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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