The Airpods are among the most popular Bluetooth earphones available, and, after three years of waiting, Apple fans have finally been given an update.
The improved Pro model adds active noise cancelling as a well as a new design that makes for a more snug fit in your ears, unlike the predecessor’s earbuds, which were more loose and rather prone to falling out.
While the Pro earbuds come with replaceable silicone tips for a firm fit, Apple says this choice was made as your ear canal needs to be sealed off for proper noise cancellation.
You can hear the difference immediately, and one clear benefit to better insulation is that you can hear more bass.
What’s you don’t notice, however, is something that most other earplugs have: an uncomfortable feeling of pressure in the ear canal, sometimes amplifying sounds from your own body.
Apple promised to prevent exactly that with holes for ventilation. They’re right. It works.
Design: Electric toothbrush turned hair dryer
Because everyone’s ears are different, the silicone plugs are available in three different sizes. To find out which pair is right for you, you take a simple hearing test.
Each Airpod Pro has two microphones, one in the middle of the ear and the other on the outside. During the test, the microphones are used to determine whether the sound remains inside the ear canal or if it’s leaking out.
Changing the silicone tips requires quite some skill and patience, as they’re attached rather tightly. If they get damaged, you can order a replacement set from Apple for a few dollars.
The most visible difference to normal Airpods is the design: While the old Airpods drew comparisons to electric toothbrushes, the Pros are more like tiny hair dryers.
Meanwhile the characteristic white stick that hangs down from the ear is now much shorter. The battery case for charging is now wider and flatter and can be recharged either with a Lightning cable or Qi wireless charging pad.
A resounding fail from repair specialists
One thing that hasn’t changed since the original Airpods: Repairing them is basically not an option.
The popular repair website ifixit.com has given the new Airpods 0 out of 10 marks for a construction that is at best difficult to repair.
That means, Apple is essentially forcing you to buy a completely new pair if they somehow break or when the battery wears down. Experience with the first Airpods model shows, battery duration starts to dwindle after little more than two years.
Instead of tapping on the Airpods, as with the previous generation, you now control the Airpods by pressing a spot on the hair dryers’ handles, as it were.
Short presses, accompanied by a clicky sound, trigger the usual start/stop or forward/reverse playback. With a long press, you can turn on ambient noise so you can hear what people around you are saying. This is useful if you still want to hear some ambient sounds – for example announcements on the platform or traffic.
The noise suppression really works
Turning on the active noise cancelling is like hitting mute on the TV. Considering that these are just earbuds and not large over-ear cans blocking out sound, the result is pretty impressive.
The pros can fade out traffic, train noises, office chatter and subway rumble into the background. Even in the airplane, the loud engine drone is much less noticeable.
According to Apple, the earbuds can play music and read aloud notifications for up to 4.5 hours with noise cancelling. You can squeeze out another 30 minutes if you turn off the noise cancelling.
Including recharges from the case you can get around 24 hours of use before you need to recharge. This corresponds to the battery performance of the original Airpods, as well as many other earbuds.
It remains to be seen how the Pros will perform in comparison to their competitors, like Amazon and Huawei, which are also betting on active noise cancelling.
Verdict: Decent sound for an Apple price
The Pros offer typical Airpods sound, balanced and rich in detail. Larger and more expensive headphones will probably get you better sound, but as small earbuds, these newcomers have nothing to be ashamed of in the sound department.
One advantage of noise cancelling is that you don’t have to turn up the volume to match the sounds around you. At the same time, it can be tempting to block out everything around you, even the sounds you should be hearing, like bikes and cars.
If you want to connect them to your iOS device, you’ll need the latest iOS version, currently iOS 13.2.
At 249 dollars in the US or 279 euros in Europe, the Pros are the most expensive model in the Airpods range, indeed some of the most expensive earbuds at all.