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AirPods 3 review: A fantastic set of earbuds with a problematic price point

AirPods 3 in Case
(Image: © Luke Filipowicz / iMore)

Our Verdict

Bottom line: The AirPods 3 offer better battery life, better sound, an IPX4 water-resistance rating, and a better in-ear fit for many people. Add the ability to use Spatial Audio, and these are the best the basic AirPods have ever been, but without ANC or a more customizable fit, some people just won't like them.

For

  • Better sound quality
  • Better battery life
  • Better fit in ears
  • IPX4 water resistance
  • Spatial audio and Adaptive EQ

Against

  • No sound isolation
  • A tad too expensive

When Apple first announced the AirPods years ago, they were an exciting new product, and aside from Beats, Apple's first foray into wireless headphones. Fast forward to today, and the AirPods lineup has grown to include the ANC capable earbuds, AirPods Pro, and the luxurious over-the-ear headphones AirPods Max. It's clear to see that AirPods 3 is an impressive culmination of what Apple has learned in the headphone market in just a few short years, and it's the best set of basic AirPods they have ever made.

After using the AirPods 3 all week, I have completely fallen in love with them. They have been a delight to use, from how easy they pair with all my Apple devices to just how much improved the sound quality is over the AirPods 2. However, the same issues the AirPods have always had are still present on the AirPods 3, and that's mainly by design. Add in the precarious price point, and you have a product that is simultaneously very compelling to some people and an absolute non-starter to others.

AirPods 3: Price and availability

Airpods 3 buds without case (Image credit: Luke Filipowicz / iMore)

The AirPods 3 comes in a wireless charging case compatible with MagSafe and has a new design that looks a lot more like the AirPods Pro than the old AirPods 2, except for the silicone ear tips. While they don't have ANC, they do have decent 6-hour battery life in the buds, work with Spatial Audio and Dolby Atmos, and the new skin-detect sensor.

The AirPods (3rd generation) are available now from wherever you usually buy your Apple devices. They cost $179 and, unfortunately for some, only come in white.

AirPods 3: All the good things

Airpods 3 With Case Right Earbud Lying In Front Of Case (Image credit: Luke Filipowicz / iMore)

In my best efforts to not bury the lede, I'll start with this — the AirPods 3 sound quite a bit better than the AirPods 2, and honestly, pretty close to the quality of AirPods Pro. Of course, you don't have silicone ear tips to get the excellent sound isolation that the AirPods Pro can give you, but if you put ear tips on the AirPods 3, the sound would likely be very similar without the ANC.

The bass performance on the AirPods 3 is probably where you'll notice the most difference right out of the gate. It's much more present than in the previous models and makes listening to heavy rock, EDM, and other bass-heavy genres much more enjoyable. The mids and the highs always come through clear and crisp, so I have not noticed any clipping, and since Apple threw in its Adaptive EQ technology into the AirPods 3, the sound should always be pretty consistent.

Spatial Audio is cool, but not always the best.

That brings me to the other significant audio enhancement, the AirPods (3rd generation), Spatial Audio. This is a feature you need to experience for yourself to really hear the difference it can make. In most instances, to my ears, it sounds incredible. It's like having surround sound in your ears, and it makes music — and especially movies — sound much more dynamic and full. Of course, it can depend on what you're listening to, a few tracks I have heard with Spatial Audio have sounded a bit odd, seems to happen more with rock than other genres in my experience, but overall I'm happy to have a pair of headphones that can finally take advantage of it.

AirPods 3 earbud in ear. (Image credit: Luke Filipowicz / iMore)

What's maybe even a more pleasant surprise is just how comfortable the AirPods 3 are in your ears. The design of the AirPods 3 are much more akin to the AirPods Pro, as they sport smaller stems and a more tapered earbud end that sits a little further in your ear than the AirPods 2 did. They are nice and light but fit pretty fit snuggly in your ears. I couldn't find a way to dislodge them from my ears without purposely trying to; even while going for a jog around the neighborhood, they stayed perfectly in place. Of course, they aren't as secure in your ear as silicone tips would be, but if the AirPods 3 fit in your ear nicely, I think you would have a hard time accidentally losing one out of your ear with average use. Plus, silicone tips are nice for sound isolation, but at the end of the day, I've never been able to comfortably wear any earbuds for hours on end that have silicone ear tips — I don't have that problem with the AirPods 3. I have been wearing these almost non-stop since I got them (save for charging them and sleeping), and I forget they are in my ears after a while; that's how comfortable they are.

The AirPods 3 are so comfortable, I forget they are in my ears.

Speaking of charging, the battery life on the AirPods 3 is awesome. Apple states you get about six hours in the buds alone, and in my testing, that estimate seems to be about accurate. It's way better than the 4.5 hours the AirPods Pro are rated for, which is likely due to the fact that the AirPods 3 don't need extra juice to run ANC or Transparency Mode. You may get a little less if you're taking a lot of calls on them or using them in a lot of video chats, but even on days when I used them in meetings and to talk to my friends, I didn't notice a huge decline in battery performance.

Airpods 3 Battery On Iphone 13 Pro (Image credit: Luke Filipowicz / iMore)

The MagSafe wireless charging case is fantastic. It's nice and compact making it easy to carry around in a pocket if you want, and the additional approximate 24 hours in the charging case (for a total of 30 hours of listening time) means even on the road, you have quite a bit of time before you need to find a plug to juice up your AirPods. Plus, when you do throw the AirPods in your case, five minutes of charging provides an hour of listening time. So, a little break to charge your buds here and there throughout the day can really push the amount of time you can have them in your ears.

If you have a MagSafe charger or any wireless charger, you can always pop the AirPods 3 case one it to charge up the case when it's dead, or use the included USB-C-to-Lightning cable Apple provides.

Lastly, let's talk about all that Apple-specific magic that's baked into the AirPods 3. Much like all AirPods, pairing and switching between Apple devices is like magic. Open up the AirPods 3 case, press connect, and boom, you're off to the races. It's just as much a joy as it was on the very first pair of AirPods introduced five years ago. Add in the ability to simply say "Hey, Siri" anytime you want to activate Apple's virtual assistant, and the AirPods 3 don't feel like an accessory, but more of an extension of your other Apple devices. It just all works together so beautifully.

Airpods 3 Force Sensor Closeup (Image credit: Luke Filipowicz / iMore)

What's new on the AirPods 3 is the inclusion of the force sensor located near the bottom of the stem on each earbud, and they work just like they do on the AirPods Pro. Squeeze them once to play/pause playback or answer calls. A double-squeeze will let you skip tracks forward, and a triple-squeeze will let you go back a track. It works wonderfully, and aside from a slight learning curve of how to squeeze them just right to activate them, they work better than most controls on other wireless earbuds that I've tried.

AirPods 3: Some reasons you might not want to buy

AirPods 3 In Case In Jeans Pocket (Image credit: Luke Filipowicz / iMore)

Look, I love the AirPods 3 a lot, but they have all the same disadvantages as the AirPods 2 that came before it.

Although they fit better in your ear than previous iterations, they still don't have any real sound isolation that comes from the ultra-secure fit and seal that silicone or foam tips would provide. That means you still deal with a decent amount of sound leakage, so if you're beside a busy street, you're going to need to turn up your tunes a bit.

Of course, none of the Apple-specific features on the AirPods 3 are transferable to other devices. If you use an Android phone, you won't see any of the benefits that make the AirPods such a great companion to your best iPhone. The easy pairing, the Hey, Siri support, the head tracking with Spatial Audio, one of those features, will not work on anything but an iPhone. This is all by design, mind you, so they aren't so much faults with the AirPods 3 as they are reasons you may not want to buy them. At the end of the day, the AirPods 3 are still AirPods, with all the good and bad that come with them.

At the end of the day, the AirPods 3 are still AirPods,

Speaking of reasons you might not want to buy the AirPods 3, the pricing of the AirPods 3 leaves the product in a very precarious place because the AirPods Pro exists.

Although the official price of the AirPods Pro are $249, you can often find them on sale. In fact, as of writing this, you could snag a pair of AirPods Pro from Amazon for under $200 — and I've seen them go as low as $180 in the past. That means that in reality, the AirPods 3 are only about $20-$30 cheaper than a pair of AirPods Pro depending on where you look, and when you compare the AirPods 3 vs. the AirPods Pro, the water tends to get a little muddy. Both models mainly have the same features, but with the inclusion of ANC on the AirPods Pro, they are the better option if you care purely about sound quality. Yes, I'm sure retailers will eventually discount the AirPods 3 as well, and then maybe this point doesn't hold up as well, but if you're considering buying a pair right now, it's something you should know.

AirPods 3: Competition

Air Pods Pro on stage (Image credit: Rene Ritchie / iMore)

I touched on this already, but the AirPods Pro are the main competition for the AirPods because you can often find them on sale. They often all have the same benefits that the AirPods 3 do to Apple users, and they have ANC, making them the obvious choice if you want to tune out the world. The AirPods 3 only has two benefits over the AirPods Pro, and that's the new skin detect sensor that makes them better at telling when they are in your ears or not and longer battery life.

Tribit Flybuds 3 Pink Case Open

Tribit Flybuds 3 Pink Case Open (Image credit: Christine Romero-Chan / iMore)

The AirPods 3 other competition is the plethora of look-a-likes and knockoffs to the AirPods that have popped up over the years since Apple first introduced the AirPods. Things like the Anker Liberty SoundCore Air 2, EarFun wireless earbuds, or the Tribit Flybuds 3 all can be much cheaper than the AirPods 3 and sometimes offer things like better battery life or a better IP rating. One thing is for sure, none of those 3rd-party products will offer you the same Apple integration that the AirPods 3 do.

AirPods 3: Should you buy it?

Airpods 3 Earbuds Beside Case (Image credit: Luke Filipowicz / iMore)

You should buy this if ...

  • You want Spatial Audio
  • You want all the Apple-specific features
  • You like earbuds without silicone or foam tips

You shouldn't buy this if...

  • You want ANC in your wireless buds
  • You like earbuds with silicone or foam tips
  • You'd rather spend a bit more money on the AirPods Pro

If you enjoy your original AirPods and are looking for an upgrade, the AirPods 3 are perfect. They are better in every way than the older AirPods and offer some amazing features like Spatial Audio, 6-hour battery life, and even better microphones. You mix all that in with the new design that's so dang comfortable in your ears it's almost invisible, the awesome force sensor on each earbud that lets you control playback and answer calls, and all the Apple-specific goodness that comes on the entire AirPods lineup, the AirPods 3 really are the best version of the basic AirPods we have ever seen.

The AirPods 3 are a great pair of wireless earbuds, and I love them a lot, but because you can often find the AirPods Pro for heavy discounts so often, you have to ask yourself a few questions when considering the AirPods 3. Do you hate silicone ear tips? Is ANC important to you? Does the extra battery life of the AirPods 3 sound like something you want? Think hard about those answers, because if you catch a good sale on the AirPods Pro, they might only cost you an extra $20-30 bucks.

Still, I'm happy I went with the AirPods 3. As someone who is heavily invested in the Apple ecosystem has never really liked silicone ear tips and doesn't think ANC in a pair of earbuds is an absolute must-have feature, the AirPods 3 are the perfect headphones for me. And they just might be for you too.

Luke Filipowicz
Staff Writer

Luke Filipowicz has been a writer at iMore, covering Apple for nearly a decade now. He writes a lot about Apple Watch and iPad but covers the iPhone and Mac as well. He often describes himself as an "Apple user on a budget" and firmly believes that great technology can be affordable if you know where to look. Luke also heads up the iMore Show — a weekly podcast focusing on Apple news, rumors, and products but likes to have some fun along the way. 


Luke knows he spends more time on Twitter than he probably should, so feel free to follow him or give him a shout on social media @LukeFilipowicz.

7 Comments
  • Thank you Luke Filipowicz for a great article. Something I would like to mention which many reviewers seem to be missing is that the AirPods 3rd Generation are actually cheaper than the AirPods Generation 2. How so? The AirPods 2nd Generation were $159 with a Plug-In Charging Case, but they were $199 with a Wireless Charging Case. Apple charged $40 more for wireless charging capability, now they only charge $20 more and you not only get Qi Charging, but also MagSafe. So technically the AirPods 3rd Generation are $20 cheaper than they were before. Thank you again for your great article though!
  • Yes, totally! I talked about this on the iMore show last week. They are $20 cheaper than the Gen 2 with wireless charging, but the pricing story is complicated. It's not really Apple's fault that pricing is odd. Technically, the AirPods Pro are $249, but retailers like Amazon and others constantly discount their sub $200, so that makes the pricing of the AirPods 3 a little weird. Now, entirely possible we start seeing a big discount on the AirPods 3 for the Holiday season, time will tell. So it's not Apple's fault at all. I don't think the AirPods 3 are overpriced by any means, it's just in a bit of a precarious situation because of 3rd party retailers. It's just something to be aware of if you're looking to pick up your first pair of AirPods. The AirPods Pro aren't usually too much more expensive and offer better sound isolation and ANC. Just comes down to what you want! Thanks for reading!
  • Good review, but I'm disappointed with the AP3's IPX4 waterproof rating. Yeah, I know the Pro only has an IPX4 rating as well, but these are the newest generation. Given that the 3rd Gen's competitors commonly have a higher rating, I would have thought Apple would have put more effort into bumping the rating up for gym and similar uses. I guess I'll wait to see whether the next gen Pros come out with a higher rating. Even with an anticipated more expensive price, that feature would be worthwhile to me.
  • That's fair, IPX4 is like the bare minimum for workout headphones. It would be interesting to see if the AirPods Pro 2 end up having a higher rating. It would be a another good way to differentiate itself from the AirPods 3. Thanks for reading!
  • Very fair argument regarding price. The GF can't use tips while I need the tips of the AP Pro.
    The price is, in part, to the technology you get with the AP3. Some won't use or need the technology so the price point is iffy. For those who do, the price is worth it. For all there really is never much of a reason to pay full price for APs. I got my AP Pro for barely over 180. The AP3 will be available for 150 soon, just need a little patience.
  • I have no doubt that the AirPods 3 will go on sale at third-party retailers in due time, but if you're looking to buy a pair right now, the AirPods Pro price being so low is an important consideration for some.
  • "Add in the precarious price point, and you have a product that is simultaneously very compelling to some people and an absolute non-starter to others." This describes every Apple product. Yet Apple is doing just fine, with quarter to quarter and year to year growth in every department.