Should I upgrade to Apple AirPods Pro?
If AirPods never fit your ears quite right, the redesigned Apple AirPods Pro might be what you’ve been looking for. Each pair comes with three sets of silicone tips (small, medium, and large) intended to make the Pods far more comfortable:
The new AirPods, on the other hand, just hang comfortably. This is a big win for those who’ve experienced ear discomfort from all sorts of different designs. [Sheepishly raises hand.] Granted, every ear is like a beautiful, unique snowflake, and not everyone will have the same experience. That said, the company’s clearly done a lot to correct for the complaints about the original AirPods, using both a more ergonomic design and finally giving in to the sway of silicone tips.
To make sure the new tips fit securely, Apple has even placed a test app into iOS’s Bluetooth settings, which works with mixed results:
Once the AirPods are connected, running the test will play a brief song snippet the earbuds analyze to see if they’re being drowned out by ambient noise. There is some wiggle room here, though — I popped a smaller tip onto an AirPod, and even though I could clearly hear people around me talking, my iPhone still cheerfully reported I had a good seal. (Apple says results like these are possible because there’s a range of acceptable audio quality.) We’ll see how this shakes out over time.
AirPods Pro feature shorter stems, so they’re far less noticeable in your ears. And instead of tapping on the earbuds to skip or pause tracks (as required on the previous AirPods), you’ll squeeze the stem on the Apple AirPods Pro to activate such functions:
Initially this was a little tricky to get used to, as the shorter stems made it hard to find the ridge, but after a few minutes it became second nature – although as the buds are quite compact, it does feel a little like you’re pulling them out your ear. It’s a shame there’s not a haptic click, rather an audible one, to register the touch, as that would have made the new AirPods Pro feel so much more tactile.
Unlike previous versions of AirPods, AirPods Pro offer a noise cancellation feature that can be adjusted to suit your needs:
The noise-canceling AirPod Pros snap in and out of their active noise-muffling by squeezing the stem, which feels more like holding for a few moments until a subtle click and a chime happen. Then you either get noise-canceling, which reduces the din of a crowded NY to a more hushed, treble-filled whisper… or, you get the Transparency mode, which is an audio pass-through where you can listen to the world.
Transparency mode might be especially useful if you don’t want to stop listening to music but also don’t want to get hit by a bus:
But if you hold [the stem] for another second, you end up in Transparency mode, which lets you hear important sounds in the world around you, like announcements at a train station or, if you’re running on a busy road, cars coming by. (You can hear people talking, too, but it seems more respectful to just pull the AirPods out out if you’re having a conversation.) I like that it doesn’t amplify outside noise too much. It’s a nice balance of music and what I need to hear.
Aside from all the bells and whistles, how do the Apple AirPods Pro actually sound? Much better than the original AirPods:
The first thing you notice about the AirPods Pro is that they simply sound better than the standard AirPods. Thanks to their noise-isolating design and new drivers that are tuned for that design, they clearly have a lot more bass and richer sound. And thanks to the noise cancellation, which is effective, they sound much better in noisier environments like city streets. The standard AirPods sound decent in quiet places but due to their open design, they just don’t do well when confronted with external noise. It can literally drown out your music.
As for sound quality, Apple says the Apple AirPods Pro contains new custom-built drivers and amplifiers. But the real key ingredient is a feature called Ambient EQ. As you listen to music, the AirPods Pro adjust the sound signal 200 times a second to optimize audio for your specific ear shape with the help of an internal-facing microphone. Now, in some ways, you’ve got to take the company’s word for this stuff. How is anyone really going to know if that analysis is happening? It’s not something you hear or can detect. But when you turn off noise cancellation, Ambient EQ also goes with it — and you can hear a difference. The AirPods Pro do sound slightly slightly better with Ambient EQ enabled.
Apple AirPods Pro will stay charged for roughly the same amount of time as the previous AirPods, but you’ll lose a little bit of time if you’re using the noise cancelling technology:
The charging case will give you over 24 hours of listening time when its fully charged, with each full charge of the AirPods Pros getting you five hours of listening (that’s with noise canceling or Transparency off – you’ll get four and a half hours with it on), or three and a half hours of use if you use the AirPods Pro as a hands-free mic for calling. If you just want a quick hit of juice, should your new AirPods Pro die on you, you’ll get one hour of listening time from just five minutes of charging.
Don’t lose an Apple AirPod Pro earbud! It costs $69 to replace a standard AirPod earbud, but replacing a Pro is a little more expensive:
Perhaps unsurprisingly, given their higher price than the standard AirPods, it’ll cost more for you to repair or replace the new AirPods Pro through Apple Support. Out of warranty, the price this time around is $89 per earbud, and it costs the same to have the wireless charging case repaired or replaced.
However, the replacement and repair costs drop quite a bit if you have AppleCare+ for Headphones (which costs $29 for two years). Under that plan, Apple charges $29 for each repair or replacement of all its earbuds and cases.
Should You Upgrade?
While you will pay a premium for them, even in our limited hands-on time we’ve found that the new Apple AirPods Pro offer a really meaty upgrade – the first versions of the AirPods (both models) pale in comparison, so if you’re willing to pay the extra we’re already getting the sense that it might well be worth it.
These Apple AirPods Pro start shipping this week, on October 30, for $250. That’s a lot of money for little white ear dongles that are all too easy to drop on the subway tracks or lose entirely. But the fact that they have noise-canceling technology makes them more compelling. $250 is on par with other decent, noise-canceling headphones on the market, though most of those are wired, and many are over-the-ear headphones.
If you like your current AirPods and they fit your ears well, you don’t need to run out and buy the Apple AirPods Pros (I’d wait for your AirPods to die, which they will sooner rather than later if you use them a lot). But if you’ve been eyeing the $199 AirPods with Wireless Charging, I’d pass them by and go straight to the Apple AirPods Pros. The Pros have a wireless charging case too, and their superior sound and added features are worth the extra dough.