- Apple’s AirPods Pro improve on the regular model in important ways, by adding features like noise cancellation, sweat and water resistance, and ear tips in different sizes.
- The sound quality has also gotten an upgrade, although they still don’t sound quite as rich and vibrant as Sony’s wireless earbuds.
- Still, that’s a trade-off that may be worth the convenience that comes with AirPods’ tight integration with the iPhone’s software. And with the AirPods Pro, there are even fewer such compromises now that they support noise cancellation.
- The ease and simplicity of connecting your AirPods Pro with your iPhone is still one of its standout features. But it would be useful to see Apple extend this to the Mac too.
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Apple’s AirPods have been a runaway success since their 2016 launch, with estimates from Counterpoint Research indicating that Apple owns the majority of the wireless earbud industry.
On October 28, Apple finally launched the true successor to the original AirPods — the AirPods Pro. The new $250 headphones offer critical features that Apple’s headphones were previously missing, like noise cancellation, sweat and water resistance, and ear tips in different sizes. Even though they’re priced at $250, you can grab them for a $14 discount at Amazon.
They’ve been on store shelves since October 30, and are being offered right alongside the standard, non-Pro second-generation AirPods that Apple launched earlier this year. Those AirPods are certainly better than the first-generation model that first launched in 2016, but still lack the new stuff that makes the AirPods Pro so great.
The AirPods Pro have only been available for less than a month, but they already seem to be a hit. Apple is ramping up production to keep up with demand, according to Nikkei Asian Review, which reports that the company has increased monthly orders from one million to two million. Apple is also expected to double its AirPods shipments in 2019 to 60 million thanks to demand for the AirPods Pro, according to Bloomberg.
I’ve been using the AirPods Pro for the past several weeks, and it’s clear that they’re a major improvement over the original. The noise cancellation alone makes the AirPods Pro worth considering for those thinking about upgrading the first-generation AirPods they’ve been hanging on to. The sound quality has also gotten an upgrade, making them stronger competitors to rivals like Sony, and a compelling choice over the slightly cheaper Beats Powerbeats Pro.
Here’s a closer look at what it’s been like to use them.
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Noise cancellation makes a huge difference.
I’ve been wearing AirPods for years, and one my biggest gripes has always been their lack of noise cancellation or noise reduction. Whenever I wear them on the subway, I constantly find myself cranking up the volume to drown out the sound of the subway screeching to a halt or background chatter.
Luckily, Apple has finally addressed this with the AirPods Pro. During my time with the AirPods Pro, I found that the noise cancellation feature worked well enough to adequately block out noise from my surroundings — whether it be the noisiness of fellow commuters on the subway, the humming of the treadmill during my morning run, or my coworkers chatting at the office throughout the workday. They also stayed just as snug and secure in my ears during a run as Apple’s regular AirPods.
That noise cancellation feature is powered by inward- and outward-facing microphones, which the buds use to identify and subdue noise from your surroundings. An outward-facing microphone detects noise from your environment so that the AirPods can cancel it out, while an inward-facing microphone picks up any extant noise around your ear canal.
It’s a noticeable upgrade from Apple’s existing wireless earbuds, including the standard AirPods and the Powerbeats Pro, the latter of which features the lesser technology of noise isolation — not noise cancellation. But I still found that Sony’s slightly cheaper $230 WF-1000XM3 did an even better job at blocking out sound than the AirPods Pro.
If you still want to be able to hear what’s going on in your surroundings, you can also turn on transparency mode on the AirPods Pro, which allows you to hear external sound that would otherwise be blocked by the silicone tips.
You can switch between active noise cancellation and transparency mode either through the iPhone’s Control Center, or by pressing and holding on a groove on the stems of the AirPods Pro. Although AirPods were initially mocked for their elongated tips that stick out of your ears, this particular thing seems to justify the design – at least a little.
Pressing sensors on the stem to perform actions like turning off noise cancellation or pausing music is much more comfortable than alternatives offered by other companies.
Amazon’s Echo Buds, for example, require you to tap or press on the part of the bud that sits in your ear to perform certain tasks, while you have to press the Sony’s WF-1000XM3’s buds to pair them with your device for the first time. Neither of those gestures feel nearly as comfortable or natural as Apple’s alternative, even if it means the earbud is less discreet in your ear.
The sound quality has gotten a big upgrade, but I still preferred Sony’s earbuds.
Apple’s AirPods Pro have much more boisterous and rich sound than the standard AirPods and less expensive alternatives like the $130 Amazon Echo Buds. During my testing, I found that they provided a slightly louder and more full-bodied sound than the $250 Powerbeats Pro, although they were very close.
Apple made some internal improvements to bolster the sound quality. The AirPods Pro contain an Apple-designed driver that should provide improved bass extension and detailed mid and high frequencies, for example.
But Sony’s WF-1000XM3 were still better in this regard, providing a sound that had a bit more depth and color than that of the AirPods. Everything sounded a bit more crisp and vivid coming through the WF-1000XM3; vocals were defined and popped much more vividly compared to the AirPods.
That being said, I was still pleased with the AirPods Pro.
The new design is more compact, and just as comfortable.
Apple’s AirPods have also gotten a refreshed design — an update that was necessary to enable active noise cancellation. But this overhaul also brings another benefit: the ability to customize the way AirPods fit in your ear.
The AirPods Pro come with silicone ear tips in three sizes, finally offering some level of flexibility. When you set up AirPods for the first time, you’ll also go through an ear-tip fit test to help you figure out which one provides the best seal.
Even with their new design, the AirPods Pro feel just as lightweight as their predecessors, and are comfortable enough to wear for long periods of time, even during the working day.
The ease and convenience of pairing AirPods with your iPhone is still one of its best features. But there’s room for Apple to improve here too.
Among the biggest advantages that Apple’s AirPods offer over the competition is how quickly and seamlessly they can connect with your iPhone.
Just pop the lid open, hold the button on the back of the case, and your iPhone will detect that the headphones are nearby and walk you through the brief setup process. And after you set them up for the first time, the AirPods Pro will connect to your iPhone automatically whenever you flip open the lid — just like the originals.
That convenience is a large part of what has made the original AirPods so popular in the first place, and it continues with the Pro. It’s so seamless that competitors like Samsung have even followed suit with similar pairing process between their own phones and earbuds.
I only wish that Apple would come up with a similarly convenient interface for pairing AirPods with your Mac. Currently, you still have to go into the Bluetooth connections tray on your Mac and choose your AirPods to use them. And although Apple has improved the speed at which its AirPods can connect to other devices, the AirPods Pro can’t connect to more than one device at a time.
Should you buy the Airpods Pro?
With their great noise cancellation, rich sound, comfortable fit, and fast pairing with iOS devices, the AirPods Pro are a great choice for iPhone users looking for a reliable pair of everyday wireless headphones. The addition of new features like noise cancellation and sweat resistance gives Apple device owners less of a reason to look to alternatives.
The upgrade is probably worth it if your AirPods are now a couple of years old, considering the Pro model also brings the upgrades Apple introduced with the second-generation AirPods, like hands-free Siri support and wireless charging.
But it’s also worth considering Sony’s WF-1000XM3, which are even better at blocking out surrounding noise and offer better sound quality for a cheaper price. They also should last longer on a single charge — Sony claims they should last for six hours with noise cancellation turned on, and eight hours with it off.
Apple’s AirPods Pro, comparatively, should last for five hours, or 4.5 hours if you have active noise cancellation turned on. Sony’s headphones, however, aren’t sweat- and water- resistant and don’t pair as seamlessly with the iPhone as AirPods. That said, they’ll work well across Apple and non-Apple devices alike.
The $250 Powerbeats Pro, also from Apple, are a compelling option for iPhone users too, considering they offer the same easy pairing mechanism and other Apple-oriented features as AirPods. They also should offer longer nine-hour battery life. But the Powerbeats don’t have true noise cancellation like AirPods Pro — they have the lesser noise isolation technology instead — so you won’t be able to tune out distractions as easily.
All told, Apple’s AirPods Pro live up to the hype. While Sony may have Apple beat in some respects, the addition of noise cancellation, sweat resistance, and tips in different sizes means that iPhone loyalists no longer have to make compromises to ge the convenience that AirPods bring. We can only hope that Apple takes these even further by making the process of switching between devices a bit simpler and more streamlined in the future.