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We break down the key differences between the entry-level AirPods, AirPods 3, AirPods Pro (1st-Gen) and the brand-new AirPods Pro (2nd-Gen).
Apple now sells three different wireless earbuds: there’s the entry-level AirPods (2nd-Generation), the mid-range AirPods (3rd-Generation) and the all-new noise-canceling AirPods Pro (2nd-Generation). You can also still buy the original AirPods Pro from third-party sites like Amazon, although Apple has stopped selling them. This is great for us — well, everybody with iPhones — because we have more choice, but it also means deciding between the three could be a bit of a headache.
The fact of the matter is that three models of AirPods are equal parts similar as they are different. All three AirPod models have quick iPhone pairing and support hands-free “Hey Siri.” But the more expensive models look and fit differently, and have more premium features (such as wireless charging and active noise-cancellation). And, of course, the more expensive models are going to sound better.
Speaking of price, all three AirPods are priced very differently; the AirPods (2nd-Generation) are $50 less expensive than the mid-range AirPods (3rd-Generation), which are then $70 cheaper than the high-end AirPods Pro. So you really have to think about what fit and features you want, because it’s going to have a big impact on price.
In photo, from left to right: AirPods (2nd Gen), AirPods 3, AirPods Pro (discontinued) and AirPods Pro 2.
We’ve been listening to Apple’s wireless earbuds for years and are able to directly compare each model in terms of smart features (such as fast pairing), sound quality and other more “pro” features like active noise-cancellation and support for spatial audio. And yes, there are definite improvements as you go from the entry-level models to the high-end AirPods Pro.
The most-entry level AirPods have the same thin-stemmed design as the original ones from 2016. They’re cheaper than the rest because they lack the noise-cancellation and transparency models, as well as support for spatial audio. They’re also the only AirPods that you can buy without a wireless charging case (although you can buy a wireless charging model for an extra $30-ish).
Compared to the AirPods Pro, the main downside of the AirPods (3rd-Generation) is that they lack active noise-cancellation and transparency modes. They also don’t fit as deep in your ears, or as securely because they lack the adjustable silicone eartips. But other than that, they work mostly the same. They support spatial audio and wireless charging. They’re sweat- and water-resistant. And, maybe most significantly, they have the best battery life of any AirPods that Apple sells.
The AirPods Pro are the best wireless earbuds that Apple sells, and they deliver some of the best audio-quality and active noise-cancellation that you’re likely to find in any pair of wireless earbuds. The support a high-quality audio, such as Spatial Audio and Dolby Atmos. They can wireless charge. And they fit more securely than any other AirPods thanks to their deeper in-ear design and adjustable silicone eartips.
The newest AirPods Pro — which are the only AirPods Pro that Apple now sells — are the same size, shape and design as the original AirPods Pro, but Apple has given them quite the upgrade. They are the first AirPods to house Apple’s new H2 processing chip, which helps significantly improve their noise-canceling and transparency abilities; Apple claims they have twice as powerful noise-canceling as the first-gen AirPods Pros. The H2 chip powers personalized Spatial Audio, which is supposed to make them sound considerably more immersive. They have a new custom-built driver and amplifier that improves their sound quality. They are the first AirPods to on-ear volume controls. And the charging case supports Find My with Precision Finding and have a built-in speaker (just like AirPods).