It’s been a long two years, but Apple is finally introducing a successor to the second-generation AirPods, which have been the affordable earbud option from the company.
So let’s break down what’s new and who the AirPods 3 are for, along with who should look at second-gen AirPods or the AirPods Pro.
How to preorder
AirPods 3 aim to step up performance with a new look that resembles AirPods Pro and support for higher-end features like Spatial Audio. They’re up for order now at $179 and will start shipping on Oct. 26
You’re looking for a better, more ergonomic design
The third-generation AirPods have a similar look to the AirPods Pro. These feature a shorter, straight stem that connects to the ear tip at the top. Rather than capacitive touch controls like standard AirPods, a force sensor is embedded into the stem that will allow you to squeeze it to trigger an action — like play or pause a track and decline or accept an incoming call.
At the top, the AirPods 3 head is more curved, which should enable these earbuds to slide more effortlessly and comfortably into your ear compared with standard AirPods. These should also match the fit of your ear better, and since they won’t stick out with a long stem, they should stay put in your ear a bit better as well. And while the design language echoes AirPods Pro, these do not feature an ear tip.
You work out with your AirPods
Like AirPods Pro, AirPods 3 are IPX4 rated for water and sweat resistance. This way you can work out or wear them in the rain without worrying. The charging case is also protected at this rating.
You want better-sounding AirPods
AirPods 3, at least on paper, are moving into the realm of audio quality delivered by AirPods Pro. The AirPods 3 feature an all-new driver, which should present tracks with a wider soundstage, letting you hear more elements without adding distortion into the mix. Standard AirPods offered a well-balanced sound experience that didn’t really focus on strong bass in our testing, and we expect that AirPods 3 should deliver richer audio that’s balanced across all tones.
Another feature trickling down is Adaptive EQ, which effectively tunes and mixes a track in real time by listening through a microphone facing your ear. The onboard chip analyzes that response and then adjusts the mix for your listening. It works quite well on AirPods Pro and AirPods Max, though we’ll need to see how it performs on AirPods 3.
AirPods 3 will also fully support Spatial Audio with head tracking through Apple Music, which will let elements within the track move around you for a more immersive mix. It’s placing audio appropriately around you in various directions, and this will extend to FaceTime calls as well.
You need more battery life
Playback on AirPods 3 is extended to six hours of listening time, which is an hour more than the second-gen AirPods and an hour and a half over AirPods Pro. They’ll also feature fast charging, as Apple claims five minutes in the case will reflect an hour of playback. The case will provide 30 hours of battery, or four full charges.
The case for AirPods 3 supports MagSafe as well as Qi wireless charging — the first AirPods case to support MagSafe charging. You can also charge with a Lighting cord. Still, though, we’re scratching our heads on why the iPhone can’t reverse charge AirPods 3 or any pair of AirPods.
You’re on a tighter budget
If you don’t want to spend an arm and a leg, second-gen AirPods are really attractive now that they’re at $129. You’ll get five hours of battery life, robust sound quality and a classic Apple design. And they don’t lack any of the features you’d expect from AirPods. You can say, “Hey Siri” to control playback, make a call and even text someone.
You want noise cancellation
AirPods Pro can block out the world around you or let important noise in. In our testing, they can silence the engine noise on a plane, and they might make your train commute more enjoyable. Transparency mode is quite nice for walking outdoors in a city, as you can hear sounds like cars or emergency sirens. It’s a key reason why they’re our top pick of earbuds for Apple users.
Apple is also still keeping noise cancellation to just the flagship earbuds; AirPods 3 might look similar but don’t feature this higher-end listening mode.
AirPods 3 fill the middle ground between second-gen AirPods and AirPods Pro. They aim to boost the experience with a refreshed design, better sound with real-time tuning and longer battery life. For $179, that’s a step up, but notably, these don’t feature active noise cancellation or fun colors.
We’ll go hands-on soon and follow up with a full review of AirPods 3.