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The 6 Best AirPods on Earth Today

Best AirPods in 2023: Which Model Is Right for You?

Apple‘s AirPods have taken the world by storm since their debut in 2016, becoming the most popular wireless earbuds on the planet. With their iconic white stems, compact charging case, and tight integration with iPhones and other Apple devices, AirPods deliver great sound quality and convenience in a stylish package.

But in 2023, picking the right pair of AirPods isn‘t so simple. Apple now offers five different models across various price points, each with its own unique features and trade-offs.

Whether you‘re a first-time buyer or looking to upgrade, this in-depth guide will help you find the perfect AirPods for your needs and budget. I‘ll break down the pros and cons of each model and share some tips to help you get the most out of whichever ones you choose.

The AirPods Lineup: What Are Your Options?

Before we dive into the detailed comparisons, here‘s a quick overview of the five AirPods models you can buy in 2023:

  1. AirPods (2nd Generation) – The basic, most affordable option with the classic AirPods design. No noise cancellation or spatial audio. Usually priced around $129.

  2. AirPods (3rd Generation) – A significant upgrade over the 2nd Gen with a new design, spatial audio, adaptive EQ, longer battery life, and sweat/water resistance. Typically costs $179.

  3. AirPods Pro (1st Generation) – The original premium AirPods with active noise cancellation, transparency mode, spatial audio, and customizable silicone tips for a better fit. Prices vary but generally less than the newer 2nd Gen Pro.

  4. AirPods Pro (2nd Generation) – The latest and greatest premium AirPods with even better noise cancellation, improved sound quality, volume touch controls, and a handy lanyard loop on the case. Usually priced at $249.

  5. AirPods Max – Apple‘s high-end over-ear headphones with incredible sound quality, best-in-class ANC, premium build materials, and a high price tag to match – typically $549.

Choosing the Right AirPods: Key Features Compared

With five appealing options, making a decision can feel overwhelming. To cut through the confusion, let‘s take a closer look at how the different AirPods stack up in terms of features, performance, and value.

Sound Quality:
If you‘re picky about audio fidelity, the AirPods Max are in a league of their own, with rich, detailed sound that rivals high-end wired headphones. Among the in-ear models, the AirPods Pro 2 are the clear winner thanks to an improved driver, amp, and custom audio processing powered by the new H2 chip.

The standard AirPods 3 also sound quite good, especially with the help of Adaptive EQ which automatically tunes the frequency response based on the shape of your ears. The AirPods Pro 1 are similar but add noise cancellation on top.

Finally, the AirPods 2 still hold up well for non-audiophiles but lack the clarity, bass response, and soundstage of the higher-end models. For casual listening, they‘re perfectly adequate.

Active Noise Cancellation:
This is an easy one – if you want ANC, you need to go with the AirPods Pro, Pro 2, or Max. The regular AirPods don‘t have any noise cancelling capabilities.

Between the Pro models, the newer 2nd Gen is noticeably better, with up to 2x the noise reduction thanks to improvements to the audio processing, microphones, and acoustic vents. It‘s almost eerily silent with no music playing.

The AirPods Max still reign supreme for overall noise cancellation though. Their over-ear design creates a superior seal and the large drivers produce powerful anti-noise sound waves. For frequent flyers or those who want the ultimate in isolation, the Max are worth the premium.

Transparency Mode:
Again, only the three noise-cancelling AirPods offer transparency mode, which pipes in outside sound so you can hear your surroundings without taking the earbuds out.

Apple upgraded the transparency on the AirPods Pro 2, adding an adaptive mode that automatically dampens loud noises like sirens or construction work while still letting you hear everything else clearly. It works remarkably well.

The AirPods Max also perform great here – their transparency is so natural it‘s easy to forget you‘re wearing headphones at all. The AirPods Pro 1 does the job but sounds a bit more processed by comparison.

Spatial Audio and Head Tracking:
If you want to experience Apple‘s impressive spatial audio with dynamic head tracking, you‘ll need to choose between the AirPods 3, Pro, Pro 2, and Max.

When watching supported video content (like movies on Apple TV+), spatial audio creates an immersive, theater-like surround sound experience, while dynamic head tracking keeps the audio locked in place even as you move your head. It‘s really cool and worth trying.

Performance is similar across all models, though the AirPods Max have a wider, more spacious soundstage. The AirPods 3 and Pro also support spatial audio for music, which can make certain tracks sound fuller.

Comfort and Fit:
Fit is extremely important for in-ear headphones and varies from person to person. The AirPods Pro models come with three sizes of soft silicone tips to help you find an ideal seal. In general, they stay put well and are comfortable for long periods.

The AirPods 3 have a contoured design that‘s more secure than the AirPods 2, but you can‘t customize the fit. Some people find them very comfortable while others with small or large ears may struggle to keep them in place. The AirPods 2 are the least stable overall.

As for the AirPods Max, they‘re definitely on the heavier side for headphones but the weight is well distributed. The mesh headband and memory foam earcups feel plush and luxurious. They clamp firmly on your head but avoid feeling tight. Most people find them very comfy.

Battery Life:
Apple has gradually increased battery life with each new AirPods release. Here‘s how long you can expect each model to last on a single charge:

AirPods 2: 5 hours
AirPods 3: 6 hours
AirPods Pro 1: 4.5 hours with ANC (5 hours without)
AirPods Pro 2: 6 hours with ANC (7 hours without)
AirPods Max: 20 hours with ANC

All models come with cases that hold additional charges, extending total use time to 24-30 hours for the earbuds and 20 hours for the Max. The AirPods Pro 2, 3, and Max cases also support MagSafe and wireless charging for added convenience.

Durability and Water Resistance:
If you plan to use your AirPods while working out or in unpredictable weather, pay attention to their IP rating for water/sweat resistance.

The AirPods Pro 1, Pro 2, and 3 are all rated IPX4, meaning they can withstand splashes from any direction. The AirPods Max are technically not water resistant but can handle light moisture. The AirPods 2 don‘t have an official IP rating so be extra careful with them.

In terms of overall build quality, the AirPods Max feel the most substantial and premium with their metal earcups and headband. The Pro models are also well constructed. The standard AirPods feel the lightest and most plasticky but are still decently durable.

Microphone Quality:
All AirPods work well for phone calls and video chats but some perform better in noisy environments. The AirPods Max, Pro 2 and 3 have the most advanced beam-forming mics and voice isolation algorithms to zero in on your voice and reduce background noise.

The AirPods 2 and Pro 1 are a bit more susceptible to picking up wind or chatter but still very intelligible in most situations. None will rival a good standalone mic or headset but they‘re more than serviceable for calls on the go.

Unique Features:
To round out the comparison, here are a few special tricks available on only certain models:

  • Adaptive Transparency (Pro 2)
  • Volume Touch Controls (Pro 2)
  • Precision Finding via U1 chip (Pro 2)
  • Lanyard loop on case (Pro 2)
  • Custom Spatial Audio based on ear scan (Pro 2, Pro 1)
  • Conversation Boost (Pro 2, Pro 1, Max)
  • Digital Crown for volume/media control (Max)

The AirPods Pro 2 are clearly the most fully-featured but previous models still hold up very well. Don‘t let FOMO for the latest and greatest sway you too much.

Which AirPods Should You Buy?

I‘ve thrown a ton of information at you so let‘s simplify things a bit. Here are my top picks for different common priorities and use cases:

Best Overall: AirPods Pro 2
The 2nd Gen AirPods Pro are the complete package. With excellent ANC, transparency, spatial audio, and customizable fit, they‘ll delight users in any scenario. Get these if you want the full suite of cutting-edge features.

Best for Audiophiles: AirPods Max
If price is no object and you‘re after the absolute pinnacle of sound quality, the AirPods Max can‘t be beat. Their rich, textured audio outclasses any in-ear AirPods if you‘re willing to deal with the bulk.

Best for Working Out: AirPods 3 or Pro 2
Both the 3rd Gen AirPods and Pro 2 have IPX4 water resistance, secure fits, and strong mics for voice control while exercising. The Pro 2 isolate better in loud gyms while the 3‘s more open design may be safer for outdoor runs.

Best Battery Life: AirPods 3 or Pro 2
The AirPods 3 and Pro 2 are the longest lasting in-ear AirPods, with 6 hours of continuous use. The Pro 2 lasts 6 hours even with ANC and transparency enabled which is very impressive.

Best Value Pick: AirPods 3
For a great blend of features and affordability, the AirPods 3 are an excellent choice at $179. You get most of the core benefits of AirPods in a well-rounded package.

Budget Pick: AirPods 2
If you‘re on a tighter budget, the AirPods 2 are still a solid buy at $129. You sacrifice some bells and whistles but still get the seamless connectivity, reliable performance, and lightweight comfort AirPods are known for.

Tips to Get the Most From Your AirPods

Regardless of which model you choose, here are some ways to maximize your AirPods experience:

  1. Keep them updated: Install the latest firmware updates via the Settings app on your iPhone to get new features, optimizations, and bug fixes. Go to Bluetooth -> your AirPods -> About to check the current version.

  2. Customize the controls: You can configure what happens when you press and hold the force sensors on the AirPods Pro and 3. On your iPhone, go to Bluetooth -> your AirPods -> Press and Hold AirPods. I like setting one side to toggle noise control and the other to activate Siri.

  3. Take the Ear Tip Fit Test: On the AirPods Pro, you can run a fit test to determine which ear tip size provides the best seal and acoustic performance for your ears. Look in Bluetooth settings and follow the prompts.

  4. Enable Spatial Audio: For supported media, go to Control Center, long press the volume slider and tap the Spatial Audio icon to enable it. You can enable head tracking and see which apps are playing multichannel content.

  5. Try out Headphone Accommodations: In Accessibility settings on iOS, you can enable custom audio tuning to emphasize soft sounds or certain frequency ranges. This is great for those with hearing difficulties or anyone who wants to tweak the sound signature.

  6. Take advantage of Audio Sharing: If you have a friend with their own pair of AirPods, you can easily share in-ear audio from your device to theirs. Simply bring your AirPods close to theirs with the case open and they‘ll receive a prompt to join the fun.

  7. Use Live Listen: Your AirPods can function as a remote microphone, relaying and amplifying sound back to your iPhone. This can help you hear conversations in loud environments. Enable it in Control Center and place your phone close to the sound source.

Alternatives to Consider

While AirPods are great, they‘re not the only wireless earbuds game in town, especially for Android users. Here are some notable competitors to check out:

  1. Sony WF-1000XM4 – Superb noise cancelling and sound quality. Often considered the best all-around wireless earbuds.

  2. Bose QuietComfort Earbuds 2 – Deep, powerful ANC and very comfortable fit. Ideal for blocking out the world.

  3. Samsung Galaxy Buds 2 Pro – Strong performer with a ton of features at an affordable price. Great for Samsung smartphone users.

  4. Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 3 – Top-notch sound for audiophiles with good ANC and customizable EQ via a companion app.

  5. Beats Powerbeats Pro – Built for exercise with earhooks for a rock solid fit and punchy sound to keep you motivated.

Conclusion

The AirPods family has grown a lot since 2016 and there‘s now a pair to suit almost anyone. For most people, I recommend the AirPods Pro 2 or AirPods 3 for their excellent blend of features, performance, and (relative) value.

Budget-conscious buyers can still be very happy with the AirPods 2 while those seeking the ultimate audio experience should audition the AirPods Max.

Whichever AirPods you choose, you‘ll be getting a delightful combo of convenience, integration, and quality sound. Enjoy your music!