AirPods Pro review: you don't need to be an AirPods power-user to appreciate them

Posted:
in iPhone edited August 2021
With active noise cancellation and other new features, Apple's new AirPods Pro does its best to embody the "pro" monicker affixed to the well-known name.

AirPods Pro
AirPods Pro are easy to set up


There aren't many things left unsaid about AirPods Pro. If you've seen or read any of the other reviews out there they likely all touch on the same topics.

We don't need to rehash all of those sentiments by just giving you more of the same. Rather, we want to give you a look at our past week using AirPods Pro after being daily users of the original AirPods -- pretty much since launch.

A quick look at the specs

Before we do that, it would be irresponsible to not at least touch on the specs AirPods Pro is equipped with.




The new generation Apple true wireless earbud has a new design that is shorter with a more bulbous end. A new force sensor in the stem replaces the tapping gesture for controlling the headphones. Multiple sizes of silicone tips help provide a better seal and fit to help with the new noise control features.

AirPods Pro in their box
AirPods Pro in their box


Speaking of which, include active noise cancellation, Adaptive EQ, and transparency mode. These all rely not only on an external mic but an internal mic that can hear what your ear is hearing.

They now fit in a redesigned wireless charging case that is shorter and wider than the original.

More than what we asked for

Preceding the AirPods Pro announcement, there were only a couple things we needed to see on a new set of AirPods. We wanted a better fit for active lifestyles and better audio quality. AirPods would constantly fall out for us while we were hitting the treadmill or weight bench and the audio quality could best be described as "fine."

AirPods Pro
AirPods Pro are great headphones


Audio quality was quite a sticking point for us. We test piles of headphones with outstanding sound but always go back to AirPods because of their ease of use. It was disappointing to come back to such dismal audio.

Upgrading to pro

With those in mind, the absolute first thing we did after getting our hands on AirPods Pro was hit the gym, testing all of our common routines. To our surprise, we made it through an hour and a half without a single earbud coming free. Whether jumping around or lying supine, AirPods Pro didn't fall out.

AirPods Pro silicone tips come in small, medium, large
AirPods Pro silicone tips come in small, medium, large


That isn't to say that the fit was perfect for us. We've historically terrible luck with in-ear headphones. They never stay put for us.

As a general rule, AirPods Pro did fit well for us, but we could use more sizes of the silicone ear tips. A smaller size or half sizes would go a long way towards making these fit perfect. Apple, like Klipsch, chose to use an oval-shaped tip which could be part of what makes it stay in so much better, even with not the perfect size.

Apple does offer up the fit test within Bluetooth settings and while neat, didn't provide any real benefit to us. We could tell what fit very easily just by trying on the different sizes, but maybe it is more beneficial to others with differently shaped ears.

The audio quality was great. With a good fit, it was punchy, a full sound, and a huge step up for AirPods. Not saying this is audiophile quality or what you'd get with a set of dedicated over-ear cans, but wow. We were very happy with the audio quality these put out.

The nosie control toggle within Control Center for AirPods Pro
The nosie control toggle within Control Center for AirPods Pro


The active noise cancelation was a bonus for us, but a week in and we don't use it as much as others may. It is nice to have and we used it in the gym for a more immersive workout, but day-to-day we relied on transparency mode. It sounded so much more natural and allowed us to hear people talking to us in the office, delivery drivers hitting up the door, or other runners while we were out with the dogs. It may be our favorite feature of the new AirPods Pro.

In this set of AirPods, Apple forwent the tapping gesture and replaced it with the force sensors in the stems. This requires you to squeeze the stems to control playback and switch modes. The good news is that it adds more gestures than tapping, but it is still awkward to use. If you are moving, trying to squeeze will inevitably knock the AirPods Pro loose. Second-gen or AirPods Pro -- we'd still prefer to just use Siri or our Apple Watch.

While we are here, we also want to give a shoutout to iOS that recently added some great features for AirPods users. Not specifically for the AirPods Pro, but great either way.

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With this update, users can now have messages announced via Siri. It will automatically reduce any audio that'splaying, read the message, then quickly give you a chance to respond. If you are busy and on the go, this is amazingly helpful and we found ourselves wearing AirPods around the office just so we could respond to messages without having to dig out our phone each time.

Additionally, Audio Sharing -- a feature promised with iOS 13 -- finally arrived in iOS 13.2. This allows users to share audio with multiple sets of headphones at once. Say you are watching a movie and your partner wants to watch as well with their headphones. They just bring their AirPods or Beats near your phone or tablet and it will kick off a modal that lets audio be sent to each simultaneously. Works with any audio, including movies, music, or games.

Not without issues

As far as issues we ran into, during long sessions we did have the battery die out on us, which is unsurprising. They're equipped with the same battery life as the AirPods 2 but take a small hit when ANC or transparency mode is turned on. It'd have been nice to see a longer life, but we will take the smaller size as the tradeoff.

We also aren't fans of the new case. Maybe it is nitpicking, but it is what has gone through our minds several times during the past week. It is squat and kind of awkward in our hand and isn't as easy to flip open as the original. The original case was fantastic and was even useful as a fidget device we could open and close repetitively. This case, while it looks similar and feels the same, just doesn't have the same affinity to us.

An AirPods Pro individual earbud
An AirPods Pro individual earbud


There were some improvements to the microphone, which now block out wind better than before, but the same issues as the last generation are present. Namely, they are very sensitive. It is great in picking up your voice, but if you try to do anything with your hands at the same time it gets amplified greatly. Pick up a cup, crinkle a chip bag, wash your hands, really anything that makes any noise sounds crazy on the other end. In a test call, I set down a cup on the counter and the recipient of the call said it sounded like I smacked a hammer against a pipe.

Minor quibbles notwithstanding, we're overwhelmingly happy with AirPods Pro.

Should you buy AirPods Pro?

If you are an active user, moving around, jumping on planes, or frequently working out, AirPods Pro are the way to go. Otherwise, it gets murky.

Most folks are going to fall into one of three camps. They are either existing AirPods owners who are debating an upgrade, they are new to AirPods and debating the AirPods second-gen with wireless charging case, or they are new users looking at the second-gen with the standard case,

AirPods Pro are great for active users
AirPods Pro are great for active users


If you are in the latter camp, it is kind of hard to justify the $100 price increase between the two. There are a lot of features for that differential, but if you just want AirPods in the most cost-efficient form, then it isn't AirPods Pro.

If you are looking at the second-gen set with the wireless charging case, springing for AirPods Pro is a no-brainer. It is a $50 difference and you get better fit, water resistance, ANC, transparency mode, and far better audio. We'd make that jump in a heartbeat.

Those in the last group are hardest to quantify, being that they already have a set of AirPods -- possibly the second-generation set that launched only in March. For us, with audio quality and fit being most important, we were able to justify it. Especially after gifting our other set to a family member. Before AirPods Pro we were forced to use another set of headphones while at the gym. With AirPods Pro, we get to use them twice as much.

Pros
  • Smaller design

  • Much better audio quality

  • Great ANC

  • Transparency mode is outstanding

  • Stay in much better

  • Work with Audio Sharing

  • Announce messages with Siri is particularly useful

  • Water/sweat resistant
Cons
  • Needs more granular ear tips

  • Force sensors are awkward to use

  • Charging case is awkward

  • Higher price tag and no price decrease on second-gen

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Where to buy Apple's new earphones

Apple AirPods Pro retail for $249 and are carried at these top retailers: For the latest AirPods deals, be sure to visit our Apple AirPods Price Guide.

AirPods and AirPods Pro specifications

AirPods (Second Generation)AirPods Pro
Dimensions (inches)1.59 x 0.65 x 0.711.22 x 0.86 x 0.94
Weight (ounces)0.140.19
Case Dimensions (inches)2.11 x 1.74 x 0.841.78 x 2.39 x 0.85
Case Weight (ounces)1.411.61
Battery Life (AirPods)5 Hours 4.5 House with ANC, 5 with ANC off
Battery Life (with Case)More than 24 HoursMore than 24 Hours
ConnectivityBluetooth 5.0Bluetooth 5.0
MicrophonesDual BeamformingDual Beamforming, Single Inward-Facing
SensorsDual Optical Sensors, Motion-Detecting Accelerometer, Speech-Detecting AccelerometerDual Optical Sensors, Motion-Detecting Accelerometer, Speech-Detecting Accelerometer, Force Sensor
Sweat and Water ResistanceNoIPX4
Active Noise CancellationNoYes


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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 25
    cpsrocpsro Posts: 2,995member
    Audio quality is vastly better than regular AirPods but no better than PowerBeats Pro. AirPods Pro don't fall out of my ears, which is great, and they are easier to put on than PowerBeats Pro. Transparency mode is nice. I did not have any difficulty using the force sensors... except when I accidentally had the left-right pieces reversed (duh).

    My complaints:
    o difficult to extract the phones from their case (but the case is much more practical than the one for PowerBeats Pro)
    o noise cancellation is not very strong... far less than obtained with Sony, Bose, Beats and Parrot over-the-ear ANC headphones.
    o on an airline flight while sitting near the cockpit (i.e., the least noisy location in cabin), noise cancellation provided very little relief from the plane noise and my ear canals were sore after just a couple hours.
    o very often when removing the phones, the silicone tips inverted, and they have to be flipped back into position to fit in the case.
    o my ears never passed the seal test unless I pushed the phones in. (Yes, I tried rotating for a better seal, too.)
    o the ear tips are proprietary and seem delicat
    o shorter battery life than PowerBeats Pro (9 hours)

    In the end, AirPods Pro bring new issues without much, if any, improvement over my other devices, so I returned them. I will continue to use Sony WH1000XM3 headphones when flying and PowerBeats Pro most everywhere else.

    dewmeSnickersMagoo
  • Reply 2 of 25
    For some reason, I find it a bit challenging to pull out my AirPod Pros. 

    Is anyone else having trouble getting them out of the case? I wonder what I’m doing wrong.
  • Reply 3 of 25
    cpsrocpsro Posts: 2,995member
    quazze said:
    For some reason, I find it a bit challenging to pull out my AirPod Pros. 

    Is anyone else having trouble getting them out of the case? I wonder what I’m doing wrong.
    #1 on my list above. I had to use the grippiness of the silicone tips to get them out.
  • Reply 4 of 25
    jdb8167jdb8167 Posts: 624member
    quazze said:
    For some reason, I find it a bit challenging to pull out my AirPod Pros. 

    Is anyone else having trouble getting them out of the case? I wonder what I’m doing wrong.
    Open the case and put your index finger on the back of the AirPod. Push forward. They pop right out. Better than the originals when you get the hang of it. 
    MisterKitnapoleon_phoneapartStrangeDaysfastasleeprattlhedwatto_cobra
  • Reply 5 of 25
    jdb8167jdb8167 Posts: 624member
    cpsro said:

    o noise cancellation is not very strong... far less than obtained with Sony, Bose, Beats and Parrot over-the-ear ANC headphones.
    o on an airline flight while sitting near the cockpit (i.e., the least noisy location in cabin), noise cancellation provided very little relief from the plane noise and my ear canals were sore after just a couple hours.
    o my ears never passed the seal test unless I pushed the phones in. (Yes, I tried rotating for a better seal, too.)

    These are all related. If you don’t have a good seal then ANC is not going to work well. Hopefully third parties will eventually fill the gap for the people whose ears don’t work well with Apple’s three tip sizes. 
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 6 of 25
    entropysentropys Posts: 3,450member
    Why would anyone expect the ANC to be as strong as over ear headphones? That isn’t reasonable.
    right_said_fredGeorgeBMacrattlhedwatto_cobra
  • Reply 7 of 25
    I love my Powerbeats Pro....You can change the volume on either earpiece...APP you cannot, I can use after-market Ear Tips (See SpinFit) that fit my PBP...APP you're stuck with only their style, the PBP are easier as hell to use and you can get them in multiple colors...APP...in only ubiquitous white!!! I love their audio quality too...I don't need ANC....
    edited November 2019
  • Reply 8 of 25
    dewmedewme Posts: 4,241member
    entropys said:
    Why would anyone expect the ANC to be as strong as over ear headphones? That isn’t reasonable.
    Yeah, over the ear headphones do have the advantage of providing a certain degree of sound isolation. As others have mentioned, getting a good seal is extremely important for any in-ear model. From a reasonability challenge perspective, the ANC in my Bose QC20i in-ear phones is every bit as effective (to me) as the ANC on my Bose QC15 over the ear model. But I'd bet newer  versions like the QC25 and QC35 would blow away the QC20i set, but I haven't tested them.

    The AirPods Pro will definitely be on my short list the next time I'm in the market for higher end headphones simply because of the bucketful of conveniences they deliver. Oh, and the release 2.0 versions are bound to be even better with what I assume will be better battery life and smarter silicon. 
  • Reply 9 of 25
    I mean, we all know that the PRO on the name doesn't mean anything, except for a higher price point. And whats an "Airpods-power-user" anyways? Someone who listen to music everyday? Or someone who uses the Airpods hard? lol
  • Reply 10 of 25
    StrangeDaysStrangeDays Posts: 12,063member
    gutengel said:
    I mean, we all know that the PRO on the name doesn't mean anything, except for a higher price point.
    Incorrect. You sound new to Apple, but in Apple marketing pro almost always designates “premium” in their good/better/best tiers. 
    n2itivguyGeorgeBMacwatto_cobra
  • Reply 11 of 25
    lkrupplkrupp Posts: 9,991member
    gutengel said:
    I mean, we all know that the PRO on the name doesn't mean anything, except for a higher price point. And whats an "Airpods-power-user" anyways? Someone who listen to music everyday? Or someone who uses the Airpods hard? lol
    I for one am very glad Apple is labeling everything Pro these days as it diminishes the hubris  of the term. I’m glad it sticks in the craws of self-anointed pros who puff themselves up as somehow superior to the average user. They are not. Neither are so-called prosumers.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 12 of 25
    apple ][apple ][ Posts: 9,233member
    gutengel said:
    I mean, we all know that the PRO on the name doesn't mean anything, except for a higher price point. 
    It's not just the price. PRO is just a marketing term of course, but it's used to differentiate between different models within a product line, and the PRO product will be more fully featured and often have better specs than the non-pro product, and of course that will usually come with a higher price tag than the non-PRO product.

    It merely means that the pro product is more fully featured than the non-pro product, and it's up to each consumer to decide which product suits them best.

    I was just playing a game on my iPad Pro a few minutes ago, does that make me a PRO gamer? Of course not.

    But my iPad Pro is definitely on the top of the iPad tier list, making it worthy of the PRO name and setting it apart from other iPad models that are lower on the totem pole.

    AIR means middle tier, when it comes to iPads.

    It's quite simple.

    iPad        - Good
    iPad Air   - Better
    iPad Pro  - Best

    Then it's up to each person to buy whatever they think suits them best according to their budget, etc.


    watto_cobra
  • Reply 13 of 25
    gutengel said:
    I mean, we all know that the PRO on the name doesn't mean anything, except for a higher price point.
    Incorrect. You sound new to Apple, but in Apple marketing pro almost always designates “premium” in their good/better/best tiers. 
    in 2019  when apple marketing says pro they actually mean more profitable.  good / quality / best has nothing to do with it.
  • Reply 14 of 25
    No mention of the shorter stems? It's one of my favorite things about them. I also find the ANC excellent. My expensive over-ear Sony are a little better, but I can never leave them on for long without getting sweaty and uncomfortable. Airpods win for me in most situations.
  • Reply 15 of 25
    SoliSoli Posts: 10,033member
    oodlum said:
    No mention of the shorter stems? It's one of my favorite things about them. I also find the ANC excellent. My expensive over-ear Sony are a little better, but I can never leave them on for long without getting sweaty and uncomfortable. Airpods win for me in most situations.
    Which Sony headphones are they?


    fred1
  • Reply 16 of 25
    silvergold84silvergold84 Posts: 107unconfirmed, member
    Today I received the AirPods Pro. Incredible sound. Comfortable: light, no bad effects on the ear. The best wireless headphone.
  • Reply 17 of 25
    gutengel said:
    I mean, we all know that the PRO on the name doesn't mean anything, except for a higher price point.
    Incorrect. You sound new to Apple, but in Apple marketing pro almost always designates “premium” in their good/better/best tiers. 
    in 2019  when apple marketing says pro they actually mean more profitable.  good / quality / best has nothing to do with it.
    Ah, the perils of free thinking...
    GeorgeBMac
  • Reply 18 of 25
    laytechlaytech Posts: 250member
    I love mine. Great balanced sound. Great fit. Comfy and noise cancelling great in the gym. I wish you had the option to double tap for next song because I found that great on the old AirPods particularly when running. It would also be nice if you could pinch to increase or decrease volume or maybe just rub your finger up and down to turn it up or down a notch but when wearing Apple Watch it’s no issue.

    Overall, love them and no complaints. Getting the out of the case I have no issue and the case itself is great even over the old one.
  • Reply 19 of 25
    Reluctantly had to return mine - no matter what tip combinations I tried, AirPods Pro hurt my ears. Loved them for all the other features but wearing them made my ears hurt! AirPods 1 and 2 do not, so back to my AirPods 2. I’m hoping that AirPods Pro 2 are thinner and slimmer in the in-ear part than they are now, and that any APP 2 does not hurt my ears. 
  • Reply 20 of 25
    Is the use of “we” a new journalistic style or trend or something?
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