When Apple introduced the original AirPods in 2016, they brought a fresh perspective to the wireless earbud market. With the AirPods 3, they aimed to refine that vision further. This review delves into the improvements and innovations of the latest generation of AirPods and how they stack up against leading competitors.
The Apple AirPods 3 display a subtle, yet clear design evolution from their first- and second-generation predecessors. While the original AirPods were characterized by their long stems, the AirPods 3 adopt a design reminiscent of the AirPods Pro 2 — sporting a more compact form with stems that are 33% shorter than the second generation AirPods.
When it comes to the fit, opinion is divided. Some people praise the solid plastic, open design for its comfort, whereas others can’t stand to wear them too long due to the discomfort. Ultimately, the lack of silicon eartips means that whether you’ll find the AirPods to be comfortable or not depends on the shape of your ears. That being said, if you’re the kind of person who prefers earbuds with an open design, the AirPods 3 are generally regarded as one of the best.
One of the key enhancements in the AirPods 3 is the Adaptive EQ, which tailors the sound profile according to the shape of an individual's ear, delivering a richer, personalized auditory experience. The bass is punchy, and the clarity in mids and highs is crisp.
However, like the previous generations, the AirPods 3 still have the notable omission of active noise cancellation (ANC). This feature, prominently showcased in the AirPods Pro and competitors like Sony’s WF-1000XM5, delivers an isolated listening space. In contrast, the AirPods 3's solid plastic design, devoid of silicone eartips, doesn't give the snug fit that's essential for even passive noise isolation, let alone ANC.
One of the things that Apple lauded during the launch of the AirPods 3 was the inclusion of Spatial Audio, which provides a cinematic sound stage. Although it’s a nice addition for movie and TV enthusiasts, for everyday music playback its value is limited, bordering on gimmicky.
The AirPods 3 provide up to 6 hours of playback and up to 4 hours of talk time, and with the charging case you can get up to 30 hours of listening time. When compared to other earbud-form wireless earbuds, the AirPods 3 have superb battery life. Notable competitors such as the Huawei FreeBuds 4 and Oppo Enco Air 3 only manage up to 22 and 25 hours, respectively.
The introduction of the Force Sensor is a step up from the previous touch controls, allowing for more intuitive track and call management. However, if you’re using Android then you won’t have the ability to change any control settings. Similarly, Android users will only be able to use standard Bluetooth pairing, whereas Apple users benefit from the inclusion of the H1 chip, which makes connecting with other Apple devices a breeze.
In terms of water resistance, the AirPods 3 have an IPX4 rating, meaning that you don’t need to worry about sweat or light rain. Despite this, the AirPods 3 aren’t primarily aimed at fitness enthusiasts. If you’re looking for earbuds to wear during a workout, you’d be better off with in-ear earbuds, or ideally those with wingtips that help keep them firmly in place, such as the Beats Fit Pro.
Apple sells two versions of the AirPods 3. The base model comes with a case that relies solely on Lightning cable charging. For those willing to spend an extra $10/€10, Apple offers an upgraded version with a MagSafe-compatible charging case.
The addition of MagSafe, especially for this marginal price increase, will be enticing to many, especially those who already own a MagSafe charger. It’s worth pointing out, though, that a MagSafe charger isn’t required. If you already own a Qi-compatible charging pad (or plan to buy one), spending an additional $10/€10 for the MagSafe version of the AirPods 3 is a no-brainer.
Overall, the AirPods 3 offer a sleek design, decent audio quality, and ecosystem benefits, making them a notable contender in the crowded wireless earbud market. While they might lack the active noise cancellation found in higher-priced competitors or even some budget alternatives, features like Spatial Audio, Adaptive EQ, and wireless charging make them a worthy option. However, given the many competing earbuds on the market which have more features at a lower price, it’s hard to recommend the AirPods 3 for anyone except Apple users who dislike the more common in-ear-style wireless buds.