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Geek Review: Apple AirPods (3rd generation)

When Apple redesigns something, the world pays attention. Before the original AirPods, true wireless earphones were little knobs that users would nudge into the ear, one on each side, but the AirPods, with their golf tee shape and design, made the world sit up.

There was Apple defining what wireless earphones would or should look like, and they marketed their 2016 device without mentioning “true wireless” in any way, charting their own untethered course into that space. Five years and three different AirPod models later, Apple has released a third version of its original Airpods, this time with an external redesign that makes it look like the kid brother of its more premium AirPods Pro.

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Housed in a wireless charging case that’s bigger than that on the AirPods, but smaller than the rectangle case of the AirPods Pro, the third generation AirPods has a shorter stem and looks more like the AirPods Pro, which in turn looks like the Peashooter from the classic game, Plants vs. Zombies. That said, it lacks the “pout” of the Peashooter, as that would be the in-ear rubber grips that are still unique to the AirPods Pro. 

Since this is an improvement to the AirPods and not a replacement to the AirPods Pro, it does not come with Active Noise Cancelling, and thus, there’s no need for the rubber seal. Instead, it comes with Apple’s spatial audio features, which is similar to the holographic audio feature introduced by Creative in 2016, and the new AirPods are now capable of IPX4 water resistance, as well as wireless charging by Apple’s magnetic MagSafe chargers. 

New to this is also a skin detection feature that is capable of detecting when the device has been removed from your ear, thereby pausing the music being channeled through automatically. Does it work? Yes, and to be fair, so does the older Automatic Ear Detection of previous models, where removing one AirPod from the ear will pause the music. The placement of this sensor has shifted from the second generation, so you need to know where to place your thumb so that music will continue playing even when you remove one AirPod, when you need to say, devote half of your attention to something playing on television, or to someone speaking, but don’t feel the need to pause or stop the music.

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The biggest change that matters though, is the new driver in the third generation that provides a much stronger bass than the second generation. From listening to Spotify on your iPhone 13 Pro Max to watching Squid Game on Netflix on the MacBook Air, there is a more immersive experience, augmented by the new spatial audio feature in the third generation. Does it sound superior to the second generation? Definitely and the new driver does what it needs, to power the acoustics through, from the sweet beats of The Weeknd’s Save Your Tear, followed by the mellowy vocals of Ariana Grande.

Left: 3rd generation, Right: 2nd generation.

Spatial audio is the feature whereby audio is recreated in a three-dimensional space, allowing the listener to experience the space in an immersive way, rather than as an observer from a distance. It’s something that was touted in the AirPods Pro and AirPods Max headphones, and it’s great to see it introduced in an entry-level device as well. There’s also dynamic head tracking, so that if you turn your head, the three-dimensional space moves along with you. 

That said, the lack of a seal from the rubber tips means that there will always be a gap between the Airpods and the lining of your outer ear, allowing for ambient sound to seep through. It’s perfectly serviceable as audio accessories but with some additional investment, getting the AirPods Pro seem like the better option. When taking calls on a taxi, you want that silence separating you from the noise from traffic and radio, and that seal does wonders for focusing on calls.

Still, there is little to quibble over for S$269. The only downside though, is that the new design has made it such that there is now a greater tendency for them to slip off my ear’s intertragic notch. Let me be clear – the AirPods don’t fall off as they are designed to sit nicely in the crevice of your intertragic notch, which leads to the ear canal, but ever so often, it’s as if you can feel it dislodge, like a weak piece of scotch tape disengaging from a piece of paper. 

This is highly dependent on every individual’s ear, but the second generation model can rest more securely on my intertragic notch, though any jostling, from walking to turning one’s head runs the risk of dislodging the AirPod further. Now, these things rest securely enough, but that sensation of it dislodging is a little disconcerting, as it breaks the seal between skin and AirPod, allowing air to seep through. 

What this means is that you will still need some silicon pads to hold them in place, and if you’re taking them running, it’s best to secure them. The good news is that with the water resistance, you can run them under running water to remove the sweat and dirt. 

Are the AirPods worth the premium over the second generation? Most definitely, but if you can afford it, go for the Pro. The new AirPods fill an odd space where you’re better off paying S$90 for the next better thing.

GEEK REVIEW SCORE

Summary

The AirPods (3rd generation) are a sharp improvement over the 2nd generation model, and offer more features for a mere S$70 more.

Overall
8.4/10
8.4/10
  • Aesthetics - 8.5/10
    8.5/10
  • Build Quality - 8.5/10
    8.5/10
  • Performance - 8/10
    8/10
  • Value - 9/10
    9/10
  • Geek Satisfaction - 8/10
    8/10


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