Apple Airpods 3 Review
Matthew Jens samples the latest and greatest version of the world's favourite true wireless earphones…
Apple Airpods 3
US$179 | S$269
“The most popular headphones in the world.” Not a title that is awarded easily, but one that Apple has fought to earn. I remember being one of the naysayers who turned their noses up upon hearing that the Cupertino-based company would release a line of earbuds. Oh, how wrong I was!
The AirPods brand alone sold over a hundred million units in 2020 alone. That's not a typo – one hundred million. These are not numbers we usually deal with when we're talking about Bluetooth earphones. But alas, a new model is upon us, and I thought it would be remiss not at least to take a look. So, is this latest version a worthy upgrade?
Apple knows it's on to a winner when it comes to the design of the AirPods, so there's nothing earth-shattering to write home about here. This new iteration is a midway point between the existing AirPods model and the AirPods Pro. That is to say, these almost look like the AirPods Pro, just without the silicone ear tips. Instead, you find the usual open fish-mouth style grill, synonymous with AirPods and the EarPods that came before them. Compared to the older AirPods 2, the new version also has a shorter stem but keeps the same one-size-fits-all attitude when it comes to fit.
Confused yet? Look at it this way. There is no need to fiddle with tips or fit with this design. These will either work for you, or they won't. And while on paper that may sound concerning, somehow with the same size bud, both my partner with her tiny ears, and myself with my substantial ape ears, find these supremely comfortable.
The charging case is only a whisker smaller than that of the AirPods Pro, which is by no means a bad thing. The Lightning port is still there, the wireless charging is now there, and they will still be able to easily fit into that (otherwise useless) weird coin slot pocket that your jeans have. Battery life has been increased, too. You now get a six-hour run out of these, with another four total charges left in the case. If you're using some of the new spatial audio features, you'll need to dial those battery expectations back slightly.
Yup, you read correctly – spatial audio has made its way to the regular AirPods line. Now you too can weird yourself out with Dolby Atmos content, or emulate a speaker system with just your iPad when watching Apple TV+. Don't get me wrong; it's my favourite way of watching content at the moment. That head tracking, spatial audio, “sounds like it's coming from the screen” feeling is immersive and makes me wonder about the efficacy of traditional headphone use when watching video content.
Sonically, Apple has stuck to its guns. You get a neutral, linear response, with a subtle yet impactful mid/bass response hump, rolling off as it heads down into the bass a proper. It's the frequency response that we have come to know and love from Apple, which maintains its presence through the AirPods Pro and Max lines and has made its way to the AirPods 3 as well.
That is to say, with considerably less isolation, the bass has had a big kick in the pants here to compensate. When you're in crowded, noisy environments, the bass is often the first thing to disappear, but Apple has cleverly juiced up that department to compensate. It might also be helped along by the adaptive EQ that has now been introduced, which tunes the sound to the shape of the listener's ear. Neat!
The only thing about those noisy environments is that you'll miss the noise cancelling of the AirPods Pro. These new AirPods, much like their predecessors, are best used at home or in a quiet office space. If you're using these for public transport, be aware that they won't isolate you from the outside world. Using these as a hands-free talking device is one area where they shine above the rest; AirPods have been my go-to for this reason for years, even with Android devices.
Apple's new AirPods 3 are essentially AirPods Pro, but at a lower price and with an EarPod shape. They don't isolate well, but when you're using them at home or in the office, they perform precisely as you would expect. Great sound, good value, terrific battery life and plenty of neat, quirky features to boot. A welcome upgrade, to be sure.
Constantly keeping himself busy, Matthew is a production manager, Brazilian jiu-jitsu blue belt, Head-Fi fanatic, coffee enthusiast and all-round cool Dad.
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