AirPods Pro are a significant improvement on the original version
Review: Apple’s latest earbuds have a number of advantages over existing AirPods
Product name: Apple AirPods Pro
Where to buy: https://www.apple.com
I liked the idea of the original AirPods. Easy to set up, come with their own carry case, no wires to get caught up in. Unfortunately, they never really felt comfortable in my ears; no matter what I did, I couldn’t get a good fit.
The AirPods Pro, however, are a whole different ball game. Yes, they share a similar name, and they do broadly the same thing, but they’re definitely better. As well they should be, given that they cost €100 more than the standard Bluetooth AirPods.
So what do you get for the extra money? There are a few things, but the most important is active noise cancelling. When you put the earbuds in your ear, the active noise cancelling kicks in after a moment, blocking out the outside world almost completely. For the morning commute, it’s bliss.
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The AirPods have an outward-facing microphone to detect external sound, which it then counters. There’s an inward-facing microphone too, which picks up unwanted noise from that side, and counters it, although I’m less clear on how exactly this works.
Whatever it is, it’s doing a good job. Not only does it deliver some pretty impressive noise cancelling, it also makes the audio seem better. Podcasts, music, video soundtracks – they all sounded spot on.
There are a few other differences between the AirPods and the AirPods Pro. First of all, they look different. Aside from the silicon tips, the Pro version has shorter stems than the originals, so they look a bit more subtle.
Those stems are still functional though. Like the previous versions of the AirPods, you get touch controls on the individual buds. Tap the stem twice to skip a track; pinch the stem and hold it to turn on the active noise cancelling, or to switch to “transparency mode”, which allows the background noise to filter through.
That can be handy for when you need to hear what is going on around you but don’t want to take the earbuds out – for example, a quick conversation, or crossing the road. You can also set the AirPods to activate Siri, rather than using the Hey Siri command, with Siri now able to read your messages to you and announce calls.
The AirPods Pro are also sweat and water resistant, something the originals don’t include. While most people will not be concerned by that – I’ve yet to hear of a person losing their AirPods to excessive exercise or a sudden downpour, they are more likely to lose them out of their pocket – it’s nice to build it in, just in case.
If wireless charging is important to you, there’s good news: the AirPods Pro include a wireless charging case. That case looks wider and shorter than the original charging case, but there’s no difference in functionality.
A single charge of the AirPods Pro will last up to 4½ hours, which is slightly less than the original AirPods, which lasted about five hours. That is where the battery case comes in; using that will give you more than 24 hours of use. It charges through a lightning cable or with a wireless charger.
All this comes at an extra cost, of course. But to put it in perspective, the original AirPods cost €179. The wireless charging case will cost you another €50. So for an extra €50, you also get active noise cancelling, better sound, a custom fit that is far more comfortable, and earbuds that are sweat and water resistant.
The call quality was surprisingly good – at both ends of the conversation. The AirPods Pro have a larger mesh microphone port, which is supposed to improve call clarity when it is windy. On one call, it amplified a house alarm ringing in the background to the point where the person on the other end of the call had to hold the phone away from their ear. However, the active noise cancelling on my end cut the alarm off to a minor annoyance in the background.
The fit. The customisable silicon tips mean an end to uncomfortable AirPods – at least for me anyway. The sound is also better on the AirPods Pro.
The not so good
Completely blocking out background noise isn’t always a good idea, so beware.
Both AirPods need to be in your ears for noise cancelling to work. If you take one out, the earbuds will automatically go into transparency mode.
When the AirPods are connected, the volume bar in the control centre will be replaced with the AirPods icon. Press and hold on the bar and you can choose between active noise cancelling, transparency mode and off.
If you are an Apple user and are considering AirPods, skip straight to the Pro.