Review: Apple’s AirPods Pro – worth the upgrade?

TLDR;

Apple’s AirPods Pro are undeniably one of the best pairs of in-ear headphones you can purchase today. Coming in at only $60 more than the non-Pro version, they are packed with features.

Apple AirPods Pro
Photo: Issac Smith

A Much Anticipated Update

Since shortly after the original AirPods were released, fans of them have longed for an update that would bring even more features like upgraded water resistance and “Hey, Siri” integration. Apple did not disappoint on that front. They packed in lots of new features and even a form factor change with the new silicone tips and shorter stems.

The list of new features in the AirPods Pro were more than most suspected we would see.

On the technical side we got the expected water resistance and “Hey, Siri” integration, however, we also got better microphones, longer battery life, USB-C & wireless charging, active noise cancellation, a new transparency mode, adaptive EQ, a force sensor to replace the tap interface in the original version, and of course, the enhanced sound experience.

As for the design changes, the stems are shorter, the overall shape has changed from the tried-and-true Apple headphones style to a larger, bulb-like shape and there is the addition of the silicone tips (small, medium, and large come in the box). The new case is about the same size but opens on the long side versus the short side now.

Right out of the box, the sound experience has been enhanced greatly. The bass is deeper and the high notes are much crisper, resulting in a much fuller sound that is more akin to traditional headphones. The silicone tips and added vents allow the headphones to create a pressurized environment, allowing full and partial noise cancellation. A long squeeze of the stems switch between noise cancellation modes: Transparency, Off, and Noise Cancellation.

Transparency is an interesting mix of noise cancellation and input from the microphones. There is a clear difference between off and transparency mode in that the microphones feed enhanced audio of your surroundings along with the audio. This mode is a very welcome addition when operating vehicles or running on the path at the park. You can still hear your surroundings with a little sacrifice in the audio quality in return. The noise cancellation is some of the best I have ever experienced with earbuds. Other than someone yelling (and even this is reduced to a very tinny sound) you aren’t going to hear anything else and music sounds amazing.

What’s in the Box

AirPods Pro x 1
Wireless Charging Case x 1
Silicone ear tips x 3 sizes
Lightning to USB-C Cable x 1
Documentation x 1

The Specs

The Buds:

  • Height: 1.22 inches (30.9 mm)
  • Width: 0.86 inch (21.8 mm)
  • Depth: 0.94 inch (24.0 mm)
  • Weight: 0.19 ounce (5.4 grams)

The Case:

  • Height: 1.78 inches (45.2 mm)
  • Width: 2.39 inches (60.6 mm)
  • Depth: 0.85 inch (21.7 mm)
  • Weight: 1.61 ounces (45.6 grams)
  • Works with Qi-certified chargers or the Lightning connector

Technical Details:

  • Up to 4.5 hours of listening time with a single charge (up to 5 hours with Active Noise Cancellation and Transparency off)
  • Up to 3.5 hours of talk time with a single charge4
  • 5 minutes in the case – 1 hour of listening or1 hour of talk
  • Bluetooth 5.0
  • Active Noise Cancellation
  • Transparency mode
  • Adaptive EQ
  • Vent system for pressure equalization
  • Custom high-excursion Apple driver
  • Custom high dynamic range amplifier
  • Dual beamforming microphones
  • Inward-facing microphone
  • Dual optical sensors
  • Motion-detecting accelerometer
  • Speech-detecting accelerometer
  • Force sensor
  • H1-based System in Package
  • Sweat and water-resistant (IPX4)

The Cons

As an avid user of AirPods, more than any other device I have tried recently, I wanted to find nothing wrong with these headphones. I have used the previous model since the day it was released to the public almost seven days a week and most days 8-12 hours.

And, to be clear, my only negative comment has less to do with them than us does my ears. I regrettably had to return them after 10 days of using them in exchange for the non-Pro version with the wireless charging case.

A combination of my ear anatomy and the sheer number of hours that I use them caused a great deal of pain for me. A small piece of cartridge in my ear directly made contact with the vents on the top of the headphones in both ears. This contact caused an irritation that was unbearable within a half-hour, making them unusable for my daily requirements. I tried to push through thinking it would fade as my ears adjusted to the new shape. It didn’t fade at all, so I had to make the decision to send them back.

A quick search online revealed that I am far from the only person to have this problem. So, if you do purchase them (and to be clear I suggest you do), make sure you are able to return them to the retailer if you experience the same thing.

Accessories

  • Silicon Cover – this is the first thing I always purchase for wireless headphones to keep them from slipping out of my pocket accidentally.
  • Rugged Case – I have tried both of these cases and I tend to switch them out depending on the use. When I go camping or fishing, this is what I prefer.