Apple’s original AirPods were a surprise hit. You see them everywhere. Almost everyone who has a pair loves them.
My old AirPods are the second generation model. They fit my ears and work better than you might expect.
Airpods Pro are a step up in every dimension. Apple added active noise cancellation to an already successful recipe. It then improved the fit and upgraded the functionality. They look like another hit.
AirPods Pro wake-up
My first AirPods Pro demo was in a noisy cafe with hard floors and background clatter. We connected them to an iPhone.
From the outset the earbuds blocked out most of the noise. They allowed me to hear music with an unexpected clarity.
It got better fast.
That’s because there is a built-in feature that lets you check how well the earbuds fit in your ear. Unlike the original all hard plastic AirPods, Apple uses removable soft tips. Three sizes of removable tip come packed in each box. Mine needed changing. This is a little fiddly, but only takes a minute or so.
After swapping, the new tips block even more of the background sound. The sound quality is astounding for something so small.
Later, I listened again on the bus ride home. The experience was even better than the cafe. I’m not sure I’ve heard such outstanding crystal clear sounds while on public transport.
At home I can be blissfully unaware when helicopters pass overhead or if the Royal New Zealand Airforce takes off from nearby Whenuapai,
Both types of music
AirPods Pro work well with all kinds of music, which is good because I listen to all kinds of music. One acid test I use to gauge loudspeaker or headphone quality is high quality recordings of piano music. Both the classical and jazz tracks I tested came out near perfect… on a bus. You don’t get a bass boost, which may not be your taste.
I’ve enjoyed noise cancelling for a few years now. When I reviewed the Sony MDR-1000X headphones, I liked them so much I bought a pair. They proved their worth on long distance flights.
There is some colour to the MDR-1000X sound. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. They sound fine when listening to my favourite music. In comparison, the Airpods Pro have a much flatter, more accurate sound.
In the past I’ve always thought the MDR-1000X-style over-the-ear form is more comfortable if you use them for hours, say on a trans-Pacific flight.
I haven’t been on a flight since getting the Airpods Pro, but I have enjoyed long listening sessions. The earbuds don’t get uncomfortable if you wear them for a few hours. They are certainly much easier to drop into carry-on luggage. I expect them to replace my older style noise cancelling headphones.
On most measures the Airpods Pro are the better or equal to the Sony headphones. It feels like the Sony controls are easier to use, but that could be familiarity; I’ve only had the Airpods four days.
The flat response is so good that I can use them as a reference when mixing music tracks on my iPad without waking the house. They are that good.
During testing I never heard any lag or had trouble connecting. Although, if you pull the AirPods Pro out to talk to someone the music will pause. This isn’t always necessary as we will see later. I found Apple’s Music didn’t have a problem, but some other non-Apple apps can stop altogether and need a restart.
AirPods Pro have smaller stalks than the older AirPods, but are a fraction heavier. Not that you’d notice. They come in a slightly larger snap-top box.
You can store AirPods in the box when they’re not in use. The box charges the AirPods, you can use a lightening connector or wireless charging. When charged, the box carries its own reserve of charge, so you can top-up the AirPods Pro charge between sessions.
A single charge gives around four hours listening time. Depending on how you use the box, Apple says you can get up to 24 hours before needing a recharge. This more or less squares with my experience, although my record keeping while watching the battery life wasn’t perfect.
There’s a squeezable control surface. Squeeze once and the music or other audio will stop playing. Squeeze twice and you skip to the next music track.
Squeezing and holding either fires up Siri or turns off noise cancelling. You can also start Siri by saying “Hey Siri” and have your text messages read. It also uses the microphones to deliver external sounds. You might want to do this if, say, a flight attendant wants a word.
One of the magical features is the way AirPods Pro pair with your other Apple devices. Once they have met one Apple device, all the others can find them. Open the box close to an Apple device and you’ll see a message telling you how much charge is left.
Apple AirPods Pro Verdict
AirPods Pro show off Apple technology at its best. They feel a little magic. It’s rare for someone like me who has been looking at new gadgets for decades to break out even a modest smile. The AirPods Pro left me grinning.
They are comfortable, sound good and have battery life to see you through everything except a long haul flight. The noise cancellation is excellent, on a par with headphones costing much more. You can use them if you have an Android phone or Windows device. Best of all, they fit into a tiny pocket.
While the price tag looks expensive, you get a lot of value for the money. Decent noise cancelling technology is never cheap.
- This success came at the moment Apple’s iPhone sales stumbled. ↩︎