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Apple’s new $179 AirPods: Head-tracking spatial audio and longer battery life

After more than a year of speculation, the newest AirPods are here. Apple announced them at the company’s October 18 Unleashed event, alongside the new Macbook Pro. The new version — simply called AirPods (third-generation) — cost $179, which places them between the entry-level AirPods (which Apple will continue to sell for $129) and Apple’s $249 AirPods Pro. Preorders start today, with the new AirPods shipping the last week of October.

As speculated, the new AirPods use a design that’s based on the AirPods Pro, with a shape that channels sound into your ear with better precision, but without using the silicone eartips that the AirPods Pro use — good news for folks who have always appreciated the semi-open design of the original AirPods.

List of features for the third-gen Apple AirPods.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Along with the new shape, the new AirPods also borrow the AirPods Pro’s force-based controls that require you to pinch the stems instead of tap on the outside of the buds.

They’re IPX4 sweat- and water-resistant, Apple says, which is the same as the AirPods Pro. The new buds also come with a new custom driver for more low-end and improved audio thanks to Adaptive EQ — another feature they’ve inherited from the Pros. And, because Dolby Atmos is a growing feature of Apple Music and Apple TV+, they support spatial audio.

Woman running while wearing the new Airpods 3rd Gen.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Spatial audio on its own is not that big of a deal — technically speaking,  you can enjoy Dolby Atmos Music from Apple Music on any set of stereo headphones, including the original AirPods. But the new earbuds include the accelerometers needed for head-tracking, a much more immersive version of spatial audio that can tailor what you’re hearing to the direction your head is facing. It works for Dolby Atmos Music and Dolby Atmos for movies (when using a compatible viewing device like an iPhone or an Apple TV 4K).

Battery life on the new AirPods will provide up to six hours of listening time, Apple says, and five minutes of charge time will get you about an hour of use. The battery case will get you four full additional charges for a total playtime of 30 hours. The case now supports both MagSafe and wireless charging.

Like both older models of Apple’s true wireless earbuds, the new version comes with a wirelessly charging case, quick and easy pairing with all of Apple’s phones, tablets, and computers, and hands-free access to Apple’s voice assistant, Siri.

All-new AirPods with Spatial Audio | Apple

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Simon Cohen
Contributing Editor, A/V
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