Apple AirPods (2021) review | Engadget (2023)

Sound quality

I don’t want to mince words here: the new AirPods sound so much better than the previous two versions. Like almost night and day better. Apple didn’t make any significant changes to sound quality from the first model to the 2019 version. But for gen three, Apple paired a custom driver with a high-dynamic-range amplifier to improve the audio chops. The company says that the duo work together to produce “rich consistent bass” and “crisp, clean” highs. From the moment I fired up the first song, this was all immediately evident. I don’t think I’ve ever audibly said “woah” with the first note from a guitar on any review unit, but given how average older AirPods sound, it was involuntary this time.

Overall, the sound is bigger and more immersive. It’s open and airy, instead of being compressed and downright boring like older AirPods. While greatly improved, the sound quality doesn’t match the absolute best I’ve tested: Sony’s WF-1000XM4, and Sennheiser’s Momentum True Wireless 2. However, the new AirPods do sound better than the Galaxy Buds 2 and are comparable to Jabra’s Elite 75t — both of which offer active noise cancellation and are more in line with Apple’s latest in terms of price.

Even without spatial audio tracks, music feels dimensional with vocals, instruments and other sounds standing on their own. The performance is consistent across the bluegrass picking of Nickel Creek to the bluesy folk rock of Jason Isbell and the grungy metal of Every Time I Die. Sure, part of this is due to the new driver/amp combo, as the crisp treble and constant, but not overpowering, bass help create these soundscapes. Another reason is the new shape of the earbud that better directs sound into your ears.

Apple AirPods (2021) review | Engadget (1)

Billy Steele/Engadget

(Video) AirPods 3 Review: Easy Mode!

The third aspect is Adaptive EQ, a feature Apple first introduced on the AirPods Max. Using computational audio, the company’s H1 chip and the inward-facing mic, AirPods tune the music for how the earbuds fit in your ear. Adaptive EQ constantly monitors sound and adapts low- and mid-range frequencies in real time. All of these updates make the new AirPods something I actually wanted to listen to music with, rather than something that was just more convenient that other earbuds.

The new AirPods also support Apple’s spatial audio. This means you can listen to tracks that are available in Dolby Atmos on Apple Music with no issue. I can respect that spatial audio as a concept is divisive: some people like it while others don’t. I don’t care for it with the AirPods Max, but I think it sounds better with these new AirPods. Dolby Atmos seemed a bit too spacious at times with Apple over-ear headphones (Kacey Musgraves’ Golden Hour is a prime example), but that’s not the case with the supported earbuds. I’m not sure it will sway folks who don’t care for spatial audio currently, but that’s why you have the ability to disable it entirely.

Like the AirPods Pro, spatial audio here is also available with dynamic head tracking, which changes the position of the audio in your earbuds when you turn your head. iOS will allow you to switch between fixed spatial audio and dynamic head tracking via the volume slider in Control Center. There’s also a third option to disable the immersive sound entirely from here. I think head tracking has some benefits when you’re watching a movie or TV show, but when you’re listening to music, it’s not so great. Especially when you momentarily walk away from your computer or phone. For that reason, easy access to these controls is a great thing.

What you won’t find here is active noise cancellation (ANC) or a transparency mode. Apple has reserved both for the pricier AirPods Pro, and there’s a key reason why. The third-gen AirPods allow some outside sound in by design as they don’t completely seal off your ear canal. This would make an ANC setup difficult and means the AirPods are “transparent” by default. Much like the design, if you consider the features of the new AirPods as the middle ground between the base model and the Pro version, a lot of these decisions make sense.

(Video) AirPods Pro 2021 Review - 4 Reasons You NEED to Buy These Now

Call quality

Apple AirPods (2021) review | Engadget (2)

Billy Steele/Engadget

As ever, Apple is hyping the voice quality on its latest AirPods. The company says new acoustic mesh covers for inset microphones help reduce wind noise. These earbuds also support the AAC-ELD codec, which Apple says enables “full-HD voice quality” to keep you sounding crisp and clear on FaceTime calls. What’s more, the AirPods support spatial audio in Group FaceTime calls to further simulate the feeling of being in the same room. Basically, the sound from the person who is talking comes from the direction they’re positioned on your screen. It’s not like speaking IRL, but it is an improvement. It makes calls more immersive, plus you can get an even better sense of directional audio when your device is in landscape mode.

Indeed, FaceTime calls are crisp and clear with the new AirPods. Phone calls are improved as well but not to the same degree. Voice quality is here better than most earbuds I’ve tested, but not by a ton. True to Apple’s claims, these AirPods do a decent job blocking background noise and focusing on your voice. It’s great when you’re talking, but the clamor resumes when you’re not speaking. Depending on how loud the noise is, it might be distracting for the person on the other end. There are improvements in regards to voice, but you’ll notice them most in FaceTime.

Battery life

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Billy Steele/Engadget

(Video) Airpods Comparison: Which One Is Right For YOU?

To accompany the redesign, Apple also increased battery life on the new AirPods. The company says you can expect up to six hours on the earbuds themselves and up to 30 hours total when you factor in the case. I actually managed just over seven hours during my tests, and that’s with fixed spatial audio on (but without dynamic head tracking). Since the second-gen version was rated at five hours, over seven is a significant upgrade for those who use headphones throughout their work day.

If you find yourself in a pinch, the new AirPods have the same quick-charge feature as the AirPods Pro: five minutes in the case gives you about an hour of use. Where the original AirPods Pro case supported wireless charging, now both it and the case for AirPods is equipped with MagSafe. The MagSafe case still works with Qi-certified pads, but Apple will sell you a magnetic charger for a better experience. Just remember: the second-gen model that Apple kept around for $129 doesn’t support wireless charging at all.

The competition

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Billy Steele/Engadget

There’s never been a doubt that AirPods are built for iPhone, iPad and Mac. Nearly every feature is meant to enhance or extend the tools available on those devices, including giving you the ability to access Siri and other things without reaching for an iPhone. By adding the third-gen AirPods in the middle of its lineup, Apple has replaced the 2019 model with a wireless charging case. That leaves its roster with the original design (second-generation) at $129, this model at $179 and the AirPods Pro at $249. The company now has a trio of options akin to what Samsung has offered for a while now: a range of choices with varied options and prices.

(Video) New AirPods 3 Review: Watch Before You Buy!

At this point, the only options that come close to the deep iOS integration AirPods offer are products like the Powerbeats Pro. A few models in the Beats lineup offer handy features like fast pairing and hands-free Siri since they’re powered by Apple’s H1 chip. The more affordable Studio Buds ($150) don’t have that component, but they still offer the ability to wake the assistant without reaching for your phone. The Beats Fit Pro leaked earlier this month and initial reports indicate they too will carry Apple’s powerful earbud tech, but we don’t know about price just yet. There are plenty of options that sound great and have handy features in their own right, but nothing without the H1 chip syncs as well with Apple’s devices.

If you want active noise cancellation or ambient sound in some tiny earbuds, the Galaxy Buds 2 are a solid bet. Unfortunately, Samsung scaled back its iOS integration a few models ago, but these still work well with iPhone and the like. If ANC, spatial audio or hands-free Siri aren’t things you need, Jabra’s Elite 3 earbuds are the best value right now. They’re tiny and comfy, but the sound is impressive and the battery life is good. Plus, they’re only $80.


No modest update this time around. Apple totally overhauled AirPods for the third-generation version with the biggest changes coming in the design and audio quality. The company also expanded availability of key features like spatial audio and Adaptive EQ to a more affordable set of earbuds while keeping all of the convenience of AirPods intact. These earbuds still aren’t for everyone, but what they offer the Apple faithful can’t be found elsewhere and the company will do well to keep it that way.

All products recommended by Engadget are selected by our editorial team, independent of our parent company. Some of our stories include affiliate links. If you buy something through one of these links, we may earn an affiliate commission. All prices are correct at the time of publishing.

(Video) How to use AirPods 3 + Tips/Tricks!


Are AirPods worth it 2021? ›

There are a few good reasons why Apple AirPods are so popular: they're lightweight, easy to use, reliable, offer decent sound-per-pound and bring Siri to life in your ears. Plus, although they work best when used with an Apple product, they can be paired with any Bluetooth device, from smart TVs to smartphones.

Is it worth buying AirPods Pro in 2021? ›

The AirPods Pro are a big step up from regular AirPods, and the second-gen version is a surprisingly significant improvement from the first. They have quite good noise cancellation, the battery lasts a lot longer, and sound quality has improved in general. Many of iOS's best AirPods features work only with AirPods Pro.

Which AirPods are better 2021? ›

The AirPods 3 are a great option for Apple fans who aren't bothered about active noise cancellation. With better battery life than the AirPods Pro and a cheaper price, the AirPods 3 will surely become Apple's best-selling true wireless earbuds before long.

Are the new Apple AirPods worth it? ›

The second-gen AirPods Pro are better in practically every way than the original model, delivering top-tier audio reproduction, greatly improved noise cancelling performance, longer battery life, and a carrying case with more charging options and enhanced “Find My” support.

Do AirPods fall out easily? ›

However, the outer part of the eardrum where the AirPods fit isn't the same size for everyone, so either the AirPods stay in your ears or they don't. Your AirPods slowly creep out of your ears until you can barely hear the audio. Then, unless you catch them in the nick of time, they fall out.

Is AirPods 2 or AirPods Pro better? ›

Although the second-generation ‌AirPods Pro‌ feature the same design as their predecessor, they improve on features like Active Noise Cancellation, in-ear detection, and battery life, while introducing new functionality like Adaptive Transparency, volume adjustment touch controls, and precision finding.

What is the difference between AirPods 2021 and AirPods Pro? ›

The Apple AirPods Pro fits better in more ears, and it features all the same controls as the AirPods (3rd generation). Not to mention, the Pro model includes active noise cancelling (ANC), which further widens the isolation gap.

Which Apple AirPod is best? ›

Sound quality and Dolby Atmos support

AirPods 3 will be better than AirPods 2, which are four years old now. Such is life. AirPods Pro 2 offers a step-up again with noise cancellation and ear tips. Transparency Mode, which lets you hear your external surroundings while wearing your earbuds, has also been improved.

What is the difference between AirPods Pro 2 and 3? ›

Aside from the design change, which should fit most ears better than the AirPods 2nd Generation (though not very small ears), the biggest change is to the sound quality: It's much improved. Also, battery life is better, and the AirPods 3 are officially water-resistant.

Is AirPods 2 or 3 better? ›

The second-generation AirPods can deliver up to five hours of listening time with a single charge, while the third-generation AirPods add an extra hour of battery life. When spatial audio is enabled on the third-generation AirPods, the battery life reduces to five hours.

Do AirPods 3 sound better than AirPods Pro? ›

It's like music is reaching to my ears magically. Not only that but for the first time I was able to listen to a difference in sound quality comparing AirPods 2 to AirPods 3. In quiet environments, AirPods 3 sound the same as the AirPods Pro with heavier bass.

Is AirPods 1 or 3 better? ›

Our Verdict. The Apple AirPods (3rd generation) Truly Wireless are better for most purposes than the Apple AirPods (1st generation) Truly Wireless. The 3 have a longer continuous battery life, a better control scheme, and an IPX4 rating for water resistance.

Why are the new AirPods so cheap? ›

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.

How often should you replace your AirPods? ›

How Long Do AirPods Last: Their Average Lifespan. AirPods typically last about 2-3 years before most users feel the need to replace them. This short lifespan is because of their lithium-ion batteries.

Are the new AirPods 3rd Gen worth it? ›

AirPods 3rd gen have everything that I liked about my AirPods original, but they are slightly better. The ear stems are a more comfortable fit. The sound is at least as good as my old pair. They do not have the features of AirPod pro, but they do everything that my old set did which is enough for me.

Why won't my Apple AirPods stay in my ear? ›

Wipe the Tips - The tips of AirPods, where the speakers are located, can attract dirt, oil, and other residue that can make the AirPods slip easily out of the ears. Use a damp cloth to wipe off your AirPods and get them perfectly clean. This will give them a better grip on your ears.

How do I get my AirPods to stay in my ears? ›

Try inserting the AirPods with the medium-sized ear tips in your ears so that the AirPods are seated comfortably and securely. If you can't get a good seal, try adjusting the AirPod or switch to a larger ear tip. If the ear tip feels too large in your ear or is uncomfortable, try a smaller ear tip.

How long do AirPods last? ›

With multiple charges in your case, you get up to 30 hours of listening time,7 or up to 20 hours of talk time. Your AirPods (3rd generation) can get up to 6 hours of listening time (up to 5 hours with Spatial Audio enabled)9 or up to 4 hours of talk time on a single charge.

Is it worth to upgrade from AirPods 2 to AirPods Pro? ›

With better battery, they'll last longer overall, and the advancements in ambient sound modes and controls are major usability upgrades that are worth the investment. In other words, it's the AirPods Pro 2 all the way.

Is the new AirPods Pro worth it? ›

Apple's new AirPods Pro are worth the $249 even if you already own the older version. Apple's new $249 AirPods Pro (second-generation) hit stores Friday. I've been testing them for a few weeks, and I'm never going back to my older ones. The new Pros have a ton of added features I didn't even know I wanted.

Why are AirPods 3rd generation cheaper? ›

Why are Gen 3 AirPods cheaper? 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.

Which AirPods are best value for money? ›

  • Apple AirPods Pro 2. Best overall AirPods. $230 at Amazon.
  • Beats Fit Pro. Best Apple buds for working out. $200 at Amazon. ...
  • AirPods Max. Best noise-canceling headphones. $549 at Apple.
  • AirPods Pro. Former top AirPods. $220 at Best Buy.
  • AirPods 2021 (3rd-gen) Best open AirPods. $179 at Apple.
Feb 26, 2023

What is so special about AirPods 3? ›

A case full of energy.

Both the Lightning Charging Case and the MagSafe Charging Case give AirPods up to 30 hours of listening time. The beauty of the MagSafe Charging Case is its compatibility with MagSafe and other wireless chargers — for power in a click. hours of listening time with one charge.

Do AirPods 3 have noise-cancellation? ›

AirPods Pro and AirPods Max Active Noise Cancellation and Transparency mode. AirPods Pro and AirPods Max have three noise-control modes: Active Noise Cancellation, Transparency mode, and Off. You can switch between them, depending on how much of your surroundings you want to hear.

What is the difference between Apple AirPods true and pro? ›

The Apple AirPods Pro Truly Wireless are better for most purposes than the Apple AirPods (3rd generation) Truly Wireless. The Pro have a much more neutral sound profile and a great ANC feature. They come with differently-sized ear tips and are much more comfortable and stable once you find a good fit.

Why is Amazon selling AirPods cheaper? ›

Why are Apple products so cheap on Amazon? The answer is pretty simple. Amazon buys Apple products in bulk, in advance and at a whole sale price (i.e. not the MSRP), which allows them to sell the devices at a discount and still make a little bit of a profit.

Is Apple replacing AirPods for free? ›

Apple or an Apple Authorized Service Provider will service the affected AirPods Pro (left, right or both), free of charge.

Why are the old AirPods better than new ones? ›

The AirPods (3rd Gen) and Apple AirPods 2 run on a chip called the H1 compared to the W1 chip found in the original AirPods. The AirPods Pro (2nd Generation) offer the H2 chip though, which is claimed to deliver twice the noise cancellation of the H1 and longer battery life compared to the original AirPods Pro.

What should I do with my old AirPods? ›

For free recycling of your old device, a prepaid shipping label, and instructions, see the Apple Trade In website. The symbol above means that according to local laws and regulations your product and/or its battery shall be disposed of separately from household waste.

Is it OK to use AirPods everyday? ›

Not only is this uncomfortable but listening to your AirPods nonstop without any breaks can also damage your ear health. Overexposure to sounds for long periods can cause temporary or permanent hearing loss, especially when doing so at high volumes.

Can you exchange old AirPods for new ones? ›

Apple won't accept your used earbuds. While Apple accepts trade-ins for iPhones as far back as the iPhone 7 and the Apple Watch -- and gives credit for several eligible Android devices -- trade-in offers don't extend to AirPods of any sort. In fact, your only option through Apple is to recycle your old earbuds.

Are AirPods worth the hype? ›

If you have the budget and you listen to music or podcasts on a daily basis, AirPods are worth it, especially if you like Apple tech and want to integrate your current devices with them. The earbuds can last long and work with almost any Bluetooth device, including Android devices.

Are AirPods out of style? ›

Apple may have a reason to be worried: its AirPods are falling out of favour with the younger generations. These users prefer the humble, wired style of headphones. That's right, the retro accessories are coming back into fashion thanks to celebrities like Lily-Rose Depp and Bella Hadid.

Are the AirPods 3rd Gen worth it in 2021? ›

Overall, reviews of the AirPods 3 were highly positive. Reviewers like the new design, which is more comfortable and offers a tighter and more secure fit in the ears, and the improved fit also makes the sound quality better than before.

Which AirPods is better and why? ›

The AirPods Pro were updated to a second-gen model in September 2022, and while they cost a lot more, they offer much better sound quality and unique features like active noise cancelling, adaptive transparency, and conversation boost. We think the 3rd-gen AirPods are the best buy for most.

What are some disadvantages of AirPods? ›

Reviewers Didn't Like
  • Won't stay in everyone's ears.
  • Wireless charging case version costs extra.
  • Lack ambient listening mode.
  • Their sound hasn't improved.
  • Still no waterproofing or workout features.
  • Lacks Noise Isolation.
  • Don't fit all ears.
Feb 22, 2023

Should I upgrade from AirPods 1 to 3? ›

Whether you are looking for AirPods that are suitable for workouts or use in the rain, a more immersive experience with music and movies, compatibility with an existing ‌MagSafe‌ charger, or simply a more subtle appearance, the third-generation AirPods are a much better choice.

How many years do AirPods usually last? ›

AirPods typically last about 2-3 years before most users feel the need to replace them. This short lifespan is because of their lithium-ion batteries. AirPods have proven tough in several durability tests and have shown that they can withstand pressure.

Why is Apple discontinuing AirPods? ›

With the introduction of the second-generation AirPods Pro, Apple has chosen to discontinue the first generation of its Pro wireless earbuds rather than keep them in the lineup for a lower price.

Why are AirPods dying? ›

Your AirPods may be dying quicker because you're using one more often, the battery power or charging case has been damaged, or you've been charging them for too long. Most of these issues may be resolved by replacing or recharging the battery.

Why wired earbuds are better than AirPods? ›

Despite the inconvenience of cables getting in the way, in the end, wired earbuds and headphones are a greater investment because not only are they cheaper, but they have better sound quality, are less likely to be lost or stolen, don't require charging, and, of course, you can keep up with the latest trend of bringing ...

Is it better to buy AirPods 2 or 3? ›

The AirPods (3rd generation) has better battery life than the second generation. After subjecting each pair of AirPods to a constant 75dB(SPL), we found that the AirPods (2nd generation) lasted 4 hours, 7 minutes, and the AirPods (3rd generation) has a battery life of 6 hours, 21 minutes.

Do AirPods 3rd Gen fall out easily? ›

Much like most earbuds on the market, the AirPods (1st, 2nd, and 3rd Gen) and AirPods Pro seem to suffer from a simple yet annoying problem — occasionally falling out of the ear. This is unnerving, especially for joggers, athletes, and people on the go.

What is the difference between AirPods Pro and AirPods 3? ›

The biggest difference in terms of design 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-ounce versus 0.19-ounce.


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