If you’re trying to choose between Apple’s AirPods 3 and it is AirPods Pro 2, the biggest questions are whether you want active noise cancellation in a noise-isolating design or open-back headphones that don’t require you to stick silicone tips in your ears. Yes, there is a price difference—the AirPods Pro 2 sell for around $200 online, while the AirPods 3 cost around $150. But with only about $50 separating the two AirPods models, it’s probably more important to focus on those key differences instead of dwelling too much on their price.
Apple has bridged the gap between its Pro and regular AirPods by upgrading the AirPods 3’s design — it now looks more like the Pro’s design without the silicone ear tips — and giving it the same IPX4 splash-proof rating. Additionally, the AirPods 3, like the AirPods Pro and Pro 2, also feature Apple’s spatial audio with head tracking.
Read more: The best wireless headphones of 2023
But there are still certain benefits you can only get with the $249 AirPods Pro 2, the biggest ones being active noise cancellation and transparency mode. Multiple eartip sizes, the ability to slide up and down to control music volume, and ultra-wideband support are also exclusive to the Pro 2. But noise cancellation is likely to make the biggest impact in everyday use, and it’s the most the important factor to consider.
AirPods Pro 2 vs AirPods 3
|AirPods Pro 2||AirPods 3|
|Price (USD)||$249||$169 (Lightning case)|
|Price (UK)||£249||£179 (Lightning case)|
|Price (AU)||399 Australian dollars||AU$279 (Lightning case)|
|Weight (earplugs)||0.19 oz||0.15 oz|
|Audio features||Active noise cancellation, adaptive transparency, spatial audio with dynamic head tracking||Spatial audio with dynamic head tracking|
|Audio technology||Adaptive EQ, High Excursion Apple Custom Driver, High Dynamic Range Custom Amp, Pressure Equalization Vent System||Adaptive EQ, Custom High Excursion Apple Driver, Custom High Dynamic Range Amp|
|Endurance||IPX4 sweat and water resistant||IPX4 sweat and water resistant|
|Charging||MagSafe or Lightning||MagSafe or Lightning ($10 extra for MagSafe case)|
|Multiple ear tips||Yes||No|
|Chip||H2 chip, U1 chip in charging box||H1 chip|
|Battery life (headset)||6 hours of listening time||6 hours of listening time|
|Battery life (case)||30 hours of listening time||30 hours of listening time|
|Microphones||Dual beamforming microphones; inward microphone||Dual beamforming microphones; inward microphone|
|Sensors||Skin detection sensor, motion detection accelerometer, speech detection accelerometer, touch control||Skin detection sensor, motion detection accelerometer, speech detection accelerometer, force sensor|
|Controls||Hey Siri, touch controls||Hey Siri, force sensor|
AirPods Pro 2 vs. AirPods 3: Design and Case
The biggest design difference is that the $169 AirPods don’t have interchangeable silicone tips like the AirPods Pro 2, which include four sizes to choose from. The AirPods 3 are also lighter than the AirPods Pro 2 at 0.15 ounces (4.3 grams) versus 0.19 ounces (5.3 grams).
The AirPods 3 and the new AirPods Pro share some similarities when it comes to design, although it’s very easy to tell them apart. The stems of the AirPods Pro 2, for example, are noticeably shorter than those of the AirPods 3. But both models are sweat and water resistant, which could make them more attractive than the regular $129 AirPods for those who want them wear during training.
The AirPods 3 case looks like a cross between the standard AirPods case and the AirPods Pro case. It’s much shorter and wider than the base AirPods case, but not as wide as the AirPods Pro case. You can also charge the AirPods 3 or AirPods Pro case using Apple’s MagSafe wireless charger or by plugging it in with a Lightning cable. But you’ll have to pay an extra $10 to get the MagSafe wireless charging case bundled with the AirPods 3. The MagSafe-compatible case for the AirPods Pro 2 also has a lanyard loop, unlike the AirPods 3 case.
The second-generation AirPods Pro case has another option: ultra-broadband support. This essentially means that the box has a built-in AirTag for easier location tracking.
AirPods Pro 2 vs AirPods 3: Audio
Still, you’ll have to splurge on Apple’s best headphones to get active noise cancellation and transparency mode. Because the second-generation AirPods Pro have Apple’s new H2 chip, they can cancel up to twice as much noise as the previous AirPods Pro, Apple claims. Transparency mode also got an upgrade on the second generation model. The new chip can reduce loud noises from your surroundings when you’re in transparency mode, which should make the sounds of a passing vehicle seem less distracting.
This new H2 chip also brings improved audio to the AirPods Pro 2, further distinguishing them from the AirPods 3. As my colleague David Carnoy writes in his reviewthe H2’s computing power helps AirPods Pro handle a wider range of frequencies.
You’ll also get slide-in controls to manage volume levels on the AirPods Pro 2. The AirPods 3 only have Apple’s force sensors, which you can press to skip forward, pause music, or answer calls.
But both AirPods Pro 2 and AirPods 3 have dynamic spatial audio and adaptive EQ. The former is essentially virtual surround sound, while the latter tunes the sound to your ears.
AirPods Pro 2 vs. AirPods 3: Battery Life
Battery life is similar for both models, although there are some minor differences. Both headphones should provide up to 6 hours of listening time, according to Apple’s claims. But you’ll get 5.5 hours of battery life when using spatial audio and head tracking on the AirPods Pro 2, while the AirPods 3 offer a slightly shorter 5 hours of battery life with this surround sound feature enabled. Apple also claims that the AirPods Pro 2 provide 4.5 hours of talk time, while the AirPods 3 offer up to 4 hours.
The case for both headphones should provide up to 30 hours of listening time, Apple says. But when it comes to talk time, you can expect to get 24 hours out of the box on the AirPods Pro 2 and 20 hours out of the box on the AirPods 3. Five minutes in either case is expected to fill up about an hour of listening time, or roughly 1 hour time to talk.
AirPods Pro 2 vs AirPods 3: How to choose
AirPods Pro 2 are for those who want active noise cancellation, better audio and a more personalized fit. You’ll also get some other benefits, like being able to find them more easily if they get lost, thanks to the U1 chip. The AirPods 3 are a better choice if you don’t care about noise cancellation and prefer open-back headphones (and yes, they cost about $50 less, so they offer some appeal for those on a tighter budget). At the same time, the AirPods 3 still have more to offer than the AirPods 2, which lack features like water resistance, adaptive EQ, and head-tracking spatial audio.
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