AirPods Pro 2 vs AirPods 3: which are better?

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. We've recently reviewed the AirPods Pro 2, giving Apple's new buds five-stars, while the AirPods 3 earned four-stars in their review, and below you'll find everything you need to know about which pair of AirPods might be the right fit for you...

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, making the battery on the new Pros the winner here. Though, if you're not a fan of ANC, you won't feel like the battery on the new Pros is anything special, most likely.

**Winner: AirPods Pro 2**

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, considering how responsive touch control is on AirPods Pro 2.

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's new ‘low-distortion audio driver and custom amplifier’ alongside the H2 chip adds up to better sound quality 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 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 incoming 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 

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 many are expecting the new AirPods Pro 2 to bring over AirPods 3, and in our testing, that's what we've seen.

AirPods Pro 2 sound weighty and dynamic without sacrificing detail or tonal balance. Plus, these earbuds 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, organized 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 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.

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
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.