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Apple AirPods 3 review

The third generation of Apple's iconic AirPods is finally here, but are they worth your cash? We put them through their paces to find out.

Our rating 
4.1 out of 5 star rating 4.1
£169
AirPods 3

Our review

The AirPods 3 are a great-sounding pair of wireless earbuds with a wealth of features and a pleasingly tactile design. When twinned with other Apple tech the user experience is silky smooth, though some of this may be lost on Android handsets.
Features
4.0 out of 5 rating 4.0
Sound quality
4.0 out of 5 rating 4.0
Design
4.0 out of 5 rating 4.0
Ease of set-up
5.0 out of 5 rating 5.0
Value for money
3.5 out of 5 rating 3.5
Pros: - Great sound
- Great call quality
- Compact tactile design

Cons: - The fit won't suit everyone
- A little pricey
- Some features don’t work out of the box with Android

Apple’s iconic wireless earbuds are back. The all-new AirPods 3 will slot into the middle of Apple’s earbuds family – they’re more expensive and feature-laden than the AirPods 2 but less so than the AirPods Pro. We put them through their paces to see if Apple’s latest offering is worth your cash.

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The first thing you’ll notice about the AirPods 3 is their design. In many ways, the new buds look like a hybrid of the AirPods 2 and the AirPods Pro. They’ve got the short stems of the Pro model but lack the silicon tips. For many, this will be off-putting, as the tips can offer a closer fit.

While the fit may prove divisive, the sound quality and usability of the AirPods have to be commended. They have a full, clear sound and couldn’t be any more straightforward to pair and use. Their small charging box is perfectly light and pocketable.

Read on for our full verdict on the AirPods 3 and information on how you can get yourself a pair.

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AirPods 3 | £169 £165.79 at OnBuy (save £3.21 or 2%)

The AirPods 3 typically cost £169, but right now you can save £3.21 less at OnBuy. So if you’ve read this review and think it’s for you, now might be the time to pick it up.

With a rating of 4 out of 5 stars, our expert was wowed by the great sound quality.

Not quite done shopping? Try our pick of the best Black Friday deals to see all the latest, genuine offers across tech.

Buy the AirPods 3 for £165.79 at OnBuy

AirPods 3 review: summary

At £169, the AirPods 3 are on the expensive side, despite lacking the active noise cancellation – or ANC – that’s present in some cheaper competitors. For that price, though, you do get great sound and call quality, a reliable connection and plenty of features.

If you’re looking for something cheaper or to bag a discount on some big-name earbuds, be sure to keep an eye on earbuds deals during Black Friday 2021 and Cyber Monday 2021. However, we’re unlikely to see any large discounts on the AirPods 3 because they’re so new and – as always – they’re in high demand.

Key features:

  • Adaptive EQ
  • 6-hour battery life plus four full charges in the case
  • Spatial audio support and head tracking
  • IPX4 water and sweat resistant
  • MagSafe compatible charging case

Pros:

  • Great sound
  • Great call quality
  • Compact tactile design

Cons:

  • The fit won’t suit everyone
  • A little pricey
  • Some features don’t work out of the box with Android
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What are the AirPods 3?

The AirPods 3 are – as their name suggests – the third iteration of Apple’s iconic earbuds. There are some interesting updates in terms of specs, and the user experience is a smooth one, especially when paired with Apple tech.

What do AirPods 3 do?

  • Adaptive EQ
  • 6-hour battery life plus four full charges in the case
  • Spatial audio support and head tracking
  • IPX4 water and sweat resistant
  • MagSafe compatible charging case

How much are the AirPods 3?

The new AirPods slot into the middle of Apple’s earbuds family. They’ll set you back £169, compared to the £119 of AirPods 2 and £239 for AirPods Pro.

The stand-out difference between the AirPods 3 and AirPods Pro is the ANC. It’s a premium feature that’s missing from the AirPods 3, and that will no doubt put off some would-be buyers.

When Apple originally launched the AirPods, with a similarly large price tag, there was a lot less competition on the market, and wireless earbuds were still fairly niche. Now though, there are a huge amount of buds to choose from, and it is worth weighing up your options before forking out for Apple’s own version.

Are AirPods 3 good value for money?

Value is certainly an area where the AirPods 3 score slightly less highly. Their £169 price tag doesn’t represent poor value for money as such, but it places them in a premium place within the earbuds marketplace. Many of the premium AirPods competitors have ANC and still cost less than Apple’s offering.

AirPods 3 design

Essentially the form factor of the latest AirPods looks like a hybrid of the AirPods and AirPods Pro – or like the AirPods Pro with no silicon ear tips. The lack of those silicon ear tips will doubtless annoy some users, and – as always – the in-ear fit of the AirPods has divided opinion.

We found them a much better fit than the previous generation, and Apple claims to have done a huge amount of research into crafting that in-ear feel. They’re light and un-intrusive, meaning you could listen to them for long periods without them becoming uncomfortable. However, the light-touch nature of the fit means it is quite easy for them to come loose and – as a result – they’re not ideal for running or intense exercise.

If you can’t decide which iteration of AirPods are for you, then take a look at our Apple AirPods vs AirPods Pro breakdown.

AirPods 3 features

ANC is a notable omission and will put off some would-be buyers, but the Apple AirPods 3 still pack some great features – especially when used in conjunction with other Apple products. For example, when used with an iPhone, iPad, or similar, the buds will make use of special sensors to pause whatever you’re playing if the buds are taken out of your ears. This is a returning feature, but it’s one that – according to Apple – has been improved with even better sensors in the AirPods 3. The new sensors detect moisture on your skin so that if you pocket

If you’re dead set on having earbuds with ANC, there are plenty of options out there. The AirPods Pro have ANC but so do many cheaper options, like the £100 Panasonic RZ-S500W earbuds and the £69.95 Earfun Air Pro. For more on the latter, take a look at our full Earfun Air Pro review.

The in-built mics are great for calls, but – at the same time – the performance is far from revolutionary. AirPods have consistently offered a good phone call experience, and one of the best available still comes with Apple’s wired earphones. So on this front, the AirPods 3 score well without surprising anyone.  

Notably, the buds are now sweat and water-resistant, with an IPX4 rating. This twins nicely with closer integration with the Apple ‘Find My’ app, meaning they’re easier to find if you lose them and they’re harder to break. These peace-of-mind features really help when the AirPods command such a hefty price. 

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AirPods 3 sound quality

Overall the AirPods 3 provide enjoyable sound quality and a good volume range. Smooth midrange and top-end tones give way to sharper bass and a sound that – all-round – is full and enjoyable. Those bass capabilities were perfectly shown off across genres, from ‘Hip Hop’ by Dead Prez to ‘Good Times’ by Chic and’ Bullet in the Head’ by Rage Against the Machine.

The AirPods 3 also come with the same adaptive EQ capabilities as the AirPods Max and AirPods Pro. This uses an inward-facing microphone that listens to what you hear and – according to Apple – adjusts the low and mid frequencies in order to suit your specific ear shape. 

3D spatial audio isn’t necessarily the game-changer Apple claims it is, or not just yet anyway. This is because only a limited amount of music has been mixed to be compatible with the format, and – so far – the jury is out on the spatial audio versions of songs that have been made available. In many cases, the older stereo version is just better. 

That said, the AirPods 3 still create a wonderful soundstage and must be praised for that. Across a range of genres, the AirPods deliver rich, full sound. From the crashing drums of ACDC’ Shoot to Thrill’ to the relaxing folky vocals of Adrianne Lenker’s ‘Anything’, the AirPods consistently deliver a soundstage that is a joy to listen to. 

Battery life

Battery life has never been the strongest suit of Apple’s AirPods, and that’s still the case, but noteworthy improvements have been made, and these buds can now compete more closely with the other options on the market.

The AirPods 3 now offer six hours from a single charge, with four more full charges in the case. It’s not best in class, but the battery boost is a welcome improvement.

Set-up and connectivity

If you use the AirPods 3 with iOS devices, the experience is seamless. Connect them up to a Windows device, though, and things aren’t quite as smooth. Many of the convenience features don’t work out of the box when the earbuds aren’t being used in conjunction with an Apple device.

That said, set up is simple whatever device you’re using and – as always – the AirPods deliver a consistent connection.

Our verdict: should you buy AirPods 3?

Ultimately the AirPods 3 excel where it matters, giving a full, detailed sound that is wonderful to listen to. For Apple iPhone and iPad users, there are bags of quality of life features that take the AirPods’ offering to the next level. For those with Android phones, the fact many of those features – like the sensor-driven auto-pause – don’t work out-of-the-box is a real drawback.

The lack of ANC is also a shame, especially in this price bracket. Many potential buyers are likely to be lured away by competing headphones at similar – or lower – prices that do have ANC. Numerous entries on our best wireless earbuds list will challenge the AirPods in this regard.

All that said, if you don’t deem ANC essential and you like the AirPods style in-ear fit, then the AirPods 3 will be a fantastic match for you. These buds offer the ultimate user experience for iPhone users and slot brilliantly into the Apple ecosystem.

Where to buy AirPods 3

Follow the links below to bag yourself a pair of AirPods 3 right now. Because they’re so new, there isn’t really anything in the way of deals right now, but we’ll be providing updates on this as more become available.

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For the latest news, reviews and deals, check out the RadioTimes.com Technology section. Still unsure about what iPhone to buy? Read our iPhone 12 vs mini vs Pro vs Pro Max guide for a breakdown of the key differences or take a look at the latest offerings from Apple in our iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 Pro reviews.