Review: AirPods Pro, worth the upgrade?

Review: AirPods Pro has transparency mode, shorter sticks,excellent battery life, good active noise cancellation and good fit with three domes

Review: AirPods Pro- In our AirPods Pro review, after extensive testing, we tell you what our experiences are with Apple’s first earplugs with noise cancellation. How is the wearing comfort, are they still comfortable and can you really hear nothing when the noise reduction is on? We tell it in this review of the AirPods Pro!

AirPods Pro: Not just for professionals

We have chosen to combine the experiences of two reviewers for this article. After all, there are few products that evoke as much heated discussion as earplugs and that can lead to very extreme opinions. Some people swear by a super expensive brand for audiophiles, while others are actually fine with a set of fake AirPods from the fair. The AirPods are not intended for these two extremes, but for all those people who are in between and who have quite a bit of money to spare for functions such as noise cancellation, a better user experience and a product that has been well thought out. Ultimately, it’s all about what you like sitting and sounding. 

AirPods Pro

Apple has chosen to give these new AirPods the addition ‘Pro’. This gives the impression that it is mainly aimed at professionals, but it is not. With the AirPods, just like with the iPhone 11 , your ‘Pro’ mainly means that you get something extra.

These earbuds are simply aimed at a different target audience: people who were waiting for noise cancellation, wanted more features or had difficulty with the fit of the earlier model. These are also the three biggest improvements.

AirPods Pro in short

These are the main features:

  • Only available in glossy white
  • New in-ear design with rubber ear tips
  • Three sizes of ear tips included: S, M and L.
  • Sweat and water resistant ( IPX4 )
  • Weight 5.4 grams
  • Bluetooth 5.0
  • Dimensions ears: 30.9 x 21.8 x 24 mm
  • Box dimensions: 45.2 x 60.6 x 21.7 mm
  • Up to 4.5 hours of listening time with noise cancellation on a single charge
  • More than 24 hours of listening time thanks to the box
AirPods Pro

The AirPods Pro are also available from Apple 

Design of the AirPods Pro

  • Shorter stems and larger head
  • Rubber ear tips in 3 sizes
  • Charging box is bigger and wider
  • Made in high-gloss white
AirPods Pro

The design of the ears and the storage box has been renewed for the AirPods Pro. You can see the difference immediately: the ears have a shorter stem and they have silicone rubbers that go into your ear canal. For people who thought that the original AirPods had a ‘ridiculous’ appearance, this more compact model looks a bit more pleasant. It also means that you are less likely to remove them from your ear. The sticks are shorter and the ears are tighter in your ear. After a while we discovered a trick: by moving the earbuds from back to front, they leave your ear more easily.

The charging case also looks different: it is wider and less high, as if it had been turned a quarter of a turn from the original model. The box seems bigger, but fits just as well in your pocket. It is therefore quite a difference from the much larger box of the Powerbeats Pro.

We did notice that the ears are more difficult to take out of the box, because it is less easy to grip. With the original AirPods you can grab one earpiece with two fingers, but the rubber ear tips make that more difficult with the new model. Your finger will slide off the rubber part.

It is also more difficult to put them back in the box correctly. After a few days it went easier by paying closer attention. If you take out the right earpiece, you know that it has to be placed in the box on the right.

What has remained the same with these AirPods Pro is the finish and color choice: everything is shiny white, there are no other colors, even though there were rumors about it. You can also still use the open box as an iPhone holder to watch movies.

Pairing and wearing the AirPods Pro

  • Pair by opening the box
  • Three ear tip sizes: Small, Medium and Large
  • Ventilation system for less pressure

Connecting the earbuds is just as simple as before: you hold the box near your iPhone and open the cover. You will immediately see a notification asking if you want to link. After that, pairing is automatic on all your devices.

Before you can start using the AirPods Pro, you have to go through a number of steps. These AirPods are slightly different from what you are used to. First, you need to determine the correct size of ear tips and use the special Fit Test to check which size fits your ear.

iOS 13.2 includes a function to analyze the sound and adjust the profile to the anatomy of your ear canal, so that you have the best possible listening experience. The internal and external microphones are used for this. It took about five seconds and you will immediately see whether it is better to choose Small, Medium or Large. The Medium format was fine with us. Incidentally, it is not the case that only one format is correct. That is why it may be that the Fit Test gives a positive result for several sizes.

To remove the rubbers you have to pull quite firmly. So you do not have to worry that you will lose the caps quickly. If that does happen, it costs about 4 euros to purchase a new set from Apple.

AirPods Pro

The rubber tip connection is oval, so you cannot use other brands of ear cushions if you lose them. It is probably only a matter of time before all kinds of counterfeit ear tips are available. When replacing the cap, you have to pay attention that you have positioned it correctly.

In terms of wearing comfort, it takes some getting used to, such a rubber cap in your ear. You notice better that something is in your ear than with the regular AirPods, but we don’t find it disturbing. We did notice after a few hours that it can start to itch a bit. If you’ve always had trouble with in-ear earbuds, these AirPods won’t change your mind. There’s still one thing in your ear that can get irritated over time. Especially after several hours of listening it was nice to take them out of the ear again. Partly due to the new ventilation system, we do not have a stuffy feeling due to pressure.

AirPods Pro

A common fear of people who don’t have AirPods yet is that they fear they will fall out of your ear quickly. With us, the regular AirPods always stayed in place, but if you have such a fear, then you’re better off with these AirPods Pro, which are clamped in your ear canal. It does take a little more effort to put them in your ear, but after that you don’t have to worry about it anymore.

As far as the pressure sensor is concerned, both iCulture reviewers have different experiences about this. For one person it worked well, for another it took a while and the button did not always respond. Moreover, the earpiece can shift a bit if you fiddle with the stick too much, so that the seal is no longer good. This can be a matter of getting used to.

It is handy that you can quickly turn off the noise cancellation without having to ask Siri . But we would also have liked Apple to have added multiple levels of noise cancellation, so you can also work at a ‘half setting’ in an environment where you don’t want to hear all the noise, but still want to be able to hear someone. It is now all or nothing.

Active Noise Cancellation on the AirPods Pro

  • Includes H1 chip for advanced functions
  • Internal and external microphones listen for ambient sound
  • Neutralization of unwanted noise with anti-noise

The biggest innovation with the AirPods Pro is not so much the new design, but the addition of active noise cancellation. This goes a step further than the Powerbeats Pro, which only isolates the sound from the outside, but does not actively interfere with the sound.

This is different with the AirPods Pro: the microphones are continuously active there to measure the ambient noise, so that unwanted noise can then be counteracted by the integrated chip. Use is made of anti-noise. This means that sound waves are neutralized with an exactly opposite sound wave, so that the effect is essentially zero. You can also wear them without turning on music, because even then the buzz from the outside is filtered considerably.Noise cancelingThe Dutch word ‘noise suppression’ is generally used, but it is actually a strange term. In fact, it is about much more than filtering noise. Ambient sounds are also filtered. The English word ‘noise canceling’ is actually better. You may write this word with one or two ls, depending on your preference for the American or British spelling. Furthermore, there are two variants of noise cancellation: active (by anti-noise) and passive (by shielding). Active noise cancellation is often abbreviated to ANC.

AirPods Pro

By the way, you should not have too exaggerated expectations of the noise reduction. If you really don’t want to hear anything anymore, you have to sit in a soundproof room. The noise cancellation on the Beats Studio3 also works a lot better than on these AirPods and that is probably because there is an extra barricade with these headphones. Your ears are in their own ‘room’ while with the AirPods Pro they are still exposed to outside noise. Still, we think it’s impressive how well the AirPods Pro perform in terms of noise cancellation.

If you put the Beats Studio3 on without music, you won’t hear anything at all. With the AirPods Pro , the sounds seem to come from all over there. Even your own voice can be heard from far away. The microphones check the ambient sound 200 times per second and adjust the audio accordingly. For this, an H1-cip is available that also controls all kinds of other advanced functions, such as easy pairing and wireless performance.

The active noise cancellation appears to work very well: buzz and the noise from construction activities are suddenly a lot less disturbing and seem much further away. You are much more interested in the music. As soon as you put in the earphones, the ambient noise almost completely disappears immediately.

AirPods Pro

Another nice addition is the Transparency mode . You enable this by briefly squeezing the stem. We had previously heard from other users that this is quite a hassle to get it done the first few times, but it didn’t really cause any problems for us. We find it even easier than tapping the earbuds, as with the normal AirPods. You will also receive feedback at once whether you have printed correctly. You hear a soft click, while with the regular AirPods you don’t get any direct feedback.

In Transparency mode you can suddenly hear the voices of the people around you very clearly. You can also suddenly understand your own voice again naturally, as if you have no earphones. It’s like talking into a microphone and listening in through headphones, like recording a podcast.

Of course, the noise reduction only comes into its own when you have both earbuds in. What we would have liked as an addition is a step-by-step option for the noise reduction. On headphones from other brands, you sometimes have the option to reduce the noise reduction in 2 or 3 steps.

Noise cancellation also works well during calls. It just feels a bit awkward, because people tend to talk more softly when it is quiet. Therefore, you have to force yourself to speak louder. You should also not talk too loudly so as not to get strange looks from others.

Audio from the AirPods Pro

  • Dynamic equalizer adjusts audio to your ear canal
  • Amplifier with a wide dynamic range
  • High-excursion Apple driver

The AirPods Pro promise better sound than the normal AirPods. But is that also the case? This is also the most difficult to judge, because people, tastes and preferences are so different. Your experience can therefore be completely different. For example, we received an email from a reader who needs XXL ear tips and thinks the sound quality is less, because it does not close properly.

AirPods Pro

We therefore limit ourselves mainly to the facts. And that is, Apple has gone to great lengths to make these earphones sound better than the standard model. Firstly, by applying sound insulation: the rubbers close your ears, so that listening to music is less disturbed by roaring aircraft engines and the buzz of colleagues. The three sizes of ear tips ensure that most people can properly seal their ear canal. You hear more music and less ambient noise, so you enjoy the music more than with the AirPods 2 .

In addition, there is a dynamic equalizer, which adjusts the music to your anatomy. Whether this works well is also very personal, but our experience is that the sound is fuller, although that does not apply to all genres of music. If you want more bass, then you really need the Beats products, for example the Powerbeats Pro or over-ear headphones from Beats. Keep in mind that the Powerbeats Pro does not have active noise cancellation.

At SoundGuys they made a frequency response chart, which shows that the AirPods Pro are neutral for the mids. The tones will always sound the same in this area. This is not the case with the high tones: some tones above 2 kHz can sound a bit louder.

Graphics via SoundGuys

Battery life of the AirPods Pro

During testing it was possible to listen for almost 5 hours with the earphones in and the ANC function on. Apple promises 4.5 hours at 50% volume, so that’s okay. It is true that the battery life deteriorates over time, so it is nice to have some extra leeway.

During another listening session, we had 20% battery left after 3.5 hours . Just like with the previous AirPods, you will hear a warning signal when the battery is low. Then you can continue to listen for about 15 minutes. But it is smarter to put your earphones in the charging box at such a moment, because that will extend the operating time considerably. With 15 minutes of charging you can listen for 3 hours again. As with the previous earphones, you can listen for more than 24 hours with the charging case.

Charging is done with the included Lightning-to-USB-C charger, so it can now also be done via the latest MacBooks . If you don’t have one, there are plenty of other alternatives: a regular Lighting-to-USB-A cable also works and you can also charge these AirPods on a suitable Qi charger.

Who are the AirPods Pro for?

The AirPods Pro are especially ideal for people looking for some improvements over the previous AirPods. This is especially true in three areas: a better audio experience, a better fit or additional functions such as noise cancellation. This will apply to many people who previously used the normal AirPods: there is always something to improve with such a product and Apple has taken steps on all three points mentioned.

It does not mean, however, that everyone who uses AirPods now is the best to upgrade. You pay € 50 more for all those extras and you may not be willing to pay for it. If you are satisfied with your current AirPods, you should just keep using them.

Nor is it the case that these AirPods are suddenly the solution for all conceivable ear problems, such as anatomical variations and medical hearing disorders. Apple tries to serve the majority of the public with the AirPods Pro, but if you have an abnormal ear canal, ringing in the ears or other hearing problems, this will not solve that. You can still use these earphones for Live Listening , so that you can use them as a kind of hearing aid. What we noticed positively is that when Transparency mode is switched on, your own voice is also amplified.

BENEFITS+ of AirPods Pro

  • Good active noise cancellation
  • Good fit with three domes
  • Better sound thanks to noise isolation and dynamic EQ
  • Transparency mode lets you talk naturally
  • Shorter sticks, looks a bit more normal
  • Excellent battery life with ANC for such small earbuds

CONS- of AirPods Pro

  • Earpieces are difficult to take out of the box
  • ANC cannot be adjusted incrementally
  • Starts to itch after a few hours
  • Getting in and out of your ears is more difficult than with normal AirPods
  • Pressure sensor takes some getting used to

Conclusion AirPods Pro review

If you are looking for earphones that allow you to travel comfortably, without having to bring large headphones, these AirPods Pro will appeal to you . The ears are a bit more expensive than the standard AirPods, but there are three important improvements that let you enjoy the music more. If you also plan to exercise with it regularly, these are the earphones you should have.

At least if you choose Apple products, because you will find many more high-end providers at the same price level. If Bose, Sony or B&O is your favorite brand, we recommend that you choose the brand that best suits your preferences in terms of audio settings.

AirPods Pro

We are in any case positive about the AirPods Pro. We are also positive about the wearing comfort, although there are some small things that could have been a little more convenient, such as removing the earbuds from the case. And we don’t notice much of the better pressure regulation.

The active noise cancellation makes a big difference and ensures that you can really enjoy the music and be less disturbed by the sounds of construction activities or buzzing colleagues. If you are often on the train or other busy places, it can certainly be worth the investment. But if you already have good over-ear headphones with active noise cancellation that you occasionally use during air travel, then it will be less necessary to upgrade. Even if you now have regular AirPods that are still doing well, an upgrade is not a must .