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AirPods 3 vs. AirPods Pro: How Apple's Wireless Earbuds Compare

The AirPods 3 are Apple's newest wireless earbuds. But the AirPods Pro are the only AirPods with active noise cancellation.

Fans of Apple's AirPods now have three options to choose from. There's the $179 third-generation AirPods (£169, AU$279), $249 AirPods Pro (£239, AU$399) and entry-level $129 AirPods (£119, AU$219). The main difference between the AirPods 3 and the AirPods Pro continues to be active noise cancellation, which remains exclusive to the pricier model. But the new AirPods still offer significantly better audio with improved bass compared with Apple's long-stemmed second-generation AirPods. 

Read more: iOS 16's New Lock Screen Upgrades Make the iPhone More Like a Smartwatch

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True to the rumors, Apple's third-generation AirPods have a lot in common with the high-end AirPods Pro. The stems are shorter and the earpieces are shaped more like the Pro's, except they retain the older model's open design rather than changeable tips. (Here's the $15 AirPods accessory we swear by.)

The AirPods 3 also come with spatial audio support and are water-resistant, unlike the standard AirPods. 

Apple AirPods 3rd Generation 2021

Apple's third-generation AirPods inherit several features from the AirPods Pro. 

Apple

Here's a breakdown of how the third-generation AirPods and the AirPods Pro compare. And if you're wondering, here's what to know about trading in your old AirPods. A new version of the AirPods Pro with a stemless design and lossless audio support is also rumored for later this year, so it might be worth waiting if you can't decide. 

Read more: What WatchOS 9 May Reveal About the Next Apple Watch

AirPods 3 vs. AirPods Pro


AirPods 3 AirPods Pro
Weight 0.15 ounce (4.25 grams) 0.19 ounce (5.39 grams)
Audio features Spatial audio, adaptive EQ Spatial audio, adaptive EQ, active noise cancellation, transparency mode
Wireless charging/MagSafe Yes Yes
Durability Sweat- and water-resistant Sweat- and water-resistant
Customizable fit No Yes
Chip Apple H1 Apple H1
Battery life (earbuds) 6 hours of listening time 4.5 hours of listening time (with ANC enabled)
Battery life (case) Up to 30 hours of listening time More than 24 hours of listening time
Microphones Dual beamforming microphones; inward-facing microphone Dual beamforming microphones; inward-facing microphone
Sensors Skin-detect sensor, motion-detecting accelerometer, speech-detecting accelerometer, Force sensor Dual optical sensors, motion-detecting accelerometer, speech-detecting accelerometer, Force sensor
Price (USD) $179 $249
Price (GBP) £169 £239
Price (AUD) AU$279 AU$399

Design: The AirPods 3 have a similar shape, but no silicone tips

If the new AirPods look familiar, that's because they borrow a lot of design cues from the AirPods Pro. Like their pricier sibling, the third-generation AirPods have an earpiece that's narrower than the standard AirPods. It's not quite as slender as the AirPods Pro's earpiece, but it's certainly not as round as the standard AirPods'. The new AirPods are also water- and sweat-resistant like the AirPods Pro, which could make them a more appealing option for those who plan to frequently use them during exercise and outdoor activities. 

The case for the new AirPods also looks like a cross between the case for the standard AirPods and the AirPods Pro. It's much shorter and wider than the entry-level AirPods case, but it's not quite as wide as the holster for the AirPods Pro. You can also charge the third-generation AirPods case via wireless charging, including Apple's MagSafe charger, or by plugging it in. 

Apple AirPods 3rd Generation 2021

The third-generation AirPods have a narrower earpiece, similar to the AirPods Pro. 

Apple

The third-generation AirPods' stems are also shorter, another characteristic that resembles the AirPods Pro. These new stems have the same Force Touch sensor as the AirPods Pro, which enables you to control audio playback and launch Siri.

The biggest difference between the two in terms of design is that the new $179 AirPods don't have interchangeable silicone tips like the AirPods Pro, which include three sizes to choose from. The new AirPods are also lighter than the AirPods Pro at 0.15 ounce versus 0.19 ounce. 

Audio: No active noise cancellation, but other audio improvements

You'll still have to splurge on Apple's top-of-the-line earbuds to get active noise cancellation and transparency mode. But the new AirPods are inheriting a couple of other audio features from the AirPods Pro: spatial audio and adaptive EQ.

Spatial audio is essentially like virtual surround sound, as my colleague David Carnoy describes it. The technology generally makes audio feel more enveloping and mimics the experience of being in a movie theater. Apple introduced the feature to the AirPods Pro in 2020's iOS 14 update and it's seemingly becoming a core part of the AirPods experience. Both the new $179 AirPods and the $549 over-ear AirPods Max headphones have the feature. Adaptive EQ adjusts audio based on the shape of your ear and was previously exclusive to the AirPods Pro and AirPods Max. 

Read more: This Stylish, Luxury Hybrid Watch (Almost) Made Me Ditch My Apple Watch

Performance and battery: The AirPods 3 have longer battery life but the same chip as the AirPods Pro

The new third-generation AirPods should have longer battery life than their predecessors. Apple says they will last for 6 hours on a single charge and up to 5 hours with spatial audio enabled. You'll also get up to 4 hours of talk time and the charging case should provide up to 30 hours of listening time. 

The AirPods Pro, by comparison, should last up to 4.5 hours on a single charge and 5 hours if you disable active noise cancellation and transparency mode. They offer 3.5 hours of talk time and the case provides 24 hours of total listening time, according to Apple.

Both the third-generation AirPods and AirPods Pro feature Apple's H1 chip, so they should offer similar performance when it comes to tasks like summoning Siri and quickly connecting to Apple devices. 

Overall, the AirPods 3 seem like they'll bring Apple's earbuds up to speed in the two areas that matter most: comfort and audio functionality. That's especially important as the market for true wireless earbuds has become more competitive, with new offerings from Samsung, Amazon, Google and many of Apple's other rivals. 

Apple

The third-generation AirPods were announced at Apple's Unleashed event on Oct. 18. 

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The AirPods Pro are Apple's high-end true-wireless earbuds, and its only true wireless model to offer active noise cancellation. They retail for $249 at the Apple Store, but they generally go for between $179 and $200.

$180 at Amazon
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