The AirPods Pro are the ideal earbuds for Apple fans
If you’re an iPhone consumer and have been contemplating the idea of going completely wireless with your earbuds, then snatch these now – if you have enough money for it. The innovative noise-canceling feature is useful and neat, and the overall improvements to design and sound couldn’t be more welcome.
- Helpful noise cancellation
- Much improved fit
- Good for tracking hearing fitness
- Costlier than better rivals
- USB-C charging cable in the box
- Can get unfastened during workouts
Apple has released its new true wireless earbuds, the AirPods Pro, getting active noise cancellation, a (finally) much better fit, and a better design, in an attempt to attract more iPhone users into the true wireless fold.
Though at $249 / £249 / AU$399, they’re pretty expensive too, and as such, can’t be considered the very best wireless headphones out there, although they do come close.
If you’re an iPhone user searching for some well-fitting earbuds with excellent sound quality, you could do a lot worse than the new AirPods – the restructure means they’re far less anticipated to fall out, and the added microphones offer strong noise-canceling (mostly when commuting), as well as a beneficial Transparency mode, which really does let the outside world in.
While the fit is better than the initial AirPods, you will need to get used to holding them with the capacitive, touch-sensitive ridge on each stem – this takes some getting used to, but it’s a straightforward way to initiate noise cancellation and skip tracks.
There’s so much ‘Apple-ness’ that goes through the AirPods Pro – from the first setup, where the headphones test your ears to check they’re the appropriate fit, through to the fact there’s a small air outlet to make setting them in or removing them a more relaxed experience. In short, fans of the Apple philosophy will be delighted with their purchase here.
The sound quality of the AirPods Pro has definitely upgraded since the earlier iteration. The battery life is strong for Apple earbuds – not compared to the 8-9 hours’ other true wireless earbuds propose), and we found that the publicized 4-5 hours from a single charge was exact, though we recommend charging the case frequently (a wireless charging pad is a suitable and cool way to do this) as you can get caught out when the case has unexpectedly run out of battery.
If you want the perfect headphones Apple has built, the AirPods Pro is the peak of several years’ work into a strong audio product. There are improved true wireless earbuds out there, but for Apple fans and iPhone users (with the money to afford them) they’re an excellent choice.
AirPods Pro release Date and Price
The Airpods Pro launch date was 30 October globally so you’re now able to buy them up from Apple and several other retailers.
The vital thing to note here is that they are not a substitute for the 2019 AirPods model… and that’s echoed in the AirPods Pro price point.
You can purchase the AirPods Pro for $249 / £249 / AU$399 – which is a considerable increase over the 2019 AirPods’ $159 / £159 / AU$249 (with the normal charging case), and still the $199 / £199 / AU$319 with the AirPods’ Wireless Charging Case packed in.
Similar to many other Apple devices, the AirPods Pro immediately connects to your iPad or iPhone – you simply need to unwrap the case to get started.
Well, we say ‘simply’ – you’ll need to ensure that iOS 13.2 is downloaded to your device so you can attain, in Apple’s words, “all the advanced features” on proposal – we believe these are the new icons for the AirPods Pro as well as the capability to control the Transparency and noise cancellation straight from the Control Center.
Once initiated, the AirPods Pro will be automatically paired with your phone and all Apple devices connected to your iCloud account (including Apple Watch, Macs and iPad), so you won’t be required to keep connecting your new buds to your other Apple gadgets.
Once you have started, heading into the Bluetooth settings will gauge your fit, checking whether the earbud tips you’ve selected (whether that’s small, medium, or large – medium is the default) are making the right seal.
Reaching a tight seal against your ear canal is an essential feature of the overall sound quality of the earbuds, and helps to build physical sound isolation and passive noise reduction; in a perfect world, no sound gets inside, and no sound leaks outside.
This is attained by the playing of a short piece of sound, with the AirPods Pro microphones internally evaluating whether this sounds as it should – if you’re like most people and get an appropriate fit, you’re given the thumbs up (or green lettering, to be more specific).
This writer’s ears are just awful when it comes to having most kinds of earbuds fall out, and we accomplished a good fit right away, with the AirPods Pro feeling like they were in no danger of separating from the ol’ head holes effortlessly; in the headphones-evaluating world, we consider that a favorable.
Toying around with the fit and letting them hang loosely out displayed that the AirPods Pro is able to tell when there’s sound escape – another friend of ours who used the new AirPods for the first time discover that Apple recommended a larger bud, and then the seal was fine.
Swapping between the tips in the box is, again, very Apple – whether that’s a favorable or unfavorable thing depends on how you feel about the company. Instead of a silicon bud that you have to shake onto or off a small stem, these just snap into place.
This lets the AirPods Pro have a more condensed design and makes setting them up feel more exceptional… but at $4 each, they’re not exactly inexpensive to replace. And while you can choose new silicon tips for normal earbuds easily, fitting them to the new AirPods isn’t as simple, thanks to the little clips, instead of merely wiggling silicon onto a stem.
Getting the ear tips on and off is really tricky though – they don’t snap off instantaneously and need a little bit of force to remove. Though the system seems robust and once you gain the sureness to do so, it’s relatively easy – and it’s not like you’ll have to do it that repeatedly.
You might want to detach them once in a while for cleaning purposes, though, and we’re still not self-confident taking the bud off and on the stem without worrying a little that we’re going to break something.
Design and Use
The first thing we observed in our early test is that the AirPods Pro are light – they’re so light that, once placed into the ears, it’s hard to tell that they’re really there. While this lightness is advantageous in terms of comfort, it could be a disadvantage in other ways – we could easily visualize a situation where you lose one, and don’t actually grasp for a while that they’re not there (apart from that your playlist would have stopped playing).
The stems are much smaller than on the Airpods 2, and where you were able to pat the body of the older AirPods in order to avoid tracks or initiate Siri, the fit of the AirPods Pro proposes that would be a less comfy experience here.
In its place, there’s a ‘capacitive force sensor’ in the stem, a small rim on each of the AirPods Pro, where squeezing said area would trigger noise-canceling / Transparency mode, or avoid and pause tracks.
In the beginning this was a little tricky to get used to, as the shorter stems made it difficult to find the ridge, but after a few minutes it became second nature – though as the buds are quite compressed, it does feel a little like you’re drawing them out your ear each time you activate it.
After a week’s use, we found that it was thoroughly second nature, and there was an immediate drive to pause, play and skip tracks using this method.
It’s a disgrace; there’s not a haptic click on the bud itself to confirm the touch, as that would have made the new AirPods Pro feel so much more physical.
You can change what pressing the ridge does, adjusting it to control Siri if you’d wish, and you can allocate a different function (Siri on one, noise-canceling on the other) to each earbud as well.
We’ll tell you another thing that would have been splendid – touch-sensitive volume control on the stalks. Straight away, we were annoyed by having to reach for our phone to do that – the Powerbeats Pro, for example, have a clickable button to change the sound intensity and it’s really useful.
A reader contacted us and recommended that we use the ‘Hey Siri!’ command to adjust the volume. Well, we don’t want to do this for the following reasons:
- It doesn’t work all the time
- It takes about four seconds to speak, check and activate
- The sound goes really quitter or loud
- You look like an absolute sucker or worse; you’re heard murmuring quietly to Siri so nobody hears you
In short, Apple should have considered the outside of the AirPods Pro touch-sensitive for volume control.
In the AirPods Pro is an accelerometer, and on the bud itself an optical sensor – together, they allow the buds to start and stop the audio accordingly when your AirPods are removed.
Speaking of which… the upgrading in the fit of the AirPods Pro over the original AirPods is huge. The silicon buds secure them in place snugly, and the earbuds are so light that they don’t bob around, even if you’re trotting down the road or rushing up a flight of stairs at the train station.
We wouldn’t go to the extent saying they’re the most securely-fitting earbuds on the marketplace, however. When running and sweat comes into the combination, the silicon tips can start to slip around a little.
Here’s a scientific trial: we found that it took four far-too-vigorous-hurt-your-brain shakes of the head to get the AirPod Pro to slip out in the dry, but when they were covered with sweat it was just one fierce skull-pivot.
We want to highlight they never fell out, but the fit was far freer. If you’re someone who fought with the fit of the original AirPods when running, these are an enormous step forward and fit far more securely.
They’re also IPX4 water-resistant – which fundamentally means you can use them in the rain, and loads of sweat won’t affect their performance. Big mark there from us.
The ‘Pods were also knocked them out a slight too easily when accidentally brushing them or removing a coat (removing a backpack saw one fly out with slight contact). But matched against the fit of the original AirPods, the Pro models are light years forward.
One thing that could explain that minor lack of in-ear grip is the air vent Apple has designed in, so the seal is solid but there’s not an odd ‘sucking’ sensation when removing the buds.
Somewhat, we never really felt this was a concern with other true wireless earbuds, so we can’t mention on whether it’s made a huge difference – but placing the AirPods Pro in our ears was always a comfortable experience.
Eventually, the AirPods Pro are costly, but they’re well-engineered all over, with little design twists and flourishes that really add to the complete experience.
Sound quality, Transparency and Noise cancellation
It’s one thing to fit well, but how do the new AirPods Pro sound? Clearly, Apple is hyping custom drivers, improved bass, “clear and detailed mid and high frequencies,” and an adaptive equalizer.
We tried the Apple AirPods over a variety of audios and found several resemblances across the genres. We observed that vocals often sounded really rich, and the bass, in particular, was stronger than the AirPods 2.
Matched to a high-end pair of on-ear headphones (or even some other premier true wireless earbuds, like the Cambridge Audio Melomania 1), it was difficult to hear all the details in the AirPod Pro.
A portion of that sound quality is down to the noise cancellation, which is strong and noticeable when turned on – you switch it on by pressing the capacitive stem of the AirPods Pro, or by going into the volume section of your iPhone and swiping to the left-hand icon. you can also toggle it on the Apple Watch, with a menu allowing you to turn the feature on and off).
Apple has positioned two microphones in the AirPods Pro, allowing for both external and internal sound analysis.
The former will check the audio quality in the ear to see if the audio that you’re playing sounds as it should, and change it accordingly using an algorithm. The latter terminates out background sound, and creates a far more peaceful listening environment.
While we can’t test how good this algorithm that supervises sound inside your ear actually works, as there’s no way to switch it on and off – but the active noise cancellation has a strong and visible effect.
It won’t lock out all other sounds around you – if you’re in an office and there’s audio playing, a small amount might still escape through – but, when walking down the street, the AirPod Pros practically seal off all the noise of a motorbike, and any continuous noise (like a constant wind or fan) is shut out appropriately.
The AirPods Pro noise cancellation worked mainly well on a train, with the difference when the mode turned on and off being particularly unambiguous.
One strange thing we did note: if you just have the AirPods Pro switched on, but with no audio playing, an odd, hushed ‘wub wub’ sound can sometimes be produced as the noise-canceling technology tries to deal with no sound entering into the ear. It’s pretty infrequent but still feels odd when it happens.
Transparency is the other feature of the noise-canceling scale from Apple, with the microphones within the AirPods Pro able to pass external sound through capably.
It’s a well-implemented feature, with the world vanishing slowly in and out when Transparency is turned on, rather than an unexpected dump of sound landing in your skull. You can have a chat with someone even with your audio playing (though if you’re over half-volume, it’s a little complicated), and when there’s no audio playing, you’re hardly aware you’ve got headphones in at all.
One thing that displeases: the videos advertising the AirPods Pro make it look like a simple brush of the capacitive stems on the earbuds is everything that’s necessary to turn on Transparency, wherein real fact it takes quite a prolonged and forceful touch.
As with regulating other settings, it’s something you get used to speedily, but it’s different from what we anticipated based on the videos.
One thing we did find exciting: if you’re intending on using the AirPods Pro to take calls when you’re out and about, you might discover that you struggle when noise cancellation is turned on.
This appears to be because one naturally lowers their voice when the sound is more embracing, and this stops the microphones from receiving your voice as clearly as they might.
Switch on Transparency and the world comes back to life, sonically, and you’ll find that you routinely speak louder. You can have a straight conversation using the new AirPods, but it’s still not as good as just using your phone to your ear.
One additional feature that we’re pretty into: hearing health. If you use the Powerbeats Pro, AirPods, or the AirPods Pro, they direct precise volume levels to your iPhone and you can see if you’re listening to things excessively loud.
We noticed a noticeable improvement in the volume being driven into our ears when swapping from the AirPods Pro, from the Powerbeats Pro – displaying that the noise cancellation permitted us to drop the sound levels a bit and still enjoy the same class of audio.
So if you’re into protecting your hearing health, the AirPods Pro proposes an improvement over the original AirPods or even the Powerbeats Pro.
Now, let’s talk about battery life: The AirPods Pro’s charging case will give you above 24 hours of listening time when completely charged, with each full charge of the AirPods Pro giving you five hours of listening (that’s with Transparency or noise cancelling off – you’ll get four and a half hours with the options on), or three and a half hours of use if you use the AirPods Pro as a hands-free mic for calling.
These numbers are pretty accurate in real-world use – you’ll never actually use the AirPods without either Transparency or noise cancellation on, but when flicking them in and out of the case, you’ll seldom hit a dead battery.
If your new AirPods Pro die on you, Apple states you’ll get one hour of listening time from only five minutes of charging, and we found that to be a little stingy – chucking them in the charging case from dead generated 35% battery life, which was a slightly over an hour’s use.
That charging case is somewhat annoying in that it’s hard to know how much battery life is left in it. When you take the AirPods out you can go to your iPhone’s battery widget to check out how much power is remaining, but then you’re left looking at the small LED on the front, which is only amber or evergreen.
Though we only needed to charge the case twice over a week’s tough use, we did hit a state where it was completely dead – it would be nice if there were a forewarning somehow.
In terms of charging the case, Apple has uncooperatively put a USB-C-to-Lightning cable in there. Unless you’ve got a new MacBook or a new iPhone 11 Pro, you won’t have the essential charging block (as there is not one in the box also).
Though, the good news is that almost every person that buys the new AirPods will have a typical Lightning cable or two kicking around, so you’ll be capable of charging them that way.
Don’t ignore that this is a wireless charging case, so you can drop it down on a charging pad and get juicing. You might think this is somewhat of a ‘nothing’ feature that you don’t want to pay for, but trust us, spend in the ecosystem.
There’s something really remarkable about being able just to place down a phone or set of AirPods and have them charge up through the day – get other chargers, and you’ll hardly run out of power again.
Buy only if..
You’re unhappy with the fit of the original AirPods
We loved the fit. This is the main reason to select the new AirPods – they’re so much snugger and premium-feeling than the initial versions, and they’re far abler of staying put.
You’re an iPhone consumer who wants sound quality combined with ease
Although the AirPods Pro isn’t the best-sounding on the market, they are quite good, and work so competently with an iPhone that you’re getting a great combination here.
You want to take care of your ears
It’s a much-ignored feature, but being able to register the level of decibels being push into your skull is an immensely powerful tool in helping you comprehend how much damage you’re doing to your long-term hearing. It’s only one instrument in a much-larger war to avoid hearing damage, but having Apple headphones gives you far more data on this.
Don’t buy if…
The AirPods Pro are not inexpensive – so if you’re not concerned about having the best earbuds, Apple has to propose, check out our other true wireless earbuds for what could be more appropriate to your needs, or try the previous AirPods – they’re still a good choice.
You’re a fitness enthusiast
There are many other true wireless earbuds that we’d suggest specifically for working out – the Powerbeats Pro are the preferred choice, or the better-fitting Jabra Elite Sports, for example.
You’re not an admirer of true wireless headphones
There’s the other point to say much about here: true wireless might not be suitable for you. There is always that related worry they might fall out, and they definitely don’t keep your ears warm – check out other wireless headphones if you want to get a feel for what could be an improved fit for you.