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A Review of the 3rd Generation AirPods

3rd Generation AirPods Box

Today’s modern society provides a ton of different ways to be stimulated. Some of the types of things that can occupy your time can include books, podcasts, music, movies, and games. Each of these can be experienced in a variety of ways. All of them can be done using a television, an iPhone, an iPad, or a gaming console. It is quite possibly that while you are using one of these that you could be using a pair of headphones.

Headphones allow you to enjoy your media without interrupting anyone else. Headphones come a number of different styles. There are over ear, on ear, and in-ear headphones. The type that you use depends on the style that the manufacture has chosen to provide them in. Apple has headphones that are in each of the various styles. The type that you are using depends on your current situation and which ones you own. The most commonly purchased type of headphones are in-ear headphones. The latest in-ear headphones offered by Apple are the 3rd generation AirPods, which we will get to shortly. But first, let us look a brief history of all of Apple’s in-ear headphones.


Brief History of Apple's In-Ear Headphones

Headphones are not a new market for Apple. In fact Apple has been making headphones for devices for twenty years, when they introduced of the original iPod in October of 2001. Since then Apple has created its own headphones steadily over the intervening years. Some of these are wired, and others have been wireless. The wired models include Apple earbuds, iPod In-Ear Headphones, Apple Earphones with Remote Mic, iPhone stereo headset, and EarPods. The wireless models have included iPhone Stereo Headset, Beats Studio Buds, PowerBeats, and PowerBeats Pro, and AirPods, including AirPods Pro.

Each model of the Apple-branded headphones has provided its own enhancements, from the original rounded earphones that were introduced with the original iPod. The first improvement was with the iPhone Stereo Headset. This was meant to be used with the iPhone and included a microphone and a single button that could be used to control a variety of actions.

The next change was the Apple Earphones with Remote and Mic. These were introduced in 2009 alongside the iPhone 3G. This improved on the previous headphones by adding two additional buttons, a volume up and volume down button. These headphones made it a much better experience when it came to using your iPhone, iPod touch, or even traditional iPod. 

In 2012 Apple revamped the headphones again with the EarPods. The EarPods still had the same three buttons as the Apple Earphones with Remote and Mic, but the shape of the EarPods was a custom shape. In order to create this Apple scanned hundreds of different ears to try and find a commonality between them. This commonality allowed them to create a shape that would fit the largest number of ears. As the introduction video () states, “EarPods are intentionally designed to direct sound into the ear canal”, without providing a seal like other in-ear headphones do, and yet, they were designed to fit comfortably. 

The next change of headphones built on the design of the EarPods, but completely removed the wires, which they  called the AirPods. 


AirPods

AirPods are a wireless version of the EarPods. When introduced in December of 2016, they were not universally praised. Upon first seeing them many people criticized others for getting them. These critics stated that AirPods looked like “tiny toothbrushes”, “tampons”, or “ear cigarettes”. Some even stated that it took “courage” to wear them in public. I know I was ridiculed when I was wearing them, but I have been made fun of quite a bit in my life for various things, and this was just another instance of that occurring. 

Without the wires, the controls need to be different. Actions can be performed by tapping on the device while in the ear itself. With two individual AirPods you can set an action for each ear. These actions can include:

  • Play/Pause
  • Siri
  • Next Track
  • Previous Track
  • Off

As mentioned, the AirPods are wireless. This means that they need some sort of way to charge. The AirPods charge via their companion case. The first generation AirPods would have a listening time of 5 hours and up to 24 hours of charging time. The AirPods were introduced at $159 for a pair.


2nd Generation AirPods

2nd Generation AirPods with case open

The second generation AirPods were released in March of 2019. The 2nd generation kept the same shape, but added a couple of features. The biggest of these was support for “Hey Siri”, so you can Ask Siri to do something for you or request any information, or action, that Siri can provide.. The second feature is support for announcing messages. With this feature most messages can be read to you and you can even reply to messages all without touching your iPhone.

The 2nd Generation AirPods also added an additional option, wireless charging. This was done through a Qi-compatible wireless charging case. The AirPods could either be purchased with the case or the case could be purchased separately. If you purchased wireless charging case separately, it would cost you $79. The AirPods with lightning charging case cost the same amount as the 1st genertation, $159. The AirPods with wireless charging case cost $199. The price has since been reduced to $129 for the AirPods with lightning charging case.


AirPods Pro

AirPods Pro

The 2nd Generation AirPods were not the only AirPods to be introduced. In fact, approximately seven months after the introduction of the 2nd Generation AirPods, October 30th, 2019 to be exact, Apple introduced the AirPods Pro. The AirPods Pro took the features from the 2nd generation AirPods and enhanced them even further.

The AirPods Pro mostly kept the same iconic EarPods/AirPods shape, but expanded it to include silicone tips. These tips allowed the headphones to be inserted into the ear canal. This would create a seal that provided a new feature, noise cancellation. Noise Cancellation actually works by introducing a second sound wave that cancels out the background noise so that it seems like there is no other audio except the audio you actually want to hear.

Along with Noise Cancellation there comes another feature called Transparency Mode. Transparency Mode is the opposite of Noise Cancellation in that it amplifies the background noise so you can hear everything else that is happening around you. This is a good option if you need to be able to hear things, like traffic, but still want to be able to hear your audio.

The AirPods Pro also added support for a new feature called Spatial Audio. Spatial Audio is a technique that, according to Apple, “brings theater-like sound from the movie or video you're watching, so that sound seems like it's coming from all around you”. Spatial Audio will be discussed in-depth in a bit.

To account for the different shape of the AirPods Pro devices themselves, the case that comes with the AirPods Pro also had a different shape. This case is much wider but also shorter. Because of the advanced features, the AirPods Pro have a slightly higher price of $249. Beyond the features already discussed you did get a Qi-compatible wireless charging case included automatically.

At their October 2021 “Unleashed” event, Apple introduced the next version of AirPods, the 3rd generation AirPods. Let us look at these next.


3rd Generation AirPods

3rd Generation AirPods with case open

The 3rd generation AirPods take some cues from both the AirPods, as well as the AirPods Pro, to create a more distinct  hybrid product from the two. The case for the 3rd generation AirPods has the same general shape as the AirPods Pro. Similarly, the shape of the actual AirPod is similar between the two, with the 3rd generation AirPod being a bit smaller, since they do not have the silicone in-ear tips. Furthermore, since the width is smaller, the weight of each AirPod is less, as is the overall weight of the AirPods with the case.

There is one feature that needs to be highlighted specifically, Spatial Audio with Head Tracking.


Spatial Audio with Head Tracking

Spatial Audio with Head Tracking is a feature that is on the AirPods Pro, as well as the 3rd generation AirPods. Spatial Audio will automatically adjust the audio that you are listening to in a way that simulates the audio being all around you. This is much akin to the way that a surround sound system works when watching a movie, provided the speakers are placed properly around where you are seated.

The idea with Spatial Audio is to simulate the audio as though it is coming directly from the device. Therefore, Spatial Audio with Head Tracking will automatically adjust the sound to the movement of your head, in relation to the device. if you move your head to point left, the audio will move more of the audio to the right AirPod, similarly, if you move your head to the right, the sound will move more toward the left AirPod. 

There are actually three different modes for Spatial Audio, these are:

  • Stereo
  • Fixed
  • Head Tracking

“Stereo” is the same experience that you would get with 2nd generation AirPods, or any other non-Spatial Audio enabled headset. 

The “Fixed” option provides Spatial Audio, but without the head tracking. This means that if you have an audio item with Dolby Atmos you will get the Spatial Audio, but the sound will not move as you move your head. This is good if you want to be able to hear the Spatial Audio but need to do something else at the same time.


Changing Output

When you connect your 3rd generation AirPods to your device, Spatial Audio with Head Tracking will be enabled by default. However, you do not need to always keep Spatial Audio on. You can turn it off when you want through Control Center. This is done by performing the following steps:

  1. Swipe down from the top, or bottom, of the screen to bring up Control Center.
  2. Tap and hold on the volume slider
  3. At the bottom of the screen, tap on the “Spatial Audio” button to bring up the various options.
  4. Tap on the preferred option.
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