Apple Finally Gave You the AirPods Update You’ve Been Waiting For

·5 min read
Photo credit: Created by Bridget Clegg using images from Apple
Photo credit: Created by Bridget Clegg using images from Apple


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We judge all headphones and earbuds on a scale of 10, analyzing the categories we think are most important: sound, comfort, design, battery performance, and, if applicable, special features. Here's how the Apple AirPods (3rd generation) stack up.

Apple’s AirPods (3rd generation) are hands-down the most important true wireless earbuds to debut in 2021. Announced alongside all-new MacBook Pros during the “Unleashed” virtual keynote, the true wireless earphones are a massive refresh of the iconic original. This iteration brings a new design, a more durable build, next-level sound, and longer battery life, among other cool novelties.

I’ve been testing the latest AirPods for more than a week — analyzing their sound, comfort, design, and battery life — and I can confidently say that you'll be seriously impressed by the improvements. The new iteration is a solid follow-up to a legendary product and worth upgrading to if you’re an AirPods user. Here’s everything you need to know about the 3rd Generation Apple AirPods.

SCORES

Sound: 9/10
Comfort: 8/10
Design: 9/10
Battery Performance: 8/10
Overall Score: 9/10

Apple AirPods (3rd Generation) At a Glance

  • Balanced sound with spatial audio support

  • Comfy fit and AirPods Pro-like controls

  • Up to 6 hours of battery life

  • Water-resistant with an IPX4 rating

SOUND: 9/10

The new AirPods deliver a well-balanced and detail-rich sound that’s among the finest in their price range. The earphones are equipped with custom audio drivers and amplifiers, which produce a pleasant sonic experience with good harmony between deep bass, a rich treble, and a detailed midrange.

Photo credit: Stefan Vazharov
Photo credit: Stefan Vazharov

Compared to the previous generation, the new AirPods support adaptive EQ and spatial sound — a duo of standout features in the pricier Pro model. Adaptive EQ utilizes an inward-facing microphone to adjust the sound based on the unique shape of your ears, and spatial audio makes compatible music and video content (Apple offers a ton of both) more immersive. There’s even an option to activate dynamic head tracking — a cutting-edge feature that will “shift” the audio source as you move your head around. Listening to a live jazz album with head tracking made me feel like I was attending a real-life performance.

Like all Apple earphones, the latest ones are ideal for enjoying a broad range of audio content — from podcasts and audiobooks, all the way to classical concertos. They also performed great during phone, FaceTime, and Zoom calls, too. Compared to the first generation AirPods, the ability to block out background noise when talking has improved immensely. The earbuds also maintained an excellent connection with an iPhone, an iPad Pro, and a MacBook Pro while I tested them.

The third-generation AirPods don’t have onboard noise cancellation, and that’s not a surprise — the previous generations lack the functionality as well. Having an open design that can help you stay aware of your surroundings is one of the reasons why the earphones are so popular, and you can simply opt for the AirPods Pro if noise cancellation is a must for you.

COMFORT: 8/10

AirPods have always been the gold standard for comfort, and the latest iteration is no exception. Weighing just a tad above 4 grams each, the new earphones are still super lightweight — you can wear them for hours and never feel any discomfort. You might even forget you’re wearing them at all.

Photo credit: Stefan Vazharov
Photo credit: Stefan Vazharov

The new AirPods’ stem controls with force sensor are the same as those of the Pro model, and vastly better than the touch-sensitive ones of the first two generations. Controlling the audio playback and taking calls by squeezing each stem is simply more convenient. So are the audible clicks after every interaction.

Because they lack silicone ear tips, the third-generation AirPods don’t fit as snugly as their Pro sibling. They are great for everyday use and light exercising, but not well suited for more strenuous activities like HIIT workouts, sprints, or jumping jacks.

The seamless pairing process has always been one of the main reasons to consider AirPods, and the latest ones are not an exception. All you need to connect them to your iPhone is to open their case nearby, then tap on its screen. Once paired, you can instantly connect the buds to all Apple devices that use the same iCloud account.

DESIGN: 9/10

The new AirPods have a different shape and shorter stems than the preceding model. Still, the glossy white housings with contrasting vents — an AirPods calling card since 2016 — make the earphones instantly recognizable as an Apple product.

Photo credit: Apple
Photo credit: Apple

Unlike the first and the second generation, the latest AirPods are water-resistant with an official IPX4 rating, meaning that they are suitable for going out and about during a rainy day, as well as for light exercising. That said, if you are a workout warrior who’s shopping for new buds, I suggest that you opt for a pair with silicone ear tips for a more secure fit.

BATTERY PERFORMANCE: 8/10

The 6-hour maximum battery life of the new AirPods is a welcome improvement over the 5-hour endurance of the second generation. With up to 4 hours of talk time between charges, the new iteration is longer-lasting, too. The earphones’ overall battery performance is solid, given how tiny and feature-packed they are.

Photo credit: Stefan Vazharov
Photo credit: Stefan Vazharov

MagSafe compatibility is my favorite new feature of the third-generation AirPods. You simply need to snap the case on a compatible charger, just like you would your iPhone 12 or iPhone 13.

The earbuds’ storage case has a similar shape to the AirPods Pro’s, but it’s smaller and holds a quartet of additional charges for a total of up to 30 hours’ worth of wireless playback. You can also power up the earphones with a standard wireless charger or via their bundled USB-C-to-Lightning cable.

OVERALL: 9/10

The AirPods have always been a no-brainer pick for Apple users and so is their latest installment. The third generation is packed with worthwhile improvements that make the buds comfier, tougher, and more acoustically proficient. They'll cost you $179, which is $20 less than the $199 launch price of the previous AirPods with a wireless charging case.

Apple will continue offering the second-generation AirPods without wireless charging for $129. If noise cancellation and a more dependable fit matter to you, consider spending more on the AirPods Pro. Apple updated their case to support MagSafe charging.

Shop AirPods (3rd Generation)

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