Apple AirPods 3 (2021) review: Great for some, but not for most

Comfy, but at what cost? 

AirPods 3
Apple AirPods 3
3.5 out of 5 stars
3.5
Battery
6 hours
Water-Reistance
IPX4
Weight
4.28g
Alex Choros
Group Reviews Editor
Read More
July 27, 2022
3 min read

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Quick verdict: Apple AirPods 3

The AirPods 3 sound great and are extremely comfortable, but a key design choice coupled with awkward pricing limits their appeal.

pro
Pros
pro Super comfortable
pro Great sound quality
pro Good battery life
con
Cons
con No sound isolation
con Weird price

The third generation AirPods (henceforth AirPods 3), are made for a very specific kind of user. They're great earbuds, but unless explicitly looking for an open fit design, you're better off looking elsewhere. This is partially because of how much external noise an open fit design lets in, but also because you can upgrade to the AirPods Pro by only spending a little more.

AirPods 3 in case

How much do AirPods 3 cost in Australia?

Store
Price
More info
Amazon
From
$256
Dick Smith
From
$249
Kogan
From
$249
The Good Guys
From
$279

AirPods 3 design and fit

AirPods 3 selfie

The AirPods 3 are the first major overhaul of Apple's non-Pro wireless earbuds since they debuted in 2016. Instead of reinventing the wheel, Apple has taken most of its cues from the AirPods Pro. The stems are much shorter than the original AirPods, and black cutouts house microphones. When compared to the first generation, it's a much more subtle design.

The main difference between AirPods 3 and AirPods Pro is the open design. The AirPods 3 don't have silicon tips, so they sit in your ear, rather than poking into your ear canal. The open design makes the AirPods 3 are some of the comfiest earbuds I've tested. I'm less aware I'm wearing AirPods 3 when compared to in-ear buds. The fit is also surprisingly secure, passing the all-important headbang test.

However, an open design also lets in a whole lot of noise. The AirPods 3 have no noise isolation. This isn't the biggest issue if you're listening at home, in an office, or on a quiet walk, but becomes much more problematic in louder environments. I had to max out the AirPods to hear my music over the treadmill at the gym, and even then, some quieter moments in songs with quieter moments.

AirPods 3 sound quality

AirPods 3

In terms of audio quality, the AIrPods 3 sound great. When it comes to overall clarity, they even best the AirPods Pro. It was just that little bit easier to follow along to the prog metal chaos of Opeth's "The Funeral Portrait" (from our audio testing playlist) on the AirPods 3.

Where the AirPods 3 suffer, however, is sub-bass and sound stage. The AirPods 3 have a surprising amount of low-end punch, but as you get deeper into sub-bass territory, you lose a lot of resonance. They robbed the thumping kick from Childish Gambino's "3005" of most its weight. You also get a narrower sense of stereo separation; the swooshy opening synths in Pink Floyd's "Comfortably Numb" felt mostly centred, rather than panning back and forward between left and right earbuds.

Microphone quality is also a step below AirPods Pro, but not bad by any measure. The AirPods 3 still some of the clearer earbuds we've tested for voice, almost certainly helped by the stemmed design.

AirPods 3 battery and extras

AirPods 3 case

When it comes to battery, the AirPods 3 deliver. You'll get up to six hours of music playback per charge, and up to 30 hours before you need to top up your charging case. Very few earbuds hit the 30 hour threshold. If your AirPods 3 go flat, a five-minute charge will give you an extra hour of battery life.

Naturally, the AirPods 3 are still powered by the same H1 chip you'll find across the family (and in most Beats headphones). This is the secret sauce that gives you instant pairing with any iPhone or iPad, and lets you easily connect the AirPods 3 to any iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, or Mac signed into your Apple ID.

If you're listening in Apple Music, the AirPods 3 also have support for dynamic head tracking if you're listening in Apple Music. Dynamic head tracking creates the illusion that audio is coming from all around you - like a concert, rather than earbuds. If you tilt your head, your music reorients around you. The AirPods 3 are one of the few pairs of headphones that support this feature. Your other options for dynamic head tracking are AirPods Pro, AirPods Max, and Beats Fit Pro. I wouldn't go out of my way to get a pair of earbuds with dynamic head tracking, but it can be an interesting effect.

Are the AirPods 3 worth buying?

AirPods 3 on iPhone 13 Pro

The AirPods 3 are comfortable earbuds with great sound quality, but you really need to be in the market for an open design to make them a good buy. If you're happy with in-ear (which, we'd recommend anyway, due to much better noise isolation), there are too many other good options given the $279 asking price.

The Beats Fit Pro retail for just $20 more and are essentially sporty AirPods Pro. You get noise-cancellation and all the software smarts. And if you really love the AirPods aesthetic, spending $40 to $50 more will get you AirPods Pro. While they retail for $399, they're regularly marked down to around $330.

There are also plenty of great budget in-ear options if you're looking to save a bit of cash. There are the Beats Studio Buds if you're looking for iPhone-centric features like easy pairing and cross device support. They'll only set you back $199. And if you're more blasé, there are great budget options like the Jabra Elite 3 and Nothing Ear 1.

If the AirPods 3 were a little bit cheaper they could represent a great entry-level pair of AirPods, but given the state of the market, they won't be the right choice for most.

Disclosure: This author owns shares in Apple.

How do the AirPods 3 compare?

Product
Rating
Active noise-cancelling
Water resistance
Availability
Jabra Elite Active 4Jabra Elite 4 Active
3.3 out of 5 stars
3.25
From
$179
6 hrs (buds)
28 hrs (case/total)
propro
Samsung Galaxy Buds 2 ProSamsung Galaxy Buds 2 Pro
4 out of 5 stars
4
From
$349
5 hrs (buds)
23 hrs (case/total)
propro

Disclaimer: Pricing and deal information only accurate as of the last page update. 

How we review wireless earbuds

When we review earbuds, broadly speaking, we're looking at five main considerations:

  • Sound: Obviously. Do they sound good? 
  • Comfort & Design: Are they nice to wear? 
  • Features: Is the battery good? Is the connectivity reliable? What's the noise-cancelling like?
  • Vibe: What's the overall experience like? 
  • Value: Are they good for the money?

While audio products can be quite subjective for many reasons, we have standardised testing procedures across the team designed to help us look at the category in a consistent way. You can read more about how we review wireless earbuds here

Alex Choros
Written by
Alex Choros
Alex Choros is the Group Reviews Editor for Clearlink Australia's local websites - Reviews.org, Safewise, and WhistleOut - and the Managing Editor for WhistleOut Australia. He's been writing about consumer technology for over eight years and is an expert on the Australian telco sector, to the point where he knows far too many phone and internet plans by heart. He also contributes to Gizmodo and Lifehacker, and makes regular appearances on 2GB. Outside of tech, Alex loves long hikes, red wine, and death metal.

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