We Regret to Inform You the New AirPods 3 Are Very Good, So You'll Want Them

·4 min read
Photo credit: Courtesy
Photo credit: Courtesy


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Every new pair of earbuds or headphones deserves, as its first test, crisp out of the box, to be thrown off the acoustic deep end. Dealer’s choice, but for me, that deep end is Abbey Road, remastered. Can the buds immediately send that thrumming bassline from “Come Together” straight from my ears to the pit of my stomach? Can they keep up with Paul’s crispy spit and Ringo’s waterfalling drumline? Then, can they do justice to the woozy sway of “Something” with its throbbing bass heart? This album means a lot to me—I know, so original—so I want to hear it right. I believe I heard it very close to right with the new, third-generation AirPods.

I get annoyed with Apple’s habit of over-hyping every generation of tech it pushes out, year after year. The iPhone 13 is nice, sure, but it’s not a massive leap from the iPhone 12, at least to the average smartphone user. The HomePod Mini is tapped into Siri, which should’ve been a given, not a cause for celebration. The Apple Watch Series 7 is perhaps minimally better than the Series 6. Et cetera. But Apple doesn’t seem to feel the need to “reinvent” the AirPods in an uninventive way every single year. The years in between updates, then, are actually fruitful. In its October “Unleashed” event, Apple debuted the AirPods 3, the biggest update to the AirPods line since the AirPods Pro were released in 2019. (I am willfully overlooking the AirPods Max here because, though exceptionally good over-ear headphones, they're absurdly expensive for most people.)

The AirPods 3 smoosh together features from the AirPods Pro and the second-gen AirPods. Simply, you can think of them as AirPods Pro without active noise cancellation. They’ve got the same water resistance, the same short, clicky stem. They’ve also got the same spatial audio technology and the same Adaptive EQ. This seems odd, because the AirPods Pro are more expensive, but those two audio features are more obvious to you, the listener, in the AirPods 3. With the AirPods 3 in the head-tracking spatial audio mode, the music follows your movements. In a FaceTime video call with two other people, one of them sounds as if they’re sitting to your right, the other to your left. It’s not by any means a necessary feature for earbuds (and you can turn it off), but as audio technology attempts to achieve complete “immersion,” buzzword of the decade, it makes a notable difference to the listening experience—“Octopus’s Garden” or otherwise.

And the Adaptive EQ, which allows the buds to hear what you’re hearing and adjust the audio accordingly so they are performing at their best, is more obviously at work in the AirPods 3, pumping through rich bass to compensate for the sound that gets lost to the open air around your ear.

The AirPods Pro have the same spatial audio technology. But, with their sealed eartips, you aren’t engaging with your environment. The Adaptive EQ feature is less relevant in the AirPods Pro, because with the sealed eartip, there’s less sound leakage. So, I found it harder to note the difference spatial audio and Adaptive EQ make in the AirPods Pro than I do with the AirPods 3.

Additional notable upgrades to the AirPods 3 compared to the AirPods 2 include longer battery life, MagSafe and Qi charging, a more robust Find My tracking system, and mesh within the bud that minimizes wind interference on calls. And, as you can so obviously, see, a new shape. It doesn't create the aforementioned sealed ear effect of the AirPods Pro, nor does it eliminate ear hole fatigue, but it's snug.

All this really means is that the AirPods 3 are a lot better than the AirPods 2 and almost as good—and in some ways, offering a more interesting music experience—than the AirPods Pro. One listen of Abbey Road shows that. Which means, unfortunately, you will probably want to buy them. Sorry. Hate to add an $175 deficit to your credit balance.

Apple Goldilocksed its wireless in-ear AirPod lineup. I can’t imagine what a hypothetical Gen Four AirPod falling in the $190 range would offer that we wouldn’t miss in favor of this third generation or the AirPods Pro. A magic spell that prevents you from dropping a single bud down a subway grate, which is definitely not what I did with my AirPods Pro? One can hope.

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