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AirPods Pro 2 vs AirPods 3: what are the differences?

AirPods Pro 2 vs AirPods 3
(Image credit: Future)

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. However, in the modern day, there are quite a few different AirPods to choose between, and then there are different generations, too.

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

If you’re stuck trying to decide between Apple’s standard wireless earbuds and the latest Pro variant, this guide is for you. Now, we'll be getting our hands on the AirPods Pro 2 (2022) shortly for a full review, but Apple has already revealed plenty about the all-new AirPods so we can tell you how the earbuds stack up against each other in a number of different departments…

AirPods Pro 2 (2022) vs AirPods 3: Price

AirPods Pro (2022)

(Image credit: Apple)

AirPods 3 originally retailed for £169 ($179, AU$279), and that’s about what they still cost today. The original AirPods Pro initially retailed for £249 ($249, AU$399), and the new AirPods Pro will cost you exactly the same. It's nice to see Apple resisted the temptation to automatically bump the price of the new pair.

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 2 Pro

(Image credit: Apple)

AirPods 3 have great battery life, offering up to 6 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 to the same 6 hours with the buds and 30 hours with the charging case.

Of course, the AirPods Pro 2 (2022) manage this great battery life with noise-canceling activated, but purely on paper, this part of the comparison is a draw.

**Winner: draw**

AirPods Pro 2 vs AirPods 3: Design 

Apple AirPods Pro 2

(Image credit: Apple)

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 taste and the size of your ears. They come with the familiar design of entry-level Apple headphones where there’s a one-size-fits-all approach. If you’re lucky, AirPods 3 will be your perfect fit; however, there’s more flexibility with AirPods Pro. 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.

Both buds come with IPX4 water- and sweat-resistance, while the charging case of the AirPods 3 comes with MagSafe and Qi support. For AirPods Pro 2 (2022), the charging case comes with MagSafe and Qi support as well as being compatible with Apple Watch chargers. Plus, the case of the AirPods Pro 2 also has a built-in speaker, Precision Finding support for locating a lost case, and a built-in lanyard. 

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 if you ask us. Assuming, of course, it works without hassle.

In general, if you prefer the design of the AirPods Pro, the new Pros will also come with a few design improvements over the AirPods 3. Plus, Apple promises a new ‘low-distortion audio driver and custom amplifier’ in AirPods Pro 2 (2022) over the original Pros, adding to the list of upgrades the new Pros bring to the table.

**Winner: AirPods Pro 2**

AirPods Pro 2 vs AirPods 3: Features 

AirPods Pro (2022)

(Image credit: Apple)

A number of AirPods Pro 2 features are accessible on AirPods 3. Support for Apple spatial audio (and personalised spatial audio which launched with iOS 16) 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 (according to Apple) 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.

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 

AirPods Pro 2 driver

(Image credit: Apple)

AirPods 3 sound good, with a balanced, clear and detailed sound. However, unsurprisingly, the ‘Pro’ moniker has come with improved sound quality in the past, so that’s what we’d hope the new AirPods Pro 2 bring over the AirPods 3.

Until our review, though, we can't really say. After all, we don't know if the impact of the new driver and amplifier designs will be positive or negative. We're hopeful, though, that the AirPods Pro 2 will be Apple’s best-sounding wireless earbuds.

Apple’s best-sounding wireless earbuds don’t necessarily mean the best-sounding wireless earbuds overall. The Sony WF-1000XM4s, which also have ANC, are the current class leaders in the wireless earbuds space and it will take a lot to topple the reigning champion.

**Winner: TBC**

AirPods Pro 2 vs AirPods 3: Early verdict 

If you don’t care much about active noise-cancelling, the AirPods 3 are still going to be 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 out of the two.

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 (providing our review finds them to be up to scratch), then the new Pro 2 model makes a lot of sense.

Make sure you keep an eye out for our full AirPods Pro 2 (2022) review and we'll report back with our findings when we pitch them against the third-generation AirPods. If you’re not married to the idea of buying an Apple-branded earbud, check out our list of the best wireless earbuds around.

MORE:

Check out why AirPods Pro 2 are set to improve on the original

Here's Apple spatial audio explained

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Ruben Circelli
Staff Writer

Ruben is a Staff Writer at What Hi-Fi? and longtime consumer technology and gaming journalist. 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.