Apple AirPods 3 vs. AirPods Pro (1st generation): Which earphones are better?

AirPods 3 and AirPods Pro with a cross between them.

apple

It’s been more than half a decade since Apple released the original AirPodsAnd although the glossy white buds have taken on new shapes and sizes since then, they remain a top pick for The best wireless headphones today.

If you’re shopping for a new pair of AirPods this holiday season, they probably are Third generation AirPods hail Original AirPods Pro It is in your Wish List or Recipients List.

Both models offer exceptional sound quality, especially if you own an iPhone, and a wealth of audio features to improve your overall listening experience. Of all the wireless earphones we’ve tested over the years, Apple clearly has a knack for microphone quality, too.

But between the two AirPods models, there are several differences to note that, while not easy to spot from Apple’s marketing language and labels, make your buying decision more obvious than you might think. To help you decide which one you should buy, I’ve listed the main arguments for each model below.

more: Over 30 Black Friday deals on the best headphones of the moment

Determine

AirPods 3

AirPods Pro (1st generation)

mics

double beam

double beam

listening experience

Custom spatial audio

Custom spatial sound, active noise cancellation, and transparency mode

Connection

Bluetooth 5.0

Bluetooth 5.0

durability

Earbuds: IPX4

Earbuds: IPX4

battery

Up to 6 hours of listening time on a single charge

Up to 4.5 hours of listening time on a single charge

chip

H1

H1

price

$140

$159


Should You Buy AirPods 3 If…

1. You prefer the classic AirPods design

The AirPods 3 are the newer of the two models I’m comparing, but they retain that familiar stem design of the first generation AirPods. If you prefer it to the cushioned hooks of the Pro, AirPods 3 are the way to go.

While the non-Pro model is less flashy on paper, the AirPods retain two standout audio features from their pricier siblings: Spatial Audio and Adaptive EQ. The first is Apple’s in-house technology that synchronizes audio playback via dynamic head tracking. Basically, the sounds of music, videos, and movies are played into your ears as if the sound sources were physically in front of you. Adaptive EQ helps AirPods 3 automatically adjust the low and mid frequencies so you get the fullest, most realistic sound.

reconsidering: AirPods 3: Improvements in all the right places

2. You want a more durable case

While both earphone models are rated IPX4, which means they can withstand water splashes, the AirPods 3 charging case also has the same certification, while the AirPods Pro charging case does not. While you often have the charging cases hidden in a pocket or bag anyway, there’s still more objective protection with the newer AirPods 3.

AirPods 3 and AirPods Pro with their cases.

Left: AirPods 3, Right: AirPods Pro.

Jason Cipriani/ZDNET

3. You prioritize battery life and endurance

Besides convenience and sound quality, battery life is a mainstay between the two AirPods models. While the charging cases look almost identical, you can expect more endurance from the newer AirPods 3.

During our reviews, the AirPods 3 achieved an estimated 30 hours of music playback that Apple announced. That’s a step up from the AirPods Pro’s 24-hour battery life. One of the main reasons for this is the AirPods 3’s lack of Active Noise Cancellation (ANC). Without noise cancellation, non-Pro AirPods can conserve power more efficiently. Equally helps is turning off Spatial Audio, which only works with specific Apple Music media files.

The AirPods 3 will last for about 6 hours before needing to be docked in the charging case, while the AirPods Pro will last between 3-5 hours depending on whether you have ANC on or off. Either way (literally), you can charge via a Lightning cable, wirelessly via Qi, or through Apple’s MagSafe system.

also: 10+ Best Black Friday Apple Deals Happening Right Now

You should buy AirPods Pro (1st generation) if…

1. You want Active Noise Cancellation (ANC)

The AirPods Pro’s biggest selling point is ANC. Not to be confused with “passive noise cancellation,” which comes from the natural sealing of the earbud tips, ANC uses the AirPods Pro’s external microphones to deflect ambient sounds such as chirping birds, fans, and chatter. This crown jewel of an audio feature has made its way through most, if not all, high-end earphones and headphones, and could spoil you for any other way to listen to music.

Also, the AirPods Pro have a transparency mode that amplifies the sounds around you so you never miss a beat of reality. Instead of taking off the earphones, you can use Transparency mode to listen to subway stations, monitor traffic, or talk to a passerby.

also: Our top picks for noise canceling headphones

AirPods Pro on a yellow, orange, green, and blue striped background.

Cnet

2. Prefer cushioned earphones

The original AirPods were tall and too inconsistent in design for many. This is part of the reason why Apple later released the short-stemmed AirPods Pro. With silicone tips that come in small, medium, and large sizes, the AirPods Pro are arguably more customizable than the AirPods 3, and the in-ear design delivers superior passive noise cancellation.

Comparatively speaking, the AirPods 3 rely on a specific form factor—not rubber tips—to stick to your ears. Of course, there’s a bit of a seal with this model, though many will find the less intrusive application more comfortable, especially when wearing the buds for hours on end.

also: Apple AirPods Pro (2nd generation): Better ANC and improved charging case

Alternatives to consider

Open to prospects for other wireless earphones? Consider these devices tested by ZDNET:

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