Let’s start this review with a big claim. I don’t think there’s ever been any product launch more instantly successful than the AirPods Pro. They launched, via a press release, back in November 2019 and have sold like crazy ever since.
There was no launch event, no Apple exec on stage, no demos, just an email to the media (from Apple) that pretty much said, “We sell these now”.
It’s not difficult to understand why the AirPods Pro has been so successful. They hit the sweet spot between performance, battery life, design and price (just). And, if you’re an iPhone user, these are the best wireless earbuds you can buy. Still. Nearly a year and a half after they launched.
The best-looking earbuds on the market
The AirPods Pro look largely the same as the first and second-generation AirPods, but there’s one major upgrade: silicone tips. Apple gives you three of these in the box – small, medium and large – creating a better seal between the wearer’s ear canal and the outside world.
Apple has even developed software – found by a long press of the on-screen volume screen – that will perform a test to help you find the correct tips for your ear holes.
The AirPods Pro offer protection to an IPX4 water and sweat resistant rating. Which, in human terms, means they’ll survive a rain shower and copious amounts of sweat from workouts.
They sound great
There’s a confidence to the AirPods’ sound. It is clear, balanced, and a lot more refined than the thin sound the original AirPods produced. Things haven’t just been turned up to 11 here. Apple uses its onboard digital signal processor to measure the sound you hear in your very own ear and adjusts its tuning to compensate.
They don’t match the quality of sound the AirPods Max create. In fact, they’re nowhere near as good. But it’s still an enjoyable experience. The bass is powerful (enough), while the highs and mids come through naturally. The audio is as good as anything else that is currently on the in-ear headphone market.
Active noise cancelling is good!
The H1 chip inside the AirPod Pros combines with the system’s two external microphones to analyse sounds and cancel them out with “anti-noise” through the earphones.
The internal mic then listens for any sounds that leak through the seal and will attack that with more anti-noise. This active noise cancellation software can adapt its signal at a rate of 200 times per second thanks to the H1 chip.
The system works pretty well. It’s not capable of completely blocking out the outside world. But it’s effective enough to drown out a conversation or the hum of a jet engine when you’re using the Pros on an aeroplane.
Transparency Mode is good too!
Apple has also released a feature that is the reverse of ANC. Transparency Mode. This feature takes the external audio from your surroundings and pipes it through your AirPods (so you can hear what’s happening around you).
Apple likes to use the example of listening to a flight announcement as a good use case for this, but I’ve never used this feature for that. I find Transparency Mode to be more useful when out jogging and you want to listen out for things around you (like a bike bell), or when talking on a video call and you want to gauge how loud your voice is (so you’re not shouting or whispering at your colleagues/clients). Either way, it works well.
“Force Sensor’ works really well
This is essentially a faux button. Each of the stems – that are a bit shorter than the original stems, btw – have built-in touch sensors that can be squeezed to make the Pros do things. You can,
1x squeeze = play/pause
2x squeeze = skip track
3x squeeze = previous track
Long squeeze = Switch between active noise cancelling and transparency modes
It all works really well. Touch inputs deliberate and precise while accidentally skipping or pausing a track is a thing of the past.
“Spatial Audio” is now a thing
Apple announced compatibility for “Spatial Audio” during WWDC 2020. This is Apple’s take on simulated surround sound that relies on algorithms and the AirPod Pro’s accelerometers to make it feel like you are at the centre of a surround sound setup.
If you’re watching Apple TV+ (not Apple TV) or Disney+ on a device running iOS 14 or iPad 14 (or later), Spatial Audio will move the audio depending on which way you’re facing – keeping the noise anchored to the location of the screen.
It’s a great feature that is really immersive. It’s just a shame more streaming services and other Apple products (Apple TV) don’t support it.
Battery life is fine
There’s nothing special going on here. You get about 4.5 hours of life with active noise cancellation, or transparency modes switched on and 5 hours if you switch these modes off (the same as regular AirPods).
It’s not great. But it’s not terrible. It’s about what you’d expect from a pair of lightweight in-ear headphones at this price range. Batteries are heavy, after all, and there’s no way to get around this if you want slim earphones.
Oh, and the charging case will give you another 24 hours of life. And if you charge your AirPods Pro for 5 minutes in this case, you get around 1-hour of listening time in return.
I’ve been using the Apple AirPods Pro for well over a year now. During that time, I’ve been lucky enough to test out most of its rivals, but the AirPods Pro are the buds I keep using. The sound quality of the AirPods Pro is up there with anything else on the market. Though, I’d probably give the Bose QuietComfort EarBuds the edge. Just. But it’s not enough of an improvement to make me want to use them instead of the AirPods Pro.
The AirPods Pro’s design, comfort, and ease-of-use make them the best in-ear headphones on the market (for iPhone users). Still.