Active noise cancellation
Silicon tips ensure a more comfortable fit
Easy setup and syncing
Sub-par audio quality, given their price
Editor's note November 30 2020: With the update to iOS 14 the AirPods, and the AirPods Pro gained the ability to auto-switch to devices running the same software update when you begin to use them. In addition, the AirPods Pro got a new spatial audio feature by applying "directional audio filters" to place sounds "virtually anywhere in a space."
When Apple unveiled the first AirPods a few years ago, we were skeptical. Wireless earbuds are almost universally bad, with spotty connections, horrible battery life, and iffy durability. Even with good wireless earbuds it's common to see user reviews where more than 20% of people leave a 1-star review because their pair died. Somehow, the AirPods had none of these issues, though they are impossible to repair and the tiny internal batteries are unlikely to last more than a couple of years.
The new AirPods Pro don't solve the longevity issue, but they take everything that worked great in the original—dead-simple connectivity, great battery life, and a class-leading case that you can carry everywhere—and ramp it up to 11. The new model now includes eartips so they'll fit anyone's ears (even if other Apple earbuds don't) and active noise-cancellation.
Of course, the new model is also much more expensive than the original, with a $249 retail price (compared to $179 for the current non-Pro AirPods). It's pricey, but after testing them in our headphone lab and in the real world, it's clear these are absolutely worth it.
About the Apple AirPods Pro
Here are the specs for the Apple AirPods Pro as provided by Apple:
- Active Noise Cancellation
- Custom high-excursion Apple driver
- Custom high dynamic range amplifier
- Dual beamforming microphones
- Wireless: H1-based System in Package
- Charging: Case charges by Lightning connector or Qi-certified wireless charger
- Battery: 4.5 hours per charge, 24 hours with charging case
- Connectivity: Bluetooth 5.0
- Height (each): 1.22 inches (30.9 mm)
- Width (each): 0.86 inch (21.8 mm)
- Depth (each): 0.94 inch (24.0 mm)
- Weight (each): 0.19 ounce (5.4 grams)
- Height (case): 1.78 inches (45.2 mm)
- Width (case): 2.39 inches (60.6 mm)
- Depth (case): 0.85 inch (21.7 mm)
- Weight (case): 1.61 ounces (45.6 grams)
The AirPods Pro are true wireless earbuds, which means each earbud operates independently of the other, with no wires connecting them. This means that each earbud has its own driver, battery, microphone, and all the wireless connectivity to communicate with your source device and each other.
Unlike conventional wireless headphones, true wireless headphones nearly all charge by using a "charging case" which is just a case that houses another battery and is where the headphones will—you guessed it—charge when not in use. The downside to this design is that you have to charge them more frequently, and there are more components that could fail. This usually gives us pause, but Apple AirPods don't seem to be plagued with the same high failure rate we see with other wireless earbuds, so this is less of a concern for us.
What We Like
The battery life is good, and they charge fast
With true wireless earbuds, battery life is always at a premium. The AirPods Pro are rated for about 5 hours of listening time, though it's less if you are using them to talk and have noise cancellation active. I was able to squeeze a little less than 6 hours of use out of them during my work day with noise-cancellation active and a few breaks here and there.
Though five hours isn't much, the charging case holds another battery with enough juice to stretch that to 24 hours. It takes just five minutes to get about an hour-long charge and the charging case is pretty much the only good place to keep them when they're not in your ears. The case itself can be recharged wirelessly with a Qi-certified charger or the included USB-C to Lightning cable.
The noise cancellation works incredibly well
Noise cancellation is an awesome feature, able to listen to the world around you and play a sound that counteracts it. Most earbuds are noise isolating which means they just block sound out by being, well, earbuds. It's the difference between sitting in a cold room and getting a space heater instead of a sweater.
One important point: noise cancellation on earbuds is not as important as it is on larger over-ear headphones. In-ear headphones are already effective at blocking outside noise, especially while you're playing music. The cancellation on the AirPods Pro is actually most useful for listening to phone calls, podcasts, or nothing at all where there's not a constant stream of music helping to drown out ambient sounds.
And it truly is excellent. In our lab tests we found that the AirPods Pro were able to reduce ambient noise by 23dB(a) with active noise cancellation on, compared to just 15dB(a) without activating the ANC. That's an impressive result, and is borne out in our real world tests. I don't find noise-cancelling earbuds to be as enjoyable as noise-cancelling over-ear headphones (since you still have earbuds jammed in your ears), but they are equally effective in most situations.
They connect to your devices easily and stay that way
One of the biggest complaints about Bluetooth earbuds for years has been spotty connectivity. The original AirPods ushered in a new era of simple connectivity and sent everyone else rushing to catch up.The AirPods Pro continue that, with an updated "H1" wireless chip, which is specifically designed to pair quickly and easily with nearby Apple devices.
Even with non-Apple devices I had no issues pairing the Pros. Once paired, all I have to do is open the case and the headphones were connected by the time I put them in my ears. The range is stunning as well; when our photographer opened the case to shoot photos for this article they paired instantly to my Android phone, even though he was on a different floor.
The eartip design will fit way more people's ears
The major knock against Apple AirPods is that they just don't fit many people's ears. Apple's earbuds have just been simple molded plastic for years, and either they fit or they don't. The AirPod Pro earbuds, however, use silicone ear tips to better block ambient noise. The headphones come with multiple sizes, making it easier to find one that will fit your ears.
I'm loathe to give Apple too much credit for fixing something that should've been fixed long ago, but at least Apple finally came around. If the loose fit held you back from getting the previous AirPods, then these may finally work for you.
What We Don't Like
The sound quality is fine, but not great
The AirPods Pro sound much better than the vanilla AirPods, most notably thanks to the improved bass. This is largely due to the tighter fit, which allows less air to escape while also isolating your music better from the world around you.
It's a simple formula, but it works. If you're coming from similar earbuds like those from Sony, Bose, or Jabra then you likely won't be wowed by the AirPods Pro, but for people who have only used the non-Pro AirPods, these will be a big upgrade. The differences were most notable to me on songs that have a prominent bass drop, like this song from A Tribe Called Red or Kendrick Lamar's "DNA."
That said, there are still issues here. The mids feel a bit muffled and there's less clarity and separation than you'd get on most over-ear headphones, though highs don't have that sibilant whistling that makes some earbuds unbearable. The active noise cancellation doesn't help here, making everything sound slightly like you're underwater at times.
The batteries aren't replaceable, so there is an expiration date
Rechargeable batteries don't last forever, and after so many times being charged and depleted they just don't last as long. That isn't a huge problem on most devices, because the batteries can be replaced. The AirPods are mostly held together with glue, so replacing the battery just isn't feasible.
You can get a replacement AirPod Pro if the battery drops below 80% of its charging capacity and you shell out the $29 for two years of AppleCare+. I would highly recommend that, since that cost also covers you for two incidents of accidental damage from handling, though you have to pay a $29 fee per incident to get them repaired or replaced. That's still much better than buying a replacement without coverage, which costs $89 each for the two earbuds and the case.
Should You Buy Them?
Yes, if you value convenience over battery life
The AirPods Pro are, without a doubt, the best earbuds that Apple has ever made. They offer best-in-class connectivity, portability, a design that will work for just about anyone, and they sound better than the original AirPods by a country mile. There are better-sounding earbuds, for sure, but you're no longer sacrificing sound quality to get everything else that makes the AirPods such a standout choice.
They are particularly excellent if you use Apple devices, where the tighter integration with software shines through. Not only is connecting as simple as opening the case and hitting a button on your phone, but you can share tracks between multiple sets of AirPods and use Siri right from the headphones. I tested the AirPods Pro on a Windows laptop and Android phone, though, and still found they offered the most reliable connectivity and range of any true wireless headphones I've tested.
With an MSRP of $249, you're paying a hefty premium over the original AirPods, but it's unquestionably worth it to me. They offer proper IPX4 splash-resistance, eartips that keep them in place if you want to use them while working out, and active noise cancellation that works exceptionally well according to our lab tests. We highly recommend picking up the $29 AppleCare+ plan to go with them, since it covers the battery for two years and lets you get cheap repairs and/or replacements if you drop them and they get damaged.
Are they the best wireless earbuds that we've tested? That depends on your needs. If you're buying wireless earbuds because you want great sound quality, we'd recommend other earbuds like the Jabra Elite Active 65t or the Sony WF-1000XM3. But if you're like most people, you probably care just as much about the convenience and this is where the AirPods Pro distance themselves from the field.
They offer everything we love about the AirPods but in a package that is just better in nearly every way. They don't solve the fundamental issue that these headphones aren't going to be fixable if they die after a couple of years, but if you can get past that then these are a slam dunk.
Meet the testers
TJ is the Executive Editor of Reviewed.com. He is a Massachusetts native and has covered electronics, cameras, TVs, smartphones, parenting, and more for Reviewed. He is from the self-styled "Cranberry Capitol of the World," which is, in fact, a real thing.
Julia is the Senior Scientist at Reviewed, which means that she oversees (and continually updates) the testing of products in Reviewed's core categories such as televisions, washing machines, refrigerators, and more. She also determines the testing methods and standards for Reviewed's "The Best Right Now" articles.
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