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Apple AirPods 3 Review – Check the A/B Sound Test

Last updated: 4 weeks ago
11 min read
Editor
rating
3.6
Apple AirPods 3 buds in case

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Apple AirPods 3 have an okay-ish sound quality but cool features and seamless user-experience that make up for it.

Apple AirPods are mainly responsible for the insane increase in TWS earbuds’ popularity. While there were other wireless earbuds before them, AirPods made them cool for the first time.

Testing third generation AirPods, I was curious to see what makes them the most popular true wireless earbuds on the planet. However, while they’re definitely the best classic earbuds, they’re also painfully average amongst the competition.

They have excellent integration with Apple devices, are well made, comfortable to wear, and boast excellent call quality (only for Apple users, more on that later).

However, for the price, they lack features like ANC and Transparency mode. Even sound quality, despite decent tuning, seems half-baked.

There are also some (intentional) limitations if you don’t pair them with an Apple device.

For $180 (or even more in some other countries), Apple AirPods 3 feel a bit empty. Especially considering what competition can deliver for half that price.

But let’s go one by one and see what to expect from third-gen Apple AirPods.

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  • Good sound quality
  • Comfortable fit
  • Useful features (for Apple users)
  • Excellent microphone quality
  • No audio lag in videos/games (on iOS)
  • Basic functionality with non-Apple devices
  • Not the most stable fit
  • Poor passive noise isolation
  • Overpriced
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CONTENTS (show more)

    Sound

    Star Rating
    3.5 Almost Great

    Bass quantity is surprisingly high for non in-ear earbuds, with decent natural vocals. Unfortunately, everything sounds very thin due to the upper mids/lower treble boost.

    Apple AirPods 3 Sound Comparison

    Apple AirPods 3 Sound Quality Test – HeadphonesAddict

    Learn how to understand sound comparisons.

    It seems Apple tried to compensate the tuning for outdoor use, adding more bass into the mix.

    However, it also feels like they made it halfway and then forgot to properly tune the upper-frequency spectrum.

    Bass: The best part about the AirPods 3 sound

    For classic earbuds, Apple AirPods 3 produce a tight bass response with decent control.

    Lower regions are boosted, while the upper bass stays balanced. It adds warmth to the sound without making it muddy and bleeding into the mids.

    Apple boosted the bass to make the AirPods 3 more outdoor-friendly.

    That’s because bass frequencies tend to lose power when listening to music outside. Especially when earbuds or headphones sport an open design.

    Due to the open design, the very bottom of the sub-bass is absent. Nevertheless, you can still expect to hear some rumble in your music.

    Overall, Apple AirPods 3 are probably the most bassy classic earbuds I’ve tried. That being said, they still aren’t for bassheads. In that case you should check the best bass earbuds for more suitable options.

    Apple AirPods 3 Frequency Response

    Apple AirPods 3 frequency response
    The upper mids/lower treble is way too boosted, resulting in a very thin sound.

    Midrange: Thin sounding, apart from vocals

    Lower mids are balanced, making vocals quite natural. However, there’s a boost in the upper mids, which ruins the balance established before.

    As a result, everything sounds rather thin and dry. That’s a shame since the earbuds have a pretty good detail retrieval.

    However, due to improper tuning, specific details get lost in the mix.

    Treble: Smoothness all the way

    Treble seems reasonably balanced without extreme peaks resulting in harshness or sibilance.

    However, it isn’t very refined, and while you can distinctly hear cymbal crashes, they can sound metallic and lacking texture.

    AirPods 3 have a reasonably big soundstage for earbuds (that gets even bigger when you have Spatial Audio enabled, but more on that later).

    Furthermore, the imaging isn’t too shabby, as well. It’s reasonably accurate, placing instruments where they should be.

    Apple AirPods 3 nozzle comparison
    Nozzle size comparison between JBL Tune 225TWS, TaoTronics Soundliberty 80, and Apple AirPods 3.

    However, I believe Apple AirPods 3 can offer much more with given hardware. Drivers seem capable enough to deliver clearer sound, but someone at Apple forgot to put more time into tuning.

    Nevertheless, AirPods 3 are still more than enjoyable enough to listen to music on a daily basis.

    However, while most listeners will be satisfied with the sound, it’s good to know there are many better-sounding options out there at a much lower price.

    How does the Spatial Audio feature works?

    AirPods 3 are the first among “regular” AirPods to support Spatial Audio, Apple’s version of virtual surround sound. It artificially enlarges the soundstage, pushing vocals and instruments further away from you.

    Interestingly, the sound gets livelier and clearer when enabling the feature. However, it also pushes everything towards the center channel.

    Consequently, not much is happening in the far left and right channels, ruining the illusion that the sound floats around your head. It looks like an old-fashioned stereo still makes for a better listening experience.

    Apple AirPods 3 spatial audio
    To access Spatial Audio modes, simply long press the volume bar.

    There’s also a feature to track your head movement. Essentially when you move your head, the sound shifts as well. It’s a cool feature to play around with but has no practical value.

    To get the best experience, you have to listen to Spatial Audio-supported content in the Apple Music app.

    Comfort & Fit

    Star Rating
    3.5 Almost Great

    Carefully designed housing makes for a comfortable wearing experience. In contrast, the fit isn’t the most stable.

    If the sound tuning isn’t the best, Apple at least puts more attention into making the design ergonomic.

    Apple AirPods 3 are basically Apple AirPods Pro but without ear tips. Since the latter are considered one of the most comfortable earbuds, the AirPods 3 share the same characteristics.

    Despite looking slightly bulky at first, earbuds fit comfortably into your ears. Their smooth surface prevents them from poking into the skin, so you can easily wear them for hours.

    Admittedly, for classic earbuds, the stability could be much worse. Apple uses special glossy yet grippy plastic that doesn’t let the earbuds move too much inside your ear.

    Apple AirPods 3 from the sides
    Some users struggle to keep the AirPods 3 inside their ears, whereas others can workout with them.

    Earbuds should provide enough stable fit for light outdoor walking and commuting. On the other hand, stability during running and exercising comes down to the individual.

    Some people can wear classic earbuds without issues, whereas others (including me) can’t seem to make them stay inside.

    It’s worth noting that their stability has improved over Apple AirPods 2.

    Durability

    Star Rating
    4.0 Great

    Apple AirPods 3 have a solid build, from the earbuds to the case. Adding an IPX4 rating into the mix gives you a pair you can reliably use even if you get caught in the rain.

    White glossy plastic might look cheap, but the one in Apple products isn’t. It feels dense and shouldn’t crack that easily.

    Starting with earbuds, they have a shorter stem, similar to the AirPods Pro. Because of that, it’s difficult to accidentally pull it and crack earbuds open.

    There are 4 black grills on the earbud. Apart from the one in front of the driver, the other 3 cover various microphones. Since earbuds are rated for IPX4, you shouldn’t worry about sweat getting inside those grills.

    Apple AirPods 3 mic grills
    Holes in the grills are small enough to not let the water pass through.

    The only concern (that isn’t entirely related to durability) is that the driver grills get easily clogged with ear wax. You can see debris sticking onto the grill after one day of use. That’s why you need to know how to clean your earbuds.

    Moving to the charging case, it’s fairly small and feels solid in hand. The hinge is made of metal and looks quite durable, too.

    Magnets securely hold the lid, so it doesn’t accidentally open inside the pocket or a backpack.

    One thing worth mentioning is that the glossy plastic gets easily scratched. Even if you put the case in your pocket with another plastic item. God forbid to put some keys in there.

    Battery

    Star Rating
    4.0 Great

    With up to 6 hours and 14 minutes per charge, you can easily squeeze a full day of use. The case holds another 24 hours and supports fast, Qi wireless charging, and MagSafe charging.

    Apple AirPods 3 Battery Comparison

    Apple AirPods 3 battery comparison

    Apple AirPods 3 have a slightly higher battery life compared to the previous generation, adding one extra hour to their runtime.

    In our battery life test:

    • Earbuds lasted 6 hours and 14 minutes at 50% volume.

    That’s very close to official numbers. The latter also suggests that:

    • Enabling the Spatial Audio will lower the total duration to 5 hours on a single charge.
    • Making phone calls is even more power-hungry, reducing the battery life to only 4 hours per charge.

    While the overall battery life is better than before, it’s still relatively average compared to the competition. 6 hours is usually the duration of ANC earbuds.

    Thankfully, Apple AirPods 3rd generation provide three different ways of charging. One of which is Apple’s proprietary MagSafe wireless charging.

    You can also charge them with a regular Qi wireless charging pad and wired using the Lightning connector.

    Apple AirPods 3 charging port
    Most Apple gadgets (except the latest iPads) still use Lightning ports.

    Regarding fast charging:

    • A 5-minute charge will result in an extra hour of playtime.

    Have issues charging your AirPods? See our guide on how to fix AirPods not charging.

    Features

    Star Rating
    4.5 Almost Perfect

    Apple AirPods 3 are packed with various sensors, chips, and other features, but most of them only work on Apple devices. Even microphones seem to work better in the Apple ecosystem.

    Even though earbuds lack active noise cancelling and Transparency mode, they’re still filled with technology. Force sensor, speech and motion detection, and even skin sensor.

    Apple AirPods 3 buds in the case
    AirPods 3 are covered with grills and “windows” that house different sensors and mics.

    The star of the show is, of course, Apple’s H1 headphone chip to seamlessly pair and operate their headphones with the rest of Apple devices.

    The result is an effortless pairing process, where pairing your AirPods to one Apple device means they can now automatically switch between all Apple devices using your Apple ID.

    Another interesting feature is the Spatial Audio, which I already mentioned in the Sound section of the review.

    However, these features work only on Apple devices (apart from sensors and Adaptive EQ that work regardless of the operating system)—making it nonsensical for an Android user to get Apple AirPods 3.

    Speaking of Adaptive EQ feature, it’s used to automatically adjust the tuning based on the shape of your ears and ear canal. That way, every listener should have a similar listening experience. It works by default, you don’t have to turn it on.

    AirPods 3 use touch controls located on the stems. Earbuds provide auditory feedback to let you know when and how many times you press the controls.

    Apple AirPods 3 touch controls
    To control the earbuds, you have to squeeze the stem until you hear a clicking sound.

    You get a basic selection of commands:

    • Play/pause/answer a call – one press
    • Next song – double press
    • Repeat/previous song – triple press
    • Smart assistant (Siri) – press and hold or simply say “Hey Siri”

    Like in Apple AirPods Pro, the controls can’t be customized and don’t include volume control. You can either change the loudness on your phone or ask Siri to do it for you.

    Microphone Quality

    You’ve probably seen at least one person on a video call using Apple AirPods. And for a good reason, since their call quality is more than excellent (for true wireless earbuds).

    Apple AirPods 3 Microphone Test

    Your voice sounds quite full and understandable, regardless of how much noise there’s around you. Sure, there’s some voice compression present, but it’s hardly bothersome.

    Also, Apple uses acoustic mesh over their 2 beamforming mics to reduce wind noise.

    Is call quality worse on non-Apple devices?

    I discovered something strange about call quality between Apple and non-Apple devices.

    Usually, I pair Bluetooth headphones to my Windows laptop and record call quality using the Audacity app.

    However, doing that results in horrible voice recording in AirPods 3. Earbuds don’t even enable noise reduction tech.

    Pairing AirPods 3 to an iPhone is an entirely different story. Using the Voice Memos app, earbuds finally work as they should.

    Apple AirPods 3 memos app
    Recording Apple AirPods 3 mics work best on Apple hardware.

    To see if the same thing happens on Android, I performed phone calls using a Samsung and Apple smartphone, both connected to Apple AirPods 3 during a call.

    The call from an iPhone did sound slightly clearer, with earbuds being faster at enabling noise reduction tech compared to a Samsung smartphone.

    However, the difference wasn’t as huge as on Windows laptop, so it might come down to one phone having a stronger mobile signal than the other.

    Noise Isolation

    Star Rating
    2.0 Adequate

    Due to classic earphone design, they let in a lot of surrounding noise, making them unusable in extremely loud environments.

    As expected, the passive noise isolation in Apple AirPods 3 is nothing to write home about.

    All earbuds with classic design lack effective isolation, meaning you can very distinctly hear everything around you.

    That can be both good and bad. The good part is that you’re more aware of potential dangers when walking down a busy street or crossing the road.

    Apple AirPods 3 listening
    The background noise can hurt your music listening experience due to the classic (open) design.

    Furthermore, you don’t have to take the earbuds off when speaking to someone next to you.

    The bad thing is that you will want to crank up the volume in a noisier environment to mask the ambient noise. However, that could leave negative consequences on your hearing. It’s good to practice safe headphone use.

    Bluetooth

    Star Rating
    4.0 Great

    Wireless connection is reliable, and thanks to the H1 chip, the pairing process is fuss-free (on Apple devices). However, the Bluetooth range is only average.

    Like other Apple headphones, the AirPods 3 use Bluetooth 5.0 for connection and audio receiving purposes.

    However, the difference in antenna power between the Apple AirPods Max and AirPods 3 is like night and day.

    While AirPods Max boast one of the best Bluetooth ranges I’ve tested, the AirPods 3 score on the average range.

    They managed to last for around 50 feet (15 meters) indoors. The audio stopped playing right after passing the second brick wall. I performed the test with an iPhone and an iPad with no differences.

    Apple AirPods 3 connection range test:

    Connected toConnection rangeAudio stopped after 2nd wall
    iPhone50 ft (15m)Yes
    iPad50 ft (15m)Yes

    How to pair AirPods 3?

    To an Apple device

    1. To pair Apple AirPods 3 for the first time, simply open the case and hold it near the Apple device. A pop-up message should appear, asking you to connect.
    Apple AirPods 3 pairing process

    AirPods will automatically connect with all your Apple devices using the same Apple ID.

    2. If you want to pair them to another device using a different Apple ID or operating system:

    • Place the earbuds in the case
    • Close and reopen the lid
    • Press & hold the system button on the back of the case until the LED light in front starts blinking white
    The “System button” is located on the back of the case.

    How to connect AirPods 3 to a non-Apple device

    1. When pairing for the first time, simply open the charging case and wait until the earbuds appear in a Bluetooth menu.
    2. To pair them to another device, place the buds in the case, close and reopen the lid, and hold the system button on the back of the case until you see a LED light in front blinking white.

    Are your AirPods refusing to play music? See how to fix AirPods connected but with no sound.

    Apple AirPods 3 have mono mode and multipoint support. The latter lets you switch between devices depending on which one you’re using. However, that only works between Apple devices.

    Audio Sharing

    iOS support feature called Audio Sharing, where you can share audio between 2 Apple-made headphones or earbuds, either AirPods or Beats-branded.

    • To do so, pair your AirPods (or Beats) to your iOS device, tap on the AirPlay icon in the Control Center, and click on “Share audio.”
    • Then open the lid of another AirPods (or put the Beats into pairing mode) and hold them close to your iOS device.
    • When you see another headphones show up on your iOS device, tap on them and start sharing audio.
    Apple AirPods 3 audio sharing

    What Bluetooth Codecs Do They Use?

    Earbuds use SBC as the standard Bluetooth codec and AAC, which is picked as the preferred codec on iOS devices.

    Even though AAC works best on iOS, it’s also a default pick on Android.

    Is There an Audio Lag?

    • There’s no visible audio delay on iOS devices, regardless of whether you’re watching videos or playing mobile games. The latter is especially impressive.
    • You get the same lag-free video performance on Android devices, too. However, there’s some delay present in mobile games. Fortunately, it isn’t too distracting, even in a more competitive title.

    Should You Get Apple AirPods 3?

    Star Rating
    3.5 Almost Great

    Without a doubt, the new AirPods 3 are the best classic earbuds right now. They also have much-improved sound over previous AirPods.

    However, they’re made to work best in an Apple ecosystem. You get access to all the features, seamless connectivity, information about the battery percentage, and Siri.

    On the other hand, Android users will only get to listen to music and use touch controls. And that’s where the fun ends.

    Apple AirPods 3 in ears
    Apple AirPods have a cult status, which is why they’re so desirable, especially among youngsters.

    However, are they worth buying, even if you’re using an iPhone?

    The $180 asking price is too high if you’re strictly looking at performance. A few cool features, a great mic, and average sound.

    But, they’re cool. And you can’t put a price on cool, can you?

    Since we’re not a fashion police, we can’t make a judgment based on “coolness.” That’s up to you.

    But if you want to stay in the Apple ecosystem and want better earbuds, it’s better to ramp up the budget and get the Apple AirPods Pro. They are better in every category except battery life.

    Otherwise, you can get cheaper alternatives elsewhere, like in 1MORE ComfoBuds Mini.

    How do Apple AirPods 3 compare to the competition?

    • They have a superior microphone quality (at least on Apple devices).
    • Earbuds have an IPX4 rating, which is quite common among premium TWS earbuds.
    • You get the benefits of the H1 chip (for Apple users).
    • Their sound quality is rather mediocre compared to much cleaner-sounding competition.
    • While they’re packed with technology, they lack ANC and Transparency mode.
    • Due to their open design, they let in a lot of outside noise.
    • They lack a companion app found in most other earbuds in this price range.

    Apple AirPods 3 Alternatives

    1MORE Evo

    1MORE Evo shining in case

    A similar price gives you flagship 1MORE earbuds with better sound quality (after EQ) and support for high-quality LDAC codec.

    The case and earbuds are built from higher quality materials with a minimalistic yet luxurious design. They even have a higher IPX5 rating.

    Moreover, they offer great ANC and ambient sound mode, a feature-rich app, and lots of customization.

    1MORE Evo review

    Apple AirPods Pro

    AirPods Pro out of case

    A more expensive yet better-sounding alternative with superior passive noise isolation.

    Furthermore, they sport one of the best active noise cancellation and transparency mode techs in the TWS earbuds. On top of offering all the other features from the AirPods 3.

    Also, they offer similar comfort and better stability for sports. However, the battery life is worse at 4.5 hours on a single charge.

    Apple AirPods Pro review

    Anker Soundcore Liberty 3 Pro

    Anker Soundcore Liberty 3 Pro earbuds

    Another better-sounding alternative (after EQ) with a V-shaped sound signature that also looks very luxurious.

    They’re quite big yet provide a more stable fit thanks to ear wings. Earbuds come with an app with tons of customization options and more effective passive isolation.

    You only get 5 hours of battery life, but that’s with the ANC, which AirPods 3 lack.

    Anker Soundcore Liberty 3 Pro review

    1MORE ComfoBuds Mini

    1MORE ComfoBuds Mini in hand

    Midrange-recessed but overall very balanced TWS earbuds with higher sound quality than the AirPods 3.

    They’re one of the smallest buds on the market and offer great comfort and stability.

    With an IPX5 rating, they’re slightly more durable against water. Furthermore, earbuds offer an app, ANC, and ambient sound mode.

    1MORE ComfoBuds Mini review

    What’s in the Box?

    Apple AirPods 3 accessories
    • Apple AirPods 3 true wireless earbuds
    • Charging case
    • USB-C-to-Lightning charging cable
    • Quick user guide

    Specifications

    Type: True wireless
    Connection: Bluetooth 5.0
    Back design: Closed-back
    Drivers: Custom high-excursion Apple driver
    Frequency range: n/a
    Impedance: n/a
    Weight: 0.15 ounce (4.28 grams) per earbud
    Mic & Controls: Yes
    Water resistance: IPX4
    Battery life: 5h + 24h in case
    Charging time: Quick charge – Lightning + Qi wireless + MagSafe
    Active noise cancelling: No
    Bluetooth codecs: SBC, AAC
    Wireless range: 50 feet (15.2m)
    Microphone: 3 mics per earbuds (2 beamforming, 1 inward-facing)

    We bought the AirPods 3 ourselves.

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