Are third generation earbuds worth the upgrade?
Remember five years ago when Apple touted its “courage” in killing the headphone jack on future iPhones?
From that death springs new life, which in Apple’s case were AirPods, its wireless earbuds launched in 2016 that have since dominated the market. Sorry, wired earbuds.
With the launch of its third-generation AirPods on Oct. 26, consumers have a bit more variety, both in price and function, when it comes to choosing AirPods that work best for their lifestyle.
I’ve been using Apple’s new AirPods for a week now, and while they might lack some key features of the pricier AirPods Pro, they are a notable upgrade from the second-generation counterparts released in 2019.
The case is practically the same size as last generation (shorter and wider instead of the longer, taller AirPods 2 case), but it’s much lighter. It also supports MagSafe which means you can charge them wirelessly.
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The third-generation AirPods have been redesigned with a shorter stem and a force sensor to use touch controls. If you’re used to tapping the AirPods to change songs or pause, you’ll have to recalibrate a bit. To skip songs, you gently grab the stem with your index finger on the force sensor, then press down. You’ll feel a button press to signal your inputs.
Setup on AirPods is super easy with iPhone. Once you open the case, you get a prompt on your phone then hit “Connect.” That’s it. The process is painless.
Where these new AirPods really stand out compared to the second generation is the quality of sound. They use spatial audio to deliver a fuller sound when listening to music or podcasts. When hearing conversations on a podcast, for example, it feels like the voices originate from different spaces as opposed to just sounding like a recording.
There are also other touches to AirPods that have continued to push Apple’s earbuds to the forefront. In-ear detection has been tweaked so AirPods can better sense when you are removing the earbuds, which would presumably save battery life.
Apple says users gets up to six hours of listening time. Combined with the cases that will recharge the AirPods, battery life extends up to 30 hours.
The AirPods will also have enhanced support on the Find My app, Apple’s tool for finding lost devices. You can use a proximity view, similar to what’s offered on AirTags, to get a location on your AirPods, as well as separation alerts if they’re not within Bluetooth range.
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The most notable absence from AirPods is support for active noise cancellation, which drowns out ambient sound to allow your music or other audio to stand out. It’s available on AirPods Pro and, more importantly, some lower-cost earbud models such as the Razer Hammerhead True Wireless Earbuds and Amazon’s Echo Buds.
Then there’s the price at $179. For comparison, those new Razer earbuds are $130 while Echo Buds typically sell for $140. They’re pretty good prices for earbuds if you want active noise cancellation and stay within budget.
However, these third generation AirPods still pull together a wonderful harmony of sound, comfort and features if you’re willing to spend a little more money.
Follow Brett Molina on Twitter: @brettmolina23.