The AirPods Pro use an abundance of technology to make you forget all about technology. Something I can appreciate now that AirPods finally come with ear tips to create a seal, meaning they sound pretty good.
Build and Comfort
The AirPods Pro are of course plasticy through and through, but they don’t feel cheap. They’re very lightweight and I can attest to the durability. There were two incidents where I’ve pulled my face mask off, only to slingshot one of them down the street. Neither look like they’ve ever been through any of that.
Comfort wise, the feeling of having something in my ear disappears rather quickly. The pressure relief vents were an appreciated inclusion in this regard. I mostly use AirPods Pro when running, and find that even after I’ve come back, I leave them in for another song or two before moving onto something else. The tips are very thin silicone material. I was amazed at how comfortable they were. Even when building up a sweat, they never became itchy (something I will go over more when comparing to the Sony WF-1000XM3) or uncomfortable. They are a very shallow insert, along the same lines as the FH5s and Starfields that I daily drove before the Airpods Pro. While they don’t have any hooks or cables to assist in keeping them in place, they never fell out of my ears when running. They’ve only fallen out when pulling a shirt over my head to take it off or certain face masks if pulled off with reckless abandon (as I’ve had to learn not to do).
Convenience is where the AirPods Pro win big for me. This is what the majority of your $250 pays for. My very first run illustrated just how much Apple got right here. The squeeze (force) trigger mechanics sounded absolutely bizarre on paper, but in practice I can’t see myself finding anything else as useful. Being able to perform the exact same functions on both sides does a lot to maintain your concentration and focus. It may not seem like much to have to think left or right, but the less you have to think about, the better. That’s a big theme here. What seems like too much technology, makes it so you don’t even think about technology. Siri reads off notifications in a manner that is less distracting than slowing down checking your phone. “Hey Siri” can be triggered in a normal, private tone that does not mistakenly alert someone nearby. Removing one of the AirPods Pro pauses the music quickly and reliably. This is something I like to do rather than just pausing the music, as most people trying to interact with you won’t start talking without the visual cue. It also just comes off as more polite.
The only negative I can really find is that they only come in white. They’re very easy to clean, so it’s not a deal breaker, but the case shows signs of use/dirt easily and it messes with my OCD.
Packaging and Accessories
The AirPods Pro come in Apple’s signature understated packaging. The standard documentation is wrapped in a simple, but recognizable “Designed by Apple in California” sleeve. Below that, the charging case is wrapped in a protective film with a pull tab, and below that are a charging cable, power brick, and extra tips. Quite surprising to see USB-C charging brick, but it seems like this may be the last time that happens.
Let’s get this out of the way. The AirPods Pro are not $250 worth of sound. The treble is a tad on the dark side. I would not class this as a bad thing, but did find myself wishing for a bit more sparkle and air on more energetic tracks. Given the target audience, I would say taming the upper treble was a wise move. Brightness sensitivity varies widely from person to person.
Upper mids are on the flat side, with a very nice presentation of vocals. Lower mids are warm and pleasant. Overall, I’d say the mids were my favorite thing about the AirPods Pro and where most of the energy lives. This is great for me as, while I consider myself a bass head, lackluster mids ruin headphones.
I didn’t know what to expect when it came to bass, having skipped the first two generations of AirPods. I was bracing for limp, lackluster EarPod bass, or bloated, muddy “target demographic” bass. What I was presented with was a pleasant surprise. The bass has an almost mature quality to it. It takes over nicely from the lower mids, and never goes out of control. Punch is average, but not lacking, and sub bass is present, if a tad too conservative for my tastes. Sometimes I catch myself turning the volume up just touch too high to get that extra energy. It’s then that I realize why they were so careful with the treble. I’d like to see a little more low end in future iterations, but if they leave it like this, I still find it preferable versus the Beats sound of the past.
Other Sound Notes
Touching briefly on other sound qualities, detail and imaging are average. They’re what you’d expect for the general audience they’re aimed towards. Sound stage is one of those things I don’t pick up on well, but I can tell these are intimate. I mainly use them when running and have them in transparency mode, but ANC brings the sound even closer with the elements cut out. On the topic of active noise cancelling, I’ve done some listening in loud environments where possible. It does a nice job of cutting out predictable mechanical hums like motors, HVAC, and server rooms. In terms of talking, it can drown out chatter, but if someone is speaking above conversation level, you’ll hear it. I would have loved to do some commute testing, but COVID has made that impossible.
I compared the Airpods Pro to the Sony WF-1000XM3. Another well known pair of TWS with active noise cancellation technology. I wish I had used the XM3s BEFORE the AirPods Pro. Perhaps I would think of them more favorably. My first interaction with the XM3s was lackluster. I found them more uncomfortable both immediately and in the long term. The more I sweat, the itchier the silicone tips were to me. I found myself taking them out completely and re-inserting them after about 15 mins. There is also a very present wind noise that I didn’t hear with AirPods Pro due to the added surface area on the XM3s. While I enjoyed their sound more than the AirPods Pro, it became clear that convenience meant a lot more to me now. The touch triggers on the XM3s were finicky. Double taps were often ignored, and I found them to be very sensitive if I accidentally brushed past them while wiping sweat from my forehead. This would cause unintended pausing or activation of ANC when I didn’t want it. The case for the Sony XM3s is also absolutely massive and carries very deliberate in the pocket.
In terms of pairing with more than one device, the AirPods switch seamlessly with other Apple devices, and aren’t that bad when using them with my laptop or PC. I had strange issues with the XM3s where one would connect to my phone and the other my computer (or just wouldn’t connect to its counterpart at all).
That said, my second phone is an Xperia 1 II. A lot of the convenience fades when you try to use the AirPods Pro on Android, so I’d give the win to the XM3s there, but at the end of the day, I daily drive an iPhone and they are completely blown out of the water by the AirPods Pro in terms of usability and comfort in the month I’ve been using the two TWS contenders. I would have loved to try the new Pixel and Galaxy Bud iterations, but I can’t justify owning that many pairs of TWS. Unlike regular headphones, these were purchased for practicality. I have the Sony on standby should I leave the AirPods Pro somewhere or forget to charge them.
Proprietary Silicone Ear tips
Up to 4.5hrs Listening Time (5 w/ ANC or Transparency off)
Proprietary H1 chip
IPX4 sweat- and water-resistant
Connectivity: Bluetooth 5.0
Weight: 0.19 ounce (5.4 grams)
Case Weight: 1.61 ounces (45.6 grams)
Before I started daily driving AirPods Pro for workouts, I was using the Radsone ES100 and either Fiio FH5s or Moondrop Starfields. Both are superior in terms of sound quality, but I couldn’t see myself going back to that. The AirPods Pro allow me to get right to working out and in the zone. I also don’t have to worry about accidentally yanking a cable or pulling out my phone or looking at my watch to handle notifications. That said, if I was traveling more than a few hours or listening at home, I would definitely go back to my IEMs or headphones for critical listening and overall sound. The AirPods Pro are unbeatable performers in the area of convenience and don’t offend when it comes to sound, but I am not one to be tied down by a single pair of headphones, IEMs, or earbuds. It’s all about the right tool for the task.