I’ve been using the AirPods Pro for the last several days, and one thing is immediately clear: these are easily the best headphones that Apple sells, and as you’ll see in our AirPods Pro review, some of the best headphones that you can buy today.
AirPods Pro present an incredible mix of convenience, comfort, and features, making them well worth considering, even if you already own regular AirPods. Watch our hands-on AirPods Pro review for the details.
The AirPods Pro unboxing experience is similar to AirPods hardware unboxings we’ve done in the past. The big difference this time around is the inclusion of multiple ear tips, along with a Lightning to USB-C cable instead of a Lightning to USB-A cable.
Apple preinstalls the medium ear tips on the AirPods during assembly at the factory but includes a set of small and large ear tips that are able to accommodate a variety of ear canal sizes.
Along with the cable and ear tips, Apple includes some verbose documentation, along with the typical warranty and regulatory information.
AirPods Pro review video
If you’ve ever used AirPods then you’ll know more or less what to expect from AirPods Pro. The premise is exactly the same as the baseline AirPods, in that you have two truly wireless earbuds, along with a Wireless Charging Case to store your AirPods Pro and to facilitate charging.
The AirPods Pro Wireless Charging Case features a similar hinge design found on the entry-level AirPods, which also includes the same satisfying snap sound when closing the case.
The front of the Wireless Charging Case, like the second-generation AirPods released last spring, features an LED status indicator for gauging charging state and pairing activity. For those that prefer to stick with wired charging, you’ll find a Lightning port on the bottom of the case.
The AirPods Pro earbuds are similar to the baseline AirPods, but like the charging case, slightly different in design and stature. The new AirPods Pro buds are more compact and dense, packed with loads of new technology, and most notably, feature replaceable ear tips on the ends to ensure a more secure fit in the ear canal.
While slightly altered, AirPods Pro remain true to the design of the original AirPods. If you love the look of the AirPods, that’s a good thing, but if you can’t stand the way the AirPods look, the Pro version will do little to change your opinion about the design.
One of my long-running gripes about the AirPods is the lack of any color options other than white. Obviously Apple considers the white color to be iconic when taking into account the history of the iPod and its trendsetting all-white headphones, but I think we’re far enough beyond that era that Apple should consider switching it up. Not only would this add some much-needed variety to the AirPods, but the white color tends to attract dust and dirt like crazy.
The AirPods Pro Wireless Charging Case is slightly bigger in area than the regular AirPods charging case. It’s also a bit heavier than its forebears, but not enough to negatively affect the device’s portability in a meaningful way.
You’ll find that the AirPods Pro will easily fit inside a trouser pocket, purse, etc. Unlike the Powerbeats Pro we reviewed earlier this year, the AirPods Pro make for a perfect traveling companion.
Battery life and charging
Like previous iterations, the AirPods Pro comes bundled with a charging case that’s used to recharge each wireless earbud.
The Wireless Charging Case provides more than 24 hours of listening time, more than 18 hours of talk time, and can provide 1 hour of listening time or 1 hour of talk time with just a five-minute charge.
The individual earbuds are capable of 4.5 hours of listening time (5 hours with Active Noise Cancellation and Transparency disabled), and up to 3.5 hours of talk time with a single charge. Battery life results are similar to the regular AirPods, except talk time life has slightly increased.
Water and sweat resistance
One of the biggest downsides of the standard AirPods for active people was the lack of water and sweat resistance. The new AirPods Pro solve this issue by incorporating IPX4 sweat and water resistance, which means that they’re protected from splashing water, no matter the direction.
One of the ways that Apple has addressed water resistance is by eliminating or reducing potential points of water ingress. For example, the microphone holes that are on the bottom of stem on standard AirPods has been relocated to the side of the stem, while the hole that used to occupy the bottom of the stem has been completely sealed up.
Fit and comfort
The biggest physical change with the AirPods Pro versus the regular AirPods relate to fit and comfort. It’s one of the areas for improvement that I was curious about most in this AirPods Pro review.
First and foremost, the ear tips on the AirPods Pro ensure a much better fit than standard AirPods. When performing activities like jogging or even walking through an airport, the AirPods often fell out of my ears — not so with the AirPods Pro.
Apple includes three sets of different sized ear tips inside the box. Removing and replacing the ear tips is a simple process that involves pulling off the tips and snapping the new tip into place.
Users will hear a satisfying click sound when replacing the tips, confirming proper fitment. Overall I found that changing out the tips on the AirPods Pro was easier than changing out the tips on the Powerbeats Pro.
But I have to say that I was concerned because acoustic isolation tips tend to make my head feel like it’s in a pressurized chamber, and I felt a similar sensation when using the Powerbeats Pro. For the AirPods Pro, Apple addresses this issue by employing an improved custom vent system to equalize pressure. Although the design doesn’t completely eliminate the pressurized sensation, the uncomfortable feeling isn’t as noticeable when compared to the Powerbeats.
The East Tip Fit test helps you to identify which ear tips you should be using
With all of that said, the AirPods Pro lack the ear hook design of the Powerbeats Pro, which means that some extremely active users may still have trouble keeping them in their ears, even with the form-fitting acoustic ear tips.
The AirPods Pro feature significantly improved controls over the standard AirPods. A new solid state force sensor located on the stem allows users to do the following:
- single press: play/pause
- single press on incoming call: answer a phone call
- double press: skip forward
- triple press: skip back
- press and hold: Toggle between Active Noise Cancellation and Transparency mode
- Use ‘Hey Siri’ to do everything else
While the Powerbeats Pro feature a plethora of onboard controls along with the ability to control volume via dedicated volume rockers, the unit’s physical multifunction buttons, which control Siri and playback controls, are overly sensitive.
The regular AirPods, on the other hand, come with more limited manual controls. Other than “Hey Siri” voice control, they only allow for a simple double-tap gesture to play, skip forward, or answer a phone call, depending on how you configure it in settings.
Needless to say, the solid state ambidextrous force sensor is a major enhancement to the AirPods from a control perspective. I just wish there was a way to manually control volume like you can on the Powerbeats Pro.
Active Noise Cancellation
The Active Noise Cancellation (ANC) on the AirPods Pro is very impressive. On more than one occasion I was shocked when I took the earbuds out of my ears and could suddenly hear all of the commotion going on around me — the washing machine, dryer, dishwasher, etc. — that I was oblivious to just a moment earlier.
Users can toggle ANC by holding the force sensor located on the stem of the AirPods Pro. You can also adjust ANC by long-pressing the volume slider in Control Center, or via the AirPods Pro section of Settings > Bluetooth.
Apple did a great job with ANC, as it should have, given that it’s the flagship feature of the AirPods Pro. Along with the much better fit, it’s the primary reason that a current AirPods owner should consider upgrading.
Like most ANC-enabled headphones, the AirPods Pro features an external-facing microphone that detects outside noise. This allows the headphones to produce anti-noise to cancel out the external sound faster than you can hear it. There’s also an inward-facing microphone tasked with listening inside your ear for unwanted sound, and that too is eliminated via anti-noise.
Apple says that AirPods Pro are the only headphones that feature Active Noise Cancellation that can adapt to the geometry of your ears and the fit of the ear tips to help block out noise. And all of this is continuously adjusted at 200 times per second to help produce the cleanest sound while listening to your favorite music.
The great thing about the AirPods Pro is that the end-user doesn’t have to worry about all of this minutia, because, at the risk of sounding overly cliche, it just works.
Earlier today I put the AirPods Pro Active Noise Cancellation to the ultimate test inside a loud airplane with multiple cranky babies. The AirPods Pro performed admirably, allowing me to enjoy the latest episode of 9to5Mac’s Happy Hour podcast without interruption from outside noise.
If there is an inverse setting to Active Noise Cancellation, it would be Transparency mode. This is a handy feature that pipes sound in from the outside world to allow you to hear what’s around you.
Like Active Noise Cancellation, Transparency mode can be toggled by holding the force sensor, or via a long press on the iOS 13 Control Center volume slider.
Transparency is perfect for when you need to hear things, like announcements while in an airport, or when someone starts a conversation with you. It allows outside noise to sound more natural, which in turn allows you to respond more naturally if necessary.
I used transparency mode several times during my testing and was impressed at how it allowed me to ingest the sound from my environment without needing to removing the buds from my ears. I used the feature to clearly hear AirPort announcements over the PA system, and to hear the flight attendant apologize for skipping beverage service due to a bumpy flight.
Even when not taking into account their noise cancellation properties, the AirPods Pro sound better than the regular AirPods for several key reasons.
The biggest reason for the increased sound quality has to do with the acoustic isolating ear tips. The ear tips, which help seal out noise from outside sources, allows for significantly more pronounced low end frequency when compared to the baseline buds.
There’s also the presence of the aforementioned inward-facing microphone, which allows for a new feature called Adaptive EQ. The inward-facing microphone hears sound as you do, which largely involves the shape of your ears. This allows the AirPods Pro to fine-tune the audio’s mid and low end frequencies and deliver a more rich and consistent listening experience on the fly.
If adaptive audio sounds familiar, it’s because Apple employed the use of a similar technology in its HomePod smart speaker. Equipped with spatial awareness, the HomePod is able to automatically tune itself for optimal sound output, wherever it’s placed in a room. AirPods Pro work similarly, except the “room” is your own unique ear canal.
In addition to Adaptive EQ, the buds feature a high-excursion, low-distortion Apple driver, which was custom built specifically for the AirPods Pro. This driver is responsible for the bass produced by the earbuds, which is surprisingly powerful for such a small device.
Along with the high-excursion driver, there’s a complementing custom high dynamic range amplifier. Not only does this amplifier help produce clearer sound, but Apple also touts its efficiency, specifically calling out its ability to eke out additional battery life.
I like to think that I have a wide range of taste in music, from everything from hip-hop, j-pop, country, classic rock, and bluegrass. I tried songs from all of those genres and came away largely impressed with the sound quality of the AirPods Pro. As do many others, I recommend the Eagle’s Hotel California as a key song to put Apple’s new headphones to the test.
The AirPods Pro are more bass-heavy than the regular AirPods, which is owed to the ear tips and the custom Apple driver. Yet, I didn’t find the sound to be overly bass-heavy like products from Apple’s Beats lineup tend to skew toward.
Although the regular AirPods or the Powerbeats Pro didn’t exactly set the bar for how headphones should sound, the AirPods Pro sound better than either of those products in my opinion. They are better than the regular AirPods due to low end and mid range improvements, and better than the Powerbeats Pro because of ANC, along with a significantly reduced pressure sensation from the acoustic isolation.
I get a similar feeling about the AirPods Pro as I did when I first heard the HomePod. In other words, I know that better sounding speakers exist, and there are certainly better sounding headphones on the market. But these sound good enough, and I think the vast majority of users will be happy with their audio quality given everything that they offer as a package.
9to5Mac’s Take – AirPods Pro review
The AirPods Pro are like the original AirPods in many ways, just a better overall realization. Although no piece of tech is truly perfect for every individual, I think that the AirPods Pro are as close to a perfect version of the original AirPods as you can get.
Not only do the AirPods Pro sound amazing, they’re uber-portable, come with great battery life, and feature incredible Active Noise Cancellation. These features, coupled with Transparency mode and adjustable ear tips, make the AirPods Pro one of the best earbuds that money can buy if you’re an iPhone user.
All of this, and I haven’t even really touched on the always-on, always-ready Hey Siri functionality, which was the flagship feature of the second-generation AirPods. From mundane operations like telling the time or current temperature, to more advanced functionality like pre-heating your car or locking your door, having always-on Hey Siri right in your ears is like having an assistant discretely at your beck and call at all times.
If you’re on the fence about AirPods Pro, just buy them. This is a great product that’s super-easy to recommend if you’re an iPhone user. Be sure to watch our AirPods Pro review video embedded above for a hands-on look, and sound off in the comments with your thoughts and opinion.
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