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AirPods 3 vs. AirPods Pro: Which Apple wireless earbuds are best?

AirPods 3 vs AirPods Pro
(Image credit: Future)

After a long period of leaks, rumors, and false release date predictions, Apple finally unveiled the hugely anticipated AirPods 3. The Cupertino giant gave fans a detailed rundown of the third-generation AirPods, from its AirPods Pro-esque design overhaul to the exciting addition of Apple’s signature Spatial Audio feature. You get all of these changes at a more affordable price point. Albeit, by Apple standards.

Without a doubt, the AirPods 3 trump the previous AirPods 2. This makes pitting Apple’s latest pair of wireless earbuds against the AirPods Pro all the more intriguing, as the differences between both sets of earbuds are near indistinguishable — to a certain extent.

Both AirPods are brilliant options for iPhone, iPad and MacBook users. Thanks to their seamless connectivity to iOS devices, quality audio, hands-free Siri functionality, and constant feature updates (the AirPods Pro are two years old and still receive upgrades), they are easily among the best wireless earbuds on the market.

The AirPods 3 are expected to be a popular choice for music and Apple fans alike, but is it worth spending the extra cash to go Pro? That’s the question we hope to answer below, especially seeing the third-generation AirPods are fresh out of the Apple oven. Read on to find out what’s best for you: AirPods 3 or AirPods Pro? 

AirPods 3 vs. AirPods Pro: Specs

AirPods 3 AirPods Pro
Price$179 $249
Wireless charging caseYes (included)Yes (included)
ProcessorH1H1
Battery life 6 hours (Spatial Audio off), 5 hours (Spatial Audio on), 30 hours (with charging case)4.5 hours (ANC on), 5 hours (ANC off), 24 hours (with charging case)
IPX rating IPX4IPX4
Size and weight (buds)1.21 x 0.72 x 0.76 inches, 0.15 ounces1.22 x 0.86 x 0.94 inches, 0.19 ounces
Size and weight (charging case)1.83 x 0.84 x 2.14 inches, 1.34 ounces1.8 x 0.9 x 2.4 inches, 1.6 ounces
Special features: Adaptive EQ, spatial audio, automatic switching, audio sharing, Fast Fuel charging, announced messages with Siri, “Hey Siri” voice-activated assistance, MagSafe/wireless charging caseActive noise cancellation, transparency mode, adaptive EQ, spatial audio, automatic switching, customizable fit, audio sharing, Fast Fuel charging, announced messages with Siri, “Hey Siri” voice-activated assistance, wireless charging case

AirPods 3 vs. AirPods Pro: Price

As you know, Apple products are pricey, and the AirPods Pro and AirPods 3 are no different. Despite being the latest entry to the AirPods family, the latter has a much more attractive price. At $179/£169, the AirPods 3 offer a number of the best features the AirPods Pro boasts for under $200. Sure, it’s $20 more than what the AirPods 2 cost ($159), but the third-generation earbuds throw in a wireless charging case that ends up being $20 less than its predecessors’ ($199 with case).

(Image credit: Apple)

The AirPods Pro are priced at $249/£249. In our AirPods Pro review, the price is what let down the otherwise brilliant pair of wireless earbuds. The good news, however, is that the AirPods Pro are nearly always on sale at select retailers, including Amazon. They can be found for as little as $179, but are generally priced around the $200 mark.

For those who can find a deal for the AirPods Pro, they’re a great choice, but the AirPods 3 are fresh out of the production line, and are still more affordable — deal or not. If you’re looking for bargain deals on the AirPods Pro, with offers of up to a $50 discount, we recommend checking out our updated list of best Apple deals.

Winner: AirPods 3

AirPods 3 vs. AirPods Pro: Design

This may be the toughest fight in the face-off, as the AirPods 3 look almost identical to the AirPods Pro. Apple finally decided to get rid of the “toothbrush” stems that made their first AirPods stand out in the wireless earbuds market, and the third-gen AirPods are all the better because of it. 

(Image credit: Laptop Mag)

The AirPods Pro feature smaller stems, stronger build quality with IPX4 sweat and water resistance, and air vents that reduce pressure inside the ear. If you watched Apple’s “Unleashed” event, these features may sound familiar because they are also found on the AirPods 3. That’s great news for those looking for AirPods at a more affordable price. The AirPods 3 also have an IPX4 sweat and water resistance rating, a new contoured design and shorter stem, an inset microphone to block out wind when on calls, and are covered in a special acoustic mesh that offer a sleek aesthetic. Unlike the previous version, the AirPods 3 appear to be built for longevity, too. 

(Image credit: Laptop Mag)

In terms of cases, the AirPods 3 also come in a new charging case, which supports wireless MagSafe charging much like the AirPods Pro. While shorter than its predecessor, it boasts a more rounded, oval-shaped design than the case for the AirPods Pro. The AirPods 3 and its charging case are slightly smaller and lighter than the AirPods Pro’s, but it wouldn’t be a noticeable difference during day-to-day usage. 

(Image credit: Laptop Mag)

Overall, the AirPods Pro and AirPods 3 are more similar than ever before, with the latter sporting a slightly more rounded design. The only real difference is the lack of silicone tips in the AirPods 3, but the new contoured design is expected to direct sound into a user’s ears instead. Once we get our hands on the AirPods 3, we’ll have a better understanding of how it works. For now, both pairs of Apple earbuds are stylish yet sturdy.

Winner: Tie 

AirPods 3 vs. AirPods Pro: Comfort and fit

This is where the silicone tips on the AirPods Pro will offer a major advantage over the AirPods 3. We have yet to get our hands on the third-gen AirPods, which means we can’t properly assess the comfort and fit of the earbuds. Still, from what we’ve experienced with the AirPods Pro, the AirPods 3 will have a hard time matching earbuds with different silicone tip options. 

(Image credit: Laptop Mag)

As Laptop Mag’s headphone expert Alex Bracetti explains, Apple added ear tips to the AirPods Pro that not only assist with optimizing ANC and sound by creating a tight seal but, most importantly, they latch onto your ears to prevent slippage. This also makes them ideal for working out. The elongated sound port allows for easy insertion into the ears, though wearing the buds past the 2-hour mark leads to some soreness around the concha. Apple even went a step further and developed an Ear Tip Fit Test that calibrates the buds to determine the best tips for proper fitting.

(Image credit: Regan Coule/Future)

So far, the AirPods Pro are in the winning seat, but we won’t know for sure until we try the AirPods 3 ourselves.

Winner: AirPods Pro (for now) 

AirPods 3 vs. AirPods Pro: Controls

This is the easiest part of the battle. Apple added its easily accessible and convenient force sensor system, otherwise known as the pinch controls, to the AirPods 3, and they function the same as on the AirPods Pro. This presents an advantage to the AirPods 3, seeing as they come at a more affordable price range. Both earbuds also come with automatic ear detection, along with “Hey Siri” voice activation with an ever-growing list of commands with each new iOS update. 

(Image credit: Laptop Mag)

Ear detection is fast and reliable, and can jump from your iPhone to your iPad or Apple Watch in a jiffy. Siri on the AirPods Pro works efficiently, as it can pick up vocals and long-winded verbal inquiries with precision. This is expected to work similarly with the AirPods 3, especially since both offer dual beamforming microphones. The squeeze mechanic is also a fantastic way of picking up calls or pausing tunes while on the move, but we do wish Apple would adopt in-air gestures. This may arrive in an upcoming pair of AirPods, according to a recent patent

(Image credit: Regan Coule/Future)

We still need to test this out in the AirPods 3, but having the same “Hey Siri” voice activation, automatic ear detection, and force sensor system means the AirPods 3 are on par with the AirPods Pro, which is a great feat.

Winner: Tie 

AirPods 3 vs. AirPods Pro: Audio

Thanks to Apple continuously updating its audio software across its devices and apps, bringing dynamic head tracking, lossless streaming and spatial audio for Apple Music and movies and TV shows, the company offers a quality audio experience in virtually all of its devices. 

(Image credit: Apple)

However, the AirPods 3 are a step up now that they boast the AirPod Pro’s adaptive EQ, Dolby Atmos-supported spatial audio, and an overall wider soundstage. Plus, the AirPods 3 feature an Apple-designed dynamic driver with a custom amplifier that, the company claims, allows for even deeper bass and cleaner high tones. This same setup can be found in the AirPods Pro.

Spatial audio and Apple’s 3D audio effect was originally reserved for the AirPods Pro and even pricier AirPods Max, which means audiophiles will now get the chance to experience Apple’s enhanced sounds at a more affordable price. We believe the company does a fantastic job of presenting 3D audio, and seeing as the AirPods 3 and AirPods Pro deliver the same audio tech, you should get a brilliant experience when listening to music, watching movies or when on calls.

However, we do notice the AirPods Pro’s silicone tips can aid in blocking outside noise, which the AirPods 3 may have trouble with. That said, that’s a battle for our next section.

Winner: Tie (for now)

AirPods 3 vs. AirPods Pro: Special features

The AirPods Pro have the clear advantage here, as the AirPods 3 can’t switch from active noise cancellation (ANC) to transparency mode. The AirPods 3 may have an inset microphone to minimise wind when on calls, but this isn’t as impressive as the Pro’s high-level two-mic noise-cancelling array. That said, what you can expect in both sets of earbuds is automatic switching, battery life indicators, Hey Siri, Live Listen to hear conversations more clearly, headphone accommodations to adjust audio levels for those with hearing impairments, along with spatial audio and adaptive EQ.

(Image credit: Apple)

Still, the AirPods Pro’s ANC and transparency mode are worth the extra price to some. The technology isn’t beating the current true wireless ANC king, the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds, but you’ll be satisfied with the noise reduction it offers. We’ve found the feature useful for muting chatty co-workers, loud TVs, and the humming sounds from our AC. High-frequency noises like crying babies and sirens will creep onto the soundscape, but unless they are a few feet away from you, they aren’t distracting enough to pull you from whatever you’re streaming.

Transparency mode works well for eavesdropping on conversations and conveying coffee orders to baristas without having to take off the buds. You’ll also gain a better sense of awareness when in rowdy settings by identifying specific sounds.

Winner: AirPods Pro 

AirPods 3 vs. AirPods Pro: Battery

The AirPods Pro may come with extra features, but the Airpods 3 packs longer battery life. The AirPods 3 offer six hours of battery with spatial audio off, five hours with spatial audio on, and 30 hours with a charging case. The AirPods Pro offer 4.5 hours with ANC on, five hours with ANC off, and 24 hours with a charging case. 

(Image credit: Laptop Mag)

The AirPods Pro already offer all-day battery, especially when they can be quickly charged up in their case, but the AirPods 3 will last that much longer since it doesn’t have to deal with ANC. Plus, the extra six hours the AirPods 3’s charging case offers over the AirPods Pro’s may come in handy for those who constantly use their earbuds.

Still, Apple has done a magnificent job with battery management for all its AirPods, engineering the H1 chip to learn your daily charging routine and refrain from charging past 80% until necessary. This approach helps preserve the health of your battery. The AirPods 3 and AirPods Pro will squeeze every bit of juice out before requiring a recharge. A quick five-minute charge in the both AirPods cases provides around one hour of listening time or around one hour of talk time.

Winner: AirPods 3

Outlook

While we can’t offer a final decision until we get our hands on the AirPods 3, the latest pair of AirPods are a must for those looking for Apple’s quality audio experience without having to pay full price for the AirPods Pro. Think of the AirPods 3 as the “AirPods Pro Lite.”

Despite coming out in 2019, the AirPods Pro are still a premium purchase that are worth their price, and have the advantage of silicone tips, active noise cancellation and transparency mode. However, for those who just want the unique spatial audio experience with the added bonus of the AirPods Pro’s design, along with extra battery life, then the AirPods 3 are a favourable choice. Plus, they won’t make as big of a dent in your wallet.

Stay tuned for our AirPods Pro 3 review, but if you’re waiting patiently for an updated Pro experience, check out all we know about the rumored AirPods Pro 2