AirPods Pro review: Ears-on with Apple’s noise cancelling headphones

The AirPods Pro will cost £249 and look likely to be a big hit (Image: Apple)

Apple has followed up on a wireless charging case for the original AirPods with the surprise announcement of a brand new set of buds.

They’ve been named the ‘AirPods Pro’ and come in at £249. That’s not cheap and it’s a step up from the original AirPods which cost £199 with a wireless charging case and £159 without.

You can tell from looking at them that Apple has changed a few things besides the price for the Pro variant. For starters, they’re smaller than the original AirPods and come in a more rectangular glossy white case. Silicone tips have been added for a snug fit inside your ears and, for the first time, Apple has added noise-cancelling technology.

The latter point is the big differentiation here. The regular AirPods were successful because the good points outweighed the bad. They are extremely easy to use with any iPhone or iPad and the solid Bluetooth connection means you don’t lose portions of songs or voice calls with others. But not everyone found the plastic tips comfortable and there are better-sounding wireless earphones out there.

Despite this, AirPods are the best-selling headphones in the entire world. Makes sense to launch a Pro version, then. 

The AirPods Pro come in Apple all-white but have a more rectangular case (Metro.co.uk)

Right off the bat, there’s more sound to the Pros than the standard AirPods and the bass notes just sound a bit throatier. Apple has created what it calls ‘Adaptive EQ’ that will automatically tune the low and mid frequencies to the shape of each individual’s ear. The company’s engineers scanned thousands of people’s ears and built heat maps to understand sound as well as fit. 

The all-round insulation of the sound likely comes from the fact you now have two tips of silicone holding the headphones more snugly inside your ear. Something to be wary of: these are beautifully white when you unbox them but will get grubby before long. 

If you really want to get technical, you can perform an ‘Ear Tip Fit Test’ through the Bluetooth settings that uses the microphone to sense how audio resonates inside your ear and tell you whether or not the silicone tips are sealed well. In the box you get Small and Large size tips to go along with the Medium-sized ones already on the buds. 

The snugness also means the AirPods Pro won’t fall out if you’re exercising and they’re designed to be sweat and water-resistant also.  

Regular commuters, or anyone that wants a bit of a noise cocoon, will appreciate the active noise cancellation.

It works through an outward-facing mic that detects external sound to analyse environmental noise. The AirPods Pro then create an equivalent anti-noise that cancels out background noise before it reaches your ear.

A second inward-facing microphone listens toward the ear, and AirPods Pro cancel remaining noise detected by the microphone. Noise cancellation continuously adapts the sound signal 200 times per second. 

Front and rear-facing microphones work together to produce active noise cancellation (Apple)

If you decide you want to let the outside world in, then you can activate Transparency Mode. This happens either by a long press on a small touchpad on the side of the stem of the AirPods Pro or by switching over in the phone settings. It opens up the outward-facing mic so you can hear things like train announcements, traffic or someone else shouting at you from across the room. 

Flipping between the two is a bit of a revelation – especially walking through London on any given afternoon. The sounds of traffic, construction and other pedestrians just disappears as soon as you disable Transparency Mode. It takes a bit of practice to find the pressure-sensitive pad on the earbuds (especially if you’re wearing gloves) but before long I was able to do it quickly and efficiently. 

The Apple H1 chip inside the AirPods Pro powers the devices – including Siri

I found the AirPods Pro to be very comfortable to wear for long periods of time. By which I mean four or five hours at a stretch.

Apple cites listening time for the AirPods Pro at five hours, with over 24 hours of listening time and 18 hours of talk time delivered through repeated charging from the case. 

Inside the case is a USB-C-to-Lightning charging cable but no charging brick – so you’ll need a USB-C one of those if you don’t plan to charge wirelessly.

Something to bear in mind is that reports have suggested that after a couple of years of hard use, the AirPods battery power will begin to fade. Because the components are all glued shut, they can’t be replaced – Apple will instead replace the affected bud (or buds) for you for a price. 

Truthfully though, the AirPods Pro are a remarkable improvement over the original AirPods in a whole heap of ways.

Yes, they’re expensive but I feel the same benefits of the original AirPods will win out in the end. They’re unnervingly simple to pair and thanks to the noise cancellation and tuning they sound much better.  

Worth the upgrade (Metro.co.uk)

The main stumbling block will likely be the price, given Amazon has a pair of Echo earbuds for half the price or Huawei and competitors like Sony are charging £220 for the noise-cancelling WF-100XM3.

But if you’re fixing to buy a pair of AirPods anyway then I would certainly recommend spending a bit more and upgrading to the Pro model instead. The boost you’ll get in terms of performance and functionality overrides the steep increase in price.