- Active noise cancellation
- Better, customisable fit
- Really expensive
- Siri is still a little hit and miss
- No battery indicators
The Apple AirPods Pro is the moment the company took control of the true-wireless market - and created the first true hearable after the demise of the early smart headphones.
While the original AirPods were comfortable and convenient wireless headphones that synced perfectly with the iPhone, the AirPods Pro bring true power to the market. Great audio quality, active noise cancellation with pass through mode and Siri control – they are true all-rounders.
What's more, the design is now sweat-resistant and built for a more snug fit than the first iteration.
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But it's worth noting they arrive with a much higher price of compared to the standard AirPods. Yes, it’s a lot. Is it worth it? Absolutely – here's the results of months of testing, running and listening.
Apple AirPods Pro: Design and fit
By far the most contentious part of Apple’s AirPods has been the design, and you may be pleased to know the Pro look less conspicuous. They are shorter and, assuming you wear them the way Apple intended, point further upwards this time.
They’re still noticeable – no one will mistake these for anything other than AirPods (God forbid) – but the stalks also contain the aerials that help the AirPods maintain a good connection in your phone – and now better controls.
But that’s not all that has changed here: the Pro have a noticeably different shape to the earbud, which is supposed to help them stay nestled in place.
Apple AirPods compared: AirPods second generation (left) and AirPods Pro (right)
There is now a rubber tip to ensure a snug fit, rather than the one-size-fits-all plastic of the original. You get different tips in the box, and there's a guided size and fit tutorial which tells you when you have a good seal – which is a great first experience.
The Ear Tip Fit Test in the app plays noise into your ear and register the feedback into a microphone, also pointed into your ear canal, and determine whether you’ve got a good seal or not.
And they stay put. Even during sweaty runs they've remained glued in our lugs - and they're light enough to be essentially unnoticeable.
If you haven’t, you’ll know to try a different size. I got it right first time with the medium, but I’m going to play around with the other sizes too.
Apple AirPods Pro: Features, Siri and other smarts
It's that active noise cancellation where things get interesting. Despite Apple’s insistence that this is a totally separate product from the Beats line, we've found the noise cancellation to behave much the same.
Apple explained the specifics of what's happening here, but we'll boil it down as simply as this. Each earbud has a microphone on the outside as well as the inside. The outside microphone analyzes all the sound around you, while the speaker on the inside counteracts that ambient sound with anti-noise.
But this also requires having a good seal, something the internal microphone is, as we said earlier, used for doing. we tried using the AirPods Pro on a noisy train and they did an excellent job of masking most of the noise around us.
We also tried them in a noisy coffee shop, down some bustling streets and on a bus. It's extremely impressive. There are segments of our commute where the subway train is too loud to hear the talking on podcasts on the previous AirPods – that's no longer a problem.
And should you want to let the outside world in, you can, with just by pressing and holding the subtle touchpoint on the stalk of either AirPod Pro. This will toggle between the two modes.
Also quite clever is Apple’s new vent system, which reduces pressure that can build up with in-ear headphones that can sometimes make them uncomfortable to wear.
Finally, let's talk Siri and other smarts. Apple's assistant is present, natch, and should you have the ability switched on in your Siri settings, you can talk to it any time through the AirPods Pro with a "Hey Siri".
While we had a few issues around launch, we're pleased that this has now become nice and stable to use. It's pretty addictive especially when running, to skip through podcasts or tracks. Of course, unlike the Powerbeats Pro there's no hard wired volume control – so Siri becomes an essential assistant when your iPhone (or Apple Watch) is out of reach.
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But Siri is now useful in other ways. The latest iOS update brings the ability for Siri to read out messages when they arrive. Again, you'll need to enable to feature in your iPhone settings, but once you have you'll hear a chime before Siri dictates your latest message. That only works for iMessage, and sadly not for WhatsApp.
It will tell you who sent it too, so you'll hear something like, "Message from Sarah says 'Hey, what's up?" If the number isn't in your contacts, it will tell you just the area code it came from. You can also prioritize certain contacts so Siri only reads those messages.
It works pretty well – and of course, you can play the lottery of responding by Siri if you're feeling brave.
We've not found the feature too annoying – but also because we're not huge users of iMessage, it's not been that useful either. Certainly one for personal taste.
What is annoying is the slightly opaque information around battery life. There's no battery meter when the AiPods are connected, so you'll need to open the case and wait for the information pane to appear on your iPhone. It's not a huge deal, but the lack of readily visible information means that – most of the time – we have no idea how much charge is left.
On battery life – the quoted battery life of 24 hours in total (including from the case) checks out. We only charge every couple of weeks with about two hours listening a day. With active noise cancellation on, you'll get around three hours in one sitting.
Apple AirPods Pro: Sound quality
Finally, in terms of sound quality, the AirPods Pro do sound better than the originals. That's a given. However, the reason might not be better quality drivers.
We've always said that AirPods do pack a punch – and that's a lot more noticeable now the noise cancellation provides such a clean and quiet environment. They're easily as good as rivals such as the Jaybird Vista in terms of sound and level. The Powerbeats Pro sound far better – but they are much larger and the charging case is just absurdly big.
Apple says it's loaded these with new custom-built drivers, and uses that internal mic to adjust the signal 200 times a second in order to optimize the quality.
While we don't think they're hugely stronger in bass, we found the mixes on certain songs less murky than they are on the AirPods regular.
How we test