The $179 AirPods 3 and $249 AirPods Pro are both in the upper echelon of Apple’s earbuds lineup, so knowing the upsides and downsides to each are critical. Both of these have a shorter stem with a contoured head and deliver better audio quality over standard AirPods. The real differences come down to noise cancellation and what type of ear tip you prefer.
We’ve gone ears-on with AirPods Pro for well over two years, and AirPods 3 for well over a week. So let’s break down what you need to know to figure out which Apple earbuds are right for you.
At a glance
Get the AirPods 3 if you want quality sound and extra features like Spatial Audio and don't mind a more open design.
Get the AirPods Pro if you want active noise cancellation (ANC), a transparency mode and swappable ear tips with a more secure fit.
AirPods 3 are for you if…
You care about battery life
AirPods 3 offer the longest battery life of any true wireless earbud from Apple. With listening volumes in between 60% and 70%, we clocked AirPods 3 at six hours and 10 minutes of listening time. The case itself provides four additional recharges, which equates to about 30 total hours of listening. Better yet, five minutes in the charging case gives you about an hour of listening.
AirPods Pro, on the other hand, last for about four hours and 30 minutes with ANC on and only five hours with it off. AirPods 3 are the clear winner if you care about battery life.
You want a fully water- and sweat-resistance experience
The physical left and right AirPods Pro carry a water- and sweat-resistant rating — IPX4, to be specific, but that doesn’t extend to the companion case. That changes on AirPods 3, as it’s the first time that both the earbuds themselves and the case are designed to endure a few splashes.
So what’s the advantage here? Well, you don’t have to worry about getting the case wet or keeping it on your body — like in a pocket — while you’re working out. We got plenty sweaty during a 45-minute endurance Peloton ride and had the case in our pants pocket, and had peace of mind that we wouldn’t cause lasting damage.
You want ‘Pro-level’ features for less
AirPods 3 are $70 cheaper than the AirPods Pro, and you’re only giving up silicone ear tips, noise cancellation and a transparency mode. The newest AirPods deliver on great, robust sound, thanks to a new driver and Adaptive EQ, which adjusts the mix in real time for your ears (just like on the Pro). They sound nearly as good and support Spatial Audio with head tracking. If you’re cool with a looser fit that doesn’t seal off your ear and no noise cancellation, AirPods 3 are the way to go.
AirPods Pro are for you if…
You want noise cancellation and a transparency mode
AirPods Pro are our top earbuds pick for Apple users for a number of reasons, and their listening modes are a big reason why. Whether you need silence while flying, taking the commuter rail or just at your desk, AirPods Pro’s ANC can block out the world around you with ease. Multiple microphones and the H1 processor stop environmental or outside noise in its tracks to let you focus. A transparency mode also allows the earbuds to pipe important sounds into the mix of whatever you’re listening to — think an emergency siren on a passing fire truck or a co-worker trying to speak with you while working at the office.
The tighter seal in the ear, thanks to silicone ear tips, also allows these to block out environmental sounds passively. AirPods 3 don’t seal off the ear for passive blocking and don’t feature any form of active noise cancellation.
You want a tighter fit in the ear and a proper seal
The key to AirPods Pro’s excellent noise cancellation and awesome sound is a silicone ear tip. In fact, you get three sizes (small, medium and large) in the box. This way they can get cozy in your ear and properly seal it off.
Apple even has an “Ear Tip Fit Test” built in, which plays tones and uses microphones to make sure you have a good fit. Don’t be alarmed if one ear requires a different size than the other either. AirPods 3 don’t feature silicone ear tips, and the contoured plastic build just sits in your ear and really nestles into the canal. They leak sound a lot more and don’t offer more advanced listening modes.
When you’re choosing between AirPods 3 and AirPods Pro, it really comes down to fit, how important noise cancellation is to you and how much you’re willing to spend.
If you can live without ANC and are all right with a looser fit in your ear, AirPods 3 are the way to go at a more affordable $179. And if you want noise cancellation, transparency and a tighter seal in your ear, the AirPods Pro are worth springing for at $249.