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Apple’s newest AirPods rival the Pro model’s sound quality for under $200, but they lack noise cancellation

Prices are accurate at the time of publication.

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Antonio Villas-Boas/Insider

  • Apple’s $180 3rd-generation AirPods offer similar sound, features, and design as the $250 AirPods Pro.
  • The only major feature missing in the 3rd-gen AirPods is noise cancellation, which is an AirPods Pro exclusive. 
  • While the $180 price for the 3rd-gen AirPods is tempting, we often see the AirPods Pro discounted down to $200.

With AirPods Pro features like MagSafe wireless charging and support for Spatial Audio and Dolby Atmos, Apple’s latest 3rd-generation AirPods can easily be summarized as a cheaper version of the AirPods Pro.

Indeed, the 3rd-gen AirPods have more in common with the AirPods Pro than they do with the 2nd-gen AirPods, and that includes sound quality. The only major feature that’s missing is noise cancellation. The 3rd-gen AirPods are effectively an option that lies between the 2nd-gen AirPods and the AirPods Pro, with a heavy lean towards the premium Pro model. 

The 3rd-gen AirPods’ $180 price also looks good, especially compared to the $250 AirPods Pro full retail pricing. It’s important to note that we haven’t seen the AirPods Pro sell at full retail pricing outside of Apple’s stores for a while — they’re often discounted closer to $200. With that in mind, we recommend the 3rd-gen AirPods only if you can find a particularly good deal or simply won’t pay $200-plus for wireless earbuds.

616dbdfb38c1960018306808Apple AirPods (3rd Gen)$169.98 FROM AMAZONOriginally $179.00 | Save 5%$169.98 FROM WALMARTOriginally $179.00 | Save 5%$179.00 FROM BEST BUY$149.99 FROM MICRO CENTEROriginally $179.99 | Save 17%$179.00 FROM APPLE

The 3rd-gen AirPods sound better than the original and 2nd-gen AirPods.The 3rd-generation AirPods outside of their case on a marble countertop

Antonio Villas-Boas/Insider

After comparing the original and 2nd-gen AirPods side-by-side with the 3rd-gen AirPods, it’s clear that the 3rd-gen AirPods sound better. There’s a lot more clarity, and you’ll be able to hear individual instruments and sounds better than you would with previous-generation AirPods. Bass is also significantly refined and more present.

You also get Apple’s Spatial Audio, as well as support for Dolby Atmos in apps and content that supports it. However, my experience with these two features is hit or miss. Spatial Audio tends to make things sound rather thin and hollow, and Dolby Atmos sounds like it merely amplifies lows while muffling mids and highs. Plus, support for Dolby Atmos is sparse at the moment, at least for music and songs that I like. 

But just because I didn’t like these features doesn’t mean you won’t, and it’s a good thing that they’re options you can enable and disable as you please.

The 3rd-gen AirPods are basically a “lite” version of the AirPods Pro.The AirPods Pro on the left and the 3rd-gen AirPods on the right sitting on a marble counter

Antonio Villas-Boas/Insider

When comparing the 3rd-gen AirPods to the AirPods Pro, it’s tough to make distinctions. Both models sound so similar that you could say the 3rd-gen AirPods are essentially the AirPods Pro without noise cancelling or customizable silicone ear tips. Otherwise, 3rd-gen AirPods users will enjoy the same features that were exclusive to the AirPods Pro, like Spatial Audio, Dolby Atmos support, and MagSafe wireless charging. 

One minor but important difference is that the 3rd-gen’s charging case holds up to 30 hours of battery life, while the AirPods Pro’s case holds 24 hours. The earbuds themselves have similar battery life, but the AirPods Pro have less battery life with active noise cancelling enabled. 

You can read our AirPods Pro review here.

Will Apple’s 3rd-gen AirPods fit your ears?Apple 3rd-gen AirPods in ear.

Antonio Villas-Boas/Insider Reviews

Dating back to wired EarPods that came included with iPhones, I’ve had issues with Apple’s earbuds fitting and staying in my ears. Unfortunately, the 3rd-gen AirPods haven’t improved the fit in my ears.

As I sat in front of my computer writing this review, the left AirPod fell out of my ear simply from turning my head gently to the side. So far, the AirPods Pro are the only Apple earbuds that actually fit and stay in my ears, and even then, it’s not that secure. 

AirPods and fit is clearly not an issue for everyone. I look in wonder at people who walk, or even run, with AirPods and manage to keep them in their ears. If you’ve never had issues with the AirPods fit, you should be fine with these.

If you’ve ever had issues with EarPods or non-pro AirPods fitting and staying in your ears, the AirPods 3rd-generation aren’t going to improve that problem.

Which AirPods model should you buy?The AirPods Pro on the left, 3rd-gen AirPods in the middle, and 2nd-gen AirPods on a marble counter/

Antonio Villas-Boas/Insider

At $130, the 2nd-gen AirPods are a bit of a tough sell, as you can easily find less expensive wireless earbuds that sound better, like the $50 JLab Jbuds Air, $60 Belkin Soundform, or the $80 Jabra Elite 3. We wouldn’t recommend the 2nd-gen AirPods unless you find a deal that brings them under $100. 

As for the 3rd-gen AirPods, they’re a great cheaper alternative to the AirPods Pro, but keep in mind that it’s easy to find the $250 AirPods Pro for $200 these days, and even lower during  major sales events like Black Friday or Amazon Prime Day. With that in mind, we’d argue to spend the extra $20 for the AirPods Pro — if you can find them for a $200 deal — over the 3rd-gen AirPods.

Despite being so new, there are some minor deals for the 3rd-gen AirPods already available. At the time of writing, Amazon and Target are offering the 3rd-gen AirPods for $10 off, bringing their price down from $180 to $170. If noise cancelling and a more secure fit aren’t worth the extra $20 to $30 to you, you’ll be happy with the 3rd-gen AirPods.

Should you buy 3rd-gen AirPods or wireless earbuds from other brands?Apple 3rd-gen AirPods out of case.

Antonio Villas-Boas/Insider Reviews

For the most part, iPhone users will be happy with the sound, exclusive features, battery life, and price of Apple’s 3rd-gen AirPods.

However, if you’ve tried AirPods before and experienced fitting issues, you can either opt for the AirPods Pro for a chance at a better fit or buy wireless earbuds from a different brand that usually have tips with an even higher chance of fitting more securely in your ear canal.

In the 3rd-gen AirPods $179 price range, we love the $200 Jabra Elite 7 Pro. And if you want our ultimate picks in wireless earbuds, the $280 Sony WF-1000XM4 and $280 Bose QuietComfort Earbuds are our top picks for noise cancellation, fit, and sound quality. Check out our Sony WF-1000XM4 review and Bose QuietComfort Earbuds review.

616dbdfb38c1960018306808Apple AirPods (3rd Gen)$169.98 FROM AMAZONOriginally $179.00 | Save 5%$169.98 FROM WALMARTOriginally $179.00 | Save 5%$179.00 FROM BEST BUY$149.99 FROM MICRO CENTEROriginally $179.99 | Save 17%$179.00 FROM APPLE

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