I've been someone indulged in the Apple ecosystem for many years now. This doesn't mean I'm limiting myself to devices of other ecosystems. I live in a mixed ecosystem. I have a Windows desktop, but also a Macbook Pro. I have an Apple TV, but also an NVIDIA Shield. I have an iPhone, but also Android phone. And then also an iPad Pro, but no Android equivalent.
As such, this review does not have a hard conclusion. There is no "buy it" or "don't buy it", because of X, Y, Z. I will be giving my experience with the AirPods Pro and with this hopefully help you make an informed decision on buying a new pair of Bluetooth headphones.
A little bit of history
Before using Apple's line of wireless earbuds, I used one of JBL's Reflect series and then the JBL Everest 100. The cable of the former started malfunctioning so the store gave me credit to pick a new one. My dad uses the Everest 100 every so often now and it still works!
I've been using the original Airpods for about two years before swapping to the Airpods Pro in December. The originals were very convenient to use compared to any other pair of Bluetooth earbuds at the time and the absence of the wire made for a great experience while moving about with them.
The audio quality in the 1st gen Airpods wasn't exceptional. They were basically Earpods, the wired earbuds that Apple includes in the box, but with a little bit of extra oomph in the volume. It was good enough, because all the convenience factors made up for it.
Upgrade from first gen
I've been using the AirPods Pro since the end of December. I started writing this article at the beginning of February but, I only finished it another month later. So this is technically my 2 month experience!
When you first put in the Airpods they turn on the noise cancellation. The sound of the outside world fades away and it just gets quiet. It's ready for the media you're about to throw at it, is what you'll think when you get them in for the first time.
These Airpods feel more comfortable than the original ones. The silicone buds sit gently inside your ear without completely pressurizing the inside like other in-ears do. There's also no hard plastic rubbing against your ear, this made hard for me to keep the first gens in for long amounts of time, especially when you're moving about.
After the initial pairing process you can start playing around with the three different modes: Transparency, off and Noise Cancellation.
The last one makes the most sense. This is the ANC feature that everyone talks a lot about. Off is basically the same as having normal Airpods, except in-ear. I see honestly no reason why you'd pick this option, because this one sounds the worst of the three. The sound is very muddy and feels like it's much worse than other two modes, but this does come with the benefit of increased battery life, because the microphone of the Airpods are not being used.
Transparency mode is what you could basically all the opposite of Noise Cancellation. Instead of using the microphones to cancel out the noise, the microphones are being used to capture the audio around of you and pass it through to your ears. This is especially useful when you're at a train station and want to hear announcements or the people around you without taking them out of your ear. This also *can* give the simulation of having a very open soundstage that you'd get with open back headphones, but this is very much an exaggeration because it's noticable that the audio coming through is digital and not natural. Despite the audio sounding very digital, it's a very useful mode during commutes.
To switch between modes, just hold one of the stems and it switches between Noise Cancellation and Transparency. You can change the functionality of this in the Settings app on iOS.
Pressing the stem once toggles the play/pause functionality, pressing it twice skips a track forward and pressing it three times skips back a track. This is more intuitive than the touch areas on the original Airpods. I never got them to work consistently despite reading tutorials and attempting other people's solutions.
Using the Airpods was certainly magical for the first week, but then reality hits. These are still pieces of technology that depend on software. And software can have bugs and other issues:
- The Airpods Pro were supposed to be paired to all my iCloud connected devices, but they didn't show up on my Macbook Pro or iPad Pro as available devices. So I had to unpair it on my phone and re-pair it so iCloud could try again. This only happened once.
- My left Airpod sometimes feels like it isolates the noise out worse than my right one. Even after double checking it with the fit test that comes in the settings app. This is still an ongoing issue.
- Sometimes only one of the two Airpods actually connects. I then have to put them both back in the case, make sure they're actually disconnected from my phone. Then pull them out and put the opposite one in my ear, the one that didn't connect. I always put my Airpods in left first, so it's always trouble with my right one.
- Sometimes only one of the Airpods actually charges! I've come to discover this the hard way. After one of my listening sessions I put them both in the case and my right Airpod was silently draining its battery while in the case, probably trying to maintain a connection to my Mac or iPhone, but neither actually showed them as currently selected audio devices. I only noticed later in the battery widget that the Right Airpod was just slowly draining battery. This is only fixable by actively checking the light on the Airpods charging case. It fading out and in once when an Airpod gets seated in actually confirms that it's charging. I've made the habit now to double check the lights and the battery widget on my phone to see if they are actually charging.
- Very rarely, one Airpod goes into transparency and the other in ANC. Switching back and forth between the modes put them back in sync. This also happens when somehow one connects to the Mac/iPad and the other the iPhone. So much for seamless switching.
Sometimes bloggers say that a list like this would go on and on, but these are all the issues I have. Despite these issues these Airpods consistently provide by far the best user experience for bluetooth earbuds. And that is what it's all about in the end for something that you use on a daily basis.
This is going to be a super short paragraph about the audio quality. There's a lot of YouTube videos and blog posts out there that describe the quality objectively, scientifically and also by their own taste. I will just do the latter.
I've always liked the AKG M220 Pro. These are semi open backed headphones and they sound is very natural, wide and warm. I even think it sounds punchy enough with songs that have bass and beats going on. I only use these in my room and I've never used them for travel because the audio leaks everywhere like mini speakers.
I also liked the first gen Airpods. I already described them as a normal Earpods, but with a little bit of extra oomph in the volume. These are nothing special and I'd always prefer my AKGs over the first gens whenever I had the chance.
The Airpods Pro however somewhat changed that. In the ANC and Transparency modes, the highs are pretty clear, they're not the clearest. But clear enough for me. The bass is punch but it doesn't sound overwhelming at all. Like, it's not fatiguing. The mids are still a bit muddy but they've improved a lot over the normal Airpods. I could keep these in for multiple hours without a problem.
Not to mention the ANC functionality can make you lower the volume of them preserving your hearing. With the first gens I usually had my volume slider on Apple Music at around 70%. With the pros I can keep them at around 50-60%. In the image below you can see the basic improvement of the audio levels when wearing these.
This is by no means a health recommendation, nor am I allowed to do such a thing. But seeing this improvement in the health app was pretty nice. Mind you that these values are only accurate with Apple or Beats headphones. The disclaimer on the page reminds you of that as well.
After having used the original AirPods for two years and having experienced its convenience. I shot for the AirPods Pro. This was a great decision because I benefited not just from the increased comfort and audio quality, but also from the Noise Cancellation feature. I do not have any other audio devices that use ANC, so I can't test which is better than which. What I can tell you, however, is that these work really well.
At around $250 or €279, this is an expensive pair of wireless earbuds. In the Netherlands Sony's in-ear ANC wireless earbuds are commonly found cheaper for around €100 euro less than the AirPods Pro. These are the ones that are being the most against each other.
The whole ecosystem situation and the convenience factor is what made my decide to get these. Like the ability to seamlessly switch between Apple devices, while also retaining the ability for them to function as normal headphones (I also use them with my PS Vita).
This is something you as a reader has to think about.
On the go I only really carry my Apple devices and this is why it makes sense for me to get these. If you live in a similar situation and your on the go carry are Apple devices, then you should consider getting these. Try them out in a nearby Apple Store with the type of songs you listen to the most and judge for yourself if it's worth spending on.
If you carry no Apple devices, or these are the in minority. I encourage you to take a lot at other offerings as well. Try them out if possible and base your choice on what you prefer.
This isn't really a definitive conclusion, but I don't want you to blindly go out and buy something just because I say so.
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