After years of speculation, the Apple AirPods 3 have finally been announced, with a host of new upgrades to help them compete with the best true wireless earbuds on the planet.
New features include support for Spatial Audio with dynamic head tracking (like the AirPods Pro and the AirPods Max), adaptive EQ, and a longer battery life.
The third-gen AirPods cost $179 (about £130 / AU$240), and will be available to buy from next week.
AirPods 3 release date
The third-gen Apple AirPods are available to preorder now, and will officially go on sale on October 26, both in-store and online.
AirPods 3 price
The Apple AirPods 3 (2021) cost $179, and while global pricing is yet to be announced, that works out at around £130 / AU$240.
That’s pricier than the second-gen AirPods, which started at $159 / £159 / AU$249 with a standard charging case, going up to $199 / £199 / AU$319 if you opted for a wireless charging case when they launched in 2019.
However, Apple has now announced that the second-gen AirPods have been given a permanent price drop, and now cost $129 (about £90 / AU$170).
AirPods 3 design
While Apple hasn’t released too much information on the design of the new AirPods 3, it looks like the company has taken a few cues from the look of the AirPods Pro.
The long, protruding stems that made the 2019 AirPods so easily recognizable have been swapped out for shorter stems that feature touch-capacitive force sensors – just like the ones found on the AirPods Pro, which allow you to control your music playback with a squeeze of the stem. You can also squeeze the stem to accept or calls.
Shorter stems is something we’ve been hoping to see for a long time now, and as Apple says, it does make for a “more subtle” appearance.
The housings of the AirPods 3 has changed too, with a more streamlined look than their predecessors. Apple says that the contoured design sits at exactly the right angle to “deliver sound directly into your ear”.
Unlike the AirPods Pro, there are no interchangeable eartips, so you may find that Apple’s noise-cancelling earbuds still deliver better sound isolation – and as a result, a more powerful bass performance, as well as reduced sound leakage.
Another new feature for the third-gen AirPods is IPX4 sweat and water resistance, so you should be able to use them while working out without worrying about a little sweat or a spot of rain.
AirPods 3 audio performance
Upon announcing the AirPods 3, the company said that it “wants to bring the full Spatial Audio experience to more customers” – and its latest earbuds are the cheapest yet to support the immersive sound technology.
Apple’s Spatial Audio technology takes 5.1, 7.1, and Dolby Atmos content and applies directional audio filters, placing sound in a 3D sphere and making it feel more immersive, as if the audio is coming at you from every angle.
Until now, this technology only worked with the AirPods Pro and the AirPods Max, as it relies on their built-in accelerometers and gyroscopes to track the position of your head and ensure the sound is coming from the right direction.
The news that a cheaper pair of AirPods will come with Spatial Audio support will come as good news to Apple Music fans, who are already able to access music mixed for the format on the music streaming service.
Sadly, there doesn’t seem to be any support for hi-res audio, so those fans won’t be able to make the most out of Apple Music’s Lossless audio tracks.
The AirPods 3 should sound better than the 2019 AirPods, though. They come with a new custom-made low distortion driver and a high dynamic range amplifier, which together will produce “powerful bass with crisp, clean high frequencies”, according to the company. Hopefully, that will improve the treble performance of the AirPods, which we found to be a little harsh, especially at higher volumes – and any boost to the bass frequencies will be more than welcome..
Thanks to support for Adaptive EQ (first seen on the AirPods Pro), the AirPods 3 should be somewhat tailored to your ears. This technology tunes the sound of the earbuds in real time, based on how they fit in your ear. According to Apple, an inward-facing microphone monitors for sound, and then the computational audio that powers the Adaptive EQ feature tunes the low and mid frequencies “to account for what may be lost due to variances in fit”.
As for phone calls? An acoustic mesh covers the outer beamforming microphones, which is designed to reduce the sound of wind and make your voice sound clear. The AirPods 3 also support the AAC-ELD codec, which Apple says will deliver “full HD voice quality” (whatever that means). In any case, the AirPods 3 should work great for taking calls, whether that’s over FaceTime or otherwise.
One large, but unsurprising, omission is active noise cancellation. While we weren’t expecting to see the technology come to a pair of ‘regular’ AirPods, there was lots of speculation that the AirPods 3 would come with the ability to block out environmental sound.
For earbuds of this price you may well expect ANC – but the lack of silicone or memory foam eartips means that the AirPods 3 probably wouldn’t be as effective as the AirPods Pro, and Apple may have still wanted to cater to those who don’t like sticking earbuds directly into their ear canal.
AirPods 3 battery life
The AirPods 3 come with a significant improvement to battery life. While the 2019 AirPods offered 24 hours of playback in total (thats about 4 from the earbuds and a further 20 hours from the charging case), the new AirPods 3 offer a 30-hour max battery life.
Apple says you get up to six hours of listening time or up to four hours of talk time from the buds themselves, with four additional charges from the case. If you’re in a hurry, a quick five-minute charge will give you about an hour of playback. As with the AirPods Pro, the AirPods 3 come with a wireless charging case as standard, which is compatible with Apple’s MagSafe ecosystem.
AirPods 3 connectivity
The AirPods 3 are (unsurprisingly) optimized for use with Apple devices, with a one-touch setup that automatically pairs the buds with your iPhone, iPad, Mac, or Macbook.
Audio Sharing means you can also share the audio stream between two sets of AirPods, AirPods Pro, or AirPods Max, while using your iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, or Apple TV – pretty handy if you want to share your music without sharing your friends’ grubby earbuds.
There’s also a new skin-detect sensor that tells the AirPods 3 if they’re actually in your ear, as opposed to on a table or inside your pocket – and if they’re not in your ear, music playback will be paused, which will presumably spare you some precious battery life.
As with the 2019 AirPods, you’ll be able to summon Apple’s voice assistant simply by saying ‘Hey Siri’.
If you have an Apple device that runs iOS 15, you’ll get access to a few extra features with the third-gen AirPods, including spatial audio and dynamic head tracking in Group FaceTime calls and integration with the Find My network. You’ll also get access to the Announce Notifications feature, which allows Siri to read you time-sensitive updates from apps such as Messages, Reminders, and Calendar.
This is a developing story. Stayed tuned for more updates.