(Pocket-lint) - Whether you agree with the polarising design or not, Apple's AirPods became an overnight phenomenon back in 2017. Since then, those 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 a pair.
Following the launch of a tweaked second-gen AirPods earlier in 2019, Apple deemed the headphone popular enough to expand the range with the AirPods Pro. But this isn't just about offering tweaks - it's a completely redesigned experience, featuring active noise-cancellation (ANC) and more.
There are now many in-ear headphone choices on the market, though - including the more recent AirPods (3rd Generation). So, do the AirPods Pro offer a decent package, or are you better off going with Bose, Sony or another pair of the best wireless earbuds on the market? Here's our extended review, compiled after wearing the AirPods Pro since their release.
Despite now being more than a couple of years old, we're still 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 standard AirPods. Popping them in and out of our ears for the last few years has been easy, and, if you make a lot of calls, that's almost worth it on its own.
However, with the Beats Powerbeats Pro and Beats Fit Pro available for a smidgen less cash, and the AirPods (3rd Generation) also available, the AirPods Pro aren't the only H1 chip-touting wireless earbuds in town. A set of Beats might be better if you're looking to exercise with your new buds, or are worried that the AirPods Pro will fall out. They shouldn't, but we also know that some people's ears just aren't suited to this type of headphone.
Apple AirPods Pro
- Easy setup
- ANC is superb
- Better sound than standard AirPods
- Three tips included for optimum comfort and sound
- Spatial Audio
- Only available in white
- Music listening time is reduced with ANC
- Squeeze gesture takes some learning
- Beats earbuds offer better bass
Are the AirPods Pro still worth it in 2022?
It's been a couple of years since the AirPods Pro first launched, and it's a testament to their quality that they're still the default pick for many on the Pocket-lint team when we need earbuds. If you're in Apple's ecosystem, it doesn't get any easier or better than these.
They sound superb even against the stiffest, newly-launched competition, and Apple's active noise cancellation remains a benchmark that so many others don't match, even though it was an early attempt for the tech giant. Call quality and ease of use are still incredible, too, even if they don't quite match up to wired equivalents (which wireless pair can?).
So, if you want Apple's best earbuds, these are still by far the best choice, especially since they're way more regularly available at a discount now. The only hesitation is that they might get an improved follow-up version at some point in the next year or two, but that's far from concrete.
And, with that, let's dive into our full impressions.
A pro design
- Each bud: Measures 30.9 x 21.8 x 24mm maximum / Weighs 5.4g
- Wireless MagSafe 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 shorter in height but wider in design than the one you'll find with the original AirPods. It's still very much just as pocketable, in fact, one of the most pocketable in-ear headphones cases on the market, and comes in a glossy white finish. It's also included as standard and when bought new now features both MagSafe and wireless charging technology.
The AirPods Pro headphones slot into the case and are instantly drawn in by magnets and start charging immediately. Charging can be done via a Lightning cable, a wireless charging pad or a MagSafe charging puck.
The Pro design is considerably different to the original AirPods, though shares similarities with the AirPods (3rd Generation). 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 isn't especially long.
This short length will certainly appeal to those who thought the originals' design just looked odd. For reference, the AirPods (3rd Generation) have a shorter stem but don't feature silicone tips.
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 or later) and press 'connect' on the screen. It's as simple as that thanks to the use of the Apple H1 chip – as also found in the original AirPods, AirPods (3rd Generation) and Beats Powerbeats Pro.
Unlike AirPods, the Pro requires a secondary step, which involves running an Ear Tip Fit Test. Using both the internal and external microphones within the headphones, iOS versions 13.2 or later can analyse 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 – with small, medium, and large options included. For us, the medium worked perfectly and we were up and running within a minute.
The silicone tips feel a little tight in the ear – more so than the standard AirPods, but not that they're uncomfortable – so Apple has included air vents to try and reduce potential pressure and isolation build up. It calls this a "vent system for pressure equalization", and in all the time we've been wearing them they've been fine. It doesn't hurt wearing them for a long period of time, and if you have concerns over whether or not they would be as easy to put in and out as the standard AirPods, they aren't.
Active Noise Cancelling (ANC)
- Internal and external microphones actively listen for noise changes
- Adaptive EQ and Transparency Mode
One of the main features of the AirPods Pro is active noise-cancelling technology, or ANC, as it's known. This uses the in-built microphones to check the ambient noise around you over 200 times a second and react accordingly, dumbing down external sound. This is the same process as other noise-cancelling headphones, designed to negate wind tears 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 using '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 using the Apple Watch.
We've used them on the London Underground, on the train, by the seaside, cutting the grass and on a plane, and, in all cases, the Pro earbuds cut out the majority of the noise. Classical music fans will no doubt love the Pros, as will those that want to really immerse themselves in the music.
Switching between the two modes with that squeeze takes a little getting used to, as there's a specific indented area where you need to squeeze. Precision is key; as is speed: do it too quickly and you'll stop the track. It's yet another control mechanism that you've got to learn. Over time it has become second nature.
Another interesting side effect is wearing the AirPods Pro 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. Also, if the environment you're in is loud, your voice is cancelled out, according to the person at the other end. Our advice is not to use ANC when talking to people on the phone.
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 tested the AirPods Pro with a range of music, from Ministry of Sound dance tracks to Hans Zimmer's Interstellar soundtrack - and everything in between.
What is clear is that the AirPods Pro are considerably better than the standard AirPods and certainly hold their own compared to the competition.
The original focus of the AirPods was on ease of use rather than amazing sound quality, whereas the AirPods Pro address that latter point, especially when you factor in support for Apple's Spatial Audio technology. The technology is supported by the AirPods (3rd Generation) too though, as well as the over-ear AirPods Max.
We've listened to a number of tracks in Spatial Audio. Some tracks are clearly enhanced by the experience, while others are barely noticeable. When you do notice it though, the results are amazing. The best way we can describe it, is that it's a bit like 4K on your TV. Some can see the changes instantly and refuse to watch anything else, while others will be more than happy with the HD footage and wonder what the fuss is about.
The Spatial Audio feature also works with movies and that really sings when connected to an iPad or iPhone, especially when it's been recorded in Dolby Atmos.
You don't need Spatial Audio to enjoy AirPods Pro, though. They work perfectly well in standard stereo, whether that's listening to music, watching a movie or TV show, or taking a voice call.
Sure, the Pro doesn't come as bass-focused as the PowerBeats Pro, for example, and the AirPods (3rd Generation) should definitely be considered as an alternative if you want to save some cash, but, still, the Pro certainly delivers a decent sound for what they are.
For many, they will be more than good enough for commuting, especially once you factor in the ANC performance and Spatial Audio.
Despite now being more than a couple of years old, we're still 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 standard AirPods.