Five years after the original release of AirPods, and a couple of years after a minor upgrade that included the addition of wireless charging, Apple has revealed a complete AirPods overhaul. The third-gen earbuds now have a design similar to the AirPods Pro, and while they introduce features like adaptive EQ and conversation boost, they, unfortunately, won’t include active noise cancellation.
The iconic design of the wired white earbuds bundled with iPhones for more than a decade was carried through to Apple’s first wireless earbuds, but the new third-gen AirPods are finally embracing a curvier aesthetic paired with a shorter stem design, which makes them look more like the AirPods Pro. What separates the new AirPods from the AirPods Pro, however, is a lack of silicone ear tips.
Like the original AirPods, the new earbuds are designed to sit inside your ears instead of fitting snugly inside the ear canal with a squishy silicone plug. Users who’ve had trouble keeping AirPods in their ears might still struggle with the new AirPods as a result. The design decision also means that Apple is not bringing active noise cancellation to the new AirPods, as the silicone tips (which often come in various sizes to ensure the best fit) are a crucial part of keeping unwanted noises out of the ear. That’s a feature Apple is apparently planning to keep exclusive to the AirPods Pro and the AirPods Max.
In addition to a new design, Apple is bringing a few other features from the AirPods Pro to the third-gen AirPods, which to date have been fairly basic functionality-wise. Adaptive EQ will automatically adjust the frequencies of what’s being listened to based on how the sounds are being measured in the ear, so no matter how the buds are worn, or how their position may change during a run, for example, the quality of the sound should always be optimal.
Spatial Audio and dynamic head tracking are also coming to the third-gen AirPods, so when watching movies mixed with Dolby Atmos, or even during Group FaceTime calls, users will experience sounds coming from all directions so the experience is more like being in a movie theater, and less like sitting at the kitchen table.
The third-gen AirPods charging case has also been redesigned to accommodate a larger battery. Apple promises six hours of listening time on the buds alone, or up to 30 hours in total when topped up with the charging case while away from a power source. Five minutes in the case will also charge the earbuds enough for an hour of listening to music, podcasts, or audiobooks.
The new AirPods will be officially available for order today with shipping expected next week. Unlike the previous generation AirPods, just one option is being made available with wireless charging now a standard feature. Apple is sticking with the AirPods’ $179 price tag, which is an odd choice given both the sheer number of wireless earbuds available now and the quality of the product the competition is delivering, even below $100. The use of Apple’s H1 chip does give the new AirPods an advantage when it comes to seamless connectivity, improved battery life, and being able to easily call on Siri for various voice-activated functions, but alternatives like Nothing’s Ear (1) offer impressive sound and active noise cancellation for just $99. We’ll have to see how the new AirPods stack up to their rivals, so stay tuned for a full review.