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(Pocket-lint) - Apple announced the third generation of AirPods in October 2021. These succeed the older - though still available - second generation of AirPods from early 2019, and they sit below the AirPods Pro, which launched in October 2019. The original AirPods are now completely discontinued.

But how do the AirPods (3rd Gen), AirPods Pro and AirPods (2nd Gen) compare? Should you upgrade if you have the old AirPods and which should you buy if you're in the market for a pair of Apple's true wireless earphones?

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What's the same between Apple's AirPod models?

All the AirPod models connect to your iPhone or Apple Watch with just one tap, offering super simple setup. Once connected, you'll just need to select AirPods from the device you're using and you'll be ready to go. They all offer automatic switching between Apple devices too.

There are sensors to automatically control the audio experience, playing sound as soon as the AirPods are in your ears and engaging the microphones for phone calls. You can also choose to wear one AirPod or both at any time. 

All AirPods models come in white only and they all have on-device controls, though the AirPods (3rd Gen) and AirPods Pro have more advanced controls compared to the standard AirPods and AirPods 2.

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What's different between Apple's AirPods models?

As you would expect, there are a number of differences between the AirPods (3rd Generation), AirPods Pro and AirPods (2nd Generation).

Design

  • AirPods (3rd Gen) / AirPods Pro: IPX4 water and sweat resistant
  • AirPods 2: No IP rating

The AirPods (3rd Gen), AirPods Pro and AirPods 2 all have different designs, though the AirPods 2 look identical to the original AirPods. Both the AirPods (3rd Gen) and the AirPods Pro are IPX4 water and sweat resistant and have short stems, while the other AirPods models are not sweat or water resistant and have longer stems.

The Pro model come with silicone ear tips in three sizes for a better fit - which is the main differentiating factor between them and the AirPods (3rd Generation).

The AirPods Pro also have a vent system in their design for pressure equalisation, as well as a force sensor on the stem, allowing for more controls. The AirPods (3rd Gen) also have this force sensor, but they don't have the vent system. Additionally, the AirPods Pro feature two microphones for active noise cancellation.

Controls 

  • AirPods (3rd Gen) / AirPods Pro: Advanced on-device controls
  • AirPods 2: Basic on-device controls

The AirPods (3rd Gen) and AirPods Pro have more advanced on-device controls than the AirPods 2 and old AirPods.

On both the AirPods (3rd Gen) and AirPods Pro, one tap on the stem will allow users to play, pause or answer a phone call. Two taps will allow users to skip forwards and three taps will enable users to skip back. A press and hold will switch between Active Noise Cancellation and Transparency Mode on the AirPods Pro, while it will launch Siri for the AirPods (3rd Gen) as only the AirPods Pro offer Active Noise Cancellation and Transparency Mode.

For reference, Transparency Mode on the AirPods Pro will allow you to simultaneously hear your favourite song, as well as the environment around you.

On AirPods 2, the only on-device controls are in the form of double-tapping. Users can set the left and right AirPod to offer a different control with a double-tap but controls are limited to launching Siri, next track, previous track, or play/pause. When a phone call comes through, a double-tap will answer the call though.

Sound

  • AirPods Pro: Spatial Audio, Adaptive EQ, Active Noise Cancellation
  • Airpods 3: Spatial Audio, Adaptive EQ
  • AirPods 2: No noise cancellation

The AirPods (3rd Generation) and AirPods Pro promise a more immersive sound experience than the AirPods 2 and the old AirPods. They both feature Adaptive EQ, which automatically tunes the low and mid-frequencies of the music to the shape of an individual's ear. A custom high dynamic range amplifier is on board too and there is a custom speaker driver designed to optimise audio quality and remove background noise.

The AirPods Pro also have Active Noise Cancellation on board, as we mentioned previously. Two microphones are built into the AirPods Pro design which are used in conjunction with advanced software to adapt to an individual ear and remove background noise. 

The AirPods 2 - or the original AirPods - don't have Adaptive EQ, Active Noise Cancellation or Transparency Mode. They also don't support Apple's Spatial Audio technology, which the AirPods Pro and AirPods (3rd Generation) do.

Processor

  • AirPods (3rd Gen) / AirPods Pro / Airpods 2: H1 chip
  • AirPods: W1 chip

The AirPods (3rd Gen), AirPods Pro and Apple AirPods 2 run on a chip called the H1 compared to the W1 chip found in the original AirPods.

The H1 chip is claimed to offer two times faster connection between active devices than the old AirPods, 50 per cent more talk time and 1.5x faster connection for phone calls. It is also said to deliver 30 per cent lower gaming latency.

Siri voice control

  • AirPods (3rd Gen) / AirPods Pro / AirPods 2: Siri compatible 
  • AirPods: Not Siri compatible

Thanks to the H1 chip, the Apple AirPods (3rd Gen), AirPods Pro and Apple AirPods 2 offer "Hey Siri" control, allowing users to make a phone call, play music, change the volume and ask for directions using their voice.

The old Apple AirPods don't support Siri on board, though users can still use their iPhone or Apple Watch for Siri control.

Wireless charging case

  • AirPods 3 / AirPods Pro: Wireless, MagSafe charging case
  • AirPods 2: Standard case, wireless case available separately

The Apple AirPods (3rd Gen) and Apple AirPods Pro come with a wireless charging case as standard. Both cases are also MagSafe compatible. The Apple AirPods 2 originally had the option of a standard charging case like the original Apple AirPods, or a wireless charging case, though following the launch of the third-generation model, the standard case is the one you will get. You can buy the wireless charging case separately, but you'll pay extra.

The wireless charging case is Qi compatible, allowing you to charge your AirPods on a Qi charging pad with no wires. As we mentioned, the wireless charging case can be bought separately, and it is compatible with the old Apple AirPods and AirPods 2.

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Talk time

  • AirPods (3rd Gen): 4 hours talk time
  • AirPods Pro: 3.5 hours talk time
  • AirPods 2: 3 hours talk time

The AirPods (3rd Generation) offer up to 4 hours of talk time, and up to 6 hours of listening time - though 5 hours with Spatial Audio on. The charging case will offer 30 hours of listening time or 20 hours of talk time in total, but five minutes of charge is said to offer an hour of listening time or talk time.

The AirPods Pro claim to deliver 3.5 hours of talk time and 4.5 hours of listening time. According to Apple, they will offer 5 hours of listening time when Active Noise Cancellation and Transparency modes are off. The charging case offers a total of 24 hours of listening time or 18 hours of talk time. Like the AirPods (3rd Gen), five minutes of charge will deliver an hour of listening time or talk time.

The Apple AirPods 2 offer 3 hours of talk time or 5 hours of listening time. The charging case will offer up to 24 hours of listening time or 18 hours of talk time. Meanwhile, 15 minutes of charge will get you two hours of talk time and three hours of listening time.

Conclusion 

Should you upgrade from the old AirPods and if so, should you go for the AirPods 2 or AirPods 3? Opting for the AirPods (2nd Gen) will get you extra talk time, Hey Siri control and faster and more stable connections compared to the original AirPods. If you opt for the AirPods (3rd Gen), you will get even more talk time, a new design, sweat and water resistance, Spatial Audio support and Adaptive EQ.

If you're in the market for a pair of Apple's true wireless earphones and aren't sure which to buy: The AirPods (2nd Gen) will save you cash and they are excellent, but you miss out on some of the great features that come with the AirPods (3rd Gen) and AirPods Pro. The AirPods Pro offer noise cancellation and more custom fit options compared to the AirPods 3, though otherwise, many of the same features are offered, like sweat resistance, Adaptive EQ and Spatial Audio. 

The AirPods Pro naturally offer the most on paper - although the battery promises are better on the third generation model, but the AirPods Pro are also the most expensive so you'll need to weigh up what features you really want and what you're prepared to pay for. If you want the sweet spot, it seems the AirPods (3rd Generation) are exactly that.

Writing by Britta O'Boyle. Originally published on 20 March 2019.