Well, Apple has finally done it. The computing giant has come out with an earphone that’s more than just a convenient method of making and taking calls — they’re now also a serious option for high-quality music listening.
And while Apple’s new AirPods Pro earphones have only been available for a short while now, they’ve managed to make previous AirPods almost irrelevant.
Apple AirPods 2.0 Specifications
What’s in the Box?
- AirPods Pro earphones (pair)
- Three sizes of silicone ear tips
- 1x lighting to USB-C charging cable
- Active noise canceling (ANC)
- Transparency mode
- Adaptive EQ
- Vent system for pressure equalization
- Sensors: Dual beamforming microphones; inward-facing microphone; dual optical sensors; motion-detecting accelerometer; speech-detecting accelerometer; force sensor
- Bluetooth 5.0
- Sweat and water-resistant (IPX4)
The Shape of Pods to Come
While the previous AirPods sat outside the ear, the new Pro version is more like a traditional earphone — it needs to be inserted into the ear. This has its advantages and disadvantages.
On the plus side, AirPods Pro create a tight seal around your ear canal, which greatly enhances music listening. Bass is more prevalent and there is less outside noise interference with a proper seal. However, if you historically prefer earbuds over earphones because you don’t like things inside your ear, Apple no longer has your back with this release.
Previous AirPods were comfortable, but only up to a point. After an hour or two, I’ve found the hard plastic constantly pressing against my tender ears can become slightly painful. This isn’t the case with AirPods Pro. Their soft, silicone ear tips provide a level of comfort that previous AirPods never had. I’ve worn them for hours with no ill effects.
The stems on AirPods Pro are noticeably shorter — they no longer look like cigarettes sticking out of your ears. External microphones sit behind a black mesh-covered port, protecting them from moisture. The microphones are designed to cut down on wind noise for better call clarity, which works wonderfully.
If you’re an active person who’s resisted previous AirPods because of their sensitivity to moisture, you’ll be happy to learn AirPods Pro have a water-resistant and sweat-proof rating of IPX4 — making them perfect for exercising.
The slightly larger AirPods Pro case now opens at the long side instead of the top, making the size difference appear larger than it actually is. Thankfully, the case is still easy to pocket, and also retains that “fidget toy” effect, with opening and closing it repeatedly being quite satisfying.
Active Noise Canceling, Apple Style
Because these are earphones (rather than earbuds), AirPods Pro can finally have active noise canceling (ANC). For those who have never experienced ANC, it can be revelatory. After inserting them, the world just disappears — the silence is so complete, it’s almost disquieting.
AirPods Pro’s ANC is achieved via external and internal microphones that adapt to the geometry of the ear and check the fit of the ear tips 200 times per second. Even so, the ANC is not quite as good as what’s offered by Sony or Bose. But to be fair, those are the two leading names in ANC, and the AirPods Pro’s $249 price tag is actually less expensive than many of the ANC headphones these companies offer.
When you compare the AirPods Pro’s ANC to the audio quality of regular, non-ANC AirPods, the benefit is unmistakable.
Apple Siri voice commands can be called up by saying, “Hey, Siri.” You can then ask Siri for directions, information or to play a favorite tune. Unfortunately, Siri will then (usually) give you a wrong answer. This is more on Apple than the AirPods themselves, but as of now its AI “assistant” is better described as an annoyance.
Use the Force (Sensors)
Apple has replaced the tapping functions of previous AirPods with force sensors. Three separate force sensor choices are available when long-pressing the stem: ANC, Transparency Mode and Off. Apple uses a haptic sensor you hear (rather than feel), so when you use the force sensor you’ll hear a click to confirm the switch has been successfully pressed.
By long-pressing (1 second) on either AirPods Pro stem, ANC can be replaced with what Apple calls Transparency Mode. This does more than just turn off ANC, as the earbuds’ tight seal would still make it difficult to hear — like sticking fingers in your ear. Instead, Transparency Mode uses the microphones to let you carry on a conversation without having to remove your AirPods. It also lets you hear all external noises while walking on a city street, which is a real safety bonus.
Additionally, force sensors control music playback and phone calls. Quickly press either stem once to play, pause or answer a phone call; press twice to skip a song or press three times to skip back one song.
Still the Best Way to Take Calls
Talking on the AirPods Pro sounds no different to the other party than speaking directly into your phone. Every other earphone I’ve used — regardless of price — has paled in comparison when it comes to call quality. It’s all about convenience and once again, Apple hit it out of the ballpark with AirPod call quality and ease of use.
Not only do AirPods Pro calls sound good; they’re fast. Apple utilizes the H1 chip for almost instantaneous connection. When a call comes in, just pop the AirPods Pro into your ear and you’re talking. That never happens with standard Bluetooth earphones. It works so well that it will spoil you. (Note that Android users can also use AirPods Pro, but with standard Bluetooth instead of the H1 chip.)
Speaking of Bluetooth, AirPods Pro feature Bluetooth 5.0, which gives them incredible range. When using them in my office, dropouts were infrequent, even when there were numerous walls between me and my iPhone. Other earphones I’ve used don’t even approach this range.
The AirPods Pro design does make the earbuds slightly more cumbersome to quickly insert when receiving a phone call. On the upside, the earbuds tend to stay in place better than they did before (once you actually get them in).
An Earphone Audiophiles Can Get Behind
AirPods Pro are the first AirPods I’ve voluntarily (and happily) used for music listening. With previous versions, it was almost impossible to hear any bass without turning up the volume to a deafening level. But with the new silicone ear tips, you can hear the bass without risking hearing loss, and wow, does it sound good.
Music on AirPods Pro sounds much more “complete” than it did on earlier AirPods. When the proper ear-seal is attained, bass notes reveal themselves in satisfying thumps, giving songs a bottom end that was sorely lacking in the past. Vocals sound warm and clear with no upper-frequency harshness or sibilance. It’s easy to forget this is wireless audio.
I could listen to AirPods Pro all day — if only the battery lasted that long. Once again, AirPods’ weak link is battery life. If ANC is turned on, the battery lasts about 4.5 hours. Turning off ANC only increases that time to five hours. The case provides a total of 24 hours of listening time, and five minutes of charging time gets you one hour of use.
The case can be charged either wirelessly or using the included lightning to USB-C cable. I applaud Apple for updating the cable because I can now use my 2018 iPad Pro (with USB-C) to quickly charge my AirPods Pro. Unfortunately, if you still rely on USB to lightning for charging, you’re out of luck. If Apple really wanted to utilize USB-C, I wish they had applied it to all its products and ditched lightning entirely.
Should You Buy Apple AirPods Pro?
I was already a huge fan of Apple AirPods for their unmatched convenience. It may sound hyperbolic, but with AirPods Pro, Apple has raised the bar on what earphones can do to make your life better. My 2nd gen. AirPods now sit in a drawer, a relic of a (shockingly recent) bygone era.
If I had to pick out one pair of earphones with a max budget of $300, I would choose Apple AirPods Pro without reservation. They may not be the absolute best sounding earphones available, but when you combine their audio quality with ANC and the incredible convenience they provide, the choice becomes a no-brainer. Should you upgrade if you already own older AirPods? If your budget can swing it, my answer is the same — yes. AirPods Pro are that good.
There is a lot to like about Apple’s AirPods Pro. Yes, there are certainly less expensive options available, but numerous improvements make the $249 price tag feel justified, even if you already own a pair of AirPods — a rarity with Apple products.
Photos by Austin Nooe | Slickdeals