Apple first showed the world its AirPods in 2016. Since then, the sale of wireless headphones has not stopped growing. In 2020 they were wearables best sellers in the world, according to the consultancy IDC. And the trend is expected to continue in the coming years until reaching 400 million units shipped in 2024, according to Statista. The new AirPods are the last bet of the Cupertino company to compete in a market with multiple cheaper alternatives. In addition to incorporating support for spatial audio, they offer better sound and greater autonomy, but lack noise cancellation.
The third generation AirPods, available for 199 euros, have a new design. Now they look much more like their bigger brothers, the AirPods Pro. Apple has opted for a stem – a stick – 33% shorter than the previous generation, which makes them somewhat more discreet. Setting up the earbuds, which are water and sweat resistant, is a breeze. It only takes a few seconds. Simply place them near an iPhone or any other Apple device with the lid open and they will automatically link. It is also possible to pair them with Android phones or tablets. However, with this operating system some functions may be limited.
Both stems have a small indentation on one of their sides that allows, when pressed, to control music playback and phone calls with small touches. These sensors, inherited from the AirPods Pro, are also used to make any query to Siri with a long press. For example, you can ask the assistant to change songs or make a call.
The Cupertino company claims to have scanned thousands of ears to design these devices and better direct the audio to the ear. Put on, the headphones are quite comfortable and light – each weighs 4.28 grams. But the fit depends to some extent on the individual’s ear. Although in general they adapt well to the ear and do not give the feeling that they are going to come out, in the tests carried out by this newspaper one of the headphones has fallen on occasion.
Unlike much of the higher-end wireless earbuds on the market, the AirPods 3 don’t have interchangeable silicone ear pads. There is only one model available in hard plastic and one size fits all. This open design lets in quite a bit of outside noise. Although this alternative can be useful for security reasons in some circumstances, you need to be able to choose whether or not you want to listen to the ambient sound. With active noise cancellation found in other headphones on the market, you can achieve a more immersive experience, for example when listening to music, watching a movie or making calls.
Apple aims to achieve this immersive experience with spatial audio. The gyroscopes and accelerometers in the AirPods follow the movements of the head with one goal: to put the user in the middle of the stage. The Cupertino company claims that the headphones can distribute sound through directional audio algorithms and filters to subtly adjust the frequencies each ear receives.
The headphones feature an Apple-designed H1 chip – which the AirPods Pro and AirPods Max also have – and adaptive equalization technology. With it, it is intended to adjust the sound in real time depending on how the headphones adapt to the ear of each user. An inward-facing microphone monitors the sound and, thanks to computational audio, the low and mid frequencies are adapted to be heard in the best possible way. In general, the audio is heard loud and of good quality. Headphones produce slightly more powerful bass and sharper, cleaner highs than their predecessors. One of the most interesting and best-working features is that when you remove one of them, the audio stops automatically. The AirPods debut a sensor capable of detecting the skin and distinguishing, therefore, if they are in the user’s ear, in a pocket or on the table. When the user puts the headphones back on, the music continues to play automatically.
The case that brings AirPods to life
The AirPods battery lasts for about six hours. With the charging case, you can reach 30. This allows you to use them for several days without having to charge them. The cover is made of plastic and is quite light – it weighs about 38 grams. On its front, it has an LED that turns different colors to offer certain information. For example, about charging the headphones or the case itself. On its back, the case has a button that allows you to pair the AirPods with other devices. The case also has a Lightning port that is used to charge it by cable. You can also fill your battery wirelessly by placing it on top of the MagSafe charger.
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