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Apple Acoustics VP hints that Bluetooth could be holding back AirPods

Apple's AirPods 3

Apple's AirPods team has offered new details about the development of the third-generation model — and how Bluetooth could be holding back the popular accessory.

Gary Geaves, Apple's vice president of Acoustics, and Eric Treski of Apple's product marketing team recently sat down with What Hi-Fi to speak about the design and development of AirPods 3.

According to Geaves, AirPods 3 use an entirely new design with custom components. As Geaves put it, nothing that went into AirPods 3 came "off the shelf."

The third-generation AirPods use a "complicated acoustic system," a new amplifier, and a tuned bass port to deliver top-notch sound quality. Geaves said the "effortless open fit" of the non-pro models are a draw for consumers, but added that designing for an unsealed fit created "challenges" for the audio team.

That lack of seal wasn't the only limitation for AirPods. When asked if Bluetooth stifled sound quality, Geaves stopped short of openly criticizing the standard but noted that Apple would "like more bandwidth."

"Obviously the wireless technology is critical for the content delivery that you talk about, but also things like the amount of latency you get when you move your head, and if that's too long, between you moving your head and the sound changing or remaining static, it will make you feel quite ill, so we have to concentrate very hard on squeezing the most that we can out of the Bluetooth technology, and there's a number of tricks we can play to maximise or get around some of the limits of Bluetooth. But it's fair to say that we would like more bandwidth and... I'll stop right there. We would like more bandwidth."

As far as other tidbits, Geaves noted that the diversity in consumer ear shape led the team to bring Adaptive EQ — an AirPods Pro feature — to the base model AirPods. The feature provides a "consistent frequency response regardless of the level of fit that each person gets."

Apple's attention to detail extends to research, too. Geaves said Apple has leveraged ""extensive measurements" and "deep statistical research" in developing the new AirPods. In addition, Apple also worked with professional teams of critical tuners and listeners to design the device.

The full interview, which offers other details about AirPods 3 and Apple's audio design team, is worth a read for anyone interested in the company's Bluetooth headphones.