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Apple Makes 3 Different Types of AirPods. Which Should You Buy?

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AirPods-ComparedPhoto by Tucker Bowe

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We break down the key differences among the entry-level AirPods, the AirPods 3 and the latest AirPods Pro with USB-C charging.

Apple currently sells three different types of wireless earbuds under its AirPods line. First, there’s the entry-level AirPods (2nd Generation); next, there’s the mid-range AirPods (3rd-Generation); and finally, at the top, there are the noise-canceling AirPods Pro (2nd-Generation) — which, as of September 2023, have been updated with a USB-C charging port to match the iPhone 15.

Now, that’s not to say there aren’t ways to get other types. You can still buy older AirPods models that have been discontinued, like the first- and second-generation (Lightning) AirPods Pros, from third-party sites like Amazon. These are still worth buying — the latter in particular — especially considering you can often score a hefty discount.

Every pair of AirPods shares a number of common features. They all support quick iPhone pairing and hands-free Siri controls, for example. But the more expensive models look and fit differently, and they have more premium features (such as wireless charging and active noise-cancellation). And, of course, the more expensive models are going to sound better.

How We Tested Apple’s AirPods

airpods comparison
Apple’s three current AirPods models as well as two other AirPods Pro models that have since been discontinued.
Tucker Bowe

We’ve been listening to Apple’s wireless earbuds for years and are able to directly compare each model in terms of smart features (such as fast pairing), sound quality and other more “pro” features like active noise-cancellation and support for spatial audio. Yes, there are definite improvements as you go from the entry-level models to the high-end AirPods Pro.

To learn more about our testing methodology and how we evaluate products, head here.

Which AirPods Does Apple Currently Sell?

tech roundup
Apple’s three current AirPods models.
Tucker Bowe

AirPods Pro (2nd-Gen, USB-C)

airpodsApple

Apple AirPods Pro (2nd-Gen, USB-C)

Specs

Release date September 2023
Charging port USB-C
Noise-cancellation Yes
Does Apple currently sell? Yes

Pros

  • The best noise-cancelling and transparency of any AirPods
  • Excellent sound quality
  • Advanced features such as personalized Spatial Audio and Adaptive Transparency
  • Supports lossless audio when paired with Apple’s VIsion Pro

Cons

  • Expensive
  • You might prefer the old Lightning charging port

The newest AirPods Pro — which are the only AirPods Pro Apple now sells — are the same size, shape and design as the AirPods Pro released in 2022, but they have a new USB-C charging port instead of Lightning, as well as improved dust resistance (IP54 vs IPX4). These new models have the same exact sound quality as the 2022-released AirPods Pro, as well as the same noise cancellation and transparency abilities. They pack Apple’s new H2 processing chip that enables them to support personalized Spatial Audio, which helps them deliver more immersive sound. Thanks to iOS 17, these AirPods Pro support new features like Adaptive Audio, Conversation Awareness and Personalized Volume.

Note: If you pair these AirPods Pro with Apple’s Vision Pro headset, they will be able to support lossless audio (up to 20-bit/48kHz). These are the only AirPods Pro that will support this ability.

AirPods Pro USB-C
The AirPods Pro with USB-C charging.
Photo by Tucker Bowe
airpods comparison
The AirPods Pro with USB-C charging.
Photo by Tucker Bowe

AirPods 3

tech roundupAmazon

Apple AirPods 3

Specs

Release date October 2021
Charging port Lightning
Noise cancellation No
Does Apple currently sell? Yes

Pros

  • More affordable than the Pros
  • The best battery life of any AirPods
  • Support spatial audio and adaptive EQ
  • Wireless charging case

Cons

  • No noise-canceling or transparency modes
  • No swappable silicone eartips to adjust fit

Compared to the AirPods Pro, the main downside of the AirPods (3rd-Generation) is that they lack active noise cancellation and transparency modes. They also don’t fit as deep in your ears or stay as secure, because they lack adjustable silicone ear tips. But other than that, they work mostly the same. They support spatial audio and wireless charging. They’re sweat- and water-resistant. Maybe most significantly, they have the best battery life of any AirPods Apple sells.

AirPods 3
The AirPods 3.
Photo by Tucker Bowe
AirPods 3
The AirPods 3.
Photo by Tucker Bowe

AirPods (2nd-Gen)

tech roundupApple

Apple AirPods (2nd-Gen)

Specs

Release date March 2019
Charging port Lightning
Noise cancellation No
Does Apple currently sell? Yes

Pros

  • The most affordable AirPods you can buy
  • Support fast iPhone pairing
  • The most compact charging case of any AirPods

Cons

  • No wireless charging
  • The only AirPods without sweat-resistance
  • No noise canceling or transparency modes

The entry-level AirPods have the same thin-stemmed design as the original ones from 2016. They’re cheaper than the rest because they lack the noise-cancellation and transparency features, as well as support for spatial audio. They’re also the only AirPods that you can buy without a wireless charging case (although you can buy a wireless charging model for an extra $30 or so).

airpods comparison
The AirPods (2nd-Gen).
Tucker Bowe
AirPods 2nd Gen
The AirPods (2nd-Gen).
Photo by Tucker Bowe

What Other AirPods Can You Buy New from 3rd Parties?

AirPods Pro (2nd-Gen, Lightning)

white airpod proApple

Apple AirPods Pro (2nd Gen, 2022)

Specs

Release date September 2022
Charging port Lightning
Noise cancellation Yes
Does Apple currently sell? No

Pros

  • The best noise cancellation and transparency of any AirPods (along with 2023 models)
  • The best sounding AirPods you can buy (along with 2023 models)
  • Advanced features such as personalized Spatial Audio and Adaptive Transparency

Cons

  • Lack the new USB-C charging port
  • Still pretty expensive
  • Don’t support lossless audio when paired with Vision Pro

Apple no longer sells these 2022-released AirPods Pro, but you can still buy them from third-party sellers like Amazon. They are the same size, shape and design as Apple’s original 2019-released AirPods Pro, but they pack notable internal upgrades. They were the first AirPods to house Apple’s new H2 processing chip, which significantly improves their noise canceling and transparency abilities. The H2 chip powers personalized Spatial Audio, which is intended to make them sound considerably more immersive. They have a new custom-built driver and amplifier that improves their sound quality. They have on-ear volume controls (a feature unique to the newer AirPods Pro models), and the charging case supports Find My with Precision Finding and has a built-in speaker to help locate it.

airpods comparison
The AirPods Pro with USB-C (left) and Lightning (right) charging cases.
Tucker Bowe

AirPods Pro (1st-Generation)

tech roundupApple

Apple AirPods Pro (1st Generation)

Specs

Release date October 2019
Charging port Lightning
Noise cancellation No
Does Apple currently sell? No

Pros

  • Solid sound quality and noise-cancellation
  • Support spatial audio and adaptive EQ
  • Sweat- and water-resistant

Cons

  • Aren’t nearly as good as the newer AirPods Pro models
  • Apple has stopped selling them
  • Don’t support the new features of the newest Pros

The original AirPods Pro are still a solid choice for many buyers. They support high-quality audio. They can charge wirelessly. And they fit more securely than non-Pro AirPods, thanks to their deep-seated in-ear design and adjustable silicone ear tips.

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