Choose the best AirPods for holiday giving | Cult of Mac

Choose the best AirPods for holiday giving

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AirPods Pro 2 look pretty much the same as the original, but they're better in nearly every way.
AirPods Pro 2 look pretty much the same as the original, but they're better in nearly every way.
Photo: Apple

Which AirPods should you buy as gifts for family and friends this holiday season (or just for your greedy self)? It all comes down to which features you want and how much you want to spend.

Earbuds are a tough gift item because how they sound and how they fit is super-subjective. Everybody’s different.

But our guide will help you decide among the four Apple AirPods models on sale in December 2022: AirPods (2nd gen), AirPods (3rd gen), AirPods Pro (2nd gen) and AirPods Max.

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AirPods buying guide

The subjective qualities of earbuds and headphones make them a bit of a tough gift to choose. Does someone prefer dangling earbuds (AirPods 2 or 3) or a snug in-ear fit (AirPods Pro 2)?

If they don’t like the fit, it may not matter how great the product sounds. But can you take a plaster cast of their ear while they’re sleeping to test out which earbuds fit best? Hell, even Santa couldn’t pull that off. Maybe just ask them about their preferences.

Going strictly by price, consider AirPods Max for tier 1 giftees — those who must be impressed at all costs, like a prospective life partner. But keep in mind, we’re expecting a new version pretty soon that may involve cosmetic changes as well as next-gen Bluetooth.

My top choice overall would be the recently released AirPods Pro 2 for most people, but hey, that’s subjective. And don’t overlook Apple subsidiary Beats for some other great choices, like Beats Fit Pro and Beats Studio Buds.

Table 1: AirPods Pro 2 and AirPods Max

AirPods Max on charging stand
At a price up to $549, whoever you buy these for better be impressed.
Photo: Floating Pixels

Apple’s two top-shelf sets of earphones aren’t the same, given that AirPods Pro 2 are ANC wireless earbuds and AirPods Max are over-hear, closed-back ANC headphones. Bit of an apples-and-oranges comparison.

But an Apple engineer recently said they took steps to make the recently released earbuds sound as good as the headphones. Naturally, over-ear, closed-back headphones block external sound well, but they’re a bit heavy. And they don’t fit in your pocket.

“We wanted to give everybody an AirPods Max in their pocket,” Apple audio engineer Esge Anderson told What Hi-Fi, detailing steps taken to make AirPods Pro 2 sound as good as they do.

Specification  AirPods Pro 2 AirPods Max
Price $200 – $249 $450 – $549
Chip H1 H1
Battery life 6 hours with ANC 20 hours with ANC
Battery life with case Up to 30 hours No charging case
Charging MagSafe wireless Lightning cable
Noise cancellation ANC ANC
Spatial audio Yes Yes
Connectivity Bluetooth 5.3 Bluetooth 5.0
Microphones Dual beam forming; 1 inward facing 9 microphones for voice and ANC
Water resistance IPX4 None
Colors White Green, pink, silver, sky blue, space gray
Dimensions (in) 1.22 x 0.86 x 0.94 6.64 x 7.37 x 3.28
Weight (oz) o.19 13.6
Case dimensions (in) 1.78 x 2.39 x 0.85 9.25 x 8.27 x 2.48
Case weight (oz) 1.79 4.74
Voice assistant “Hey Siri” “Hey Siri”
Live listen Yes Yes
Ambient noise Yes Yes

 

Where to buy AirPods Pro 2: Amazon

Where to buy AirPods Max: Amazon

Table 2: AirPods (3rd gen) versus AirPods (2nd gen)

Our reviewer could not have been happier with AirPods 3.
Our reviewer could not have been happier with AirPods 3.
Photo: Ian Fuchs/Cult of Mac

Choosing between 3rd gen and 2nd gen AirPods is more of a straightforward, head-to-head comparison because the devices are similar. They have a similar design and fit, with no ear tips that insert in the ear canal.

But there are small differences that could decide things. As in: If you don’t mind paying about $60 for better battery life, wireless charging and spatial audio with dynamic head tracking — big improvements — go for AirPods 3. If you want Apple quality at the lowest price, go for AirPods 2.

But if you want ANC and up-to-date Bluetooth connectivity, see AirPods Pro 2 above. And you can read Cult of Mac‘s glowing review of AirPods 3.

Specification  AirPods (3rd gen) AirPods (2nd gen)
Price $169 – $179 $99 – $129
Chip H1 H1
Battery life 6 hours; 5 hours with ANC 5 hours
Battery life with case Up to 30 hours Up to 24 hours
Charging MagSafe wireless USB-C
Noise cancellation No No
Spatial audio Yes No
Connectivity Bluetooth 5.0 Bluetooth 5.0
Microphones Dual beam forming; 1 inward facing Dual beam forming
Water resistance IPX4 IPX4
Colors White White
Earbud dimensions (in) 1.21 x 0.72 x 0.76 1.59 x 0.65 x 0.71
Earbud weight (oz) o.15 0.14
Case dimensions (in) 1.83 x 2.14 x 0.84 2.11 x 1.74 x 0.84
Case weight (oz) 1.34 1.69
Voice assistant “Hey Siri” “Hey Siri”
Live listen Yes Yes
Ambient noise Yes Yes

 

Where to buy AirPods 3: Amazon

Where to buy AirPods 2: Amazon

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