AirPods 3 vs AirPods 2: What's the difference (and should you upgrade)?
Upgraded design and more features
The AirPods 3 are Apple's latest offering in their AirPods lineup, and they offer a lot of goodies for music lovers. With a new design that looks more akin to the AirPods Pro, better sensors, more touch controls, and an IPX4 rating, the AirPods 3 offer a lot of value and are the best basic AirPods we've seen yet.
- Updated design
- Spatial Audio
- Six-hour battery life (30 with MagSafe case)
- Sweat and water resistance
- More expensive
- Not compatible with some old devices
The AirPods 2 are still available at a lower price than before, but you can only get the version without the wireless charging case. They lack the newer features and design of the AirPods and don't have an IP rating. Still, they are a great set of wireless earbuds if you want seamless switching between Apple devices and don't want to spend too much.
- Less expensive
- Seamless switching between Apple devices
- Compatible with older devices
- Shorter battery life
- Fewer touch controls
- No Adaptive EQ
The AirPods 3 are definitely a much more substantial upgrade than the AirPods 2 were over the original AirPods — it seems like everything's been changed. From a fresher design to a bunch of new features that aren't on the AirPods 2, it's hard not to be enticed by the AirPods 3. However, thanks to a drop in price, the AirPods 2 makes a compelling product for budget-wise Apple lovers that shouldn't be too easily overlooked. However, both are bound to be (or still be) some of the best true wireless earbuds for Apple users.
AirPods 3 vs. AirPods 2: It starts with the design
The first thing you'll notice about the AirPods 3 is the updated design, looking more akin to the AirPods Pro than the AirPods 2. While they don't have silicone ear tips, they do have shorter stems and the more angled design of the AirPods Pro, rather than the long-stemmed and straight design of the AirPods 2. In theory, this design should help the earbuds stay in your ear a little better than before and allow for a small increase in sound quality, since the sound is better directed down your ear canal with the new design.
|Header Cell - Column 0||AirPods 3||AirPods 2|
|Battery life (talk)||4 hours||3 hours|
|battery life (music)||6 hours||5 hours|
|Siri connection||Voice-activated or double-tap||Voice-activated or double-tap|
|Wireless charging||MagSafe sharing case||No wireless charging case|
|Apple TV support||Yes||Yes|
You'll notice when you compare the specs of the AirPods 3 to the AirPods 2, it may seem like not too much has changed, but that's because the small improvements need a bit more explaining. Here's what this all means.
AirPods 3 vs. AirPods 2: Sound quality
This might be the hardest category to quantify because the sound quality of any pair of headphones is always a little subjective. However, the AirPods 3 do boast a few features that are supposed to make the listening experience better.
First, the AirPods 3 bring Spatial Audio to the table, which Apple has been pushing a lot over the last year or so. Spatial Audio with head tracking allows the music to stay in the same place in the soundscape your headphones create, even if you move your head. So, if you turn your head to the right or left, the music pans accordingly. It's like the AirPods 3 create a 3D map of the music and place you inside of it based on where it senses your head is at the current moment.
It's a neat feature, but some people find it really distracting and turn it off. It also seems to fit better with certain styles of music better than other ones, so even though Apple Music might have your favorite song in Spatial Audio, it doesn't necessarily mean you'll like it.
On top of that, AirPods 3 also include the same custom high-excursion Apple driver and high dynamic range amplifier that you find with the AirPods Pro and not with the AirPods 2. That should mean a better listening experience, although it's important to point out that the AirPods 3 don't have silicone ear tips that help with sound isolation. Without those, it's hard to exactly say how much better the AirPods 3 will sound over the AirPods 2 without listening to them yet. On paper, the AirPods 3 should offer better sound.
AirPods 3 vs AirPods 2: Battery life
Wireless earbuds have always been slightly hampered by short battery life because it's hard to fit big batteries in a device that's so small, but Apple did manage to increase battery performance here. The AirPods 3 will now get six hours of playback time on a single charge, as opposed to the five hours that the AirPods 2 got. Plus, it can also give you about 30 hours of battery life when you consider the charging case. The AirPods 2 only had a max of about 24 hours, with the case factored into the equation.
The AirPods 3 are also MagSafe compatible and can fast charge for an hour of playback time in about five minutes. The AirPods 2 did have a wireless charging case option, but it appears that with the launch of the AirPods 3, the only model Apple is currently selling is with the wired sharing case. However, the AirPods 2 can still charge for about three hours of playback in about 15 minutes.
AirPods 3 vs AirPods 2: Controls
While the AirPods 2 had more controls than the original AirPods, the third generation has the same Force sensor and controls as the AirPods 3. That means you can tap once to play / pause music and answer a phone call, double-press to skip forward, triple-press to skip backward, and press and hold for Siri.
The AirPods Pro have fewer controls. They only have the ability to double-tap to play/pause and skip forward in playback, as well as answer phone calls. Plus, you have to talk to Siri to activate the Apple virtual assistant.
AirPods 3 vs. AirPods 2: Device compatibility
While both the AirPods 3 and AirPods 2 can seamlessly switch between your Apple devices, the AirPods 2 are still compatible with some older Apple devices that the AirPods 3 do not.
The following devices are compatible with AirPods 2 but not compatible with the new AirPods 3:
- iPhone 5s
- iPhone 6
- iPhone 6 Plus
- iPad mini 2
- iPad mini 3
- iPad Air (1st-generation)
- iPod Touch (6th-generation)
While this isn't a long list of devices, it's important to know in case you want to use AirPods with an older device. You don't want to end up buying yourself (or anyone else) a brand new pair of AirPods that aren't compatible.
AirPods 3 vs. AirPods 2: Which should you buy?
There's no doubt that the AirPods 3 are better than the AirPods 2. They should sound better, have more features, and have an official IPX4 rating, so you don't have to worry about taking them on a run. Top that all off with a design that should help the earbuds stay in your ears — although your mileage may vary based on your ear shape — and the extra battery life, the AirPods 3 are very compelling at $179.
Speaking of price, the AirPods 2 have now dropped down to $129, which is a great price for a set of Bluetooth earbuds that offer decent sound quality, a nice pair of microphones, and seamless switching between all your Apple devices. If you're on a tighter budget or have a much older device that the AirPods 3 doesn't support, the AirPods 2 are still a good pair of earbuds.
A blend of AirPods and AirPods Pro
New design and better battery life
The AirPods 3 have better battery life, better features, and likely sound better than their predecessor. They don't feature ANC, but the improved design that emulates the AirPods Pro look is a welcome refresh to the AirPods.
$50 off isn't a bad deal
There's no doubt that AirPods 2 miss some cool features of the new AirPods 3 — like an IPX4 rating — but they make a great pair of entry-level headphones for an Apple lover on a stricter budget.
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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.