Once upon a time, the gap between the AirPods vs AirPods Pro was massive. The latter had noise cancellation, water-resistance, custom eartips, adaptive EQ, wider soundstage and support for spatial audio, while the former did not.
The arrival of the AirPods 3, however, fixes nearly all of those problems and puts the two models at a more even parity.
That said, instead of a nearly a dozen differences between the two, we’re only down to just four – which means that the decision can ultimately be made a lot faster than before, especially if price and active noise cancellation are still your main concern.
The choice will still be different for everyone. But, to help you understand which model is right for you, we’ve broken down the key differences below.
Difference #1: Only AirPods Pro have active noise cancellation
The main reason you’d opt for the AirPods Pro over the AirPods 3 is that the Pro have built-in active noise cancellation. That allows you to take them out into the world and not be disturbed by outside noise. They’re our preferred travel companions for that reason, and work wonders on your commute when you just need to zone out for a while.
Now, even if you don’t opt for the powerful active noise cancellation option, the basic AirPods will give you some level of what we call passive noise isolation that comes from the buds blocking some part of the ear canal. This isn’t nearly as powerful as proper ANC, but you should know that you’ll at least get some form of noise reduction from both buds.
Difference #2: AirPods Pro have silicone eartips for a better fit…
While there’s not a massive difference in terms of design between the two earbuds, there’s one substantial difference that’s worth pointing out: the AirPods Pro come with interchangeable eartips that help facilitate a tighter and more comfortable fit.
A tighter fit may sound more uncomfortable at first, but tighter fitting earbuds actually provide the best bass response as no sound is wasted by escaping the ear. Because the tips are made of squishy silicone, it doesn’t hurt that they’re in the ear canal. In fact, we actually find regular AirPods to be more uncomfortable because the tips are made of inflexible plastic that doesn’t always quite fit comfortably on the outer part of the ear canal
Difference #3: …but AirPods 3 have a longer battery life
There is one very clear area in which AirPods 3 are better than the AirPods Pro, and that’s in battery life. The AirPods 3 aren’t exactly class leaders with their six-hour listening time, but that is a substantial improvement on the Pro’s 4.5-hour battery life. Thankfully both pairs of earbuds have an additional 24 hours of charge in the case, so it’s a draw there.
So why do the supposedly superior earbuds have such a short battery life? It all comes down to that active noise cancellation that drains the battery life. It turns out that not having that ability is what helps the AirPods 3 conserve battery and last longer.
Difference #4: AirPods 3 are cheaper (sometimes)
If you’re just basing this off of their MSRP or RRP, the AirPods 3 are the clear winner here. They’ve just launched at $179 / £169 / AU$279 which is significantly cheaper than the AirPods Pro’s set price of $249 / £249 / AU$399.
There’s a catch, though. Because the AirPods Pro have been on the market for a longer period of time, we’ve started to see some great deals on them that bring them down to the price of the AirPods 3. That won’t always be the case every single day, obviously, but if you’re shopping on one of the bigger holidays like Black Friday or Cyber Monday it could very easily be the case that the two earbuds are exactly the same price.
Verdict: You should *probably* buy the AirPods Pro
It’s not exactly cut and dry, but we’d say for the vast majority of iOS users the AirPods Pro are the better true wireless earbuds.
On sale, they should be nearly as cheap as the AirPods 3 and features like active noise cancellation and interchangeable earbuds make them more comfortable and functional than their newer counterparts.
That being said, you can make the case for the AirPods 3 as they have many of the same features as the Pro (minus the two we just mentioned) and come at a slightly lower price.
Hopefully that helps clear things up, but if not you can read our review for both earbuds elsewhere on the site or check out our guide to the best true wireless earbuds for more options.
Nick Pino is the Senior Editor of Home Entertainment at TechRadar and covers TVs, headphones, speakers, video games, VR and streaming devices. He’s written for TechRadar, GamesRadar, Official Xbox Magazine, PC Gamer and other outlets over the last decade, and he has a degree in computer science he’s not using if anyone wants it.