not leak as much as the real ones. This may be due to a slightly better fit on our HMS than the original Solo2. The difference is also not very high.

Winner: Draw

Learn more about leakage

Active features

Wireless range

Wireless Range Obstructed
(Real) 
Obstructed
(Fake)
Line of sight
 (Real) 
Line of sight
 (Fake)
 Beats Solo2  42ft  28ft  118ft  88ft
 Beats BeatsX  42ft  35ft  211ft  90ft
 Bose Soundsport Wireless  41ft  36ft  99ft 100ft

The Apple Earpods and the Bose QuietComfort 25 are wired so their range is based on their cable length which is 3.8ft and 5ft respectively. The cable length is the same for the fakes and the originals.

As for the range of the wireless headphones, the most noticeable difference are with the Solo2 and the Beats X.

The Beats X have the W1 chip which drastically improves their wireless range compared to the fakes. The W1 chip significantly impacts the efficiency and range of the headphones with the chip like the Beats Solo3 or Apple Airpods. Since this is a proprietary technology from Apple, it can't be easily replicated or copied by other manufacturers. 

The Beats Solo2 do not have the W1 chip, but they still perform quite well indoors when the Bluetooth source is obstructed and decently well in direct line-of-sight. The fake Solo2, however, have the worse performance overall, with a below average obstructed range and poor direct line-of-sight range when compared to other wireless on-ears.

The fake Soundsport, on the other hand, are pretty much the same range as the real ones. However, their pairing procedure is not as easy. Holding the power button triggers a blue pairing LED in the real headphones but the LED stays white.

Winner: Real

Learn more about wireless range

latency

Latency  Real Fake
 Beats Solo2  192ms  300ms
 Beats BeatsX  175ms  178ms
 Bose Soundsport Wireless  189ms  130ms

For latency, the Apple Earpods and the Bose QuietComfort 25 are wired and have very negligible latency (below 5ms). As for the wireless headphones, the latency performance is inconsistent with the fakes.

The fake Soundsport did better latency-wise than the real ones.

The Beats X performed about the same, although they have significantly less latency when used with an Apple device thanks to the W1 chip. However, since we do not have a test bench to accurately measure this compensation yet, we used the default SBC connection with a regular Bluetooth 4.1 dongle.

As for the fake Beats Solo 2s, they had the most latency at 300ms compared to the 192ms of the original, which is quite noticeable. Opposite is an example of how latency will affect your listening experience.

Winner: Draw

Learn more about latency

Battery Life

Battery Life Discharge time
(Real) 
Discharge time
(Fake)
Charge time
(Real) 
Charge time
(Fake)
 Beats Solo2  18 hrs  5.3 hrs   1.4 hrs  1.5 hrs
 Beats BeatsX  6.5 hrs  4.4 hrs   0.6 hrs  1 hr
 Bose QuietComfort 25  32.8 hrs  35 hrs   AAA   AAA
 Bose Soundsport Wireless  5.9 hrs  3.5 hrs   1.5 hrs  1.5 hrs

The Apple earpods are wired and completely passive so they have no battery life.

For the active headphones, the Bose QuietComfort use AAA batteries so their battery life strongly depends on the quality and longevity of the AAA battery. There was a slight difference in the discharge time of the fake QuietComfort 25 but this is within the margin of error for AAA batteries.

As for the fake Beats Solo2, BeatsX and SoundSport, there's a big difference in discharge time compared to the real ones. All three fakes lasted significantly less on a single charge but the fake Solo 2 had only a 1/3 of the battery life of the real ones. This makes them particularly worse, especially since they take about the same time on average to fully charge.

Winner: Real 

Learn more about battery life

App Support

App support Beats X
App support 
Apple W1 Chip data
Beats X
App support Bose SoundSport
App support
Bose Connect
Soundsport Wireless

The Apple Earpods, the Bose QuietComfort 25 and the Beats Solo 2 do not have any app support neither to their fake counterparts. 

The Beats X have mediocre support with Apple devices thanks to the W1 chip. However, since there's no W1 chip in the fakes, they connect like regular Bluetooth headphones with no pop-up. You still get battery data on iOS though and on Android with the Oreo update.

The real Soundsport Wireless support the Bose connect app which the fakes do not. This makes the real Soundsport a bit more customizable although the app does not offer as many features as when it's connected to the QuietComfort 35 or QuietControl 30.

Winner: Real

Learn more about app support

Conclusion

Should you get the cheaper knockoff of a popular headphone?

If you just want the unique design and look of the headphone you like and don't really mind sacrificing performance and features, then a cheap knock-off could be a decent option. However, most of our tests conclude that you're better off getting the original headphones from an authorized seller. Also, there are affordable wireless options from lesser known brands if you really want a simple and easy-to-use, everyday headphone (check out our best headphones under 100$ recommendations). 

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