APPLE AirPods have become a cultural obsession – and there’s a brand new pair to covet.
But are the AirPods 3 just Apple fluff designed to part fools from their money, or properly good earbuds? I’ve been testing them to find out.
Turns out it’s the latter, which isn’t a huge surprise.
The original AirPods launched in 2016 didn’t become a global hit by accident.
If you’ve got an iPhone, they’re easy to use, relatively affordable and have a once-mocked but now iconic design.
With the new Apple AirPods 3, that design has been tweaked. They’re now smaller with some black on the exterior too.
Apple fans will note that they look much more like the far pricier AirPods Pro, but without swappable silicon eartips.
I’m a fan of the new look honestly: the less like electric toothbrush heads, the better.
The buds have a new “contoured design” for better sound delivery.
It’s hard to really know whether that’s working, because there have been some other audio improvements too.
But at the very least, it’s fair to say that these new AirPods offer very good sound.
They should, of course – they cost $179/£169.
The audio is very balanced, offering clarity and depth across bass, mids and treble.
And for any podcast obsessives out there, voices come through very clearly.
Part of the AirPods magic is Adaptive EQ, which tunes audio in real-time based on how the earbuds fit in your own ears.
This uses a system of inward-facing microphones and some computational wizardry.
If you’ve never used AirPods and you’re coming from a classic pair of stock Apple earbuds, you’ll be amazed.
And even if you’re using the original AirPods this is a nice step up.
If you have pricier AirPods Pro or AirPods Max, there’s no competition of course.
Like other AirPods, you’ll get support for Spatial Audio – now featured in Apple Music.
Think of it like 3D virtual reality, but for music. It makes you feel surrounded by the noise, and gives you a real sense of where audio is coming from.
It’s a shame there’s no active noise cancelling.
But the AirPods have so much going for them, with quality audio, a coveted design, and unparalleled access to the Apple ecosystem.
There really is no audio gear that works as slickly with iOS, iPadOS, macOS and watchOS as the AirPods.
That’s no accident of course, but it’s a fact that you should consider if you’re already invested in Apple.
The smoothness of setting up and connecting, switching between devices, and controlling playback is brilliant.
And having audio pause when you pop out a single ear-bud for a quick chat never gets old.
Siri controls are also great, once you get over the awkwardness of using them in public.
I constantly ask for phone calls, changes to volume or to set reminders. Once you pop, you just can’t stop.
Battery life is better, but it was already good anyway.
You’ll now get six hours of usage, with an additional four full charges coming from the battery case.
That should cover almost all daily circumstances. In fact, you can get away with charging them about once a week, if you’re a light user popping them in for commutes and the odd jog.
The case also supports wireless charging, including on Apple’s own MagSafe pads.
They’re sweat and water resistant, so you can and should exercise using them. But don’t jump in the pool with them on. Or the sea.
Pricing them up
The new AirPods are in a slightly tricky position.
Apple’s original AirPods are much cheaper, and still decent.
And the AirPods Pro are a great step up, and not wildly more expensive.
These headphones are for the in-betweener – you want more from your headphones than the original AirPods, but you don’t want to pay extra for noise-cancellation.
Ultimately, some people will buy these just because they’re newer and look different. That’s OK too – AirPods might be headphones, but they’ve also become a fashion accessory.
My only real gripe is that it would’ve been nice to have silicon tips on this model.
These AirPods actually fit in my ears perfectly, but the same isn’t (and can’t be) true for everyone.
Ultimately, the new 3rd-generation AirPods are a huge step up over the original model.
And while they’re not as impressive as the AirPods Pro, they’re also far cheaper than Apple’s $249/£239 premium buds.
The Sun says: A brilliant pair of earbuds for iPhone or iPad users, with very impressive sound and the magic Apple factor to boot. 4.5/5
All prices in this article were correct at the time of writing, but may have since changed. Always do your own research before making any purchase.
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