The arrival of the Apple AirPods Pro is like manna from heaven for Apple users looking for a richer audio experience, as these are much better specced than the basic AirPods. For other people, namely those outside the Apple ecosystem, the AirPods Pro certainly don't draw as many sniggers as the chunkier OG AirPods, but they’re still fairly divisive in terms of looks and price.
Regardless, Apple’s true wireless earbuds have become a mega hit, with people around the world clamoring to stuff their ears with those iconic white buds. The sleeker, sweat - and water-resistant design lends itself well to use in a gym scenario, and they come with a wireless charging case as standard to boost battery life from 4.5 hours per charge to around 24 hours.
The AirPods Pro weren’t designed to replace the basic AirPods, but rather to sit above them in the range and act as Apple’s flagship wireless audio offering. The Cupertino company made a big song and dance about the improved fit and noise cancellation, but there’s stiff competition from some of the world’s best headphones that also happen to cost way less than the AirPods Pro.
So, is Apple’s newest ear candy tempting enough to make them your new true wireless earbuds? Let’s dig into the details to help you find out.
Apple AirPods Pro: Release date and price
Apple’s true wireless earbuds were released on 30 October 2019, so you can now buy the AirPods Pro at a wide range of retailers, including Apple itself. The earbuds normally sell for $249/£249, which is a step up from the cost of the Apple AirPods 2nd Gen (from $159/£159), but only an extra $50/£50 on the model with Wireless Charging Case ($199/£199).
Still, overall they are pricey, especially considering such stiff competition from more affordable models like the world-beating Sony WF-1000XM3, or Klipsch Audio’s audiophile-friendly T5 True Wireless, often found on sale for under $100 and capable of pumping out nuanced sound for rock, metal and pop.
The high price of the Apple AirPods Pro has led to speculation over the arrival of a cheaper model, the so-called AirPods Pro Lite, but that remains to be seen. AppleInsider teased that new AirPods Pro could arrive in 2022, with 3rd Gen AirPods landing in 2021. There’s no official word on either yet.
Apple AirPods Pro review: Design
Apple’s newest true wireless earbuds boast a better fit than their predecessors, so there’s less chance of them falling out if they become your running earphones of choice. It’s not uncommon for them to feel loose during more high-intensity forms of exercise, but the fit is definitely better than 2019 AirPods. IPX4 water resistance means they’ll survive your sweaty gym sessions. For dedicated fitness earbuds, also take a look at the highly competent Jabra Elite Active 65T.
The AirPods Pro are sleeker, so if you’ve been reluctant to join the swarms of Apple users with chunky white buds poking out of their ears, this more discrete design – mainly as a result of shorter stems – could be a game-changer for you. While they are slightly heavier at 0.19-ounces (AirPods weigh in at 0.14-ounces), they’re so comfortable that, once nestled in your ears, you’ll barely notice them, even during longer listening periods (hey, those prog rock albums are lengthy).
Packaged with the AirPods Pro are three different-sized pairs of silicone tips to ensure you achieve as snug a fit as possible. This helps prevent excessive sound leakage, which can diminish audio and impact the noise cancellation performance of the AirPods Pro. During set-up, the wireless earbuds will first detect any sound leakage. If any is discovered, you’ll be advised to try an alternative-sized silicone tip. That’s a neat touch.
The downside? Changing these silicone tips isn’t as easy as you might have experienced with other earbuds, so limber up for a wrestling session.
At the bottom of each earbud sits a ‘capacitive force sensor’, there to give you enhanced control over noise cancellation, Siri voice control, and music playback (skipping/pausing tracks). We like how you can customize which side handles what. Again, there’s another annoyance here: the AirPods Pro are smaller than the standard AirPods and, as such, it’s a little trickier to use the sensors. Muscle memory should kick in after a short while, so hopefully you won’t experience that niggle for long.
Other sensors include an accelerometer and optical sensor built into each earbud. These recognize when you’ve removed or inserted your AirPods Pro, and, in response, will stop or start whatever you’re listening to. The buds also include dual beam-forming microphones and an inward-facing mic to pick up and act on your Siri voice commands.
Just like the regular AirPods, the AirPods Pro are only available in white. There were rumors that more colors, to match the iPhone 11 Pro, one of the best smartphones around now, would be available, but that hasn’t been the case.
Apple AirPods Pro review: Features and performance
Regular price: $249/£249
Type: True wireless earbuds
Drivers: Custom high-excursion Apple driver
Noise cancelling: Yes
Weight: 0.14-ounces (case is 1.61-ounces)
If you own a pair of basic AirPods, you’ll know that the battery life clocks in at around five hours per full charge (without charging case back-up). The AirPods Pro offers around 4.5 hours, but that’s if you’re draining the noise cancellation tech. Turn that off and you should be back up to around five hours.
Speaking of Apple’s noise cancellation performance, it doesn’t match up to the sheer brilliance of the Sony WF-1000XM3 or Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700, but it’s decent. In addition to noise isolation from the ear tips, you also get active noise cancellation (ANC) from the AirPods Pro, with a lot of background noise and rumble cut to a slight din, rather than something utterly overwhelming and distracting. Wear them in an office environment and you could almost swear you were working alone.
As is the case with plenty of other noise-cancelling headphones, the Apple AirPods Pro offers a Transparency Mode. To activate this, either delve into the iOS control panel or gently squeeze one of the earbuds dangling stems; a small click sound indicates that Transparency Mode is engaged. You may want to use this mode to let through the sounds of people talking around you, even if you’re still listening to music.
As for sound quality, the AirPods Pro dishes out a fairly well-balanced sound, with ample bass, but the overall sound profile is a noticeable step-up from the basic AirPods. There’s a number of reasons for this, including the presence of Apple’s custom high-excursion driver, as used in the HomePod smart speaker. Apple designed the driver to vibrate further and shift more air than a driver of the same size, all to give it more impact when blasting your favorite music.
Adaptive EQ is also on hand here to make sound produced by the AirPods Pro much more detailed. How does this work? There’s a microphone on the inside of the earbuds to detect how the shape of your ear canal affects the music. Sound is then adapted to suit, so what you end up hearing should sound more true to how the original track sounds. Pretty slick stuff from such tiny wireless earbuds.
Look, no-one is sitting here saying that the AirPods Pro are the ultimate music listening experience, but for Bluetooth 5.0 true wireless earbuds, it’s impressive. Want a serious audio experience? Then we'd suggest checking out our Bowers & Wilkins PX review.
We also like the Announce Messages feature, also present on AirPods 2nd Gen. In a nutshell, when you receive a text message, the volume of whatever you’re listening to is lowered so that Siri can read out your message and who it’s from. Don’t worry, Siri won’t blurt it out publicly – the message is piped straight into your ears.
Apple AirPods Pro review: Value
The Apple AirPods Pro cost $249/£249, which is a steep jump up from the $159/£159 you’ll pay for the basic AirPods, but only $50/£50 more than the AirPods with Wireless Charging Case. That’s hardly anything when you consider the tech upgrades crammed into the AirPods Pro. Namely, enhanced audio performance, improved noise cancellation, and a more comfortable fit, not to mention a sleeker, more attractive profile overall.
The AirPods are licked for noise cancellation prowess and superior sound by the likes of the Sony WF-1000XM3, which, on a good day, can be found for around $169 (RRP is $200). If you only want Apple earbuds and hang the cost, the AirPods Pro aren’t a considerable deal more than the AirPods with Wireless Charging Case, yet offer a lot more tech for your buck. For those of you who aren’t tied to Apple’s apron strings, the AirPods Pro are good true wireless earbuds but we’d like to see some cash shaved off that price.
Should you buy the Apple AirPods Pro?
Any way you slice it, Apple AirPods are massively popular, and the AirPods Pro are very similar in terms of ease of use, apart from the initial annoyance of using those capacitive force sensors on a smaller profile earbud. For us, that’s where the majority of comparisons end, as the AirPods Pro are a marked improvement on the basic AirPods – as they should be for the higher price.
Apple’s AirPods Pro addresses a lot of the problems people encountered with the original AirPods in terms of sound quality, sound leakage and a crummy fit. There are better drivers here (Apple’s custom high-excursion drivers) and enhanced noise cancelling, so the overall experience is improved.
Yes Android devices work with the AirPods Pro, but the best experience will be enjoyed by people who own Apple devices, which includes not only the brand’s highly coveted smartphones, but the iPad Pro, our top pick for the best tablets, and the trailblazing Apple Watch, one of the best fitness trackers with impressive smartwatch capabilities.
Ultimately, after living with the AirPods Pro for several months now, we can say that if you want a good audio experience and nigh-on seamless synergy between your headphones and Apple device, buy the AirPods Pro over the basic AirPods. The tech upgrades are worth the extra, and you can use them when working out too, rendering unnecessary the need for separate fitness headphones. Yes there are better true wireless earbuds for less, but there are no big missteps here to put you off.