Apple AirPods 3rd gen: An upgrade inspired by the more expensive AirPods Pro

You’d be better off saving some money buying the Apple AirPods 3rd gen instead of the AirPods Pro. The new custom audio hardware is worth every bit of money you spend on these wireless earbuds
The Apple AirPods 3rd gen is an upgrade inspired by the more expensive AirPods Pro. (Apple)
The Apple AirPods 3rd gen is an upgrade inspired by the more expensive AirPods Pro. (Apple)
Published on Nov 19, 2021 05:45 PM IST
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Let’s start off with some trivia. When was the last time the Apple AirPods got a design change? The answer is - never. Since the first generation fit into our ears back in 2016, the AirPods retained the same bud with stem design.

In fact, in these five years since, there have been three iterations of Apple AirPods, culminating into this - the third generation. The understanding being people don’t necessarily upgrade wireless earbuds and headphones every year.

With the arrival of these third generation Apple AirPods, the wireless earbuds range for Apple now starts with the AirPods 2nd gen, which are still on sale for 12,900 and tops out with the AirPods Pro that have a sticker price of 24,900. These 3rd gen AirPods sit snugly in the rather wide sticker price gap, at 18,500.

Same, yet very different

The Apple AirPods 3rd gen sees the biggest design change, inspired by the more expensive AirPods Pro wireless earbuds. For all intent and purposes, the dimensions and the contours are the same as the more expensive sibling. The only differentiating factor being that the Pros get the silicon eartips whereas these don’t, like their elder sibling.

The fit will still depend on your ear shape and comfort levels, but we have a feeling the chunkier new design should help these fit larger ear canals better - and stay in place.

That is one way for Apple to distinguish within the ever widening line-up as well. Perhaps that was needed, because the similarities with the AirPods Pro comes down to even the indents on each earbud’s stem for the pressure sensors for touch commands and IPX4 water resistance.

Also Read: Apple will soon let you repair your iPhone, Mac at home

The white colour remains consistent, as it has over the years, with hard plastic that adds to the solidity to the overall build. If Apple had introduced the latest AirPods in some additional colour options, that wouldn’t have been exactly out of place.

A Space Grey or Space Black AirPods would have their own charm. The Apple AirPods 3rd gen do get the wireless charging case with support for the MagSafe wireless charger, if you have that for your Apple iPhone.

As far as dimensions go, the Apple AirPods 3rd gen case is slightly less wide than the AirPods Pro case.

Better sound with computational audio at work

The Apple AirPods 3rd gen doesn’t get active noise cancellation or a transparency mode. But these do take advantage of new acoustic drivers and amplifier hardware - these aren’t the same as the ones in the AirPods Pro. They get the sound signature and the overall fullness very close to the AirPods Pro, while compensating for the ambient noise that will still stream in, to a certain extent.

It is immediately noticeable how much better the bass is and the sound overall has a dollop of dynamism that the previous generation didn’t have.

What hasn’t changed is the neutrality of the sound. You’ll immediately recognise the AirPods-esque sound and flexibility. It will be as brilliant with podcasts as it will be with a trance music playlist - dialling up what’s needed when it is needed. To get this from earbuds that have an open design isn’t easy, and we suspect Apple’s focus on computational audio (we’ve seen this with the HomePod Mini too) is reaping rich rewards.

The H1 chip continues to do its bit with real-time Adaptive EQ. The Spatial Audio compatibility is a nice add-on to have, considering Apple Music and Apple TV+ have enough content for you to enjoy the directional sound experience. It is nice that the Apple AirPods 3rd gen sound very similar to the AirPods Pro with Dolby Atmos content on Netflix - and while being the most inexpensive in a line-up that includes the AirPods Pro and AirPods Max, it doesn’t sound any inferior.

Health-tracking in the future?

Apple has replaced the IR sensor with a new skin detection sensor, and the expectation is it’ll be more accurate in detecting the differences between your ear or the dark corners of your trouser pocket. We never noticed the previous generation AirPods stumble at this step, but this hardware upgrade could very well give Apple the basis to add health tracking features to the AirPods in the future - it is a rumour that refuses to go away.

More runtime on a single charge

The Apple AirPods 3rd gen is the best in terms of battery stats. These will last around six hours on a single charge with Spatial Audio off. You shave off one hour if that’s on. This is more than 4.5 hours that the AirPods Pro last. The charging case on the Apple AirPods 3rd gen adds up to 30 hours of listening time before everything needs to be charged again. This is again more than 24 hours that the AirPods Pro’s case manages. As does the second generation AirPods.

Mind you, do not think you’ll be able to reverse charge by placing them on the back of your iPhone 12 or iPhone 13 - the case has been designed to specifically prevent that from happening. You’ll feel a very slight magnetic tug if you glide the Apple AirPods 3rd gen case just over the back panel of your iPhone, but nothing strong enough for charging to work for hours on end.

The big question: Apple AirPods 3rd gen or AirPods Pro?

The thing is, the Apple AirPods 3rd gen is getting very close to the AirPods Pro in what matters the most - sound. That means you’ll need to start weighing in on what additional features mean for you. Noise cancellation. The silicon eartips option for better fit. Apart from that, the spec sheet is on an even keel. Also, the noise cancellation on the AirPods Pro is one of the better implementations you’d find on wireless earbuds, and most rivals are unable to get this close, apart from Sony and Samsung’s recent wireless earbuds.

In most likelihood, you’d be better off saving some money and buy the Apple AirPods 3rd gen instead of the AirPods Pro. The new custom audio hardware is worth every bit of money you spend on these wireless earbuds, instead of the rivals. And the chucky design makes it a better fit even without silicon eartips, at least for most ears. Does it work for you, too?

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    Vishal Mathur is Technology Editor for Hindustan Times. When not making sense of technology, he often searches for an elusive analog space in a digital world.

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