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A Guide To Apple’s AirPods Models and Why the AirPods Pro Take the Cake

By Justin Kresse

You may already be aware of the new development in the audio industry within the past few years: true wireless earbuds. Arguably popularized by Apple’s original AirPods (and their choice to conveniently remove the headphone Jack from many of their devices), true wireless earbuds have made things like listening to music or taking phone calls a little easier and simpler.

The AirPods Pro are arguably the best of Apple’s true wireless earbud offerings— maybe even the best altogether—thanks to their great features and simplicity of use. Image by Justin Kresse

And out of all the companies on the truly wireless earbud bandwagon these days, Apple is certainly the one that stands out the most. They are currently selling their AirPods (2nd generation), AirPods (3rd generation), and AirPods Pro.

The AirPods (2nd generation) are still a stellar choice for the $120 they are usually found for on Amazon (and keep an eye out for possible sales around Black Friday). They have great battery life (even better than the AirPods Pro), wireless charging and automatic switching between Apple devices connected to the same Apple ID – all important improvements over the first-generation AirPods. They don’t have noise cancelling or the more comfortable fit of the AirPods Pro, but if you’re looking for earbuds with Apple’s signature “they just work” feel — and you can do without some of the “Pro” features — these will work just fine.

The AirPods (3rd generation) that Apple released at the end of October occupy an awkward position compared to its siblings: they are currently priced at $175 on Amazon – only $25 less than the AirPods Pro – and they seem just to be worse versions. Just like the Pros, they have spatial audio (they sound kind of life audio coming from all around you instead of just the left and right side) and adaptive EQ (the earbuds change the volume of certain sound frequencies to make them sound better for your specific ears), but no noise-cancelling or transparency modes. Unless $25 is a big issue for you – in which case you might want to look at options like Edifier’s NB2 Pro wireless earbuds at $80 on Amazon – or the AirPods Pro don’t fit well in your ears, it’s probably worth stepping up a rung.

The next rung, of course, is the AirPods Pros ($200 on Amazon). These earbuds have decent battery life, spatial audio, automatic switching, noise-cancelling and transparency modes, adaptive EQ and wireless charging. In short, they have all the “Pro” features and they offer the trademark Apple “they just work” magic.

Apple also now owns the Beats by Dre brand, and has recently released the Powerbeats Pro, Studio Buds and Fit Pro. The Powerbeats Pro only really appeals to the athletic community because of the ear hook that provides more stability than other Apple wireless earbud offerings. The Beats Studio Buds – currently on Amazon for $130 – don’t have the H1 chip, so they lack some of the ease-of-use features of other Apple earbuds. They do have noise cancelling, though, so if you need that feature and don’t want to jump up to the AirPods Pro, the Beats Studio Buds might be for you. The Beats Fit Pro offers similar features to the AirPods Pro for the same $200 price on Amazon. Their battery life is a bit better and their design could be better for sports applications – depending on the shape of your ear. And all the Beats earbuds offer various color options as opposed to the white-only offerings of the AirPods line.

I just want to give a quick word about knock-offs: there is an abundance of wireless earbuds claiming to be exactly like Apple’s various offerings but for less. I myself was even swayed to purchase a pair of original AirPod knock-offs, and I can tell you that they are not the same. Knock-offs just can’t live up to the real deal — they lack features and plainly just don’t sound as good – not to mention the annoyances that can arise from cutting corners on the production. So for this reason, I would not recommend purchasing any wireless earbuds that claim to be like some version of the AirPods or have a name that is eerily familiar, like AirBuds Pro or something along that line.

After examining all these Apple wireless earbuds, it’s only right to pick some kind of winner. For me, it's the AirPods Pro. Sometimes, Apple just knows how to make things easy, and the AirPods Pro encompasses this. They automatically pair with your Apple device, automatically switch between your Apple devices, and have surprisingly good noise cancelling and transparency modes. The addition of spatial audio is an added bonus, but one that I see as being mostly a gimmick as of the moment. Still, they sound very good for wireless earbuds and are quite comfortable. They’re not perfect, but they just work.

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