Apple AirPods 3 vs. AirPods Pro (1st gen): Which headphones are better?


It’s been over half a decade since Apple released the original AirPodsand while the brilliant white buds have taken on new shapes and sizes since then, they remain a top choice for the best wireless headphones today.

If you’re shopping for a new pair of AirPods this holiday season, chances are the Third generation AirPods and that of Apple Original AirPods Pro are on your or your recipient’s wish list.

Both models offer exceptional audio quality, especially if you own an iPhone, and a host of sound features to enhance the overall listening experience. Of all the wireless headphones we’ve tested over the years, Apple also clearly has a knack for microphone quality.

But between the two AirPods models, there are several differences worth noting that, while not as easily detectable in Apple’s marketing jargon and posters, should make your purchasing decision easier than you might expect. think so. To help you decide which of the two you should buy, I’ve listed the key arguments for each model below.

After: Over 30 Black Friday deals on the best headphones around


AirPods 3

AirPods Pro (1st generation)


Dual beamforming

Dual beamforming

listening experience

Custom spatial audio

Custom spatial audio, active noise cancellation and transparency mode


Bluetooth 5.0

Bluetooth 5.0


Headphones: IPX4

Headphones: IPX 4


Up to 6 hours of playtime on a single charge

Up to 4.5 hours of playtime on a single charge







You should buy the AirPods 3 if…

1. You prefer the classic AirPods design

The AirPods 3 are the newer of the two models I’m comparing, but they retain that familiar design of the first-generation AirPods. If you prefer that to the Pro’s padded hooks, the AirPods 3 are the way to go.

While the non-Pro model is less flashy on paper, the AirPods retain two notable audio features from their more expensive sibling: Spatial Audio and Adaptive EQ. The first is Apple’s in-house technology that syncs audio playback through dynamic head tracking. Basically, the sounds of music, videos, and movies play in your ears as if the sources of the sound were physically in front of you. Adaptive EQ helps automatically adjust the low and mid frequencies of AirPods 3 so you get the fullest, most realistic sound.

Exam: AirPods 3: Improvements in the right places

2. You want a tougher case

While both earbud models are IPX4 rated, which means they can withstand splashes of water, the AirPods 3 charging case also has the same certification, while the AirPods Pro charging case does not. Although charging cases are often tucked away in a pocket or bag anyway, there’s objectively more protection with the new AirPods 3.

AirPods 3 and AirPods Pro with their cases.

Left: AirPods 3, Right: AirPods Pro.

Jason Cipriani/ZDNET

3. You prioritize battery life and endurance

Beyond comfort and sound quality, battery life is a pillar worth the weight between the two AirPods models. Although the charging cases look almost identical, you can expect more endurance from the new AirPods 3.

In our tests, the AirPods 3 achieved the estimated 30 hours of music playback claimed by Apple. That’s a step up from the AirPods Pro’s 24-hour battery life. One of the main reasons for this is the AirPods 3’s lack of active noise cancellation (ANC). Without the noise canceling feature, non-Pro AirPods are able to retain power more efficiently. Disabling Spatial Audio, which only works with certain Apple Music media files, is equally helpful.

The AirPods 3 will last you about 6 hours before needing to be docked in the charging case, while the AirPods Pro will last between 3 and 5 hours depending on whether you have ANC turned on or off. Either way (literally), you can charge via Lightning cable, wirelessly via Qi, or via Apple’s MagSafe system.

Also: 10+ Best Black Friday Apple Deals Running Right Now

You should buy the AirPods Pro (1st generation) if…

1. You want active noise cancellation (ANC)

The main selling point of the AirPods Pro is the ANC. Not to be confused with “passive noise cancellation,” which comes from the natural sealing of earbud tips, ANC uses the AirPods Pro’s external microphones to deflect ambient sounds like birds chirping, fans, and chatter. . This crown jewel of an audio feature has made its way into most, if not all, high-end headphones and earphones, and just might spoil you for any other way to listen to music.

Plus, AirPods Pro have a transparency mode that amplifies the sounds of your surroundings so you don’t miss a beat of reality. Instead of taking your headphones off, you can use Transparency Mode to listen to subway stops, monitor traffic, or chat with a passerby.

Also: Our top noise canceling headphones picks

AirPods Pro on a yellow, orange, green and blue striped background.


2. You prefer padded headphones

The original AirPods were long and too jarring for many to wear. That’s partly why Apple later released the short-stem AirPods Pro. With tapered silicone tips available in small, medium, and large sizes, the AirPods Pro are arguably more customizable than the AirPods 3, and the in-ear design offers superior passive noise cancellation.

Comparatively, the AirPods 3 rely on a streamlined form factor — not rubber tips — to cling to your ears. Naturally, there’s less sealing with this model, although many will find the less intrusive application more comfortable, especially when wearing the buds for hours on end.

Also: Apple AirPods Pro (2nd generation): better ANC and improved charging case

Alternatives to consider

Open to other wireless headphone prospects? Consider these devices tested by ZDNET:

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