AirPods 3 In The Test: The Golden Mean
With the new AirPods, Apple has launched the third generation of its popular headphones. The test skillfully bridges the gap between the Pro models and the predecessor. And have a surprising effect.
They are probably Apple’s biggest surprise hit: As the AirPods First introduced, they mostly drew ridicule because of the DesignDesign. And with the mixture of iconic DesignDesign, great everyday suitability, and good sound, they became a real bestseller. Now Apple has released the third generation. We have already tested them.
I have to admit it: no other headphone has ever become my everyday companion to the same extent as the AirPods. Since I connected my first pair to the iPhone, I’ve always had a pair in my pocket. So it’s no wonder that I was very excited about the new generation. And so much can already be revealed: They have outstripped the old models in almost every respect in my everyday life. But not everyone.
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AirPods 3 Design: Old And New
The excitement is great when you unpack it for the first time. With the new DesignDesign, the third generation AirPods worked when presented very close to the Pro models introduced two years ago. And the impression is also retained in practice: With the shortened bridge and the somewhat clunky housing, they are more reminiscent of the Pro models, and in the ear, they look much more like them from the outside, the charging cradle is flatter, but wider DesignDesign is also based on the newer models.
But once in your ear, you almost immediately forget it. In contrast to the Pro models, Apple does without the rubber insert; the new AirPods sit almost exactly in the ear as their predecessors. The wearing comfort remains high as usual. If you wear an older and a new AirPod in your ear simultaneously, you can feel the slightly larger housing in direct comparison, but that doesn’t matter in everyday life. If you have worn the older AirPods comfortably, the new ones also fit perfectly.
But doing without the rubber insert has another effect apart from the seat: The AirPods 3do does not close completely in contrast to the Pro models. This is probably also because Apple has dispensed with the most important feature of the Pro models: The new models offer neither noise-canceling nor the transparency mode, in which ambient noise is transmitted into the headphones via a microphone.
I don’t miss the latter in the test either. Because the headphones don’t lock completely, I can still hear the traffic noise or conversations in the area with the plugs in my ear, as long as the music is not too loud. So the headphones are transparent all the time.
Unfortunately, thanks to the more open DesignDesign, the transparency also works in the other direction: If the music, the podcast, or the series is too loud, the surroundings also notice it. When working in otherwise quiet rooms or traveling by train, you should be a little restrained with the volume.
Airpods 3: Better Sound
This is a shame as the rich sound invites you to crank it up. The new AirPods are still not coming close to the sound of the Pro models or other top headphones that sound even more differentiated and dynamic. However, the sound has become significantly better compared to the previous models. The bass is fuller but not overdone, the highs and mids are more differentiated, the sound is considerably warmer. From a wide variety of music to series and films to podcasts and phone calls: The AirPods 3 leave little to be desired in all areas of everyday use.
As a bonus, they now support Spatial Audio. The Apple technology, previously reserved for the expensive AirPods Pro and Max, makes it possible to create surround sound with appropriately mixed content. The guitar and the drums can then be spatially distinguished in pieces of music. The effect is even more noticeable when watching films or series when, thanks to Dolby Atmos, you could tell with your eyes closed which part of a room the speaking figure is in or where the explosion just came from. Strong: If you move your head away from the screen, the sound moves with you, as if I were turning away from a source of noise in a room. This is particularly impressive in connection with an AppleTV.
The transparency of the headphones led to a change in my usage behavior in my test. To still hear my sleeping children, I preferred to do without headphones in the evening and turned the television down a little in the otherwise quiet apartment. With the AirPods 3 Nevertheless, I always have the feeling that I can hear them: And since then, I have enjoyed more sound effects and dialogue. And my wife, who goes to bed earlier, still sleeps more calmly.
The combination of the turn-around effect of Spatial Audio described above, and the transparency has a bizarre effect: More than once, I was not sure whether the sound of a series was really coming from the AirPods or whether it was not coming from the output device coupled and yet the speakers could be heard. Fortunately, I’ve always been wrong, and my family hasn’t been knocked out of bed by loud special effects.
Couples Happy – But Only With The Current System
Another great advantage of Apple’s comes into play, especially in connection with AppleTV: Like other AirPods, the third generation can be switched virtually seamlessly from one Apple device to the next if the same account is logged in. Unfortunately, the only exception in the test is my work Mac: Because I cannot install the update required to use the AirPods, they refuse to connect when I switch even though older Apple headphones work without any problems.
When I pair them manually via Bluetooth on a tip from Apple, I can establish a connection. However, with restrictions: Spatial Audio and Dolby Atmos are not supported. Since then, switching between devices has been uncomplicated. Anyone who uses an iPhone, iPad, or AppleTV with older software should be prepared for the corresponding restrictions.
Incidentally, Apple has also stepped up in the last relevant respect: The third-generation AirPods lasted noticeably longer in the test. Almost 6 hours of mixed-use such as telephoning and listening to music while working were usually possible. After a short disappearance in the charging cradle, they are back in use after a short time.
They could then be recharged four to five times until the case also had to be plugged into the socket. Apple’s promise of up to 6 hours of running time and four additional charges in the case is more likely to be exceeded in practice.
If the case has to be charged, the new AirPods have even an advantage over older AirPods Pro: the new charging case supports wireless charging according to the Qi standard and Apple’s magnetic power supply Magsafe introduced last year. So I can even clip the case onto my car holder and supply it with power. It’s not a killer feature, but it’s a nice extra. With the AirPods Pro, Apple has only added a case that can do the same for a few weeks. If you want, you can, of course, continue to use any Lightning power supply for charging.
Conclusion: The Best AirPods Without Pro
With the new AirPods, Apple has gone one step further compared to its predecessor in almost every respect. They sound better, last longer, and offer great extra functions with Spatial Audio, Dolby Atmos, and the Magsafe case. This is how you want a successful product to be upgraded.
However, Apple can also pay for that well: The new AirPods have an RRP of 199 euros, 20 euros more than its predecessor at the market launch. In reality, the price difference is even greater: the AirPods 2, which are still available, are already available for 120 euros.
That makes a buy recommendation difficult. If the simple AirPods are enough, you save almost 80 euros with the predecessor. If you want Spatial Audio and Co., it is almost more worthwhile to use the AirPods Pro. Even with the new Magsafe case, they cost from 225 euros and offer excellent noise-canceling for the low surcharge. Therefore, it will probably not be long before the new AirPods 3 also drop to a price of around 160 euros. And they represent a reasonable compromise between entry-level and high-end models in terms of price and features.