Tech review: How to choose between the new AirPods and the AirPods Pro

Love them or hate them, the folks at Apple certainly have a knack for seeing trends and creating products that take over a big chunk of the market.

The iPhone was not the first smartphone, but it did start the world down a path of carrying phones with touch screens and apps.

The iPod wasn’t the first digital music player, but Apple did create the iPod with a companion music store and changed the way we buy music. Now we’ve lived long enough to see the iPod go away in favor of playing music through our phones.

This week I’m reviewing the third generation of Apple’s AirPods ($179).

AirPods have become ubiquitous in the ears of iPhone users. We’ve all seen those white stems sticking out of people’s ears.

I know there are plenty of other wireless earbuds. I’ve reviewed quite a few, but I don’t seem to notice people wearing other brands as much as I notice people wearing AirPods.

Let’s talk about naming.

Apple is labeling these AirPods (3rd Generation). They have a shorter stem and resemble the AirPods Pro.

You can purchase the old-style AirPods (2nd Generation) for $129, and AirPods Pro for $249, which have a shorter stem and are the only AirPods with a silicone ear tip.

Since Apple has moved away from the long stem design, I’ll be comparing the features of the new AirPods with the AirPods Pro.

What’s new?

The design of the new AirPods is what I noticed first.

I have always loved the sound from AirPods, but those long stems made me look like I was wearing earrings.

The new AirPods have shorter stems that are visible but not as much.

If you look at the part of the AirPod that fits inside your ear, you’ll notice the third generation is larger.

My wife has smaller ears than I do, and she didn’t find them uncomfortable, but if you have small ears, you might notice a tighter fit.

The AirPods have the force sensors of the AirPods Pro.

Force Sensors are the buttons you press by squeezing on a flat spot on the AirPods stem.

Squeeze once to play or pause music or answer a phone call.

Squeeze twice to skip to the next song.

Squeeze three times to skip back.

Squeeze and hold for Siri or just say Hey Siri to invoke the personal assistant.

New sound features

The new AirPods and its charging case are sweat- and water-resistant.

They have a new feature called Adaptive EQ, which has an inward-facing microphone that monitors the sound and adjusts it to account for variances in fit.

The new AirPods also have spatial audio, which creates a three-dimensional surround experience. It isn’t quite as good as real surround sound, but it is impressive. AirPods Pro also have spatial audio, a good example of a pro-level feature making its way down to the cheaper model.

While I’m comparing features, the third-gen AirPods do not have noise canceling, which is a feature of the AirPods Pro.

Battery and charging

Apple says the new AirPods offer an extra hour of battery life over the previous versions. This is impressive considering the reduction in size.

You can expect six hours of music playback or four hours of talk time.

The charging case for the new AirPods is wider than previous models but not as wide as the case of the AirPods Pro.

The battery inside the charge case can charge the AirPods four times, for a total of up to 30 hours of music listening.

The case can be charged via lightning cable, Qi wireless charger or Apple’s Magsafe charger.

If your AirPods’ battery is run down, just five minutes in the case will provide an hour of listening.

There is a USB-C to Lightning cable in the box.

Find My AirPods

Apple’s Find My network helps users find their lost Apple portable products (iPhones, iPads, MacBooks, AirTags and AirPods).

You’ll see them listed under the Devices tab in the Find My app. You can set them up to send you a notification if your phone and AirPods get separated.

If you lose them in your house or car, you can remotely play a sound, but the sound comes out of the AirPods, so it isn’t very loud.

Voice quality

It is difficult to get really good voice quality out of a set of wireless earbuds. Most people who spend their day wearing headsets use one that has a boom microphone that extends down near the mouth.

We have all heard people on the phone who sound like they are in a tunnel or standing five feet from a microphone.

The voice quality of the AirPods microphone always has been very good, and that is true of the newest model.

People I talked to on the phone did not think I was talking through AirPods. Sound quality rivals any phone or headset.

Apple has added a small screen over the microphones to minimize wind noise.

In use

Apple has perfected the AirPods setup.

Unbox them, bring them close to your iPhone, flip open the case and you’ll see a dialog box appear on your phone with a button to Connect.

Once you connect them to your phone, they’ll automatically connect to any other Apple device you use with the same Apple ID. The AirPods fit my ears quite nicely. After a few minutes, I forget I’m wearing them.

They will attach to non-Apple phones, tablets and computers via Bluetooth.

The incoming sound and outgoing voice quality are top notch. Compared to the second generation AirPods, there is a noticeable sound quality improvement.

I also thought these latest AirPods sounded better than the AirPods Pro. The silicone ear tips are tricky to get sealed into my ears and if they don’t seal well, the music quality suffers.

To my ears, the 3rd Generation AirPods are the best-sounding AirPods you can buy (and I have them all).

My advice would be to try both the AirPods and AirPods Pro and see which sound better to you.

Pros: Comfortable, great sound and microphones, long battery life, smaller stem.

Cons: Might not fit small ears.

Bottom line: My ears are telling me to save $78 and buy the new AirPods over the AirPods Pro.