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
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|
|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|
|Connectivity||Bluetooth 5.3||Bluetooth 5.0|
|Microphones||Dual beam forming; 1 inward facing||9 microphones for voice and ANC|
|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|
|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”|
Where to buy AirPods Pro 2: Amazon
Where to buy AirPods Max: Amazon
Table 2: AirPods (3rd gen) versus AirPods (2nd gen)
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|
|Battery life||6 hours; 5 hours with ANC||5 hours|
|Battery life with case||Up to 30 hours||Up to 24 hours|
|Connectivity||Bluetooth 5.0||Bluetooth 5.0|
|Microphones||Dual beam forming; 1 inward facing||Dual beam forming|
|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”|
Where to buy AirPods 3: Amazon
Where to buy AirPods 2: Amazon