With the holiday shopping season already booming, one of the most popular gifts this year will undoubtedly be AirPods and AirPods Pro. With four different variations to choose from, the buying decision can be tricky. Read on as we compare the AirPods 2, AirPods 3, AirPods Pro, and AirPods Max, and we offer tips on the best accessories to complement your giveaways this year.

AirPod 2

The The AirPods 2 are the most affordable way to enter the AirPods ecosystem. These AirPods offer what Apple describes as a “universal fit” where each AirPod sits inside your ear (but not inside the ear canal). Due to this design, you don’t get any kind of noise canceling technology.

In addition, the design is not at all customizable. When Apple says AirPods have a “universal” design, it really means they are “one size fits all”. If AirPods don’t fit comfortably in a person’s ears, they’re out of luck – other than some aftermarket ear hook accessories.

AirPods 2 are powered by Apple’s H1 chip, which gives you access to ongoing Hey Siri support, as well as automatic device switching support with iOS 14 and macOS 11 Big Sur. Other features of the H1 chip include audio sharing and announcement messages:

  • Voice-activated Siri uses the H1 chip to allow “Hey Siri” hands-free to play a song, turn up the volume, make a call or get directions.
  • Audio sharing makes it easy to listen to the same song or watch the same movie with a friend just by bringing a second pair of AirPods closer to the iPhone or iPad.
  • Announce Messages automatically and easily announces incoming messages as they arrive, and when making a phone call or sharing media through audio sharing, Siri knows not to interrupt.
  • Automatic device switching allows your AirPods to switch between your iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, Mac, and Apple Watch paired with the same iCloud account.
 AirPods 2 battery sheet

AirPods offer up to 4.5 hours of battery life, while the accompanying charging case brings the total to over 24 hours of battery life. The charging case can only be charged through Lightning connectivity. To control playback using AirPods, you can press the sides of the earbuds or use Siri.

AirPods support Apple Music Spatial Audio, but not dynamic head tracking or Spatial Audio for video content.

Standard AirPods retail for $ 129, but you can often find them for sale at much lower prices starting at various retailers. Make sure you keep an eye on 9to5Toys for details on the bestselling AirPods during the holiday season.

AirPod 3

Following are AirPods 3, the latest members of the AirPods family. Announced last month, the AirPods 3 feature a “universal” design with no customizable tips, but the overall form factor is similar to the AirPods Pro. This means that they are not “in-ear” headphones, but rather sit on the outer edges of your ears.

Apple says AirPods 3 include a new “skin-sensing” sensor to help your connected devices know when AirPods are in your ears. They are also sweat and water resistant up to IPX4 rating. AirPods 3 have a “Force Sensor” that lets you perform common tasks by pressing down on the side of the earbuds:

  • Press once to play, pause or answer a phone call
  • Double tap to advance
  • Press three times to go back

AirPods 3 are also powered by the H1 chip, giving you access to features like audio sharing, Hey Siri, automatic device switching, quick pairing, and more. Notably, the AirPods 3 also include support for spatial audio and dynamic head tracking, unlike the AirPods 2.

In terms of battery life and charge, AirPods 3 offer up to six hours of listening time per charge. They also include a MagSafe charging case, which provides up to 30 hours of total listening time.

AirPods Pro

Finally we have High-end AirPods Pro from the AirPods range of headphones. The biggest differentiator here is design, with the AirPods Pro featuring a “customizable” in-ear design. Apple includes three separate ear tip sizes in the box with AirPods Pro, giving users more control over how they fit their ears.

Apple also claims that the AirPods Pro are certified for IPX4 water and sweat resistance, just like the AirPods 3 and unlike the AirPods 2.

In addition to the design, the AirPods Pro also supports active noise cancellation. Apple says the AirPods Pro use a combination of software and two microphones to block out outside noise for users, which is not available on standard AirPods.

 AirPods Pro tips

AirPods Pro also support Transparency mode, which allows users to simultaneously listen to music while listening to the environment around them. The AirPods Pro use outward and inward facing microphones “to negate the sound-isolating effect of the silicone ear tips so things sound and look natural.”

AirPods Pro are powered by the same H1 chip as standard AirPods, giving you features like Hey Siri support, automatic device sharing, audio sharing, and announcing messages with Siri. AirPods Pro also support spatial audio with dynamic head tracking, just like AirPods 3.

Similar to AirPods 3, AirPods Pro feature a “Force Sensor” that lets you perform common tasks by pressing down on the side of the earbuds.

AirPods Pro offer up to five hours of battery life, with the accompanying charging case adding over 24 hours of extra battery life. The battery box can be recharged via Lightning connectivity or via Qi wireless charging, including Apple’s MagSafe charger and the upcoming MagSafe Duo charger.

Finally, in terms of sound quality, the in-ear design of the AirPods Pro inherently gives them a head start over standard AirPods. For many people, however, the sound quality is objective, and even the AirPods Pro won’t compare to the more expensive on-ear headphones for most people.

However, all of these additional features come at a cost. Retail AirPods Pro for $ 249, although offers are common this time of year. If you can tag AirPods Pro to their common sale price from $ 199, they become much easier to justify compared to standard AirPods.

AirPods Max

And finally, for someone you really care about this holiday season, we have the AirPods Max. These aren’t really wireless headphones, but rather full-size on-ear headphones which are priced at $ 549. Apple says AirPods Max combine “the perfect balance between exhilarating high fidelity sound and the effortless magic of AirPods.”

The AirPods Max feature a beautiful industrial design with stainless steel accents and a mesh headband. The on-ear design lends itself well to supporting features like active noise cancellation and Transparency mode.

On the side of the AirPods Max are two buttons, one for switching between listening modes and a digital crown similar to what you’ll find on the Apple Watch for adjusting volume and other playback controls.

And if you’re looking for AirPods that are available in any color except white, the AirPods Max is here for you. AirPods Max are available in white, space gray, blue, pink, and green.

Best AirPods Accessories

 Aira Base Station Pro

If you are looking to complement your AirPods with an accessory, or go shopping, there are several notable categories of AirPods accessories. Here are some of our recommendations.

Qi chargers

A great addition to AirPods with wireless charging case or AirPods Pro is a Qi wireless charger. Not that the AirPods 3 and AirPods Pro include MagSafe magnets inside the charging case, although all AirPods with wireless charging can technically charge via a MagSafe washer.

One of my personal favorite recommendations here is expensive but a great option. The nomadic base station Pro features a 3-in-1 wireless charging pad that uses FreePower technology to power devices no matter where they are placed.

The Nomad Base Station Pro costs $ 199.95, although it’s currently on sale for $ 159.95. A more affordable option is the Standard nomadic base station, which costs $ 99.95 and can charge two devices at once with two coils.

Read our full Nomad Pro base station review here.

AirPods cases

A popular way to personalize your AirPods is to use a case for the charging case. Here are some options for AirPods 2, AirPods 3, and AirPods 3, which can make great Christmas stockings.

AirPods 2 cases

AirPods cases

AirPods Pro cases

Conclusion: AirPods vs. AirPods Pro Holiday Gift Guide

If you’re going beyond entry-level AirPods, however, the AirPods Pro offer a full feature set with noise cancellation, a more customizable design, and spatial sound for video and head tracking. It’s especially good value when you can get them on sale for under $ 200.

What do you think of the AirPods vs AirPods Pro decision? Are you planning to buy AirPods for anyone this holiday season? Let us know in the comments!

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