Apple AirPods 3 review: Improved design and significantly better sound

Take one have a look at the brand new design of the third-gen AirPods ($179, £169, AU$279) and the very first thing you may in all probability suppose is: “These seem like the AirPods Pro with out ear ideas.” You would not be incorrect. Whereas they’re extra fraternal than an identical twins, the AirPods 3 are formed just like the AirPods Professional, with the identical shorter stems. These stems even have the identical pinch controls as these of the Professional, which I favor over the contact controls on the unique and second-generation AirPods. New drivers which might be imagined to make them sound extra detailed and ship fuller bass are additionally on board.

So simply how good are they, and why would you get them as a substitute of the AirPods Professional, which provide full energetic noise canceling and price about the identical at most retailers throughout more and more frequent gross sales? Effectively, that is what this AirPods 3 evaluation is all about.


  • Ultracompact, light-weight, sweatproof (IPX4) and really snug to put on
  • Considerably improved sound with higher bass
  • Efficiency when making calls is great
  • Improved battery life (as much as 6 hours)
  • Spatial audio virtual-surround characteristic works with quite a lot of Apple gadgets
  • All the time-on Siri

Do not Like

  • Might not match ears as securely as AirPods Professional
  • Open design permits sound to leak out and in
  • AirPods Professional are incessantly accessible on the similar value

Let’s begin with the match. The unique and second-generation AirPods match some individuals’s ears completely. However I used to be among the many subset of customers who had bother retaining their AirPods of their ears. So I used to be actually curious to see whether or not this third-gen model was going to work higher for me. The reply is sure, however I nonetheless needed to flip the stems as much as kind of lock them in place once I was energetic, which suggests they’re nonetheless not fairly an ideal match for my ears (and presumably for a sure proportion of different ears).

The stems-up positioning leaves them sitting up a bit in your face at a proper angle — I am positive you have seen that AirPods type earlier than — and it might really feel just a little dopey at first (and by dopey, I do not imply dope). However sporting them like that did not appear to influence sound high quality or efficiency. In reality, sensors on the within of the buds detect the way you’re sporting them, and Apple says its Adaptive EQ adjusts the sound accordingly. 

Learn extra: Best-true wireless earbuds 

In contrast to with the AirPods 2, I used to be in a position to run with these once I turned the stems up. Lots of people prefer to run with AirPods as a result of they’re light-weight and have an open design, so you possibly can hear what is going on on round you for security causes. However the first- and second-generation fashions weren’t sweat- or waterproof — or at the least Apple by no means stated they had been. These are, although. Just like the AirPods Professional, they’re IPX4 splash-proof. Most earbuds as of late are waterproof and lots of are totally waterproof. So you would say that Apple’s caught as much as the pack with an ordinary characteristic somewhat than including an improve. However whereas the sooner fashions appeared to outlive individuals utilizing them for bodily actions, I am glad these are actually formally waterproof. 


AirPods 2 (left) versus AirPods 3 (proper).

David Carnoy/CNET

I did ask a number of avid AirPods customers to attempt the AirPods 3 they usually all preferred the third-gen’s match higher than that of the second-gen providing. In addition they thought the sound was considerably higher. As I stated, Apple has outfitted these with new customized high-excursion drivers. At 11mm, they’re smaller than the 14mm drivers within the second-generation AirPods (the AirPods Professional even have 11mm drivers), however they’re utterly redesigned to push extra air to enhance the bass response, with a much bigger air vent to assist. 

Reality be advised, I am personally not a fan of open earbuds. Not solely do they permit sound to leak in and compete with what you are listening to, however you are inclined to lose some bass with open buds, which then results in them sounding skinny. Additionally, if you happen to play your music at even barely increased quantity ranges (or loudly), individuals close to you will hear it, significantly in a quieter room. However for folk who do not just like the penetration of an ear tip into their ear canal, I can definitely perceive the attraction.

Bringing the bass

The AirPods 3 nonetheless leak sound, however Apple has put an excessive amount of effort into upping the AirPods’ sound recreation. Together with the brand new drivers these have the aforementioned Adaptive EQ additionally discovered within the AirPods Professional that optimizes the sound on the fly. Different firms like Bose even have superior digital processing options with their headphones — Bose calls its model Lively EQ, whereas Sony has its Digital Sound Enhancement Engine that is designed to fill in these lacking particulars with compressed music recordsdata and make every little thing you take heed to sound higher. So it isn’t groundbreaking, however it’s definitely good to have on board. And I’ll say that the AirPods 3 now ship richer, fuller sound with extra element and higher bass.

The brand new AirPods follow Apple’s MagSafe charger and different wi-fi magnetic charging equipment. Nonetheless, you possibly can’t stick them on the again of your iPhone and wirelessly cost them utilizing your telephone’s battery.

David Carnoy/CNET

The sound is not as much as the extent of the Sony WF-1000XM4 and high noise-isolating earbuds from Sennheiser and others that value extra (try our list of best-sounding earbuds). These earphones simply provide a bit extra depth and texture to their sound with extra bass vitality. 

You’ll be able to hear it on Spoon’s Knock Knock Knock, a haunting observe that has a deep bass line and layered guitar tracks operating by means of it. With the Sony, the sound is greater total, with extra chew and nuance and extra kick to the bass. The identical will be stated for the Foo Fighters’ Everlong. True wi-fi Bluetooth earbuds are inclined to have probably the most bother with difficult rock tracks which have a number of devices taking part in on the similar time (they’ll sound just a little too blended along with lesser buds), so I all the time run a collection of rock tracks by means of the buds to see how they fare.

All that stated, the brand new AirPods now sound like respectable headphones, which is an achievement. When you’ll nonetheless run right into a little bit of bother in noisier environments, the bass held up higher than I assumed it might, even once I was strolling on the noisy streets of New York. Total the AirPods 3’s new sound put up a great struggle towards ambient noise, not precisely drowning it out, however making you a lot much less conscious of it. And as you would possibly count on from open earbuds, these do sound open with a large soundstage. It is simply not fairly as extensive as that of the Sony WF-1000XM4.

Whereas they’re supposed to supply comparable sound to the AirPods Professional, I believe the AirPods 3 sound barely higher total. They provide a bit cleaner, barely greater and extra dynamic sound with barely better-defined bass. They usually do a great job not distorting at increased volumes — that is the place the Adaptive EQ comes into play — which is what can occur whenever you push cheaper open earbuds. However relying on what observe you are listening to, you possibly can inform that the Adaptive EQ is ratcheting again sure frequencies only a contact to keep away from distorting whenever you crank up the amount.


The AirPods 3 have new drivers and mesh protecting their microphones to cut back wind noise.

David Carnoy/CNET

Extras for Apple customers

These have Apple’s new spatial audio characteristic with head monitoring that is accessible within the AirPods Professional and AirPods Max. It is a good bonus characteristic that means that you can get digital {surround} sound whenever you’re watching films and TV exhibits on varied Apple gadgets. It is a neat impact with video watching however a bit extra hit and miss with Apple music tracks with Dolby Atmos. It additionally now works with group FaceTime calls, which is type of cool. I did a check name with an iPhone 13 with two individuals and positioned the telephone in panorama mode in order that one particular person was on the left and the opposite was on the best. When the particular person on the left spoke, there was a way she was coming from my left and vice versa.

Just like the AirPods Professional, the AirPods 3 have ear-detection sensors however they add a brand new wrinkle — pores and skin detection to allow them to inform the distinction between when a bud is in your ear and when it is in your pocket. You additionally get the improved Discover My characteristic with proximity view, which helps find your AirPods in all these locations they like to cover with extra precision (you possibly can detect the place they’re inside a foot or two, even when a bud or buds get separated from the case, although it might generally take a short while to choose up their digital scent).


Spatial Audio now works with quite a lot of Apple gadgets past iPhones and iPads.

David Carnoy/CNET

Moreover, they’re outfitted with Apple’s H1 chip so that you get the opposite options related to that, together with autoswitching between all of your Apple gadgets in your iCloud account and always-on Siri, so you possibly can simply say, “Hey, Siri” to ask what the climate is, elevate and decrease quantity, make calls to individuals in your contacts and carry out a bunch of different voice instructions that Apple’s voice assistant responds to.

To be clear, the AirPods 3 will pair with most different Bluetooth audio sources, however you lose all the additional options like spatial audio and always-on Siri. However the backside line is that if you happen to’re not an Apple consumer, there is not a lot motive to get these. I’ve each Apple and Android gadgets, so I did pair these with an Android telephone. The Adaptive EQ is constructed into the buds themselves, in order that they sound principally the identical with an Android gadget, they usually’re additionally good for making calls with any telephone you employ.

High-notch noise-reduction for calls

The AirPods 3 have beamforming microphones lined with wind-dampening acoustic mesh and voice-detecting accelerometers. In my assessments, they did a wonderful job decreasing background noise whereas retaining my voice sounding clear. Callers stated the noise discount was barely higher than what they heard once I was utilizing the AirPods Professional, and that my voice additionally sounded a contact clearer.

One other small improve value mentioning: Apple says these have full-HD audio for FaceTime calls because of help for the AAC-ELD speech codec. And I additionally thought the wind noise-reduction characteristic labored effectively. They’d in all probability work fairly effectively for bike using, however I would personally use an adjunct sport-fin to ensure they stayed in my ears. 


The AirPods 3 have drive sensors on their stems just like the AirPods Professional. Pinching them means that you can settle for and reject calls.

David Carnoy/CNET

The AirPods 2 are additionally excellent for voice calling and their longer stems are barely nearer to your mouth, so I am undecided if you happen to’ll discover a serious improve with these for voice calling, however their fuller sound allowed me to listen to callers higher (one massive advantage of the AirPods Professional’s noise-isolating design is that they significantly reduce down ambient noise so you don’t have any bother listening to callers).

Battery life has been improved from 5 hours to six on a single cost with an additional 4 expenses within the charging case (that score is for reasonable quantity ranges so your mileage might range if you happen to actually crank your tunes). That case, which is just a little smaller than the AirPods Professional’s case however greater than that of the AirPods 2, has wi-fi charging and now provides MagSafe compatibility. That simply means it sticks Apple’s magnetic MagSafe chargers in addition to different magnetic wi-fi chargers, together with wi-fi battery chargers (nevertheless, you possibly can’t stick it on the again of your iPhone and reverse-MagSafe cost it utilizing your telephone’s battery). It’s also possible to cost it with any Qi-enabled charging pad or plug a Lightning cable into it. Utilizing a MagSafe charger would not cost the buds any quicker however the buds do stick properly to the charging puck.

Going ahead, the AirPods Professional may also have MagSafe, however the AirPods 2, which keep within the line, now come solely in a model with Lightning charging for a decrease listing value of $129. Personally, I do not suppose wi-fi charging is a killer characteristic for earbuds, however once more, I will take it, significantly at this value. (Sale costs are already decrease: Walmart is teasing the AirPods 2 for $89 in November.) 

Ultimate ideas: Tough pricing

Actually it is the AirPods’ pricing which will create some dilemmas for potential patrons. The AirPods Professional listing for $250 however they usually promote for lower than $200 and have dipped to as little as $180, which is the value at which the third-generation AirPods are debuting.

Whereas the AirPods 3 are superior to the AirPods Professional in some methods — as I stated, I do suppose they sound barely higher in non-noisy environments, they usually provide a contact higher noise-reduction throughout calls and have higher battery life — the AirPods Professional’s noise-isolating design and energetic noise cancellation have apparent advantages. For example, you’d need to use AirPods Professional on a aircraft, not the AirPods 3. Additionally, the Professional’s glorious transparency mode mitigates a number of the occlusion points individuals have with noise-isolating buds. 

I discover the AirPods Professional snug to put on. They match my ears very securely, particularly after I acquired a pair of froth ideas for them. However, once more, lots of people simply do not like having ear ideas jammed into their ears or are keen on the light-weight normal AirPods and their snug nonoccluded match, regardless of their shortcomings.

That is the place the AirPods 3 are available in. They’re principally premium open earbuds, a considerably uncommon breed. Positive, you could find fairly respectable open-style buds for about $60 as of late on Amazon (check out our list of AirPods-alternatives). However the AirPods 3 not solely sound higher and keep away from distorting when pushed, however they’ve these further options like spatial audio. They usually’re additionally nice for making calls. Total, they’re a wonderful set of open earbuds — I preferred them and I am not even a fan of that headphone style. If that is what you are in search of, look no additional. 

Nonetheless, I finally suppose they will have to come back down in value a bit, in all probability to round $140 or $150, to separate themselves from the AirPods Professional, which appear to suit extra individuals’s ears effectively and have the characteristic that everybody appears to need as of late — noise canceling. And, after all, there are a rising variety of different glorious earbuds at round $180 that even have that characteristic. 

I would personally pay the additional $50 for these over the AirPods 2, however I can see the place issues would possibly get extra difficult if the AirPods 2 had been to drop to $80 or $90 throughout flash gross sales, which appears seemingly. At that value, they continue to be a great possibility for youths or of us who worth them for his or her voice-calling capabilities, handy Apple options and light-weight design. However I discovered it laborious to return to the second-generation AirPods after attempting these. | Apple AirPods 3 evaluation: Improved design and considerably higher sound


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