AirPods remain the hottest in the world in consumer audio, but that didn’t stop Apple from releasing a new pair that’s better than its predecessor in every way. The AirPods Pro ($250) costs $90 more than their siblings, but that extra money ensures decent noise cancellation, sweat resistance, safer design, and better sound quality. If you’re looking for a pair of wireless earbuds and don’t need the best sound quality, the AirPods Pro should be at the top of your list. This is our Apple AirPods Pro Review.
They’re definitely at the top of our list, with a spot on our Best Noise-Cancelling Headphones page. If you already own the AirPods, you don’t necessarily need to upgrade – though you’ll be happy if you do.
Apple AirPods Pro Review – Design
The AirPods Pro have the same DNA as the AirPods but have been improved on a few points. Subtle curves and a stark white body give the AirPods Pro a retro-futuristic aesthetic, while black mesh lines provide the microphones with a KT-band on an athlete. The AirPods Pro has a larger housing than their cheaper siblings and a more ergonomic shape that improves comfort and keeps the earbuds firmly in your ear.
I also prefer what the AirPods Pro looks like compared to the cheaper models. Yes, the AirPods Pro look crazy, but the smaller stems are less noticeable than those on the AirPods – not that it matters. As the original AirPods proved, when enough people carry something, no matter how awkward it looks at first, it starts to look normal. Between the new design (which indeed looks less like a toothbrush head) and the omnipresence of the AirPods, there is no reason to feel self-conscious about wearing the AirPods Pro in public.
Apple has essentially turned the charging case of the AirPods from portrait to landscape mode. It’s still much smaller and lighter than competing cases, but now it looks less like a floss box. On the front of the case is a small LED battery indicator, and on the back is a pair of buttons. I like how the case stays open and closes with a satisfying click.
The most significant improvement of the AirPods on the AirPods Pro is probably that the new buttons are IPX4 water and sweat resistant so that you can use them in the gym.
Don’t worry: the AirPods Pro are as comfortable as the original AirPods. You may have feared those silicone tips, but they won’t dig in your ears like they do with traditional earplugs. Instead, the flat nozzles sit just outside the ear canal and allow the silicone tips to form a soft seal. I even prefer the fit of the AirPods Pro to that of the original earplugs, as the new earplugs are less likely to fail. Instead of just hanging from your ears, the housing of the AirPods Pro nestles neatly into the groove of my ear with a simple twist.
They won’t budge an inch when I bump my head like a rock star or when I use the ellipses in the gym. Apart from their unique shape, which makes the AirPods so comfortable is how light they are. Although they are slightly heavier than the AirPods, at 5.4 grams versus 4 grams, the AirPods Pro is very light, so, for better or worse, you’ll quickly forget you’re wearing them.
Apple AirPods Pro Review – Controls
Touch checks on competing earplugs can be fussy, and physical checks require you to press a button that can float the earplugs into your ear canal. Apple’s smart solution to this problem is based on stealing the AirPods Pro. Instead of tapping a touch sensor, you control the AirPods Pro by pressing a ‘force sensor’ on the stems.
The new system works brilliantly. By squeezing the handles, music was played; when my music was played, that squeeze paused the music so I could chat with a colleague. The same action also answers calls. Double squeezing takes you to the next song, while a third squeeze takes you to the previous song. By squeezing and holding the handle, you can switch between noise cancellation and transparency.
I thought there would be more of a learning curve, but I did each of the controls at the first attempt. That said, there are some annoying limitations that I hope Apple will address in an update or future versions. My biggest complaint is that you can’t control volume levels directly from the AirPods Pro. If you want to turn off or crank up your music, you’ll need to do so from your smartphone or Siri.
Noise Cancelling and Transparency
The AirPods Pro feature active noise cancellation, which uses outward and inward-directed microphones to detect unwanted sounds and counteract them with “anti-noise.” The noise cancellation works well, but does it justify the price gap between the AirPods Pro and the AirPods? That depends. If you plan to take them with you on flights, the AirPods Pro should attenuate the low roar of an aircraft engine. But they won’t save your ears from the baby crying in the seat next to you.
The AirPods Pro did an excellent job silencing spectators from New York City marathon runners outside my home. But these peaks were no match for the applause of the viewers when I left my apartment and joined the festivities. I had mixed results at the office. The earplugs eliminated the low hum of the HVAC in our building, but I could hear talking colleagues and the clapping of a nearby mechanical keyboard with music playing at low volume.
The AirPods Pro also made my morning trip from Manhattan to Brooklyn quiet, but I still had to play music at 75% volume to overcome the screams of an old F-train. With that in mind, don’t expect the level of noise cancellation you get from over-ear headphones like the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700.
What I like most about the noise-canceling feature is how seamlessly it works. Just put the AirPods in your ears, and the noise is automatically reduced when a proper connection is discovered. On average, there was less than a second delay between when I placed the earphones and when the ANC was turned on.
Don’t you want to block out the world around you? You’ve got the AirPods Pro covered, with Transparency Mode. When enabled, the earbuds let in ambient noise so you can hear your surroundings as if you weren’t wearing earplugs. The feature is great for runners or people who live in cities and want to be aware of the traffic around them.
My Sony WH-1000XM3 headphones have a similar feature, which I regularly use when ordering drinks on a flight or chatting with colleagues while listening to music.
The H1 chip in the AirPods Pro makes pairing with your iPhone effortless. To connect the earphones, all I had to do was open the AirPods Pro case, and press Connect when a pop-up menu appeared on my iPhone 8 Plus. To pair with a Mac or non-Apple device (Android phone or a Windows PC), press and hold the setup button on the back of the AirPods Pro case and connect using the device’s Bluetooth settings.
Audio Sharing is a fun iOS 13 feature that lets you share audio with multiple pairs of AirPods or compatible Beats products. So you and a friend can listen to the same song at the same time. You can see Audio Sharing as an invisible headphone splitter. In practice, the feature worked exactly as I had hoped. Once I paired the AirPods Pro and Beats Solo Pro with an iPhone 8 Plus running iOS 13, a new icon appeared on the volume control in Control Center.
When I tapped the icon, the two headphones connected, so the music played on the iPhone 8 Plus would come from both sets. Audio Sharing is compatible with all headphones or earphones with an H1 or W1 processor; this includes the AirPods, AirPods Pro, Beats Solo Pro, Powerbeats Pro, Studio3 Wireless, BeatsX, Powerbeats3 Wireless, and Solo3 Wireless.
Apple AirPods Pro Review – Audio Quality
The AirPods Pro sound very good. Competitive wireless earphones at this price, such as the Sennheiser Momentum, offer better sound quality, but the balance and clarity on the AirPods Pro should please most listeners.
I began my test by listening to Daughter’s “Youth,” which sounded clear and distinct through the AirPods Pro. I was even impressed by the impact of the drums when they came in after the first chorus. Those low-frequency notes were flatter but muddier on the Momentum True Wireless. Despite the loose basses, the Sennheiser’s wider soundscape and more intimate vocals are ahead of the AirPods Pro on this track.
The AirPods Pro has handled the complicated setup of the instruments in Glass Animals’ “Youth” well. The drums, guitars, and synthesizers were nicely separated, and Dave Bayley’s delicate vocals sounded clear. I even enjoyed the low end until I switched to the Momentum True Wireless and heard the sweet sound of a deep, controlled bass pounding in my ear. The AirPods can’t reach the same depth.
Julien Baker’s emotional vocals were light-hearted and well defined when I listened to “Blacktop” with the AirPods Pro. I heard the twang of the acoustic guitar, but that sound never detracted from the delicate voice of the singer. The heavier, deeper reverberation of the acoustic guitar on the Momentum Wireless crawled more into the vocals than I would have liked. At the same time, the deep seal you get on the Momentums created a more intimate, forward presentation that works very well with the acoustic ballad.
Due to their shallow insertion, the AirPods Pro has a relaxed sound signature compared to the denser and more dynamic sound of the Momentum. The Momentums were also louder than the AirPods Pro during my tests.
Apple AirPods Pro Review – Call Quality
The AirPods Pro gets the job done but doesn’t break down barriers on call quality. My colleague said I sounded loud but muted when I talked to him through the AirPods Pro’s built-in microphones. Although my voice wasn’t very clear, the AirPods sounded better than the Amazon Echo Buds and the Sony WF-1000XM3 when my colleague called me outside our New York City office and switched between the three buds. The AirPods Pro also did an excellent job by blocking the ambient noise, although we had to wait for an ambulance and a bus to come by before we could continue our conversation.
Charging and Battery Life
Apple estimates the AirPods Pro battery life to be 4.5 hours for the earbuds, which is just 30 minutes less than the regular AirPods life. The case charges the AirPods five to six times before recharging, giving the pair up to 24 hours of battery life. I listened to music and streaming videos from the AirPods Pro for about 4 hours with ANC enabled before the buds notified me that the battery was low.
That’s a good result, but there is room for improvement. Other wireless, noise-canceling earbuds last a few more hours on a charge. That includes the WF-1000XM3 (6 hours, 24 hours with case) and the Master & Dynamic MW07 Plus (10 hours, 40 hours with case). When power is low, you can put the AirPods Pro in their charging case and get 1 hour of listening time of just 5 minutes. Unfortunately, the case uses Apple’s Lightning input, not the universal USB-C port.
The AirPods Pro uses Bluetooth 5, the latest standard, which offers fast transfer speeds, longer battery life, and a theoretical range of up to 800 feet. In practice, the AirPods Pro held a fixed connection to my OnePlus 6 smartphone as I walked across the office, but they cut a corner and placed a wall between the earbuds and the phone.
Apple AirPods Pro Review – Conclusion
The AirPods Pro’s are better than the AirPods in almost every respect. The new sweat-resistant design looks better and fits better in your ear, the sound quality is slightly improved, and the highlight feature – active noise cancellation- effectively reduces ambient noise (don’t expect a miracle). Add everything we loved about the original AirPods – seamless pairing, a reliable Bluetooth connection, and ultimate comfort – and we have no hesitation in calling the AirPods Pros the best wireless earphones available today.
But that can change fast. Battery life and sound quality are areas where competitive earphones already outperform the AirPods Pro. If Sennheiser, Sony, or Master & Dynamic can close the gap in other areas, they’ll be fighting a serious battle against Apple’s AirPods. Until then, the AirPods Pro is a must-have for iPhone users (who have $250 on hand) and a highly recommended pair of earplugs for everyone.
With active noise cancellation, good sound quality and a comfortable, sweat-resistant design, the AirPods Pro is the complete package.
- Extremely comfortable
- Seamless pairing
- Clear, balanced sound
- Decent noise cancellation
- IPX4 sweat resistance
- Not the best sound for the price
- Battery life could be better