Apple AirPods vs AirPods Pro: Which is the better value?

Apple AirPods vs AirPods Pro: Which is the better value?
(Image credit: Future)

Welcome to another headphone showdown as we set Apple Airpods vs Airpods Pro to see which is the best choice? Both Apple AirPods and the AirPods Pro are great options if you're looking for the best headphones – but is one better than the other?

This is an easy one, as the answer is simply yes. The AirPods Pro are better in terms of features and performance than the AirPods. But the difference in price is huge. So the real question should be, is it worth spending the extra on the Pro models over the AirPods?

This guide should help you decide between tApple AirPods and Airpods Pro. Apple Airpods were first released in 2016 and with a second gen refresh launched in 2019 and they're usually priced from $159. Apple AirPods Pro launched in 2019 and are priced from $249. For this comparison we're using the AirPods 2 (2019) versus the AirPods Pro (2019).

We’ve split this contest down into five distinct categories: comfort, noise-cancelling, audio quality, battery life, and style.

Apple AirPods vs Apple AirPods Pro: Prime Day 2021

Before we get started, it's worth pointing out that it's currently Prime Day, which means there are deals for both the Airpods and Airpods Pro on Amazon for Amazon Prime subscribers. We've collected the best deals below, but you can also check out our Prime Day USA deals page for more offers.

Apple AirPods vs Apple AirPods Pro: Comfort 

This is an area of big variation as the AirPods come with a plastic finish to the in-ear part which either fits you well or it doesn't. This is largely based on how large or small your ear holes are. Whereas the AirPods Pro feature silicon tips which not only are more comfortable but also help to passively cancel out noise. The tips come in a selection of sizes meaning you should be able to find a tight fit making this a great choice for anyone planning to run with them in.

Apple AirPod Pro

(Image credit: Apple)

For longer term wearing the harder finish of the Apple AirPods might become uncomfortable for some. That said if they're not a tight fit even that hardness may not be an issue. In fact the tighter fit of the Apple AirPods Pro might not feel as comfortable for some people.

The bottom line is that comfort is built around perception. But it's that silicone finish on the Apple AirPods Pro which can help shift that perception positively as they move less and aren't noticed as much, making them more comfortable in the long run. Apple even uses a pressure valve to release any build-up from that in-ear seal.

Winner: Apple AirPods Pro

Apple AirPods vs Apple AirPods Pro: Noise-Cancelling 

This is a very easy category to pick a winner on since the Apple AirPods have no noise cancelling. The Apple AirPods Pro, on the other hand, feature not only the passive noise cancelling of those silicone buds which block out noise, but also active noise cancelling.

Apple AirPods

(Image credit: Amazon)

The Apple AirPods Pro use microphones to record the audio around the wearer and then play the opposite end of the sound spectrum, cancelling that audio out. So the wearer won't hear the drone of a fan in a room, for example. Crucially though this also works for the microphones used in calls, meaning the person on the other end should get a far clearer call with your voice heard but not the background sounds.

Winner: Apple AirPods Pro

Apple AirPods vs Apple AirPods Pro: Audio Quality

The actual audio production of the two speaker systems might not be that different but the Pros also have the advantage of that noise cancellation microphone array. This is used to pick-up the environmental noises and adjust the audio accordingly. This is called the Adaptive EQ and it tunes the low and mid frequencies using a high dynamic range amplifier for a clearer sound and even better battery life.

The Apple AirPods Pro are also slightly better at producing a wider soundstage which gives a more realistic and immersive finish when listening to music. This is likely thanks to a longer frequency range and a bigger chamber for sound expansion.

Winner: Apple AirPods Pro

Apple AirPods vs Apple AirPods Pro: Battery Life

Apple has made the AirPods to last 4.5 hours on a charge and the accompanying case keeps them recharged for a total of 24 hours of use. The AirPods Pro last slightly longer at five hours but also have a total 24 hours additional charge from the case.

The AirPods come with either a wired or wireless charging case whereas the AirPods Pro come with a case which is able to do both.

AirPods Pro

(Image credit: Apple)

So while the AirPods Pro can go a little longer before retreating to their charging case, both headphones top out at that 24 hour high-end. But with more charging options the Pros have to take this round.

Winner: Apple AirPods Pro

Apple AirPods vs Apple AirPods Pro: Style

The Apple AirPods are slightly longer than the Apple AirPods Pro and don't fill the ear canal quite as much. They don't have any rating for ruggedness whereas the Apple AirPods Pro are IPX4 rated meaning they can withstand sweat and water but aren't built for use in water sports, for example.

The Apple AirPods are slightly lighter at 1.41oz versus the 1.61oz of the Apple AirPods Pro. Not something you notice but we had to mention it.

While the AirPods are longer they can be used to make more of a fashion statement, if that's your thing. That said, the Pro model is recognisably different with slightly more of a metallic end finish, arguably making them looks more premium.

Winner: Apple AirPods Pro

AirPods vs AirPods Pro: Should you buy the Apple AirPods or the AirPods Pro? 

As we said at the start it's a clear win for the Apple AirPods Pro, packing in active noise cancelling, a better fit, more rugged build, Adaptive EQ audio and top call quality and a slightly better battery life. But, the issue is that all those extras will cost you as the price is nearly $100 different and since the AirPods aren't cheap to start with that represents a big investment. 

So if it's money no object, or you can stretch to the top end, then the Apple AirPods Pro are the best option. But if you can live without active noise cancellation and find the fit comfortable enough then perhaps the Apple AirPods will give you all you need in a more affordable package.

Luke Edwards

Luke is a veteran tech journalist with decades of experience covering everything from TVs, power tools, science and health tech to VPNs, space, gaming and cars. You may recognize him from appearances on plenty of news channels or have read his words which have been published in most tech titles over the years. In his spare time (of which he has little as a father of two) Luke likes yoga, surfing, meditation, DIY and consuming all the books, comics and movies he can find.