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Monday, November 29, 2021

AirPods 2021 review: Music with a sense of space, but missing the noise cancelling

Apple AirPods 2021 review: The latest AirPods sport a design similar to the AirPods Pro, but do not come with noise-cancellation. Do they live up to the claims, though? Here's our review.

Written by Nandagopal Rajan |
November 19, 2021 3:08:21 pm
AirPods review, AirPods 3 review, Apple AirPods 2021 review, Apple AirPods 3 (2021) reviewHere's our review for the latest Apple AirPods, which sport a new design now. (Image credit: Nandagopal Rajan/Indian Express)

One of my biggest regrets of the pandemic is how I overused my AirPods Pro so much that one day I ended up stepping on them, fatally damaging the pair in the process. So when the new AirPods were announced I was excited to check out how the world’s most popular earphones, and my favourite pair for work and leisure, had progressed.

The new AirPods might look a bit more like the AirPods Pro but are actually an improvement on the regular model. So there is a clear design upgrade with the stem now being shorter and the earpieces more contoured to align with the shape of the ears. Unlike the Pro models, there are no silicone tips here. You can see three black patches on the AirPods now, and these are for microphones and sensors.

AirPods review, AirPods 3 review, Apple AirPods review, Apple AirPods 3 review, Airpods 3 vs AirPods Pro The new Apple AirPods 3 on the left and the original AirPods on the right. (Image credit: Nandagopal Rajan/Indian Express)

The other big change is in the design of the charging case. It is now horizontal in orientation, though the size itself is the same as before. The case also comes with wireless charging so you can just plonk this on a charging surface you might have for the night.

AirPods review, AirPods 3 review, Apple AirPods review, Apple AirPods 3 review, Airpods 3 vs AirPods Pro The new AirPods also come with wireless charging. (Image credit: Nandagopal Rajan/Indian Express)

As with other Apple devices, there is hardly any setup involved. The phone recognises the AirPods as soon as you bring them near for the first time. But there is an extra step now, one that adds the Announce Notification feature. The AirPods can now announce everything from Twitter replies on your timeline to Instagram messages and texts. In fact, in the first couple of days, it got so overwhelming that I switched it off for most apps. But when these are switched off, I could still hear notifications for every kilometer I completed on my morning walk. This was great and meant I did not have to keep checking the watch, though it does overlap the music or podcast for a few seconds.

AirPods review, AirPods 3 review, Apple AirPods review, Apple AirPods 3 review, Airpods 3 vs AirPods Pro Apple AirPods now look similar to the AirPods Pro. (Image credit: Nandagopal Rajan/Indian Express)

AirPods have always had a great audio profile. But with the latest version, Apple is switching on its Spatial Audio. Walking under the clear blue sky along the beach in Kozhikode, the music flowing off the AirPods wrapped my head like the calming morning breeze of the Arabian Sea. The Attacca Quartet’s Summa seemed to sync with the draft and stay where it was, hanging in the air as I moved my head around. But then Classical is maybe a bit too tame for these AirPods. It needs something like Street Lights by Colin Reichard to unleash the bass and the highs in one go.

Testing done, I relax on the old pier sipping black coffee and listening to my all-time favourite Hotel California, recorded live for MTV in 1994. I’m no longer by the Arabian Sea. I’m transported to where Don Felder is playing his 12-string riff. The new AirPods are so much about spaces, and being where the music is.

AirPods review, AirPods 3 review, Apple AirPods review, Apple AirPods 3 review, Airpods 3 vs AirPods Pro With the AirPods, Apple is also adding Spatial Audio to these earbuds. (Image credit: Nandagopal Rajan/Indian Express)

And it is not just about music. Listening to podcasts too, you feel as if you are in the room with the speakers. The conversation is no longer in your ear, it is more around you. More natural. This is a very unique feeling for a pair of earpods this small.

Apple is also doing some neat stuff with the microphones on the AirPods, using them to cut the ambient noise when you are on calls so that the other side hears you better. But sadly this pair does not come with noise cancelling, something Apple does so well as it has shown with the AirPods Pro. That is a real disappointment, especially since there is no silicone tip here to isolate the noise at least.

AirPods review, AirPods 3 review, Apple AirPods review, Apple AirPods 3 review, Airpods 3 vs AirPods Pro The case for the new AirPods vs the case for the older AirPods. (Image credit: Nandagopal Rajan/Indian Express)

The controls are easy, with the small groove on the stem recognises a single or double squeeze to pause and resume. Long press wakes up Siri. All of this works as you would expect from an Apple product. The battery life is good too and I did not have to charge the pair for the first week, that with zoom calls lasting a few hours every day.

The new Apple AirPods have really gone a notch up on audio quality with Spatial Audio and on convenience with Announce Notifications and wireless charging. But for a price tag of Rs 18,500, I have to say the noise cancelling is certainly missed.

This when most players in the market are offering noise cancellation, albeit with different levels of effectiveness, at lower price points. Buy this if noise cancelling doesn’t really matter to you. If you like me want the vacuum to think and work, then the AirPods Pro might be a better bet, even at the higher price tag. When it comes to audio quality is there really up there among the best, but at a cost.

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