In terms of audio quality, connection, and design, the Apple AirPods (3rd generation) are a significant improvement over their predecessors. Despite the price increase, we believe they’re a worthwhile purchase if you currently own the previous AirPods. We wouldn’t necessarily advise them for Android users, though. The AirPods 3 aren’t the highest-spec earbuds at this price since, as is to be expected, they are intended for usage inside the larger Apple ecosystem. As a result, Android users are left out of many of the extra features that set them apart from other true wireless earbuds on the market.
The AirPods 3 maintain a similar appearance to earlier AirPod models, with all-white minimalism, projecting stems, and subtly curved contours.
The AirPods 3 have slimmer stems and softerly curved housings than the second-generation AirPods, giving them a more streamlined, sophisticated appearance.
Similar to the AirPods Pro, those stems include touch-capacitive force sensors that let you control the playback of your music by squeezing them. Squeezing the stem will also terminate or accept calls.
We thought the controls were quite sensitive, and we like the tiny “click” sound that indicates when a touch has been recorded. Similar to the AirPods Pro, some haptic feedback—a little vibration from the earbuds rather than a click—would also be appreciated, although that is by no means a deal-breaker.
It’s unfortunate that there isn’t a means to adjust the audio level directly from the buds, possibly by gliding your finger up and down the stems. You’ll need to either ask Siri for it or take your phone out of your pocket.
There aren’t any replaceable eartips as there are with the AirPods Pro. Those who prefer not to have earbuds forced into their ear canals will appreciate the second-generation AirPods’ semi-open design, although it does mean that sound isolation isn’t the best.
When wearing the AirPods 3, you can hear pretty much everything that is going on around you. There is also some sound leakage, which is something to take into account if you’re using them in a crowded area and don’t want people to overhear your music.
The housings have been sculpted to funnel sound directly into your ears in an effort to reduce the audio loss that occurs with a semi-open design, and it seems to work rather well.
The small weight of the AirPods 3 contributes to their excellent comfort. The AirPods 3 are 4.28g apiece, so you won’t feel like you’re wearing two lumps of lead in your ears, and their smooth, curved design should prevent irritation in smaller ears.
But, we’re unsure of how secure people really feel. While the AirPods didn’t fall out of our ears during our brief jog, we wouldn’t bet our lives on their being in place during a more strenuous workout. We advise choosing earbuds with built-in earfins or neckbuds with the extra security of a wire if you’re worried about losing an earbud.
Speaking of activity, the IPX4 grade of the AirPods 3 ensures that they can withstand some perspiration during a workout or getting caught in the rain. The casing also fits that rating.
Compared to the case that comes with the AirPods 2, the charging case is significantly smaller. It has a flip-top cover that is simple to open with one hand and a light, compact design that more closely mimics the AirPods Pro charging case.
A tiny LED on the front of the case lights up when it is opened, turning green if the AirPods are completely charged and amber if there is less than one full charge left. When the AirPods are prepared to pair with one of your devices, this light will also flash white.
Although you may top off the battery with a Qi-approved charging pad or an Apple MagSafe charger, the charging case’s bottom features a Lightning connector. A USB-C to Lighting cable is provided in the box, however the plug must be purchased separately.
The AirPods 3’s design is far superior to that of its forerunners overall. They are also classier, more subtle, and stronger.
The audio quality of the AirPods 3 feels far better than that of their predecessors. New, low-distortion drivers and high dynamic range amplifiers are included. The latter are allegedly capable of producing “powerful bass with crisp, clear high frequencies,” in Apple’s words.
The new earphones produce a more robust, warmer sound than the AirPods 2 and are undoubtedly better at transmitting bass frequencies. Although by no means audiophile in-ear headphones, they are nonetheless a perfectly good listen for music or podcasts.
The AirPods 3 should be slightly adapted to your ears thanks to support for Adaptive EQ (originally seen on the AirPods Pro). Based on how the earbuds fit in your ear, this technology adjusts the sound of the headphones in real-time. An internal microphone detects sound, and the computational audio that drives Apple’s Adaptive EQ function subsequently adjusts the low and mid frequencies “to account for what may be lost owing to differences in fit,” according to Apple.
The AirPods 3 have a further trick up their sleeves: compatibility for spatial audio. Apple’s Spatial Audio technology adds directional audio filters to 5.1, 7.1, and Dolby Atmos material to create a 3D sphere of sound. This gives the impression that the audio is coming at you from all directions, increasing the immersion.
As it depends on the accelerometers and gyroscopes included into the AirPods Pro and AirPods Max to detect your head movement and make sure the music is coming from the proper direction, this function has only been available for those models up until now.
The AirPods 3 use the same technology, and the result is amazing. The Doors’ Riders On The Storm in a Dolby Atmos mix was our first musical selection.
The spatial audio location of the band members’ voices creates the impression that you are in the same room with them while they converse at the beginning of the song.
We hear the sound of a storm forming as the drummer counts in. With rolling thunder moving from right to left, it appears as though rain is falling overhead.
The instruments are placed in space in a subtle but effective manner. The organ is chugging along on our left, while the soothing guitar is to our right. Jim Morrison’s sweet singing reverberates directly at the front of the soundscape, while the bass and drums create the rhythmic foundation of the tune.
The bass, midrange, and treble frequencies are nicely balanced, and each instrument has a spot where it can shine. The AirPods 3 do an excellent job of capturing a feeling of space and the placement of the various instruments in a virtual world, even though it isn’t the most intricate or rhythmically precise rendering of this particular music we’ve heard.
Although we thought the thrashing electric guitar lines were much too dominant in the mix, making the catchy “la-la-la” portion at the beginning of the song feel muted, Michael Kiwanuka’s You Ain’t The Trouble is similarly outstanding in this regard. The AirPods 3 appear to have the same treble harshness concerns as their predecessors, and more active tunes can sound murky.
In Spatial Audio, classical music performs remarkably well. Each instrument in Saint Saens’ Danse Macabre genuinely sings, from the thunderous tubas to the jovial glockenspiel melodies. The AirPods 3 handle the rhythmic variations quite well for a pair of headphones at this price. Devilish violin riffs and delicate woodwind sound detailed.
The distinction between the various instruments is less remarkable while listening without Spatial Audio enabled (you can turn this off by going to the Control Center on your iPhone and holding down the volume slider). The soundstage is still rather well-balanced and enjoyable to listen to, though.
The battery life of the AirPods 3 has increased, sort of. The new AirPods 3 have a 30-hour maximum battery life, compared to the 2019 AirPods’ total playback time of 24 hours (about five hours from the earphones and a further 19 hours from the charging case).
According to Apple, the earbuds themselves provide up to six hours of listening time or up to four hours of speaking time after four more charges from the case. A short five-minute charge can offer you roughly an hour of playback if you’re in a rush. The AirPods 3 come bundled with a wireless charging case that is compatible with Apple’s MagSafe ecosystem, just as the AirPods Pro.
All of that makes sense, but if you enable spatial audio, the inbuilt battery life drops to five hours, which is comparable to the earlier AirPods’ playback duration. The longer battery life of the AirPods 3 doesn’t really help you as Spatial Audio is one of the primary features that set them apart from the AirPods 2 on the market.
The AirPods 3 are designed specifically for use with Apple products, and a one-touch setup couples the earbuds with your iPhone, iPad, Mac, or MacBook.
While using your iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, or Apple TV with two pairs of AirPods, AirPods Pro, or AirPods Max, you can also share the audio stream between the devices. This feature is quite helpful if you want to enjoy your music with friends without using their dirty earphones. We thought this feature worked quite seamlessly, however we did notice a reduction in loudness while sharing music with a buddy.
Also, the AirPods 3 now include a skin-detect sensor that determines if the buds are in your ear as opposed to on a surface or in your pocket. Hence, music playing will cease if they are not in your ear, saving you perhaps valuable battery life.
Just saying “Hello Siri” will activate Apple’s speech assistant, much like with the 2019 AirPods. The mics were good at picking up our voice, we discovered.
If you have an Apple mobile running iOS 15, you’ll have access to a few new capabilities with the third-generation AirPods, including connection with the Find My network, Spatial Audio, and dynamic head tracking in Group FaceTime sessions. You’ll also get access to the Announce Notifications feature, which lets Siri read you time-sensitive information from applications like Messages, Reminders, and Calendar. If you want to stay on top of your notifications without always looking at your phone, this tool will come in useful.