Apple AirPods Pro Review
Pros: Good sound quality, active noise cancellation, great user interface
Cons: Expensive, Android users lose many of the unique features
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Our Analysis and Test Results
The Apple AirPods Pro bring active noise cancellation and a more secure and athletic fit to the table, which will please anyone who wished their old AirPods sounded better or were more at home in the gym. They also maintain their predecessors' convenience for travel and daily use. The increased price, while right in line with those of other active noise cancelling earbuds, is quite a bit steeper.
With Active noise cancellation on, the AirPods Pro can really hold their own and create quite a nice personal soundscape. With ANC turned off, the sound is fairly standard, but still good.
The basic, non-noise cancelling sound of the AirPods Pro is about the same as that of the original AirPods. Clarity is quite good, with just a bit of fuzziness sometimes creeping in at upper registers. The mids sound quite full bodied. The bass is somewhat thin, but still sounds powerful enough to round out most ballads. Simply because of the better seal offered by the silicone ear tips, the sound is a bit more robust than previous iterations of these buds.
Turning active noise cancellation on noticeably improves the overall sound quality. With more of the ambient noise fading away things feel a bit crisper, and the bass takes on a bit more body. Even with ANC turned on we think there are earbuds out there that sound significantly better than the AirPods Pro, but they sound good enough that all but the pickiest of audiophiles will likely be satisfied.
Active Noise Cancellation
Possibly the most salient feature of the AirPods Pro is the active noise cancellation, and in general this feature exceeded our expectations. Don't expect any miracles — these buds can't block out noise as well as even mid-tier over-ear noise cancelling headphones. But, from coffee shops to airports, these buds blocked out much of the din in our testing, reducing the background cacophony to a very dull hum. Perhaps most importantly, this allowed us to listen to music or podcasts with the earbuds on a relatively low volume — a welcome change from the usual strategy of blaring earbuds to drown out the ambient noise.
The Fit Test
What is the fit test? It's a test offered to iOS users of the AirPods Pro that plays a series of tones into your ears, the uses the built-in external microphones to detect if any of that noise is escaping into the outside world. If those microphones hear sound leaking out, your device will tell you there is a poor fit in that ear and suggest trying a different size earpiece.
It's important to note that this test isn't looking at the comfort of the buds, it's just testing whether or not the earpiece is creating an acoustically tight seal in your ear. So is this test worthwhile? Some of our testers were able to identify a good seal right off the bat, making the test feel a bit superfluous. Others, however, found that the earpieces they first gravitated towards actually failed the fit test, and that moving to a fit test-approved earpiece brought a noticeable improvement in sound quality. So, in our opinion, it's worth running the test when you first get the buds to see if it might offer any helpful feedback.
Ease of Use
With automatic pairing for iOS devices, redesigned controls, and a slew of new features, we found the AirPods Pro to be some of the most enjoyable buds to use.
Right off the bat we have to say the AirPodsPro's overall user-friendliness is greatly increased when using the buds with another Apple device. This is largely thanks to the proprietary H1 chip that allows the pods to instantly pair with a familiar iOS device upon opening their charging case, or to be recognized by any iOS device within their vicinity.
Once paired, iOS user can easily adjust the pods' volume and switch between noise cancelling, normal, and transparency modes right from the iOS control center. You can also go into an advanced menu from within the Bluetooth settings to access the fit test that helps determine if you're using the correct sized ear pieces.
The on-bud controls have been completely retooled for this iteration, using a force sensor on the tips of the buds that must be squeezed to initiate a command. When you complete this squeeze gesture you hear an audible click in your ear, which surprisingly makes it feel like you've physically clicked a button (even though you haven't). You can customize what a single, double, and triple squeeze on each bud accomplishes, including switching from noise cancelling to transparency mode and skipping tracks back and forth. Unfortunately you can't use these controls to adjust the volume, you'll have to whip out your phone or summon Siri in order to do that.
If you're an Android user, you basically get only the functionality you can control from the buds themselves. So you can turn noise cancelation and transparency mode on and off, and skip tracks back and forth. However, you won't be able to customize which gestures do what, you'll have to settle for Apple's presets. Additionally, you lose the fit test and Siri, meaning you'll have to adjust the volume on your device.
Wireless Charging Case
The AirPods Pro nestle neatly into their charging case, which features wireless charging.
The fit of the AirPods Pro represents a complete retooling from any previous iteration of Apples's earbuds, so don't be deterred if those unadjustable buds of yore didn't fit in your ears. Overall, we found the AirPods Pro to be quite comfortable and to accommodate a wide range or ear shapes/sizes.
Each Pair of AirPods Pro comes with three sizes of silicone earpieces that we found to cover everything from small to large ears. The silicone itself feels rugged yet supple and tends to mold comfortably into most ears. We found this material to be a bit less abrasive than the rubber used in many other buds, resulting in a slightly lighter, less constrictive feel.
One somewhat unique feature of the AirPods Pro are the passthrough cutouts that allow pressure to equalize, but are small enough to block out most ambient noise. These cutouts pretty much eliminate that uncomfortable feeling of pressure that can arise from shoving earbuds into your ears.
Overall, we found the AirPods Pros to be great gym companions, and even to be worthy of long runs, though you'll probably have to adjust them a lot if you work up a sweat.
These buds sport an IPX4 waterproof rating. Apple touts this rating as "sweatproof" but the official definition is that the buds will be immune to non-pressurized water splashing from any direction, so sweatproof feels like a fair moniker. We worked up some heavy sweats with these buds with absolutely no negative consequences.
The silicone earpieces of these buds create a secure fit. We experienced no signs of the buds budging during normal gym workouts. Some exercises that brought us out of a standing position (like pushups) did make them feel a bit insecure, especially if we'd already worked up a sweat.
Despite creating a secure fit, we found those silicone earpieces to be a bit less tacky than rubber. This never created any issues for us during gym workouts, but the repeated jostling of running combined with healthy amounts of sweat sometimes caused some slippage. We never had a bud actually fall out, but towards the end of some sweaty runs many of our testers reported feeling the need to shove the buds deeper back into their ears multiple times.
The AirPods Pro lasted 5 hours in our battery life test with active noise cancellation turned on. In our experience you can get another 3 charges out of the battery in the carrying case, but that can vary a bit based on usage.
The AirPod Pro charging case is smaller than most of the truly wireless competitors, and is sleek enough that it easily slides into a pocket. In fact, it easily fit into even the tiny key pocket on the leggings of one of our testers. Essentially, we had absolutely zero issue in adding these buds to our everyday kit.
Much has been said about the AirPods Pro's high price tag, and there's no getting around it, these things are expensive. But are they worth it? If you're an Apple user that wants earbuds that perfectly nest into that ecosystem, can be used both while commuting and in the gym, and you appreciate active noise cancellation technology, then yes, you probably won't be disappointed at the amount you need to spend on these buds. However, you can get better sound quality or better athletic performance for the same or less, so those looking for an earbud for a specific application can certainly find better values elsewhere.
While the Apple AirPods Pro are expensive, they sound pretty good, are quite effective at blocking out ambient noise, work well in a variety of situations, and offer a seamless experience for iOS users. If that combination sounds good to you, we think you'll be happy you spent the money on these buds.
— Michelle Powell and Max Mutter