Apple AirPods 3 vs. AirPods Pro: Which wireless earbuds should you buy?

Apple AirPods 3 vs. AirPods Pro: Which wireless earbuds should you buy?

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Apple's AirPods tin beryllium easy credited for the wide adaption of wireless earbuds implicit the past decade. Notably, the AirPods Pro, which introduced progressive sound cancellation and a bevy of audio enhancements backmost successful 2019, are 1 of the best wearable options that we've tested astatine ZDNet.

But with large products comes large competition, and if you've been eyeing a caller brace of AirPods, there's a bully accidental that the AirPods (3rd generation) -- released successful October of 2021 -- are among the options you're considering.

While the newer AirPods are not arsenic feature-rich arsenic the timeless, $249 AirPods Pro, they connection a well-rounded audio bundle with each the Apple quirks for just $179. Here's everything that you should see earlier going debased oregon going Pro.

Design and fit

The archetypal AirPods were agelong and excessively jarring of a plan for galore to wear. That's portion of wherefore Apple aboriginal launched the short-stemmed AirPods Pro. Two years later, the 3rd procreation of AirPods (or, AirPods 3 arsenic I'll telephone them from this constituent forward) were released with a plan that inspired the statement of "AirPods Pro Lite." Basically, the look and consciousness of some models are precise similar.

Where the 2 disagree physically is successful the receptor extremity cushioning. With tapered silicone tips that travel successful 3 sizes (small, medium, and large), the AirPods Pro are arguably much customizable and its in-ear plan provides superior passive sound cancellation. That's erstwhile the signifier of the earbuds themselves helps to artifact retired outer noises. Given its "Pro" nature, Apple besides offers an "Ear Tip Fit Test", which plays chimes to find the champion receptor extremity sizes for you.

Comparatively, the AirPods 3 trust connected a contoured signifier origin -- not rubber tips -- to cling onto your ears. Naturally, determination is little of a seal with this model, though galore volition find the less-intrusive exertion much comfortable, particularly erstwhile wearing the buds for hours connected end. They're besides lighter than the Pros astatine 0.15 ounces (versus 0.19 ounces).


Left: AirPods 3, Right: AirPods Pro

Jason Cipriani/ZDNet

Both earbuds are rated for IPX4, meaning they tin prolong splashes of water. Whether you're moving successful the rainfall oregon breaking a sweat indoors, you won't person to interest astir h2o harm with either model. However, the cardinal quality lies with the charging cases. The AirPods Pro's charging lawsuit does not person the aforesaid IPX4 certification arsenic the earbuds, whereas the AirPods 3's does. While you'll often person the charging cases tucked successful a pouch oregon bag, there's objectively much extortion with the newer AirPods 3.

Also: Getting AirPods Pro? Here's wherefore you should get AppleCare+ arsenic well

Sound and features

In presumption of audio performance, the biggest selling constituent of the AirPods Pro -- particularly erstwhile compared to the AirPods 3 -- is progressive sound cancellation (ANC). Not to beryllium mistaken with the aforementioned "passive sound cancellation," ANC uses the outer microphones of the earbuds to deflect ambient sounds similar vertebrate chirps, fans, and chatter. This crown jewel of an audio diagnostic has made its mode crossed most, if not all, high-end earbuds and headphones, and whitethorn good spoil the mode you perceive to music.

apple-airpods-pro-best-wireless-earbuds-review.png Image: CNET

Reversely, the AirPods Pro carries a transparency mode that amplifies the sounds of your surroundings truthful you don't miss a bushed of reality. Instead of taking disconnected your earbuds, you tin usage transparency mode to perceive for subway stops, monitoring traffic, oregon conversing with a passerby.

Also: Our apical picks for noise-cancelling headphones

While you volition person to wage the "Pro" taxation to get these noise-cancelling qualities, the AirPods 3 retains 2 notable audio features from its much costly sibling: Spatial audio and Adaptive EQ. The erstwhile is Apple's in-house tech that synchronizes audio playback via dynamic caput tracking. Basically, the sounds of music, videos, and movies play successful your ears arsenic if the instrumentals are physically successful beforehand of you. Take a measurement near oregon close and you volition perceive the displacement successful positioning.

Speaking of immersion, Adaptive EQ helps to automatically set the debased and mid frequencies of AirPods 3 truthful that you get the astir afloat and true-to-life sound. In general, our investigating has recovered some AirPods to present exceptionally wide and affluent audio. It besides helps that some the AirPods 3 and AirPods Pro are built with Apple's H1 chip, meaning interactions with Siri and quick-pairing are virtually the aforesaid crossed the board.

More: AirPods Pro: Apple's champion wireless earbuds yet

Battery and charging

Beyond comfortableness and dependable quality, artillery beingness is simply a pillar that's worthy weighing successful betwixt the 2 AirPods models. While the charging cases look astir identical, you tin expect greater endurance from the newer AirPods 3.

zdnet-wireless-charging-pad-for-airpods-airpods-pro.jpg Logiix

During our reviews, the AirPods 3 achieved the estimated 30 hours of euphony playback that Apple advertised. That's a step-up from the 24-hour artillery beingness of the AirPods Pro. A cardinal crushed for this, judge it oregon not, is the AirPods 3's deficiency of ANC. By doing without the high-computing feature, the much affordable AirPods are capable to clasp powerfulness efficiently. Turning disconnected Spatial audio, which lone works with prime Apple Music media files, helps adjacent more.

More: AirPods 3 review: Improvements successful each the close places 

Going by the numbers, the AirPods 3 volition past you astir six hours earlier needing to beryllium docked successful the charging case, portion the AirPods Pro volition past betwixt 3 to 5 hours depending connected whether you person ANC connected oregon off. In some cases (literally), you tin complaint via Lightning cable, wirelessly via Qi, oregon done Apple's MagSafe system.


As mentioned earlier, $60 is what separates the caller AirPods 3 from the AirPods Pro. However, fixed the older tenure of the Pro, you'll beryllium much apt to travel crossed a cost-saving woody for that exemplary than the AirPods 3. In fact, astatine the clip of this writing, the Pro model is connected sale, bringing it successful enactment with the newer AirPods. At that price, you'd beryllium hard-pressed to find a amended brace of wireless earbuds for the money.

Still, it's not intolerable to snag a brace of AirPods 3 for little than its $179 retail price. With a small patience, the earbuds tin beryllium had at a discount. The statement for these implicit the Pro boils down to 2 things: Comfort and artillery life. The AirPods 3 are exquisitely well-balanced and connection the bare necessities of an Apple-powered wearable and past some.

More: Don't bargain your AirPods from Apple! These are the champion deals crossed the web


Open to different wireless earbuds prospects? Consider these ZDNet-tested devices: