Although Apple Airpods shook the world of headphones when it was launched, Airpods Pro is the company's true triumph of design and smart engineering. The initial Airpods (now on their second iteration) do not have a soft eartip to provide a seal, or active noise cancellation. Both of these features are provided by Airpods Pro, the effect of which is to deliver a listening experience that exposes nuances in music that could possibly be missed with regular Airpods. According to Apple, AirPods Pro are the only Active Noise Cancellation in-ear headphones that adjust constantly to the geometry of your ear, and compensate for the fit of the ear tips.

For this hands-on, I'm avoiding the in-depth review explanations of how this or that nuance in some album I like sounds, because that's been done a number of times and you probably don’t have the exact same taste in music that I do. This post is a testimonial, from someone who was on the fence about picking up these earbuds. I held out until the undeniable psychological effect of a recent $199 sale price on Amazon, which turned it into an impulse buy. And at first, I didn’t even buy them for myself, I bought my wife a pair. I ordered my own pair the next day, after witnessing how much more she enjoyed the Airpods Pro, versus her regular Airpods.

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Airpods Pro ship with three sizes of tapered silicone ear tips, allowing you to find the perfect fit.
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I resisted getting Airpods Pro because ordinarily, when I want to listen to wireless, active noise canceling headphones, I reach for a pair of Sony’s full-size 1000XM4 (and previously, the 1000XM3). But I don’t always want to wear over ear headphones, especially when I’m outside and being active, earbuds are much more practical. Anyhow, the moment I started using the Airpods Pro I knew it was over for the standard Airpods. That’s because the fit is immediately and obviously better, more comfortable. The active noise cancellation makes a clear difference, especially when combined with the silicone ear tips ability to passively seal out ambient noise.

Features and Specs

Battery life is always at the top of the feature list when considering true wireless options. Apple says that you get up to 4 1/2 hours of audio playback when using noise cancellation, or up to five hours if you turn off ANC and "transparency" mode that uses the mics to let you hear your environment. When using the headphones to talk, the expected lifespan is three and half hours. But if you add the wireless charging case to the equation, that experience to 24 hours of playback or 18 hours of talk, with intermittent charging. Charging time using the case is pretty quick, five minutes of charge provides an hour of playback.

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A five-minute charge gets you in our playback time

The most relevant specification for these headphones is the one that Apple does not provide: bass extension. Without attempting to be hyper precise about it, a combination of quick measurements using my miniDSP E.A.R.S. rig, followed by subjective listening to sine waves via REW (room EQ wizard), leads me to peg the “usable” bass extension of Airpods Pro at roughly 25 Hz and up, although there’s some signs of life all the way down to 20 Hz (if you turn them up and ignore the audible distortion).

From roughly 32 Hz on up, Airpods Pro bass is full strength. This contrasts with passive, audiophile headphones (including earbuds) that cleanly play down to 16 Hz, but in the grand scheme of things it’s enough bass to balance out the sound and do justice to most recordings. Regular Airpods manage to deliver good bass down in to the 30 Hz zone, but they roll off sooner and don’t offer much of anything in the sub 30 Hz zone.

Feature-wise, if you use these earbubs with a compatible iOS device, you get a lot of "smart" functionality on top of the core attributes of the physical design.

Performance

Are these the best headphones I’ve heard? No. They are not the best headphones I own, but they are quite good, especially for Bluetooth earbuds. And what really matters is that there incredibly comfortable because they fit better than any other wireless earbuds I’ve tried. This could well be Apple’s true triumph, the ergonomics of Airpods Pro sets them apart for the rest of what’s available. Not only do you get enhanced comfort, but these buds stay put even when you perform sudden, vigorous, sporty actions like jogging, jumping, mountain biking, etc.

In my case, the usual activity is riding around on a OneWheel (basically an electric skateboard that behaves much like a snowboard). With the regular Airpods, if I had to jump off the board and bail, it was not unheard of for one of the Airpods to fall out of my ear. But the Airpods Pro are much more secure, they stay put without any penalty in comfort.

Audio fidelity is absolutely better with Airpods Pro, as compared to the original Airpods. The most noteworthy feature for me, is how easily you can hear into the mix, thanks to the noise cancelling. Background noise destroys detail, it’s as simple as that. The effect is especially pronounced in urban settings, where there is a background hum that comes from HVAC equipment as well as traffic— even if you’re in a city park you can hear it. But with these earbuds, you get the silence of active noise canceling and headphones that are so lightweight and comfortable, you forget you’re wearing them. The result is so pleasant, I enjoy wearing Airpods Pro without listening to any music, just to walk around.

The ancillary benefit of noise reduction is that you don’t have to turn the volume up to hear all the details found in a recording. Moreover, when volume levels are moderate, distortion and dynamic compression are kept to a minimum. The end result is a high-fidelity listening experience that is also safe for your ears.

Amusingly, Apple touts that the Airpods Pro are “beryllium-free” which is not something other headphone makers would tout, given that beryllium is widely considered one of the best materials for which to construct an audio driver. I understand where Apple is going with this, beryllium is a bit hazardous to humans if ingested, beryllium free headphones eliminate that particular risk. Anyhow, using strictly subjective and arbitrary numerical ratings, I’d give the Airpods Pro a 7/10 overall, whereas original Airpods would only rank a 6/10. But that’s versus all headphones. If you pared the selections down to just noise-cancelling wireless headphones, I’m inclined to increase the Airpods Pro rating to 8/10. On the comfort/fit/ergonomics side, I’m going with a perfect 10/10. IMO, given the usage scenarios where you would want to wear true wireless earphones, that comfort factor is huge.

Notably, I use the Airpods Pro with two Android phones (Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra and Note 10+) as well as an iPad Pro. I have zero issues with pairing and moving between devices, so if you were regarding AirPods Pro as being for iOS only, that’s absolutely not the case, they are a viable choice for Android users, too. I was even surprised to discover that they stay connected to my PC, and were reliable for both music and for video/audio calls (Zoom, Skype, etc.) Granted, you’ll get more features (like Siri) if you run them on a iOS device, but the core appeal of these earbuds is their excellent physical design, combined with “good enough” fidelity.

It's a near certainty that most Airpods Pro owners will do more than just listen to music through them. Movies sound good, too. The passive isolation and active noise cancelling creates a nice, silent backdrop for watching shows and movies, so that you are not distracted by outside noise during quiet scenes. Gamers should find there’s not much to complain about here, you can use these as your headset, no problem. Microphone quality matters, and this is another area where Apple does very well. Voice recordings are clear, they are practically wireless lav mic quality. Moreover, I get accurate speech recognition when I use Airpods Pro, which correlates to clear sounding voice.

Exactly how well Apple’s Airpods Pro earbuds fit your ears, and how they sound to you, is a subjective judgment call. Nevertheless, at their price point, there is a decent chance these earbuds are the bottom line, the best bang for your buck. They are equally good for music, movies, games or making calls and work great with a wide variety of devices, from phones to tablets to laptops and PCs; They are a 2020 Top Choice for true wireless earbuds.

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