Upgraded AirPods gain spatial audio with Dolby Atmos and more

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The new AirPods 3 are $179.
The new AirPods 3 are $179.
Photo: Apple

Apple Unleashed event bug Apple used part of its “Unleashed” event on Monday to announce a major refresh of it signature earbuds. The new AirPods 3 feature spatial audio with Dolby Atmos and dynamic head tracking and come with a redesign that makes them look more like AirPods Pro (although without the silicone ear tips).

They won’t be Cupertino’s entry-level earbuds, though, as the company said AirPods 2 will remain in the lineup.

Third-gen AirPods arrive at last

In fact, AirPods 3 seem to have more in common with Apple’s high-end AirPods Pro. As predicted, a price drop is in store for AirPods 2, to $129. The third-gen AirPods will cost $179. Preorders on the new buds start Monday and shipping commences on Tuesday, October 26.

As analysts suggested recently, it’s the biggest update since the first AirPods debuted in late 2016. When they first came out, some people found the bright white, long-stemmed earbuds a little odd, yet within two years they became Apple’s most popular accessory. By the time AirPods 2 launched in September 2019 with longer talk time, a new chip and Siri support, competitors were fiercely playing the imitation game.

Compact design, Dolby Atmos, spatial audio

As various leaks hinted prior to the event, a new shape and shorter stems on AirPods 3 make them look more like Apple’s premium AirPods Pro. However, they still lack the silicone ear tips found in AirPods Pro.

Apple said the new, more contoured form factor helps with noise isolation, in lieu of the active noise cancellation found in AirPods Pro.

A new force sensor should lend users more control over their media than before, and a newly designed low-distortion driver will “provide powerful bass and clean, crisp high frequencies,” Apple said.

In addition, Dolby Atmos and spatial audio promise to deliver much-improved sound.

“Spatial audio goes beyond music when watching TV shows and movies. It enables an immersive theater-like experience, placing you right in the middle of the action,” Apple said.

New design and equalizer, improved battery life

AirPods 3’s more contoured shape is designed to fit well in a wide variety of ears, Apple said. And the earbuds come with the adaptive equalizer previously found only in the AirPods Pro, allowing users to hear music just as the artist intended — and to adjust it to their liking.

Apple said the third-gen AirPods bring increased battery life for up to six hours of listening time. And for folks in a hurry, five minutes of charge time reaps about an hour of use. The included MagSafe wireless charging case provides an additional four full charges for up to 30 hours of total listening time.

The new AirPods are resistant to both sweat and water, with an IPX4 rating for both the earbuds and the charging case

It could be time to sell your old AirPods — read about Cult of Mac‘s Buyback Program.