In the past two years, Apple has gone from selling one model of AirPods to four. You can currently buy three headphones: AirPods 2nd generation, AirPods 3rd generation, and AirPods Pro 2nd generation, or the AirPods Max over-ear headphones.
Let’s put that last one aside for a moment. If you’re willing to spend $500 or more on a pair of cans, you’re making an entirely different buying decision than if you want true wireless earbuds.
But that still leaves three relatively similar looking headsets to choose from. So which one is right for you?
Features at a glance
Perhaps the best way to make a buying decision is to see how the current three AirPods compare side by side.
AirPods (2nd generation)
AirPods (3rd generation)
AirPods Pro (2nd generation)
0.14 ounces (4 grams)
0.15 ounces (4.3 grams)
0.19 ounces (5.3 grams)
1.35 ounces (38 grams)
1.34 ounces (38 grams)
1.79 ounces (50.8 grams)
5 hrs + 19 from case
6 hrs + 24 from case
6 hrs + 24 from case
Apple Music only, no head tracking
Music and video, with head tracking
Music and video, with head tracking
play the headphones
Rod force sensor
Rod force sensor, slide rod
The most obvious difference between the three models is their design. The second-generation AirPods retain the design you’ve known since 2016, with long white stems and earbuds that resemble the wired earphones that used to come with iPhones, only without the wire.
The new third-generation AirPods have shorter temples and a rounded, rounded earpiece. Despite the shorter stems, they are very similar in weight to older AirPods. The charging case looks a lot like the one on the AirPods Pro: shorter and wider. AirPods Pro take the short stem design and add rubber tips to the earbuds to create a seal that blocks noise and improves sound quality.
No matter which AirPods you choose, you can only get them in glossy white.
This is where the AirPods Pro set themselves apart, and it’s the one feature that’s more likely to make you choose them over the 3rd-gen AirPods. Not only do the rubber tips help block out more outside noise, but the active noise cancellation gives you a real sense of a more private listening space.
While we’re at it, we should mention that only AirPods Pro support the Conversation Boost accessibility feature.
Spatial audio and sound quality
All AirPods support Dolby Atmos spatial audio in Apple Music. In fact, you can force it for none pair of headphones But spatial audio for video on TV and other supported apps, with head tracking, isn’t supported on second-generation AirPods. You need the third generation or the AirPods Pro to do that.
Third-gen AirPods also sound better than second-gen in other ways. Apple has a new, redesigned low-distortion driver that it says offers better sound quality and supports Adaptive EQ like AirPods Pro. AirPods Pro (2nd Gen) sound significantly better than regular AirPods, even without active noise cancellation. noise. The second-generation version, released in September 2022, offered a huge leap forward in sound quality over the original AirPods Pro.
Features and controls
Second-generation AirPods are controlled by touch, while third-generation AirPods and AirPods Pro have a small cutout area on the stem that is pressure sensitive. Squeeze the stem (there is a false “click” sensation) to play/pause, forward, rewind, or summon Siri. AirPods Pro can also detect a slide up or down along the stem to change the volume (that’s new for the 2nd-gen model). All AirPods models support “Hey Siri” hands-free control.
Both the AirPods Pro and 3rd-gen AirPods are water and sweat resistant, and probably best suited for working out, though you don’t want to submerge either of them in the pool. The second generation AirPods do not have water resistance.
Support for third-generation AirPods expanded Find My support for tracking lost earbuds and setting separation alerts. AirPods Pro, since the release of the 2nd generation version, also have a speaker in the charging case to play a loud tone when using Find My and have the U1 chip so you can walk right to them. AirPods and AirPods Pro 3rd generation also support Announce Notifications, allowing Siri to dictate important messages and alerts as they arrive.
Second-generation AirPods last for five hours, and you can charge them about four times with the charging case for a total of 24 hours of listening time.
The third-generation AirPods and AirPods Pro extend that listening time by an hour for six hours of listening time, and with four more charges in the case, you get a total of 30 hours. With AirPods Pro, turning noise cancellation off will add about an hour of listening time.
Apple only sells the second generation AirPods with a wired case, but you can buy a wireless charging case for $79 . Both AirPods Pro and 3rd-gen come with a wireless charging case that lets you charge via Lightning, any Qi wireless charger, or MagSafe. You can also charge AirPods Pro with your Apple Watch charger.
Each of the three AirPods models that Apple offers are very different. If you don’t mind wireless charging, the $129 2nd-gen AirPods are a decent buy. They won’t sound as good or last as long as 3rd-gen AirPods, but they’re a good affordable option. If wireless charging is important, definitely get the 3rd gen AirPods, as buying the charging case with the 2nd gen AirPods will actually cost $20 more than the 3rd gen AirPods. AirPods Pro were upgraded to a second-generation model in September 2022, and while they cost a lot more, they offer much better sound quality and unique features like active noise cancellation, adaptive transparency, and talk boost.
We think the third generation AirPods are the best buy for most. They’re technically cheaper than the second-gen AirPods with a wireless charging case, and they come with a host of new features. They have better battery life and sound better. Since the release of the second-gen AirPods Pro, they’re clearly the better option in every way, but you’ll typically pay upwards of 40% more for them. If noise cancellation is important to you, it’s worth the extra expense.