AirPods 3 are official, support Dolby Atmos spatial audio with head tracking

AirPods 3
(Image credit: Apple)

Apple has finally put AirPods 3 speculation to bed by officially announcing the highly anticipated true wireless earbuds at today's Apple Unleashed event.

The new AirPods – the third-generation model, following on from the AirPods 2 released in 2019 – propel Apple's popular wireless earbuds forward with a new design, improved specification and the promise of better audio quality. 

The AirPods 3 have "an all-new design inside and out". As expected, they take design cues from the AirPods Pro, featuring smaller stems and touch controls. In fact, they look just like AirPods Pro but without the silicon tips.

Battery life has been improved. While the previous generation of AirPods offered a total of 24 hours (five from the buds, 19 from the case), Apple has taken that to 30 hours (six from the buds, plus four full charges from the case).

  • Everything you need to know about the AirPods 3

But the biggest news is full support for Apple's spatial audio with Dolby Atmos technology – and by 'full' we mean that the experience comes complete with dynamic head-tracking to make the 3D audio from music and videos (and even Group FaceTime calls) even more immersive. Just as it does with the AirPods Max and AirPods Pro.

Apple advanced audio quality in the jump from the original AirPods to the second-gen pair, and it is promising superior audio quality in the AirPods 3 thanks to the creation of a brand-new "low distortion" driver. So here's hoping that an even bigger leap has been made here – not least because the overall sound quality of true wireless headphones has moved on considerably since the previous-gen AirPods debuted.

Apple AirPods 3

(Image credit: Apple)

The AirPods 3 also get Adaptive EQ, which was introduced with the AirPods Pro and means the headphones will tune the sound they produce in real-time based on how they fit in the ear. And you won't be surprised to hear that Audio Sharing (which allows an Apple device's audio to be played simultaneously through two sets of AirPods) is also on the menu. Auto-pause is on board too – and Apple has worked to improve the earbuds' ability to detect whether or not they are in your ears. 

The new AirPods are sweat and water-resistant (rated to IPX4), too, and support MagSafe and wireless charging.

The AirPods 3 can be pre-ordered today, with availability beginning next Tuesday (26th). They cost £169 / $179 / AU$279 – a slight increase on the launch price of the AirPods 2. Speaking of the current AirPods 2, they actually remain in the line-up, with a new official price of £119 / $129 / AU$219 (which is roughly what they've been knocking around for in recent times). The AirPods Pro remain at £239 / $249 / AU$399, although now come with a MagSafe charging case.


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Becky Roberts

Becky is the managing editor of What Hi-Fi? and, since her recent move to Melbourne, also the editor of Australian Hi-Fi magazine. During her 10 years in the hi-fi industry, she has been fortunate enough to travel the world to report on the biggest and most exciting brands in hi-fi and consumer tech (and has had the jetlag and hangovers to remember them by). In her spare time, Becky can often be found running, watching Liverpool FC and horror movies, and hunting for gluten-free cake.