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Apple AirPods Pro (2nd generation) vs Apple AirPods (3rd generation)

Do you want to hear the world or shut it out?
By
October 16, 2022
The Apple AirPods Pro Gen 2 and the Apple AirPods Gen 3 sitting across from each other with their cases open on top of a wooden surface.

The Apple AirPods Pro (2nd generation) has arrived, and comparing it to the Apple AirPods (3rd generation) reveals stark differences between these otherwise similar wireless earbuds. While both pairs of AirPods are made for iPhone owners, you may find the active noise cancelling (ANC) Pro model makes more sense. On the other hand, those who prioritize awareness above all else may be more drawn to the unsealed third-gen AirPods.

Let’s examine the strengths and weaknesses of these AirPods earbuds and see which makes the most sense for you.

Editor’s note: this article was updated on November 18, 2022 to change formatting.

What’s it like to use the Apple AirPods Pro (2nd generation) compared to the Apple AirPods (3rd generation)?

The most obvious difference between the AirPods Pro and the original AirPods lines is the addition of silicone ear tips. With the second-generation AirPods Pro, you get four sizes (XS-L) of interchangeable ear tips to secure a perfect in-ear fit. Additionally, the Apple AirPods Pro (2nd generation) is the first set of Apple earbuds to feature both an IPX4-rated case and earbuds. The case also features a built-in speaker and lanyard loop, both of which are absent on the standard AirPods case.

The Apple AirPods Pro Gen 2 and the Apple Airpods Gen 3 sitting on a wooden surface with their cases behind them.
The biggest difference between the two product lines continues to be the different fit provided by the ear tips on the Pro model.

Apple’s new H2 chip sits inside the new Apple AirPods Pro (2nd generation) earbuds, and a U1 chip is inside the carrying case. This H2 chip offers incremental improvements, including better wireless connectivity and battery life compared to the H1 chip in the Apple AirPods (3rd generation). The H2 chip also powers the noise cancelling on the new AirPods Pro, though the H1 chip does the same on the first-gen AirPods Pro. With the AirPods Pro (2nd generation) case’s U1 chip, you can precisely locate the case separately from the earbuds in the Find My app.

Other than these differences, the two sets of AirPods are very similar. Both earbuds have the same glossy white plastic shell to match their cases, and both have an angled earbud head for a more ergonomic fit than the first- and second-generation AirPods. You even get pressure-sensitive stems with the AirPods Pro (2nd gen) and AirPods (3rd gen) to control media playback and more.

How do you control the Apple AirPods Pro (2nd generation) and Apple AirPods (3rd generation)?

A hand holds the left earbud of the Apple AirPods Pro (2nd generation) to show off the stem.
Lily Katz / SoundGuys
The AirPods Pro (2nd gen) has divots where you squeeze to control playback and calls.

The principle behind the controls on the Apple AirPods remains the same as ever. The listener can adjust playback and other settings by squeezing the stem on either earbud. You can exert additional control by saying “Hey, Siri” to check your notifications, make inquiries, and more.

Apple AirPods Pro (2nd generation) controls:

INPUT (stems)ACTION
One press
Play/pause/answer call
Two presses
Next track
Three presses
Previous track
Press and hold
Toggle ANC/Adaptive Transparency modes
Swipe up/down
Increase/decrease volume
"Hey Siri"
Change volume, request directions, playback control, receive messages, and more

Apple AirPods (3rd generation) controls:

Action (stems)Either earbud
One tap
Play/pause
Two taps
Skip forward
Three taps
Previous track
Press and hold
Siri
"Hey Siri"
Change volume, request directions, playback control, receive messages, and more

The main difference between the two earbuds is that the Apple AirPods Pro (2nd generation) can increase and decrease the volume without summoning Siri or pulling out your phone to adjust it manually.

Should you use the apps of either Apple AirPods Pro (2nd generation) or Apple AirPods (3rd generation)?

The cases of the Apple AirPods Pro Gen 2 and the Apple AirPods Gen 3 sitting side by side on a wooden table.
Software support for both of these earbuds is excellent if you have an iOS device, but Android users are still parched for support.

Both the Apple AirPods Pro (2nd generation) and the Apple AirPods (3rd generation) primarily rely on the Settings app already found on all iOS devices. You can enjoy a roughly equivalent set of features, such as personalized Spatial Audio and firmware updates with either pair of buds. The AirPods Pro (2nd generation) has an ear tip fit test that isn’t available with the AirPods (3rd generation). This absence makes sense, given how the standard AirPods earphones don’t have ear tips. Both earbuds also support Find My AirPods, but you can only get the AirPods Pro (2nd gen) case to emit a sound through the integrated speaker.

For the AirPods Pro (2nd generation), you can use the iOS Control Center module to adjust your listening mode (noise cancelling, Adaptive Transparency mode, and off). Either headset allows you to use the same Control Center to toggle Spatial Audio on/off along with head tracking.

Android users will find no such software support for these two sets of earbuds on that platform and should look elsewhere for their wireless earbud needs.

How do the Apple AirPods Pro (2nd generation) and Apple AirPods (3rd generation) connect?

The Apple AirPods (3rd generation) open case holds the earbuds and sits on a wood surface.
The new case diverges from previous generations’ cases, more closely mirroring that of the AirPods Pro.

Both of these earbuds pair and connect over Bluetooth. The AirPods (3rd generation) uses Bluetooth 5.0, while the AirPods Pro (2nd generation) uses Bluetooth 5.3, enabling better power efficiency and a more stable connection. Regardless of which AirPods you go with, you’ll get support for the SBC and AAC Bluetooth codecs. The H2 chip allows higher bandwidth connectivity than the H1 chip found in the Apple AirPods (3rd generation).

When you open either AirPods case near an iPhone or iPad, a pop-up card will appear on your Apple device, asking you to connect to the AirPods. Once the headset establishes a connection with your device, all other Apple devices under your iCloud account will recognize the AirPods. Once setup, you’ll experience seamless device switching between Apple devices, and this integration gets iPhone owners to choose AirPods over alternatives.

Is battery life better on the Apple AirPods Pro (2nd generation) or Apple AirPods (3rd generation)?

A hand pinches the Apple AirPods (3rd generation) charging case to display its plain white exterior and minimalist indentation.
The compact 3rd gen AirPods case easily fits in a small pocket or pouch.

Both the Apple AirPods Pro (2nd generation) and the Apple AirPods (3rd generation) have the same official 6 hour battery life. In our testing, the Apple AirPods (3rd generation) pulls ahead slightly at 6 hours, 21 minutes, compared to 5 hours, 43 minutes for the AirPods Pro (2nd generation). While you may notice this difference, you can top up either from the case. Both cases supply up to 24 hours of additional playtime.

You’ll get a similar amount of charge and discharge cycles due to inherent flaws in battery technology, making them useful for only a few years of daily use.

Does the Apple AirPods Pro (2nd generation) or Apple AirPods (3rd generation) block noise better?

The Apple AirPods Pro (2nd generation) has vastly superior isolation thanks to its fit, in addition to full active noise cancelling.

One of the foremost selling points of the AirPods Pro (2nd generation) is its far superior noise isolation compared to the Apple AirPods (3rd generation). The ear tips effectively block out external noise, assuming you find the tips that fit your ears best. Conversely, the selling point of the AirPods (3rd generation) is that you are aware of your surroundings at all times. This is good for safety purposes, but the effects of auditory masking degrade sound quality.

The AirPods Pro (2nd generation) features active noise cancelling, which blows the AirPods out of the water by actively blocking out low to mid-frequency noise. This makes the AirPods Pro a prime choice for commuters or anyone who often finds themselves in a loud environment that might interfere with their listening. When you want to hear your environment, you can enable Adaptive Transparency mode. Unlike the standard Transparency mode found on some H1 chip products, Adaptive Transparency actively reduces the loudness of unpredictable sounds as they happen. We’ve seen something similar from Bose on its QuietComfort Earbuds II.

Does the Apple AirPods Pro (2nd generation) sound better than the Apple AirPods (3rd generation)?

Generally, the frequency response between the two earbuds is fairly consistent. The visible dip in the sub-bass region for the Apple AirPods (3rd generation) is not as problematic as expected.

Overall both the Apple AirPods Pro (2nd generation) and the Apple AirPods (3rd generation) have fairly similar frequency response profiles. Both products stick fairly closely to our ideal house curve, each with some deviations. The biggest difference is that the Apple AirPods (3rd generation) has a notable drop in output in the sub-bass region, caused by the absence of an acoustic seal. Both sets of earphones sound pleasant, but the Apple AirPods Pro (2nd generation) wins out here with a much “fuller-sounding” low end. Both sets of buds include an Adaptive EQ feature that adjusts the EQ of each earbud to maintain a consistent sound across listeners.

Does the Apple AirPods Pro (2nd generation) or Apple AirPods (3rd generation) have a better microphone?

A person wears the Apple AirPods Pro (2nd generation) in profile view.
Lily Katz / SoundGuys
The AirPods Pro (2nd generation) fits just as well as the first-gen AirPods Pro.

Both of these products suffer from the usual true wireless earbud issues, with the microphone placed further away from the speaker’s mouth than would be ideal. Nevertheless, they both do a solid job of picking up the voice in ideal conditions. When you take a call with a lot of background noise, the person on the other end of the call will notice a drop in mic quality. You will hear this worsened mic quality in the samples labeled “office conditions.”

Apple AirPods Pro (2nd generation) microphone demo (Ideal conditions):

Apple AirPods (3rd generation) microphone demo (Ideal conditions):

Apple AirPods Pro (2nd generation) microphone demo (Office conditions):

Apple AirPods (3rd generation) microphone demo (Office conditions):

Which microphone sounds better to you?

465 votes

Editor’s note: Our standardized test setup plays back pre-recorded phrases from a calibrated artificial mouth in our test chamber, either with or without simulated background noises, simulated reverberant spaces, or artificial wind. This means that samples from every product can be directly compared, which makes it far easier to make meaningful comparisons between products in terms of the raw speech quality or the product’s ability to reject noise. While this setup is consistent, it’s unable to allow the earbuds to detect speech as they would in the real world (using vibrations), so you’re likely to experience something different than our demos above.

Should you get the Apple AirPods Pro (2nd generation) or Apple AirPods (3rd generation)?

The Apple AirPods Pro (2nd generation) ear tip separated from the housing.
Lily Katz / SoundGuys
The AirPods Pro (2nd gen) has removable ear tips that encourage a secure fit and good isolation.

Overall the choice between these Apple headphones leans firmly in favor of the Apple AirPods Pro (2nd generation). It has an expanded feature set, including ANC for commuters, and improved hardware with the H2 chip managing Bluetooth 5.3 connectivity. Additionally, the ear tips make for greater noise isolation and sound quality. You can find it for $249 at Amazon.

However, it’s important to consider the gulf in price between the two, a full $80 USD difference. In many ways, they’re still very similar and have comparable battery life, design, and build quality. All of this together makes it worth considering the Apple AirPods (3rd generation) if you’re on a budget or simply prefer the open fit. It can be found for $19.99 at Amazon.

What should you get instead of the Apple AirPods Pro (2nd generation) and Apple AirPods (3rd generation)?

The Sony WF-1000XM4's case open, revealing the earphones sitting within.
The addition of the copper ANC mic housings makes the Sony WF-1000XM4 a bit more glam.

Our foremost recommendation for products outside these two AirPods models is the Sony WF-1000XM4 wireless earbuds. It features excellent sound quality, active noise cancelling, and a solid overall fit. Unfortunately, It’s more expensive than either of the AirPods we’ve looked at here, but in our view, it’s justified.

You may also want to consider the Sony LinkBuds S or the Google Pixel Buds Pro if you’re looking for something a little more inside the price range. The LinkBuds S has ANC that comes close to the WF-1000XM4, and the anonymous design keeps costs lower. With Google’s earphones, you can get Google Translate directly in your ears, and the ANC is very good.

The Samsung Galaxy Buds 2 Pro sits next to the Apple AirPods Pro (2nd generation) with the buds next to each other to show the differences.
Austin Kwok / SoundGuys
Grab the set that matches your operating system.

If you’re a Samsung fan, the Samsung Galaxy Buds 2 Pro is where you should look, especially if you want superior active noise cancelling and an IPX7 rating. Be aware, though, that there’s no app support for iOS.

Frequently asked questions

Yes, you can connect the AirPods with an Android device, but you may run into issues on Android since there’s no app support. You’ll find difficulty acquiring firmware updates, as well as utilizing some of the neatest features of either of these earbuds. However, some features are still available, such as spatial audio through Apple Music.