Apple AirPods 3 Review –  Unmatched Finesse But Pricey

Spoilers: If you are using an Android phone, skip the AirPods 3.

Apple Airpods 3

It’s unfortunate that the AirPods 3 showcase was merely a side note during the Apple MacBook Pro launch with the new M1 Pro and M1 Max chips. I say “unfortunate” only because the AirPods have better mass appeal and are far more ubiquitous. Anyway, the new and upgraded AirPods 3 is clearly aimed at folks who use their earbuds for more than just listening to music. Let me explain.

Still the Benchmark for Easy Connectivity

First things first, if you are using an Android phone, skip the AirPods 3. Mostly because, all of the cool features such as Spatial Audio, instant connection with your Apple Device, Find My and many more are not going to be available for the Android ecosystem. There are many better alternative truly wireless earbuds to suit the Android user, which I will share later in the review.

Now, if you are on an iPhone, it starts with the magical card that pops up on your phone the moment you flip open the lid. Hit ‘Connect’ and your AirPods are automatically linked to your iCloud account thereby making it accessible to all your devices connected to this account. In my case, the MacBook Pro and the iPhone 13 Pro Max (Review). And once connected, the AirPods identifies where the content is playing and switches automatically. It still feels magical every time I am watching a video on my MacBook Pro, and if someone calls me, the AirPods Pro switches over to the iPhone seamlessly. Every. Single. Time.

AirPods Pro Lite

As for the design, the case and the earbuds have been redesigned now to resemble the AirPods Pro…but smaller. The case is flatter now and the buds have a smaller stem with ‘pinch’ controls. Essentially, you can pinch once to Play/Pause music or pinch twice to change the track. While the auditory feedback when you pinch is extremely effective, I found it hard to wrap my pudgy fingers around the stem without dislodging it slightly from my ear. Which meant that every time I pinched to control the music, I had to readjust the buds to fit snug in my ears.

Although, I am aware that this could be a problem specific to me. Anyway, for folks like me, Apple does offer ear detection that automatically pauses the music when you take one out of the ear. That said, there is no way to control volume. You can use Siri to do it but that’s just super cumbersome, in my opinion.

Give Me Some Space

Evidently what sets the AirPods apart are the smattering of features. Starting with Spatial audio, where the stereo audio from your music and movies are projected in a much wider space making it feel more expansive. For content natively coded in Dolby Atmos on Apple Music, the effect is actually pretty impressive. That is also because the AirPods 3 have an impressive soundstage to begin with, which I will explain more in detail in the next section. In tracks encoded in Dolby Atmos, the sense of space and the placement of instruments was actually stunning in certain tracks. For example, in Autobahn by Kraftwerk. In certain songs, the Airpods 3 does a bang up job of pinning the vocals to a virtual centre channel and moves the chorus around the head in some songs. It is something you need to experience to really understand.

Apart from this, Apple now also upscales your regular stereo audio to Spatial audio as well, which sounds a little artificial, if you ask me. The AirPods 3, much like the AirPods Pro and the AirPods Max, also offers Head Tracking with Spatial Audio. As the name suggests, the music orients itself in space automatically as you move your head. I am not really a fan of this simulated effect so I switched it off.

Now, the AirPods 3 doesn’t offer Active Noise Cancellation or a Transparency mode but Live Listen is still available. You can switch it on from the Control Centre in the Settings app to amplify any conversation around you. It is pretty much like spying. And, there are a few simulated Background Sounds – such as Rain, Ocean, Stream, etc – which help you Focus on work. I find it pretty helpful. A similar feature is available with the Hey Melody app on the Play Store. I use it with the OPPO Enco X regularly.

Get Up and Dance

Here’s the thing about me, I prefer IEMs over earbuds. I am really not the target audience for Apple here. If I were to buy a pair of AirPods, it’d have to be the Pro. Mainly because, I never get a good seal and it invariably falls off. I need tips to secure the fit properly. That said, for those who don’t like the feel of IEMs, buds are absolutely comfortable to wear for long listening sessions and I will attest to that fact. Also, by virtue of its design, and the mic mesh on the outer side, you get an open soundstage and an airy sound by default. That is actually the very first thing I noticed. And, this is without Spatial Audio, mind you.

With the AirPods 3, you also get Adaptive EQ introduced with the AirPods Pro. Basically, the inward facing microphones on the buds listen to what you are hearing in the environment to dynamically adjust the Lows and the Highs to provide what Apple believes is the optimum impact. Unfortunately, for purists like me who just want to know how the dynamic drivers are tuned without this software trickery, it is not possible to shut Adaptive EQ. Which means that the sound signature keeps fluctuating mildly.

But, for the most part, I’d say the AirPods 3 has a very V-shaped sound. Also, Apple doesn’t do much to hide that in the marketing material either where it does talk about the Lows and the Highs but doesn’t mention Mids once.

Airpods 3

And, I’d say the bass is pretty impactful if not very tight. You get an elevated low end response especially in the mid-bass section making the bass slam sound very fun and engaging in Reconnaisance by Mitch Murder. It is the kind of sound that will make you want to get up and dance. Also, I was positively taken aback by how bright it sounds. The Highs do extend quite a bit and there’s a lot of detail on offer too. But there’s an artificial feel to the sound of most instruments, which means the tonality is pretty average. That’s where OPPO Enco X and the Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro impress. Evidently, the AirPods 3 sound is not meant for the audiophile. At the same time, the mainstream audience is going to swear by the signature and vouch for it.

As for me, I actually did enjoy using these even for listening to music. I mean, I would never use these for listening to Radiohead or Pink Floyd, but if I were consuming some mainstream pop like Taylor Swift’s new re-released album, I wouldn’t mind the AirPods 3. Also, you should know that there’s very little isolation on the AirPods 3 owing to the design. Therefore, you must expect some external noise to creep in.

Undisputed Champion of TWS Mic Quality

If there is one area where the AirPods 3 continues to rule the roost is in its mic quality. Despite the smaller stem, there’s no change in the excellent call quality that we’ve come to expect from the AirPods. It does a great job of cutting out the external noise and even wind sounds, when you are out and about. Every time I had to make a long call or attend a Zoom meeting, my hands would invariably reach for the AirPods 3. It is that good.

Improved Battery Life

As for the battery life Apple claims that you get an improved 6 hours of listening time now. Plus 30 hours extra on the case. I could verify this claim in my testing too. In my mixed usage test with a few calls and music listening sessions, I got 5 hours and 44 mins of battery life.

Should You Buy the AirPods 3?

The only problem with the AirPods 3 is its pricing. Evidently, Apple charges a premium for these new buds. Rs 18,500 to be precise. You can easily get the Galaxy Buds Pro (Review) or the OPPO Enco X, both objectively better at sound quality, for cheaper. However, that is not the story here, at least for Apple users and I am one of them. Which is why, the real story is that I would pick the AirPods 3 over any other non-Apple option out there purely because of the fantastic ecosystem interconnects.

Within the AirPods family however, I’d easily pick the AirPods Pro for the reasons mentioned prior. Not to mention the fact that the Pro routinely goes on sale and is available for Rs 20,990. Regardless, the AirPods 3 definitely carves its own space and will probably sell in the millions if not billions.

What do you think of the AirPods 3? Let me know in the comments section below.

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When Ershad is not killing dinosaur-sized mosquitoes with a vengeance using a make-believe shotgun, he writes/edits for Gear by MySmartPrice. He is also our resident karaoke star. Don't encourage him to sing.