Whether you agree with the polarising design or not, Apple's AirPods became an overnight phenomenon back in 2017. Since these in-ear wireless buds have gone on to become the number one sellers in the world – and you only have to head to any city street to see how many people are wearing them.
Following the launch of a tweaked second-gen AirPods earlier in 2019, Apple has deemed the headphone popular enough to expand the range with the AirPods Pro. But this isn't just about offering tweaks; no, it's a completely redesigned experience, adding active noise-cancellation (ANC), a new design, and much more besides.
But in doing so, has the AirPods Pro lost that pocketable design and easy-to-use experience? We've put a pair on to find out.
A new pro design
- Each bud: Measures 30.9 x 21.8 x 24mm maximum / Weighs 5.4g
- Wireless charging case included (45.2 x 60.6 21.7mm / 45.6g)
There are two elements to the AirPods Pro that you need to worry about. In the ear and in the pocket.
The carry case, which doubles as the charging case, is now shorter in height, but wider in design. It's still very much just as pocketable as before and comes in the same gloss white. It's also included as standard.
The AirPods Pro headphones slot into the case in a similar way to the AirPods and instantly start charging. Charging can be done via a Lightning cable or by putting the case on a wireless charging pad.
The AirPod Pro headphones are considerably different in design to the AirPods. The most noticeable difference is the inclusion of silicone tips to improve the fit or 'seal', while the thin rod that hangs out of your ear is now much shorter. This reduction in length will certainly appeal to those who thought the originals' design just looked odd.
Finding your fit
- Three silicone tip sizes; small, medium, large
- Vent system for pressure equalization
- Ear Tip Fit test via iOS 13.2
- Uses Apple H1 chip
Connecting the AirPods Pro for the first time is incredibly simple. You simply open the case near your iPhone (running iOS 13.2) and press 'connect' on the screen. It's as simple as that thanks to the use of Apple H1 chip – as also found in the AirPods and Beats Powerbeats Pro.
Unlike AirPods, the Pro requires a secondary step, which involves you running an Ear Tip Fit Test. Using both the internal and external microphones within the headphones, iOS 13.2 analyses the sound and tweaks its profile to sound better for you.
The process, which involves playing some music, takes about five seconds. It's during this time that it will determine whether you've got a good fit, and if not recommend you change the silicone tip to another size – there is a small, medium, and large options included. For us the medium worked perfectly and we were up and running with a minute.
It will be interesting to see how these in-ears feel after some longer periods of wear. At the time of writing we're an hour in. As the silicone tips feel a little tight in there ear – more so than the standard AirPods, but not that they're uncomfortable – Apple has included air vents to try and reduce potential pressure and isolation build up. It calls this a "vent system for pressure equalization".
Active Noise Cancelling (ANC)
- Internal and external microphones actively listen for noise changes
- Adaptive EQ and Transparency Mode
The big new features of the AirPod Pro is ANC, or active noise-cancelling technology, using the in-built microphones to check the ambient noise around you over 200 times a second and react accordingly. This is the same process as other noise-cancelling headphones, designed to avoid wind tear and other real-time sounds around you as best as possible.
You can also dial-down the feature if you want to hear more around you – a feature called Transparency – which allows you to hear people talking, given the frequency cut-off. This is all controlled via a squeeze of the AirPods Pro, via your iPhone volume control settings, or the Apple Watch.
So far we've used it on a 10-minute London Underground ride and a further hour-long train ride. The ANC makes a huge difference. Classical music fans will no doubt love the Pros.
Switching between the two modes with that squeeze will take a little getting used to though. There is a specific indented area that you need to squeeze, so precision is key, and do it too quickly and you'll stop the track. We suspect we'll quickly get the hang of it, but it's yet another new control mechanism that you've got to learn.
Another interesting side effect is wearing them while talking. Because of the microphones both internally and externally that are trying to cancel the noise, your own voice is amplified when in Transparency mode. The best way to describe it is akin to speaking into a microphone while wearing headphones to hear yourself. You don't get that experience when you're on a call with ANC on, although the silence is somewhat alien if you're used to hearing lots of noise around you all the time when on a call.
Music sounds better with you
- 5 hours battery life / 4.5 hours with ANC enabled
- Custom high dynamic range amplifier
- Custom high-excursion Apple driver
We've yet to really test the new AirPods Pro with a range of music, but so far we've listened to a number of dance tracks from Ministry of Sound and the Interstellar soundtrack by Hans Zimmer to give us a sense of how well these in-ears cope.
What is instantly clear is that it's considerably better than the standard AirPods we've been using. While the original AirPods focus on ease of use rather than amazing sound quality, the AirPods Pro addresses that latter point.
Sure, the Pro doesn't come as bass-focused as the PowerBeats Pro, for example, but still certainly delivers a decent sound for what they are. For many they will be more than good enough for commuting and running, especially once you factor in the ANC performance.
In our first hour of listening we are incredibly impressed with the ease of setup and quality of sound that the AirPods Pro deliver. Active noise-cancellation makes a huge difference to ambient noise, making these in-ears far more capable than the originals.
The Pro is certainly more comfortable to wear and better sounding than we were expecting from Apple, given the previous AirPods experience.
But with Beats offering the Powerbeats Pro for a smidgen less cash, the AirPods Pro isn't the only H1 chip-touting in-ear wireless headphones in town.
Beats Powerbeats Pro
Like the sound of active noise-cancellation but want more bass and bigger sound? That's where Beats comes into play, if you're willing to pay the extra for the improved quality.