AirPods 2021 Review: I Want to Be Blasé, but These Babies Are Music to My Ears

AirPods 2021 Review: I Want to Be Blasé, but These Babies Are Music to My Ears
Image credit: Lifehacker Au
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I’ve never considered myself an audiophile. Sure, I enjoy decent speaker sound and notice when headphones give off a tinny experience or break up as I’m listening to something. But I’ve mostly cruised through life assuming that good enough was good enough for my audio needs. Then I met the new 2021 AirPods (3rd gen).

Before I get into the specifics of my experience with the new generation of AirPods, however, let’s talk specs.

Here’s everything you need to know about these babies:

  • H1 headphone chip
  • Dual beamforming microphones
  • Inward-facing microphone
  • Skin-detect sensor
  • Motion-detecting accelerometer
  • Speech-detecting accelerometer
  • Force sensor
  • Adaptive EQ
  • Custom-built high-excursion Apple driver
  • Custom-engineered high-dynamic-range amplifier
  • Spatial audio with dynamic head tracking
  • Sweat and water-resistant
  • MagSafe, wireless and Lightning charging
  • Up to 6 hours of listening time with a single charge (up to 5 hours with spatial audio enabled)
  • Up to 4 hours of talk time with a single charge
  • AirPods with MagSafe Charging Case
  • Up to 30 hours of listening time
  • Up to 20 hours of talk time
  • 5 minutes in the case provides around 1 hour of listening time or around 1 hour of talk time
  • Live Listen audio
  • Headphone levels
  • Headphone Accommodations
  • Bluetooth® 5.0
  • AirPods 3rd generation size and weight: Height: 30.79 mm (1.21 inches), Width: 18.26 mm (0.72 inch), Depth: 19.21 mm (0.76 inch), Weight: 4.28 grams (0.15 ounce)
  • Case size and weight: Height: 46.40 mm (1.83 inches), Width: 54.40 mm (2.14 inches), Depth: 21.38 mm (0.84 inch), Weight: 37.91 grams (1.34 ounces)

Now, onto the experience.

What’s good?

AirPod gen 3 review
AirPods gen 3 2021. Image credit: Lifehacker Australia

There’s a lot worth writing home about when it comes to the 3rd generation of AirPods, but for simplicity’s sake, I’ll wrap this up into three points for you.

My workouts, entertainment experience, and calls all saw an improvement as a result of using the 2021 AirPods.

Workouts: The sweat resistance element instantly came into play here. Not only because, y’know, I was wearing the AirPods in my ears as I trained (which was obviously significant) but because when I don’t have pockets in my activewear, I tend to pop my earbud case into my sports bra.

Because the AirPods case is also sweat and water-resistant, I didn’t need to worry about causing damage while going for a run. And, though assumedly this was not the purpose of the design of the case, it was small and lightweight and didn’t cause me any discomfort.

I also love that I can pop in the AirPods, and just ask Siri to “start an outdoor run” and it’ll begin tracking the workout on my Apple Watch without me needing to touch it. Additionally, Siri’s notification announcement feature is a pretty sweet one if you want to be reachable during workouts. I quite like having my messages read to me as I exercise – it feels like you have a little in-ear assistant.

In saying that, the function is also incredibly simple to switch off (just ask Siri) if you don’t want to hear about dinner plans mid-run.

I’m also a big fan of the new contoured design. I can’t speak specifically to how this has changed in-ear from older models as this is my first AirPod rodeo, but other brands of earbuds have fallen out of my ears during workouts and that has not happened once with the 2021 AirPods. They’re snug but comfy.

Entertainment: Okay, so the spatial audio experience is next level. On multiple (multiple) occasions, I have taken an AirPod out of my ear to check that sound is not in fact playing out loud for everyone to hear.

It’s especially noticeable in film or TV fight scenes and when listening to multidimensional music. When Apple says it’s offering a theatre experience – it means it.

Head-tracking is also a noticeably impressive feature. Turn your head to either side and the sound will adjust so it continues to appear to come from the screen it’s playing from, rather than moving with your head. It’s quite cool.

Calls: The sound is rich, you can answer with one touch of the Force Sensor and if you’re using FaceTime, spatial audio will come into play – with the sound seemingly being spread out to match the person’s position on your screen. It’s kind of weird at first, but it does make the call experience feel more natural.

And although the battery life is pretty solid, you can always pop the case onto a charger while you’re on a call (or watching TV, or whatever) so when you’re done they can get some extra juice as soon as you return them to the case.

I’ve been using this little technique and honestly, I’ve never even been close to having the AirPods die on me – even when using them all day for work.

What’s not so good?

AirPods (3rd generation) review
AirPods gen 3 2021. Image credit: Lifehacker Aus

While not a dealbreaker for me, some will prefer the silicone tips of the AirPods Pro model as they offer a more customisable fit in the ear.

And at $279 (or $278 on Amazon), the gen 3 AirPods are also at a pretty high price point which will make them less of an attractive option for some, naturally. At the time of writing, the AirPods Pro are on sale on Amazon for $318, so I guess you’ll have to weigh up the better value deal for yourselves, there.

The verdict

All in all, the new 2021 AirPods are lightweight, well-designed and they offer an incredible audio experience that even the most humble of listeners (me) will take notice of. They’re also a solid companion for fitness fans hoping to elevate their workouts.

My list of criticisms is short – these babies work beautifully.

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