Apple AirPods Pro Review – They’re Good, but sure ain’t Pro

When Apple announced the original AirPods, which if you can believe it, is way back on the launch of the iPhone 7, which, whilst it was clear they had a ton of engineering surrounding them, the experience of Audio quality and generally the look definitely left most with a lot less to be desired, especially when you consider they sound (if not slightly better) a near-identical fit to Apple’s wired EarPods.

Not to mention the clear number of emissions that you would expect from a pair of Headphones in that price bracket, such as noise cancellation, being absent, the AirPods definitely were a tough sell for most. However, despite all these shortcomings, they are still currently the worlds most popular Bluetooth devices on the market today, reason why is fairly simple, everything else about AirPods is really good, such as reliability, integration with other Apple devices, the battery case and more.

But, you already knew this. The question now comes to how Apple are going to fix the lacking features with these. AirPods 2 may have made a minor improvement to audio and introduced Wireless Charging as an option, but where does that leave the future of AirPods…

In comes AirPods Pro

A slightly wider and larger case, now with Wireless Charging as a default, is what originally greets you with AirPods Pro, though, whilst they do still charge using Lightning, Apple now includes a Lightning to USB-C cable in the box matching the already included cable in the box of Apple’s newest iPhones … so, no, not fully adopting USB-C in this generation, we reckon this is a transitional period and we could see that from the next generation update to the AirPods, likely expect we will have to wait until the iPhone has USB-C for that to happen first.

Of course the inclusion of USB-C at the end of the Charging Port is useful for recent Mac purchases, especially on the Notebook side, as that’s more or less the only Port you have, but also as you can also use more traditional chargers that could come from Android or other devices, perhaps even iPad Pro devices as well. However, if you don’t have a USB-C device, you can of course use your iPhone charger as well with these.

Battery life is nearly the same as AirPods of old, 5 hours of listening in the buds, with a combined of ~24 hours when using the case, though Apple do state this goes down by around half an hour if you use the software level Noise Cancellation, or Transparency mode, more on that later, if both of those are Off, the same 5 hours applies from prior AirPods.

Design – Less stem, but more wider

If there’s one thing we certainly didn’t like about the original AirPods, or perhaps even the EarPods, it’s the one-size-fits-all approach to the way they fit in the ear, as well as the rather over-sized stem, which whilst that may give you that added bit of confidence when it comes to the microphone you will be using for phone calls or Siri, it does make them look like an eye-sore. With AirPods Pro, this is gone, now in favour of, granted, a more wider design, but least now they look a lot more conventional in the ear, but, whilst still maintaining that AirPods look.

Whilst we are still testing the AirPods Pro microphone quality, one thing we will say, is Siri has been very responsive and picked up everything we said, as for calling, we found that people on the other side couldn’t tell if we were using the iPhone microphone or the AirPods microphone, which to be fair, makes them a win for us just there alone.

As a result of the more wider, but far less narrow design of the AirPods Pro, this has resulted in a completely different shape for the Charging case, gone from the pack of Tic-tacs design of yore, now with a more wider design. This design is also a tad thicker, but to be fair both are still very pocketable and compact, and, still offer the same functionality for the AirPods they house, in fact identically if you have the AirPods with Wireless Charging case versus the new AirPods Pro.

As you can see from the picture on the side, the design of the AirPods Pro, being less stem and more wide, as an end result, just means they look far less obtrusive and just like someone who, sure, is wearing Apple earphones, but not someone who is wearing those silly looking AirPods. It is worth mentioning that some people never minded the original AirPods design, if you are one of them, just know you’re a minority in this one, which is why we’re very happy with the far less in your face look of them now.

Thanks to the 3 different size rubber tips you have in the box as well, these are no longer, what Apple defines as, “universal fit”, these are now earphones you can customise the fit for your ears. By default, out of the box, the AirPods Pro come preinstalled with the medium fit tips, which, naturally, for most, these will probably be the ones to use, though we will say that we actually find the larger tips to be far better for both quality, more on that later, and comfort, though then again, another person who tested these found they could only wear them with the smaller tip, but at the end of the day, it’s having that option that makes these a worlds better than the traditional AirPods design.

BIG SIDE-NOTE FROM US: The AirPods Pro sounded like absolute garbage when we first got them and I think it’s fair to say we were looking at all the reviews saying they’re a big step up, sound great, and wondering what people were smoking as ours sounded rubbish. Why was this? Well, comes down to how we were putting these on. Unlike most earphones with tips, the AirPods Pro are shaped oval, not circular, which means instead of what felt tips do, which essentially is mould to your ears, these are shaped in a way where they are designed to be placed in your ears aligned and correctly. This is something you get used to doing, but it is incredibly important to note, as these genuinely sounded like rubbish headphones for a fiver for a moment and we were getting braced to have a much less, let’s say, rosy review.

SIDE NOTE #2: This isn’t really a side-note, but for those wondering, the AirPods of course work with non-Apple devices, and can be paired using the built in button placed on the back of them under the metallic hinge when the AirPods are opened. By tapping the button they will enter a pairing mode, a light will begin to flash, this is when you can pair with them with any other devices by generally selecting Pair.

Sound quality + noise cancellation = Mixed results…

Whilst Apple didn’t adopt felt tips for the AirPods Pro, these are plastic/rubber texture tips, they more or less, by themselves, increase the quality of audio, just naturally by bouncing the audio around a seal within your ears, this also, as a result gives you a minor level of audio cancellation, which is to be expected, but of course Apple went one step further than this by adopting software level Passive noise cancellation.

Whilst this is nothing breakthrough, it’s probably the only “Pro” feature on these. The AirPods feature mics on the exterior, naturally for phone calls and Siri integration, but also mics on the inside, which together map the Audio outside and attempt to invert that using sound waves to essentially give you a blank sound. This even works whilst not playing anything, and it’s almost creepy to begin with and it does work pretty well in many instances, though it’s certainly not perfect.

One the other side of that, Apple also have a Transparency mode, which again uses the mics, but in a completely different way. This time, the external mics are projected internally to allow you to still hear all what’s happening around you, almost as if you weren’t wearing the AirPods at all. We find this more impressive than the passive noise cancellation as it really does allow you to hear everything externally, and we’ve used it whilst buying things in a shop, though naturally do be aware everyone will still think you’re being rude and thinking they’re not heard as much.

Noise Cancellation = The best feature we don’t use

The problem with the noise cancellation feature of the new AirPods Pro is it’s only good at very specific surroundings. If you have a consistent sound occurring in the background, a perfect example of this was being inside a parked bus, they work amazing, you literally can’t hear anything and it’s just you and the music, BUT, the second there’s loud noise that’s not consistent things begin to break up.

When you’re in a more inconsistent noisy background, we find the Audio quality of the AirPods Pro suffers quite dearly and many parts of the Audio you’re listening to almost get an interference sound, akin to a severe reduce bitrate, an almost watery effect in some highs which can be incredibly distracting when trying to enjoy your music.

Whilst it’s true this may not be a problem for everyone, for us it’s a dealbreaker for the majority of areas we would like the feature to work on, whilst traveling on a bus. We’ve full confidence this will work better on an Aeroplane as the sound in that is more consistent. As a result of this, we tend to have the Setting on majority time to Off, then Transparency when we need to hear the outside world.

When we are at home, however, walking the streets, noise cancellation certainly does it’s job, so it’s definitely situational.

Audio quality = Sure ain’t pro, but it’s decent

Original AirPods sounded the same as Apple’s EarPods, which was pretty much embarrassing, in our opinion, this slightly improved, and we mean slightly, with AirPods 2, but the difference with AirPods Pro is certainly noticeable. Bass is more richer and free, though we will say we think the Trebles are a bit too extreme in many areas and as a result the overall sound isn’t as good as we think the drivers are capable of delivering.

One of our biggest annoyances about Audio quality of the AirPods Pro is Apple’s DREADFUL EQs on iOS. We’ve found that, overall, generally speaking the best choice is the “Hip-Hop” preset, but the fact that Apple don’t just allow granular controls to the equaliser is just incredibly frustrating, as most AirPods Pro competitors do so within their own accommodating Application to make up for iOS sheer lack of it.

Overall though, we don’t think most people will be let down by the Audio quality of the AirPods Pro, but there’s one thing we will say about this; as we mentioned in Design, if you put these on as you would with “normal” earphones, they will sound like garbage, so you do need to put them on correctly, with the tip pointing towards what would be your lips.

The fundamentals = Where these things just shine

Whilst the whole “magic” of AirPods is something which is incredibly easy to mock, there’s something fairly undeniable about AirPods when it comes to the experience, not only out of the box, but just in general.

Software integration with Apple’s main operating systems is of course top of the line, and there’s no hiding that pairing just by opening them for the first time near your phone is nothing less than incredible. This also works if you choose to “Share Audio” with another none paired Apple device, you just watch it happen and it’s crazy.

The reliability history of AirPods is also hard to deny. We’ve experienced enough Bluetooth headphones to know that there’s A LOT of areas where they can just fall short, and whilst we can’t entirely comment on this much with the AirPods Pro, let’s not forget how old these things are, they were literally announced on Tuesday, what we can say is they’ve just done the job.

Battery life, sure there’s competing headphones with better battery life, but they have cases that are simply humongous, these are compact and will easily last you a working week. We’ve not had them for a week, no one has, but we can tell you based on what’s left and we’ve been using these far more than we would normally use them for, it would be an easy bet to suggest they would get you through a 5 day working week.

Tiny things such as music pausing when a single AirPod is removed is nice, especially when it instantly resumes once it’s placed back in. Sure, these are small things, but they’re small things that add up to such a good experience.

Being able to check the battery life of your AirPods via the Apple Watch battery or your iPhone battery, is also incredibly useful, more so that the Apple Watch could do it, we almost wish Apple expanded that so it shows your iPhone battery life on the Watch, but that’s an entirely different conversation.

The Pros, the Cons and Summary

  • Improved audio quality versus the standard versions with deeper bass
  • Multiple sized tips so they’ll be one that fits great in your ear
  • The tip of the AirPods is so much smaller so they look far less silly
  • The integration between Apple devices is really neat
  • They instantly pair on and off without even thinking about it
  • Battery life is stellar and just as advertised
  • Connection has been far more reliable than a number of other Bluetooth headphones we have tested
  • Include a USB-C cable to charge using more conventional chargers, though also Apple’s newest Mac and iPad hardware
  • If noise cancellation is not important for you, the normal AirPods may still be a better buy
  • Maybe not for all, but there’s certainly a learning curve at putting them on
  • They’re not as seamless at going back in the case
  • There’s currently a UI bug on iOS that sometimes twitches between L or R when showing the AirPods battery life by opening the case with them in
  • For the price, if you’re looking for the best audio quality, these just simply aren’t for you
  • Whilst they do support Wireless Charging, we find it’s incredibly slow
Most won’t be disappointed, a lot of features like reliability and integration are industry leading, but if audio is everything to you, “audiophiles” out there, these ain’t for you

One good thing about Apple’s AirPods Pro, is that they don’t actually replace the AirPods 2 Apple have been selling very well, and what that means is you now have a choice upon which AirPods you should buy. The AirPods Pro really do take everything most people critiqued about the AirPods and attempts to fix all of them, and they’ve certainly done a very solid almost at every one of them, but it is worth mentioning that for so many people, the normal AirPods will still suffice, and with how poor we find Wireless Charging on these, there’s a clear £90 difference between getting, sure, battery audio quality, but for most, just the noise cancellation, and if that’s not important for you and you just want the AirPods experience we would still recommend the £159 versions.

However, when it comes to us reviewing the AirPods Pro, these are literally the only AirPods we would ever consider. We’re listening to them during this review, and whilst we’re hardly in a noisy environment, they just sound good, nothing out of this world special and groundbreaking, but also not bad and disappointing, just they sound good, and we know for most people that’s what we’re looking for.

The biggest hurdle for the AirPods Pro will of course be the £249 asking price, which could go down slightly as we enter the holiday season, like the AirPods traditionally do, but as with all AirPods you’ve to ask yourself whether the naturally really good unique fundamentals that these things do offer is worth it enough for you to consider them. If you want them, and get them, we doubt you’ll be disappointed, but if you’re an audiophile who listens for every bit and channel, you should naturally step away now.

Update January 2020

Since the release of a number of software updates that Apple has released for the AirPods, we have noticed a number of things. For one, the Noise Cancelation is slightly less-so, which is a bit disappointing, but it appears that this is in response to once of our biggest complaints with the feature, being the weird noises that we were experiencing when using the feature in inconsistent noisy environments, such as travel. So, we can now confirm that we do use Noise Cancelation above the simple “Off” feature, which does still cancel a bit out, but obviously you still get more canceled out. The audio quality of the AirPods Pro, however, is exactly the same as we said from the start, which is to say they’re good, but sure ain’t pro.

Published by R-Tech

R-Tech is the source of all the latest Technology posts on RKUK Media.

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