Apple offers several AirPods within its portfolio. The AirPods Pro (2nd Generation) are the most recent, announced in September 2022, and they succeed the orignal AirPods Pro that arrived in 2019.
The AirPods (3rd Generation) arrived in October 2021 and they sit below the AirPods Pro 2 in terms of price and features, but above the older – though still available – second generation of AirPods from early 2019. The original AirPods are now completely discontinued.
How do the AirPods Pro (2nd Gen), AirPods (3rd Gen) and AirPods (2nd Gen) compare though? Should you upgrade if you have the old AirPods and which should you buy if you’re in the market for a pair of Apple’s true wireless earphones?
What’s the same between Apple’s AirPod models?
All the AirPod models connect to your iPhone or Apple Watch with just one tap, offering super simple setup. Once connected, you’ll just need to select AirPods from the device you’re using and you’ll be ready to go. They all offer automatic switching between Apple devices too.
There are sensors to automatically control the audio experience, playing sound as soon as the AirPods are in your ears and engaging the microphones for phone calls. You can also choose to wear one AirPod or both at any time.
All AirPods models come in white only and they all have on-device controls, though the AirPods (3rd Gen) and AirPods Pro (2nd Gen) have more advanced controls compared to the standard AirPods and AirPods 2.
What’s different between Apple’s AirPods models?
As you would expect, there are a number of differences between the AirPods Pro (2nd Gen), AirPods (3rd Gen) and AirPods (2nd Gen).
- AirPods (3rd Gen) / AirPods Pro (2nd Gen): IPX4 water and sweat resistant
- AirPods 2: No IP rating
The AirPods Pro (2nd Gen), AirPods (3rd Gen) and AirPods 2 all have different designs, though the AirPods 2 look identical to the original AirPods. Both the AirPods (3rd Gen) and the AirPods Pro (2nd Gen) are IPX4 water and sweat resistant and have short stems, while the other AirPods models are not sweat or water resistant and have longer stems.
The Pro (2nd Gen) model comes with silicone ear tips in four sizes for a better fit – which is the main differentiating factor between them and the AirPods (3rd Generation).
The AirPods Pro (2nd Gen) also have a vent system in their design for pressure equalisation, as well as a force sensor on the stem, allowing for more controls, including volume control. The AirPods (3rd Gen) also have a force sensor, but they don’t have the vent system and they don’t offer volume control either. Additionally, the AirPods Pro (2nd Gen) feature two microphones for active noise cancellation.
- AirPods (3rd Gen) / AirPods Pro (2nd Gen): Advanced on-device controls
- AirPods 2: Basic on-device controls
The AirPods (3rd Gen) and AirPods Pro (2nd Gen) have more advanced on-device controls than the AirPods 2 and old AirPods.
On both the AirPods (3rd Gen) and AirPods Pro (2nd Gen), one tap on the stem will allow users to play, pause or answer a phone call. Two taps will allow users to skip forwards and three taps will enable users to skip back. Swiping up and down on the touch control sensor on the AirPods Pro (2nd Gen) will also allow you to turn the volume up and down incrementally.
A press and hold on the force sensor meanwhile, will switch between Active Noise Cancellation and Transparency Mode on the AirPods Pro (2nd Gen), while it will launch Siri for the AirPods (3rd Gen) as only the AirPods Pro (2nd Gen) offer Active Noise Cancellation and Transparency Mode.
For reference, Transparency Mode on the AirPods Pro (2nd Gen) will allow you to simultaneously hear your favourite song, as well as the environment around you.
On AirPods 2, the only on-device controls are in the form of double-tapping. Users can set the left and right AirPod to offer a different control with a double-tap but controls are limited to launching Siri, next track, previous track, or play/pause. When a phone call comes through, a double-tap will answer the call though.
- AirPods Pro: Personalised Spatial Audio, Adaptive EQ, Active Noise Cancellation
- Airpods 3: Personalised Spatial Audio, Adaptive EQ
- AirPods 2: No noise cancellation
The AirPods (3rd Gen) and AirPods Pro (2nd Gen) promise a more immersive sound experience than the AirPods 2 and the old AirPods. They both feature Adaptive EQ, which automatically tunes the low and mid-frequencies of the music to the shape of an individual’s ear.
A custom high dynamic range amplifier is on board too and there is a custom speaker driver designed to optimise audio quality and remove background noise. On the AirPods Pro (2nd Generation), there’s a low-distortion audio driver for more clarity and consistency.
The AirPods Pro also have Active Noise Cancellation on board, as we mentioned previously. Two microphones are built into the AirPods Pro (2nd Gen) design which are used in conjunction with advanced software to adapt to an individual ear and remove background noise.
The AirPods 2 – or the original AirPods – don’t have Adaptive EQ, Active Noise Cancellation or Transparency Mode. They also don’t support Apple’s Spatial Audio technology or Personalised Spatial Audio, which the AirPods Pro (2nd Gen) and AirPods (3rd Generation) do.
- AirPods Pro (2nd Gen): H2 chip
- AirPods (3rd Gen) / Airpods 2: H1 chip
- AirPods: W1 chip
The AirPods (3rd Gen) and Apple AirPods 2 run on a chip called the H1 compared to the W1 chip found in the original AirPods. The AirPods Pro (2nd Generation) offer the H2 chip though, which is claimed to deliver twice the noise cancellation of the H1 and longer battery life compared to the original AirPods Pro.
The H1 chip meanwhile, is claimed to offer two times faster connection between active devices than the old AirPods, 50 per cent more talk time and 1.5x faster connection for phone calls. It is also said to deliver 30 per cent lower gaming latency.
Siri voice control
- AirPods (3rd Gen) / AirPods Pro (2nd Gen) / AirPods 2: Siri compatible
- AirPods: Not Siri compatible
The Apple AirPods Pro (2nd Gen), AirPods (3rd Gen) and Apple AirPods 2 offer “Hey Siri” control, allowing users to make a phone call, play music, change the volume and ask for directions using their voice.
The old Apple AirPods don’t support Siri on board, though users can still use their iPhone or Apple Watch for Siri control.
Wireless charging case
- AirPods Pro 2: Wireless, MagSafe charging case, U1 chip, speaker, lanyard loop, Charge with Apple Watch charger
- AirPods 3: Wireless, MagSafe charging case
- AirPods 2: Standard case, wireless case available separately
The Apple AirPods Pro (2nd Gen) and AirPods (3rd Gen) come with a wireless charging case as standard. Both cases are also MagSafe compatible.
The Apple AirPods 2 originally had the option of a standard charging case like the original Apple AirPods, or a wireless charging case, though following the launch of the third-generation model, the standard case is the one you will get. You can buy the wireless charging case separately, but you’ll pay extra.
The wireless charging case is Qi compatible, allowing you to charge your AirPods on a Qi charging pad with no wires. As we mentioned, the wireless charging case can be bought separately, and it is compatible with the old Apple AirPods and AirPods 2.
The AirPods Pro (2nd Gen) case can also be charged using an Apple Watch charger. The case also comes with a speaker making it easier to find if you lose it through Find My and there is a lanyard loop too. Additionally, the AirPods Pro (2nd Gen) case has a U1 chip inside so it will appear on the Find My app separately to the AirPods themselves.
- AirPods Pro (2nd Gen): 4.5 hours talk time
- AirPods (3rd Gen): 4 hours talk time
- AirPods Pro: 3.5 hours talk time
- AirPods 2: 3 hours talk time
The AirPods Pro (2nd Generation) offer 4.5 hours of talk time with ANC enabled and up to 6 hours of listening time – or 5 hours with Spatial Audio and head tracking turned on. The charging case will offer 30 hours of listening time, or 24 hours of talk time and five minutes of charge will offer an hour of listening time.
The AirPods (3rd Generation) have similar figures but slightly reduced talk time. There’s up to 4 hours talk time and up to 20 hours from the case, but otherwise the numbers are the same as the AirPods Pro (2nd Gen).
The Apple AirPods 2 offer 3 hours of talk time or 5 hours of listening time. The charging case will offer up to 24 hours of listening time or 18 hours of talk time. Meanwhile, 15 minutes of charge will get you two hours of talk time and three hours of listening time.
Should you upgrade from the old AirPods and if so, should you go for the AirPods 2 or AirPods 3? Opting for the AirPods (2nd Gen) will get you extra talk time, Hey Siri control and faster and more stable connections compared to the original AirPods. If you opt for the AirPods (3rd Gen), you will get even more talk time, an improved design, sweat and water resistance, Personalised Spatial Audio support and Adaptive EQ. Pick the AirPods Pro (2nd Gen) and you get all of the extras from the 3rd gen model, plus excellent active noise cancellation and some extra features from the charging case.
If you’re in the market for a pair of Apple’s true wireless earphones and aren’t sure which to buy: The AirPods (2nd Gen) will save you cash and they are excellent, but you miss out on some of the great features that come with the AirPods (3rd Gen) and AirPods Pro (2nd Gen). The AirPods Pro (2nd Gen) offer noise cancellation and more custom fit options compared to the AirPods 3, as well as more options with the case, though otherwise, many of the same features are offered, like sweat resistance, Adaptive EQ and Personalised Spatial Audio.
The AirPods Pro (2nd Gen) naturally offer the most on paper – including battery promises that are slightly better on the 3rd gen model – and they offer a brilliant experience, but they are also the most expensive so you’ll need to weigh up what features you really want and what you’re prepared to pay for. If you want the sweet spot, the AirPods (3rd Gen) are exactly that, while if you want the best, the AirPods Pro (2nd Gen) are the ones you’ll want.