The year 2020 saw the proliferation of web-based meetings. We’re all doing them, out on the road, in your study and even in your office. Teams, Zoom, Meet and so on. But with that comes the need for privacy. You don’t always want the entire room to hear what’s going on in your meeting, and your family doesn’t need sit through every meeting with you. And so, we need headphones. To be precise, we want true wireless (TWS) headphones, or that’s what shipment numbers from analysts suggest.
To that end, with 7.6% of India's TWS shipment market share, according to market research firm Counterpoint Research, Apple’s Airpods are already popular amongst executives and corporate professionals. This year, the company is upping the ante by adding Spatial Audio, the new buzzword in music listening to the regular Airpods. The Airpods 3 have a new design, and spatial audio, but the same appeal as before — they work seamlessly with Apple’s products, and audio quality is closer to expensive Sony and Bose TWS than cheaper ones from Xiaomi etc.
That said, the troublesome bit here is the amount of audio the Airpods 3 leak, and the ambient noise they let in. They’re a nightmare to use on an aircraft, or out on the streets. If you’re buying these for meetings on the go, be prepared for people complaining about ambient noise whenever you speak.
Apple is quite clearly not paying much heed to calls and meetings here, instead improving their audio quality for listening to music. They don’t have active noise cancellation (ANC) either, which means that essentially the only thing cutting you off from ambient noise is the music itself, or whatever else you’re listening to. The company is nudging buyers looking for ANC towards the Airpods Pro and Airpods Max.
On the other hand, the audio quality is absolutely top notch. The difference between Stereo audio separation and Spatial audio may not make a big difference to everyone, but it’s there. Stereo audio splits music between right and left channels, whereas spatial audio yearns to create the actual 360-degree space a song was produced in.
So, in a song like Taylor Swift's State of Grace, you’re not just hearing the dummer's toms and cymbal shots next to each other. You can actually imagine the space between them in the actual drum setup. Similarly, the lead guitar is to the right of the drummer and you feel it move to the right gradually, and back. You can actually perceive the space in tracks mastered for spatial audio, but such tracks are few right now.
Don't be surprised if spatial audio doesn't sound significant to you though. It's still early days for this technology, and it's unclear how much of a difference it can really make on headphones at the moment. Even so, it's a good alternative when you want to watch a movie and cannot use your surround sound speakers.
The Airpods 3 are versatile and wverall audio quality is great too, with ample bass for those who listening to tracks driven by low frequencies. But more importantly, the Airpods 3 are quite good with high and mid-frequencies as well. They aren't quite as good as an Airpods Max, but you'd be hard pressed to find a TWS headphone that can take on full-fledged over-the-ear ANC headphones anyway.
Fit and comfort
The Airpods Pro have silicone ear tips, while the Airpods 3 do not, although the latter looks more similar to the Pro now. From a comfort point of view, the lack of ear tips will work for some who don’t like the buds pushing deep into their ear. The Airpods 3 just hang on in a way, which feels nice.
However, the Airpods Pro are much more reassuring. The Airpods 3 fell off my ear on multiple occasions, and though they fit much better than earlier iterations of the Airpods, they aren’t quite foolproof yet. They’re fine for a brisk walk, but I can’t trust them to hang on over a heavy-duty workout. Silicone ear tips allow customizability in terms of fit, but the Airpods 3 is one size, which will likely not fit all. The loose fit and open design is also why the Airpods 3 leak audio.
The Airpods 3 don’t have gesture controls per se. Instead, the force sensors from the Airpods Pro make an appearance here.
If you look closely, each stem has an indentation, and you pinch these to take calls, pause music etc. It takes a bit of getting used to, but is much more accurate than many gesture implementations on competing TWS headsets.
Between the case and the battery inside the buds themselves, TWS headphones usually last you about a week per charge. The Airpods 3 fit that industry standard. Since they charge whenever you put them back in the case, Apple claims the Airpods 3 will last you for about 30 hours on each full charge of the case and buds, which is pretty much the performance I got, plus or minus an hour.
Should you buy them?
Ask anyone about what accessory works best with an iPhone, iPad or Mac, and the answer usually is an Apple accessory. Which is still true for the Airpods 3, except that it’s not the ‘just go buy them’ kind of product that this company has been known for.
The Airpods 3 do have their moments, especially in terms of audio quality. And spatial audio is a novel new concept, even if it is yet to be fully proven. However, they’re far from the most dependable pair of TWS headphones for the executive on the go. If meetings and calls are why you want these, the more expensive Airpods Pro works better.
The Airpods 3 have great audio quality, but it’s somewhat difficult to overlook the compromises at a price of Rs. 18,500. Sony’s WF-1000XM3 and WF-H800 are comparable in terms of audio quality and have better noise cancellation too.