We Took the AirPods 3 For a Test Drive & Here Are Our Thoughts

When Apple hosted its Unleashed event last week, two announcements stood out from the rest. The new touch bar-less MacBook Pro, and the third generation AirPods were the most exciting new products unveiled.

Ahead of the AirPods global release tomorrow, October 26, Highsnobiety’s editorial team got its hands on a pair to test drive and figure out if it’s worth shelling out $179 for Apple’s latest and greatest in wireless earbud technology.

Below, we’ve outlined our first impressions on the design, sound, and listening experience of the new Apple AirPods 3, which will hopefully help you make your decision on whether to upgrade or stick with what you’ve already got.

The Apple AirPods 3 marks a shift towards a new design language, as it looks a lot more like the AirPods Pro than the second-generation AirPods that came before it. The actual earbuds feature a shorter stem (like the AirPods Pro), while the head is rounder and thicker than that of the AirPods 2.

This means that the case is also different in size to the other AirPods in the range. The case is shorter and wider than the AirPods 2 case, but not as wide as the AirPods Pro case. This makes it minimally easier to handle with one hand and to store in pockets alongside your iPhone.

Aesthetically, the AirPods 3 are an upgrade to the AirPods 2, as the shorter stem makes them more subtle when you’re wearing them. Though this is probably not the case, the AirPods 3 feel a little more premium in hand than the AirPods 2, which could be because of the more compact design. The big difference to the AirPods Pro aesthetically is the fact that the AirPods 3 sit in your ear similarly to the AirPods 2. They don’t have rubber tips and, therefore, no noise cancellation.

Overall, the design of the AirPods 3 is a definite upgrade and will be welcomed by users who prefer their gear to be more compact.

Due to the new shape of the AirPods 3, they fit slightly differently from the AirPods 2. As everyone’s ears are different, it’s worth noting that the experience can vary slightly from person to person. Our first thought after wearing them over the weekend was that the size of the earbuds makes them fit more snugly than the AirPods 2. At the same time, however, it feels like the AirPods 3 don’t go as deep into the ear as the AirPods 2.

We had the feeling that, when compared with the AirPods 2, the AirPods 3 didn’t feel like they were sitting in the ear securely enough. This was, of course, not the case, as the AirPods 3 held up during a 5k jog and rigorous head-banging when listening to Travis Scott’s Days Before Rodeo. Basically, the new shape takes some getting used to and changes the fit of the AirPods slightly. That doesn’t mean they don’t fit as well or as securely as its predecessors, just that the wearer needs to get used to the change when they first make the switch.

All in all, the AirPods felt better with each passing hour of wear. The shorter stem also contributed to the feeling that, at times, you’d forget the AirPods were even in your ears. Although not tested for more than a couple of hours at a time, that bodes well for long flights or train rides.

The AirPods 2 and the AirPods Pro were no slouches when it came to audio quality, but the AirPods 3 is a noticeable upgrade from the former, which is probably its fairest comparison. The custom low-distortion driver that the third generation is outfitted with delivers on its promise of powerful bass and crisp, clear high-frequency sounds. While we’re by no means audiophiles, we could notice a difference in the sound quality across generations.

Another feature that makes the listening experience a lot more fluid than that of previous generations is the all-new skin-detect sensors. Whereas previously, AirPods had a tendency to stop and start playing audio randomly when they were out-of-ear but in a pocket or bag, the AirPods 3 should only play audio when they detect skin.

The AirPods 3 have also been outfitted with the same button controls that were introduced on the AirPods Pro, giving users more options than just double-tapping the earbuds. This was probably one of the second generation’s biggest flaws, which has now been fixed on Gen-3.

In general, the third-generation AirPods sound crisper than the second-generation pair, which is the minimum expectation from an upgrade that features new technology.

Spatial audio might sound like a gimmick to some, but when you actually listen to compatible songs and albums, it’s a nice touch that elevates the listening experience. Apple Music has several playlists that feature compatible songs, which are featured prominently on the app, so you don’t have to go searching for them yourself.

There were certain moments where spatial audio caused a little confusion, as we weren’t sure if the sounds we were hearing were coming from inside or outside the AirPods. That’s to say that the technology works as advertised. As far as whether it’s a necessity, that’s obviously very subjective. We’d argue that spatial audio is the cherry on top of your listening experience and that the fact that it’s packed into such a small device is impressive. But it’s certainly not a game-changer that you’ll miss on non-compatible audio. It’s a nice-to-have – not a must-have – though we must say that the sound on FaceTime group calls sounds a lot more realistic with the 3D element.

Whether you should buy the AirPods 3 or not really depends on what you’re working with currently. If you’ve got the second-generation AirPods, the 3rd Gen will be a definite upgrade. If you’re currently using the AirPods Pro, you might not want to give up the noise-cancellation on those for a pair that is relatively similar in other respects. In fact, you might be better off waiting for a second-gen Pro model.

Again, the spatial audio is nice to have, but it’s probably not worth shelling out the money if you’ve already got the AirPods Pro. If you’re new to AirPods, then the $179 for the third-generation is a good entry point that balances performance with price (considering the Pros cost $250).

Overall, Apple has brought out a worthy successor in the form of the AirPods 3. Improvements are noticeable in performance, fit, and design. The Apple AirPods 3 drop tomorrow, October 26 for $179 globally.

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Union & Needles Are Partying Like It’s 1991 (or ’71)

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Brand: Needles x Union

Buy: Union Tokyo’s website and store

Release date: October 28

Editor’s Notes: Union LA’s 30th anniversary celebration is one for the history books, having already yielded exclusive collaborations with the likes of Stüssy and Fear of God ESSENTIALS that don’t reference the retailer’s founding in 1991 as much as they reiterate Union’s boundless relevance.

The latest commemorative drop — a Union Tokyo exclusive — takes Union back to 1971 by way of Nepenthes family brand Needles’ retro aesthetic.

Bespoke branding and thematic touches distinguish the Needles x Union goods rather than dynamic design, as is Union’s wont: no need to get fancy when you’re doin’ it for the culture.

Needles’ signatures have been given the Union touch, yielding ’90s-inspired Union hoodies patchworked by Needles’ upcycling-centric Rebuild imprint and a trippy mohair cardigan emboldened with a “rasta” pattern per Union’s specifications.

Of course, there’s also a co-branded polyester tracksuit because would it really be a Needles collab without ’em?

Union swapped the usual track jacket for a roomy coaches jacket and lent its logo to the contrasting “papillon” (that’s “butterfly” in French) embroidery.

Though Needles knows its way around a proper collaboration, the label has mostly laid low this year, focusing on its in-line offering, which includes the seasonal collections, limited drops, and the occasional one-off joint effort.

Meanwhile, Union has stayed super busy with the aforementioned collaborations, which range from big ‘ol capsules to smaller releases.

This Needles partnership is the latest in a series of exclusive 30th-anniversary releases that have included Wild Things and Unused but expect more heat — including forthcoming 30th anniv. collabs with the likes of Acronym and Off-White™ — to hit Union’s LA outpost by year’s end.


Sean Brown Wants to Democratize Personal & Public Spaces For All

Reflecting the “more” made capable by Samsung’s new Galaxy Z Fold3 5G*, we caught up with rising musicians and artists who show us another side of themselves rarely seen by others. New sides can come from a new hobby or secret passion.

Sean Brown thinks of himself as more of a creative jack-of-all-trades than a singular artist or designer. The multihyphenate made a name for himself with his first solo exhibition in 2018 showcasing archival ephemera and process work, which became the impetus for Curves by Sean Brown — a line of contemporary homeware and everyday objects.

Besides delving into homewares, Brown has been known for his creative-direction work and is one of Daniel Caesar’s go-to visual collaborators. Before quarantine orders shut down life as we know it, the Toronto director and photographer was prepping for Caesar’s Coachella performance. The festival, like most other public gatherings at the time, was canceled, which gave Brown some much-needed clarity in deciding his next career move.

“That led me to look around my own space — what did I want? I wanted rugs, and incense holders, a new couch, and all of this stuff,” he tells us. “When I couldn’t see the things that I was looking for, or what I really felt would complete my space, I was like, ‘I should just make them.’” His passion for great design extends beyond furnishings and he appreciates premium craftsmanship in all its forms, including Samsung’s next-generation foldable smartphone — the Galaxy Z Fold3 5G. “Seeing a screen that can fold and still be super functional when you open and close it; it looks like they solved the problem,” Brown says.

When he’s not beautifying homes, Brown is focused on a more ambitious effort to democratize urban developments with his new venture Hypatia Space. “We started asking questions like why aren’t places that are well-designed considering people with disabilities? As if people with disabilities don’t care about design,” he says.

We caught up with Brown to get a glimpse into his background, his newfound hobbies, how it’s affected his career, and more.

Depending on the day of the week, I’m a designer, photographer, director sometimes, or fashion designer. I started in fashion design [and] dropped out of school after one year. Started interning at different places, and then ended up in the music industry. Through the music industry, I ended up in home decor.

That’s kind of led me to home decor because I was on my way to Coachella. We had a huge thing planned. The artist I was working with had a concert there, was headlining. And we just had to pivot, because there was no Coachella. It just seemed like there was no end in sight for something that was as big as a global pandemic. I had moved into an apartment just before everything closed.

That led me to look around my own space, what did I want? I wanted rugs, and incense holders, a new couch, and all of this stuff. When I couldn’t see the things that I was looking for, or what I really felt would complete my space, I was just like, “I should just make them.”

And that’s kind of how I pivoted. Quarantine did that for me. It forced me to kind of look at my dwelling, get in touch with my space, and just evolve in that way. Things I wasn’t paying attention to before. Just my space, and the proximity of where my bedroom was to the living room, and the layout. I had been running around on tour, in all these hotels, but I really started to see how space and function with objects worked for me. That’s what quarantine did.

We just looked at quality concepts and found people who could do it, who could bring it to life in larger quantities. I had liked Persian rugs a lot when I’d go into different stores. I would see them in retail [and] in other people’s homes, but I never thought to buy myself a rug, or make a rug until I was just inside the house.

Everything started with the rug, and from the rug that led to incense hands. From incense hands that led to throws, and bedding, and shower curtains. Now it’s led to mirrors and lighting. It was just a very interesting time for quarantine to do that. Everything in my career has always happened as a result of something else, or a life event. I wasn’t setting out to be a photographer or a director, but that was in necessity to the artist I was working with.

That led me into directing or even getting into the music industry. I was interviewing [Daniel Caesar] for a newspaper I was doing for my men’s sportswear brand. Then he ended up getting famous, and that led me into going on tour and becoming his creative director. Everything has always just been the right thing at the time.

The mirrors are coming out shortly. We got lighting coming out. I’m designing a chair right now. I had started this business of space making. I started this company called Hypatia with this architect in London. We have this idea to modernize urban development. Now that I’m so focused on space, I know that there are some key things that spaces need.

It had started with the idea of spaces for creatives, and the approach to that. But now it’s really about anyone, because the more we got into it, we started asking questions like why aren’t places that are well designed, considering people with disabilities? As if people with disabilities don’t care about design. It’s pretty crazy to think that we are in a pretty progressive stage in the future.

It’s always about making special things for them instead of integrating them into society. That’s the next evolution of where I’m headed next. Home decor is my every day right now, but I’m very much headed in the direction of space-making development. That’s what I’m really interested in right now.

It looks like they solved the problem — seeing a screen that can fold, and still be super functional when you close the phone, functional when you open it.

*5G connection and availability may vary. Check with your carrier.

Levi’s & Slam Jam Explore the Rebellious Past of the 501

levi's x slam jam

Slam Jam isn’t just a go-to retailer for everything streetwear and luxury, it’s also a research department. Okay, not a full-blown researcher but over the last few weeks the retailer has been trying to define the concept of the ultimate uniform with its ongoing project (Un)corporate Uniforms. The grunge-leaning explorations into uniform have come in many forms like last month’s Cobain-inspired collaboration with Converse. This month sees Levi’s x Slam Jam take the spotlight, though.

The thing about a punk uniform is that all of the pieces are mismatched, shredded, and stand in stark contrast to the usual definition of a uniform. Levi’s x Slam Jam follows this trend. Using the legendary Levi’s 501 as its canvas, Slam Jam emphasizes the youthful, rebellious side of the staple jeans.

As a collector of vintage Levi’s 501s, Slam Jam founder Luca Benini has seen his fair share of ripped pairs, but Levi’s x Slam Jam goes above and beyond in this regard. The highly distressed denim features a wax coating and a laser-printed logo on the side. The pair is finished with a satin inner lining for comfort and to plug the gaps created by the extensive ripping. Only 89 pairs of Levi’s x Slam Jam 501s have been made to commemorate the year that Slam Jam was born.

To complement the Levi’s x Slam Jam 501s, the retailer has also dropped a mohair sweater that draws inspiration from Johnny Rotten’s Seditionaries Knit of the ‘90s, and a bleach-washed cotton shirt to boot.

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For $250, MSCHF Will Sell You an Original Fake Andy Warhol

Chick-Fil-A sandwiches. swords, and Mickey Mouse: sounds like anyone’s idea of a good time but for MSCHF, it’s all in a day’s work. Literally, because the enigmatic Brooklyn-based collective issues a provocative “drop” every single Monday, starting off every week with a different riff on post-capitalist drudgery.

MSCHF turns back towards the art market with The Museum of Forgeries, this Monday’s drop. The result is either heretical or hysterical — maybe a little of both — depending how you feel about Walter Benjamin and Roland Barthes.

Specifically, MSCHF purchased an original Andy Warhol illustration, ‘Fairies, 1954’, and found computers that could create 999 perfect copies of the work on matching paper with identical ink. MSCHF then “obliterated” any trace of evidence as to which one is the original, essentially “burying a needle in a needlestack.”

All 1,000 editions of MSCHF’s creation, “Possibly Real Copy Of ‘Fairies’ by Andy Warhol,” are now for sale at $250 a pop through MSCHF’s Museum of Forgeries website. Your purchase includes certificates of authentication and documentation that MSCHF did indeed pay nearly $20k for the OG, which sold for just over $8,000 five years back.

MSCHF posits the entire affair as a multi-pronged jab in the art industry’s bloated gut.

On one hand, you’ve got this upstart collective digesting a genuine artwork from one of the world’s most famous artists and regurgitating it as its own, devaluing an Andy Warhol in the process.

On the other, it evokes questions about how art is consumed: why is this piece of paper with crude scribbles worth five figures? Strip the provenance aside and look at the work as an object and consider how worthless it’d be were it produced by Joe Shmoe instead.

Warhol himself undercut the entire conceit of art as exclusive.

As MSCHF points out, Warhol’s Factory existed to churn out easily-producible artworks in assembly-line fashion. Isn’t it appropriate that one of his works serve as the basis for MSCHF’s mischief?

Amusingly, the collective has opted to co-opt a drawing Warhol executed by hand, rather than a screen-printed Pop Art piece.

MSCHF’s point is multifaceted but it really cuts at society’s thoughtless art consumption and the ways that the ultra-rich place arbitrary value on ink and paper. This is a favorite MSCHF target.

Like any contemporary merch-mad artist, MSCHF has simply removed scarcity from the equation and laid the futile valuation of artwork bare for all to see.

We Go Behind the Design of Nike’s Dia de los Muertos Collection

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Brand: Nike

Model: Air Force 1 and Air Jordan 1 Mid

Release Date: October 29

Price: $110

Buy: Nike SNKRS

What We’re Saying: To celebrate Latin Heritage Month and Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), Nike is releasing two sneakers that pay homage to the Mexican community. The collection, which is called “Siempre Familia” comprises the Air Jordan 1 Mid and the Air Force 1.

The design of both shoes and the campaign surrounding the products, was worked on by members of the Mexican creative community, as Nike  (with the help of creative agency INDUSTRY, who worked on the campaign and brand story) sought to create authentic storytelling for the community by the community.

“The Latinx community has always helped shape sneaker culture. If you look at history, the way that we’ve adapted sneaker culture from basketball to street style, football, soccer, now we’re stepping up and giving it full expression,” INDUSTRY co-founder and executive director Oved Valadez tells Highsnobiety. “Starting to see individuals step up and create their own marks on history and really show the world what Latinx community is all about has been truly inspirational.”

Nike’s “Siempre Familia” Air Force 1 and Air Jordan 1 Mid are inspired by the Pre-Hispanic Mexica belief that, after death, humans continue their way in the world of the dead, where utensils, tools, and food are still needed. Death represents the beginning of the journey towards the Mictlán, the ninth and last level of the underworld, which is the kingdom of the dead.

“The footwear is legit. And after consulting with local storytellers and elders in the Mexica community, we decided to incorporate elements from the nine regions of the Mictlan,” says Valadez. “We worked closely with INAH (The Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia) to verify our incorporation of accurate symbolism in order to properly represent all elements of the Mictlan story. The Mictlan has nine levels and within those levels are portals. Each shoe embodies an element of these portals.”

Both sneakers feature unique graphics and multi-faceted design features that give them a unique aesthetic, while still accurately reflecting the culture that inspires them.

Look for the Air Force 1 to be released on October 29 for $110, while a release date for the Air Jordan 1 Mid is still set to be communicated.


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The New Key Opinion Leader is Here

Our latest research, presented in our The New Key Opinion Leader is Here: Long Live the Cultural Opinion Leader report — written in partnership with Tony Wang and with data from TD Reply  evaluates how a new generation of Chinese key opinion leaders (KOLs) are growing up on a different set of platforms and changing the rules of influencer marketing. We call them Cultural Opinion Leaders (COLs).  Driven by Gen Z culture, COLs will set the tone going forward for how brands navigate influence in China and beyond.

This new generation of pioneering tastemakers — that we in Europe and the US often refer to as Cultural Pioneers — have a different cultural context, growing up in China after the ’90s, and correspondingly have a different set of underlying values and motivating factors that drive their interest in fashion and culture at large. This emerging class of opinion leaders is defined by the authority and depth of the engagement they’ve accrued, and not always the scale of their reach.

With this in mind, it will become vital for brands to update their influencer marketing strategy in China going forward. Data shows engagement with traditional fashion KOLs is stagnating and declining. Additionally, nearly every expert we spoke to cited “influencer fatigue” as a very real concern — both on the client and talent side — broaching an urgent question around “what’s next” for the KOL economy, now that the COL has entered the space.

For this installment of the Highsnobiety Insights white paper series, we’re charting how the next generation of KOLs will change the rules of influence in China. In this report, we answer:

– Who are the COLs in China, and what matters to them creatively and culturally?

– Where does this leave current KOL marketing?

– What common misconceptions exist around KOL marketing?

– How can brands take a more nuanced approach to engaging with influencers in China?

– What platforms will COLs be using, and what kinds of content will influence them?

For access to the complete report and to enroll in a 10-day email series breaking down key findings, sign up here.