AirPods Pro 2 vs AirPods 3: which are better?

Apple calls AirPods the ‘most popular wireless headphones in the world’ for good reason: these little buds are everywhere. Chances are if you’ve got an Apple device, you’ve thought about getting a pair of AirPods. But which one? Because not only are there different models to choose from, there are different generations, too.

The AirPods 3 are Apple’s latest traditional wireless earbuds, while the AirPods Pro  2 (2022) are Apple’s flagship noise-cancelling buds that come with a different design, feature set and price tag.

Below you'll find everything you need to know about which pair of AirPods are right for you...

AirPods Pro 2 (2022) vs AirPods 3: Price

Apple AirPods Pro 2 being held in the case

(Image credit: What Hi-Fi?)

The AirPods 3 originally retailed for £169 ($179, AU$279), and that’s about what they still cost today. The AirPods Pro 2 launched at the same £249 ($249, AU$399) as their predecessors, but since they launched with a USB-C case in place of the Lightning one, they have dropped to £229 in the UK (US and Australia prices remain the same).

Yes, the AirPods 3 are cheaper on paper but remember the Pro 2 do bring active noise-cancellation (ANC) and a different design and chipset to the party.

**Winner: AirPods 3**

AirPods Pro 2 vs AirPods 3: Battery life 

AirPods 3 out of their case on a blue pillow

(Image credit: What Hi-Fi?)

The AirPods 3 have great battery life, offering up to six hours on a single charge with just the buds and increasing that to 30 hours with the charging case. The AirPods Pro 2 (2022) match the AirPods 3’s battery life, offering up the same six and 30 hours respectively.

Of course, the AirPods Pro 2 (2022) manage this great battery life with noise-canceling activated, making the battery on the new Pros the winner here.

**Winner: AirPods Pro 2**

AirPods Pro 2 vs AirPods 3: Design 

AirPods 3 and AirPods Pro 2 in cases

(Image credit: What Hi-Fi?)

The AirPods 3 have the traditional look and feel of Apple’s classic headphones, while the AirPods Pro 2 come with interchangeable tips and look and feel more like your average wireless earbud, though the Pros do retain their stems that competitors like the Sony WF-1000XM4 go without.

The AirPods 3 don’t have swappable silicone tips like many earbuds do that you can change depending on the size of your ears. Instead theirs is a one-size-fits-all approach, which, in our experience, doesn't actually fit all. The Pros come with those familiar swappable silicone tips, which we found were extremely useful in finding the perfect fit for you. Plus, the new AirPods Pro come with an added fourth XS tip.

In addition to the force sensor you’ll see on both pairs of AirPods, AirPods Pro 2 (2022) also have a touch-capacitive layer on their stems that you can swipe up and down on to control volume, which is a pretty solid quality-of-life improvement, considering how responsive touch control is.

Both buds come with IPX4 water- and sweat-resistance, while their charging cases have MagSafe and Qi support for wireless charging. On top of this, the AirPods Pro 2 (2022) case is compatible with Apple Watch chargers, and has a built-in speaker, Precision Finding support for locating a lost case, and a built-in lanyard. 

**Winner: AirPods Pro 2**

AirPods Pro 2 vs AirPods 3: Features 

A view of the H2 chip inside the AirPods Pro 2

(Image credit: Apple)

A number of AirPods Pro 2 features are accessible on AirPods 3. Support for Apple Spatial Audio as well as Dolby Atmos; dynamic head-tracking; adaptive EQ; Audio Sharing (the ability to play audio simultaneously through two sets of AirPods); and Auto-pause are all features you can enjoy on AirPods Pro 2 as well as AirPods 3.

The biggest difference is the AirPods Pro 2 (2022) sport Apple’s brand new H2 chip that yields massive improvements to active noise-cancelling, sound quality and battery life. With the H2 chip and optimised acoustic vent and mic placement on AirPods Pro 2 (2022), Apple is promising up to twice the noise-cancelling ability over the original AirPods Pro. 

In our testing, we found noise-cancelling on the new AirPods Pro was indeed greatly improved over what was already an effective noise-cancelling system on the original AirPods Pro. With the new Pros, you won't have any trouble eliminating background noise with ANC on, whether that's the soft hush of background office chatter or the bass-heavy roar of an oncoming train.

The AirPods Pro 2 also offer an extra sonic feature called Adaptive Transparency, which allows them to minimise loud sounds as they appear and help reduce their impact on your listening experience.

**Winner: AirPods Pro 2**

AirPods Pro 2 vs AirPods 3: Sound quality 

Apple AirPods Pro 2 inside their charging case

(Image credit: What Hi-Fi?)

AirPods 3 sound good with a balanced, clear and detailed sound. But unsurprisingly, the Pros sound even better.

They're weighty and dynamic without sacrificing detail or tonal balance. Plus they have a wonderful way with voices. Listening to almost anything on AirPods Pro 2 will offer up an excellent listening experience, thanks to a clean, organised audio presentation.

The AirPods Pro were Apple's best-sounding wireless earbuds, and now, the AirPods Pro 2 take that title, offering up premium sound quality that outclasses the cheaper original AirPods line and even manages to go toe-to-toe with other wireless earbud heavyweights on the market.

Apple’s best-sounding wireless earbuds don’t necessarily mean the best-sounding wireless earbuds overall, though. While the AirPods Pro 2 do impressively manage to make the Sony WF-1000XM4s sound lightweight in comparison, buds like Bose's QC Earbuds II, though pricier, do sound subtler and more balanced.

**Winner: AirPods Pro 2**

AirPods Pro 2 vs AirPods 3: the verdict 

If you don’t care much about active noise-cancelling, the AirPods 3 are a solid option, especially if you prefer the original AirPods fit over the AirPods Pro. Plus, AirPods 3 are cheaper, making them the value pick.

If the price differential doesn’t bother you, you care about noise-cancelling, or you simply like the fit and want a jump in sound quality, then the new Pro 2 model is the way to go for most Apple fans.

If you’re not married to the idea of buying an Apple-branded earbud, check out our list of the best wireless earbuds around.


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Ruben Circelli

Ruben is a long-time freelance consumer technology and gaming journalist, and was previously a Staff Writer at What Hi-Fi?. Since 2014, Ruben has written news, reviews, features, guides, and everything in-between at a huge variety of outlets that include Lifewire, PCGamesN, GamesRadar+, TheGamer, Twinfinite, and many more. Ruben's a dedicated gamer, tech nerd, and the kind of person who misses physical media. In his spare time, you can find Ruben cooking something delicious or, more likely, lying in bed consuming content.

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