While they’re a significant improvement on their predecessors in many ways, the Apple AirPods 3 wireless earbuds aren’t a great fit for everyone.
The arrival of Apple’s $399 AirPods Pro two years ago really put the already popular standard AirPods to shame. Not just with the introduction of active noise-cancelling, but with improved sound quality and a range of other high-end features that make the Pros a fantastic – yet expensive – accessory for iGadget lovers.
The new Apple AirPods 3 wireless earbuds close the gap with the AirPods Pro considerably. They still lack active noise-cancelling, but they inherit many of the AirPods Pro’s other great features. They also adopt the Pro’s stout, compact design, which unfortunately won’t suit everyone.
The design of the Apple AirPods 3 is clearly heavily influenced by the AirPods Pro. Whereas the AirPods 2’s charge case is tall and thin, the AirPods 3’s case is identical to the Pro’s case, except not quite as wide. It still features a Lightning charge port, even as the pressure builds for Apple to fully embrace USB-C.
Take the AirPods 3 out of the case and the similarities to the Pros continue. The 3’s stems are much shorter than the 2’s, but still slightly longer than the Pro’s stems.
The earbud is where we see the biggest differences. With the AirPods 3 they’re longer, wider and tilted down on an angle – basically a replica of the Pro’s earbuds but without the silicon tips, which create a tight seal to assist with noise-cancelling.
As someone who is used to wearing the AirPods Pro, this change didn’t bother me at all and the AirPods 3 felt like a comfortable fit. But it’s a different story if you have smaller ears. My wife and 15-year-old daughter both find the bulk of the AirPods 3 a lot more uncomfortable in their ears than the AirPods 2. The 3s don’t sit as snugly in their ears, meaning they’re more likely to fall out during vigorous exercise.
In terms of comfort and fit, they actually prefer the AirPods Pro over the AirPods 3.
This could well be a deal-breaker for many people, despite the AirPods 3’s various improvements, so it’s a good thing that Apple hasn’t discontinued the $219 AirPods 2.
Apple AirPods 3 Specs
30.79 × 18.26 × 19.21 mm (H × W × D)
46.40 × 54.40 × 21.38 mm (H × W × D)
6 hours (4 additional full charges in case)
The Apple AirPods 3 sports a long list of improvements which certainly makes them worth the extra $60 over the AirPods 2.
For starters, the redesigned speaker drivers signifivantly improve the sound quality. Plus, Adaptive EQ uses an inward-facing microphone to optimise the sound according to the shape of your ear.
When you’re on a FaceTime call, the AirPods 3 can take advantage of the improved Full-HD AAC-ELD speech codec. There’s also a new acoustic mesh which reduces wind noise during voice calls.
When it comes to multimedia, the AirPods 3 inherit spatial audio – supported by Apple Music – which allows artists to mix their music so the sound appears to come from all around, including from above. This also works with FaceTime group chats, to help create the feeling of space.
There’s also dynamic head tracking so, when you’re watching a movie on an iGadget, the sound shifts as you turn your head.
The AirPods 3 also adopt the Pro’s force sensor for media control, which are less finicky than the tap controls on its predecessor. Meanwhile, a new skin detector can tell the difference between when the earbuds are in your ears or in your pocket.
The battery life steps up to six hours, compared to five from the AirPods 2 and four and a half from the Pro. You get an additional four full charges in case, giving you a total of 30 hours.
If your home is full of Apple gadgets, you’ll appreciated that the case now supports MagSafe, Qi and Lightning charging. Both the earbuds and case are IPX4 sweat and water-resistant, which is a welcome improvement for those who prefer the AirPods open design when exercising, so they can hear the world around them including traffic.
Finally, an enhanced Find My feature makes it easier to locate lost AirPods by playing “hotter/colder” around the house.
When it comes to music playback, the Apple AirPods 3 are a major step up from the AirPods 2.
They deliver a more full-bodied sound with significantly more bass, which comes as a much-welcome improvement over the AirPods 2’s balanced yet flat sound. It’s striking, you don’t need to be a music snob to hear the difference.
You’ll really appreciate the improvement if your taste in music leans towards tracks with a fat bass line, but even more nuanced music like jazz gains more depth.
When it comes to voice calls, the improvement in the audio codec is subtle but the new windshield works miracles – the improvement is truly amazing in gusty conditions.
While the Apple AirPods 3 bring so many improvements to the table, it’s not a clear-cut case. Some people will prefer the fit of the older AirPods 2, and be prepared to sacrifice all the improvements while saving a few dollars.
Other people will want to spend the extra on the Pros to take advantage of active noise-cancelling, and still may find them a more comfortable fit than the AirPods 3.
Would I buy it?
No, I’d spend the extra on the AirPods Pro because I really appreciate their noise-cancelling.
Apple AirPods 3
The Apple AirPods 3 improve on their predecessors in every way, assuming their new design is a good fit for your ears.