FAQ | How Do Apple’s New AirPods 3 Compare to the Rest of the Lineup?

AirPods 3 Adaptive Credit: Apple
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This week, Apple made the rather unexpected move of unveiling its new third-generation AirPods 3 on stage as a sort of opening act during its otherwise Mac-focused “Unleashed” event.

The AirPods 3 have been on our radar for quite a while, with rumours suggesting they could have been announced months ago. However, Apple still managed to offer up a few surprises with its latest AirPods, one of which was the expansion of the lineup to four models since the newest AirPods haven’t completely replaced their 2019 second-generation version counterpart.

Specifically, Apple shook up the AirPods lineup by dropping the price for the earlier $159 base model of AirPods down to $129 and then offering the new AirPods 3 for $179 — that’s $20 less than the second-gen AirPods sold with the wireless charging case. And of course, the new AirPods not only offer wireless charging, but they also work with MagSafe.

So, by pretty much any estimation, the new AirPods 3 are a pretty great deal. In fact, they actually widen the price gap with the AirPods Pro while at the same time narrowing the feature gap.

The Lineup

  • AirPods 2 with Wired Charging Case: $129
  • AirPods 3 with Wireless Charging Case: $179
  • AirPods Pro: $249
  • AirPods Max: $549

While it’s fair to say the AirPods Max remain in a class of their own, the lines between the in-ear AirPods have gotten more blurred than ever with the introduction of the new third-generation version.

In fact, it’s easy to see how these may be what last year’s rumours dubbed the “AirPods Pro Lite” since they feature a design that’s a bit closer to the AirPods Pro yet lack the advanced features like Active Noise Cancellation that come with the pricier version.

Since Apple is still selling the earlier second-generation AirPods, the new AirPods 3 fit right in the middle. While they seem to offer the best bang for your buck, the $129 AirPods are a nice option for those who don’t want to spend quite as much jumping into the AirPods experience.

What You’re Getting and What You’re Giving Up

With so many options, though, it can be tricky to figure out what you’re getting and what you’re giving up by going with the new AirPods 3. Fortunately, the simple answer is pretty straightforward: The AirPods 3 are essentially AirPods Pro without the features related to noise cancellation.

Here’s what the AirPods 3 lack compared to the AirPods Pro:

  1. No Active Noise Cancellation (ANC). Rumours about the new AirPods universally agreed that ANC would still be exclusive to the AirPods Pro.
  2. No Silicone Ear Tips. These are the other part of the noise cancellation equation since there’s no point in offering Active Noise Cancellation if you’re not already blocking outside sounds from getting through. The AirPods 3 will likely seal into most people’s ears slightly better than the earlier AirPods did, but they’re still not going to provide the passive noise isolation of earbuds that offer foam or silicone ear tips.
  3. No Transparency Mode. This goes hand-in-hand with the silicone ear tips. You don’t need Transparency Mode to let outside sounds through if the earphones aren’t blocking them in the first place.
  4. No Conversation Boost. The new Conversation Boost feature from iOS 15 is not available with the AirPods 3. This isn’t all this surprising, as the feature is technically an enhancement of Transparency Mode, which AirPods 3 also don’t have.

If you opt for the $179 AirPods 3, that’s pretty much all you’ll be missing out on by not upgrading to the AirPods Pro at this point.

On the other hand, you’re also getting all of these features that were previously exclusive to the AirPods Pro (and AirPods Max):

  1. Spatial Audio with Dynamic Head Tracking: Thanks to new accelerometers and other sensors, you’ll be able to get an immersive audio experience in supported video apps like Netflix and Apple’s TV app. Each offers a Dolby Atmos surround sound stage and makes it feel like audio is coming directly from your screen. This will work on the Apple TV with tvOS 15 and FaceTime on the iPhone and iPad in iOS 15.
  2. Spatial Audio with Dolby Atmos in Apple Music: The Spatial Audio experience also extends to Apple Music, with full support for Dolby Atmos tracks. While this technically worked with the older AirPods and even some third-party headphones, the AirPods 3 are specifically designed to take advantage of this, just like the AirPods Pro and AirPods Max.
  3. Adaptive EQ: Another feature that was previously exclusive to the AirPods Pro, Apple’s Adaptive EQ allows the sound to be automatically and intelligently adjusted based on the size and shape of your ear and how the AirPods are inserted. It uses an inward-facing microphone with computational audio to tune the frequencies so you get the best sound. Prior AirPods didn’t have this microphone, although they arguably didn’t fit well enough into most people’s ears for it to really matter.
  4. Find My support: As expected, the new AirPods 3 can also fully participate in the Enhanced Find My AirPods feature that debuted with iOS 15. This means you’ll be able to use Apple’s crowdsourced location network to know where you may have dropped or misplaced them, locate them more effectively in a room, and even receive location notifications when you leave them behind.

More Airpods 3 Specs

In addition to all this, the AirPods 3 offer the best battery life of any in-ear AirPods, with up to six hours of listening time on a single charge. They also provide faster charging, giving you an hour of extra battery life after only five minutes in the case, which can, in turn, provide up to 30 hours of total listening time.

That said, you will take a slight hit if you’re using spatial audio, in which case you’ll only get about five hours of listening time. That’s about on par with the second-generation AirPods, but of course, those didn’t support spatial audio in the first place.

In addition, the new AirPods 3 come with MagSafe charging in the case for the first time. And, it turns out Apple has also quietly upgraded the AirPods Pro case to add MagSafe compatibility as well, although of course, current AirPods Pro users won’t be able to take advantage of this, as Apple isn’t providing the new case as an upgrade option.

However, don’t worry about this too much since it’s not like AirPods can charge at the 15W speeds that MagSafe delivers to an iPhone. The MagSafe cases are just about convenient attachment, which is useful if you have upright MagSafe chargers that you want to use. Still, even the second-generation AirPods will charge just fine from Apple’s MagSafe charger as long as it’s laying flat on a table.

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