Apple has come a long way since launching the AirPods in late 2016, quickly taking the lead in the true wireless earphones space. Although the original AirPods were replaced with a second-generation variant only a few months ago, Apple has already pushed its burgeoning range of true wireless earphones even further. The Cupertino-based company has now launched the AirPods Pro, its latest and most feature-filled headset yet.
Priced at Rs. 24,900, the AirPods Pro come with a new design, force-touch controls, and a big new feature - active noise cancellation. Are these the best true wireless earphones you can buy today? We've reviewed this new premium pair of earphones from Apple, and here's what we have to say.
Apple AirPods Pro design and specifications
The Apple AirPods (2nd Gen) launched earlier this year offer a handful of improvements over the original version, except in terms of design; the AirPods still look exactly the same and have an outer-ear fit. This design is among the most polarising things about the AirPods - some love it, while others simply don't. Now, with the AirPods Pro, Apple has gone with a more traditional in-canal fit with rubber ear tips; we found that this made for a more secure hold as well as improved noise isolation, and also ensured that the active noise cancellation functioned properly.
Apple's implementation of this in-ear fit is rather unique - the ear tips don't sit on extended stalks, instead fixing directly onto the earpiece grilles of each unit. They are fitted on securely and stayed in place despite looking like they wouldn't, and three pairs of ear tips (small, medium, and large) are included in the box for a customisable fit. We loved how comfortable the AirPods Pro were and were able to keep them on for hours at a stretch.
The AirPods Pro has smaller stems and bigger earpieces than the 2nd Gen AirPods
Like the standard AirPods, the AirPods Pro are available in a single colour and finish: white, glossy plastic. Love it or hate it, nothing signifies that you're looking at a pair of AirPods quite like this design. The earphones themselves look quite different though, with shorter stems, bulkier earpieces, and larger sensor windows and vents than on the AirPods (2nd Gen). You also now get IPX4 sweat and water resistance with the AirPods Pro.
The stems on each earpiece have force-touch sensors which are used to control playback and call handling. A second customisable function can be set to either invoke Siri or cycle through active noise cancellation and sound transparency functions. You can set which side controls what function through the Bluetooth settings on an iOS device. It's possible to have either noise control or Siri on both sides, or different functions on the left and right.
As before, there's no power button on the AirPods Pro; they come on automatically when removed from their charging case, and go off when placed back inside. Additionally, taking one earpiece out of your ear pauses music, and also turns off active noise cancellation on the second one if it's still being worn, so you can use that as a way to listen to your surroundings or have quick conversations.
Pressing the sensor was easy enough, thanks to a small indentation which lets your finger find the right spot. Audible cues in the form of the sound of a physical button, as well as chimes, let you know that the AirPods Pro have registered your input, which we found particularly useful. It's disappointing to note that you still can't adjust volume on the AirPods Pro directly, and will need to do so on the source device. You can ask Siri to adjust the volume like before, but we found this to be as clumsy as ever.
The force-touch buttons themselves are a bit harder to use than the tap gestures on the AirPods (2nd Gen) since you need to find and firmly press on a very small area of the stalk. We did eventually get used to this, but it's certainly a bit slower than on many other true wireless earphones we've used, including the 2nd Gen AirPods.
The microphones are now on mesh strips on the outer parts of each earphone, and they work for both calls as well as for active noise cancellation. There is an additional inner microphone which listens to the sound inside your ear, further boosting noise cancellation capabilities. Whether all of this actually makes for better active noise cancellation is something we've explored later in this review.
Apart from active noise cancellation, the Apple AirPods Pro also feature Transparency mode, which activates the microphones to capture outside sound and relay it to the user's ears. It's similar to what we've seen on other high end noise cancellation headphones, and is useful for times when you need to hear what's going on or want to speak to someone without taking off your earphones. It worked quite well for us, offering natural sound that was similar to what we'd hear with the earphones off.
Charging the case still needs a Lightning cable
The AirPods Pro uses the same H1 chip as the AirPods (2nd Gen), and works over Bluetooth 5 ensuring quick and stable connectivity, hands-free ‘Hey Siri' commands, and more. There is also what Apple calls ‘Adaptive EQ'; this allows the AirPods Pro to set the equaliser according to the shape of your ear, and seems to also affect sound quality according to the genre of music or type of sounds being played on the earphones.
Apple AirPods Pro software and features
Previous AirPods didn't have too much going on in terms of software integration beyond basic function customisations and the ability to invoke Siri through gestures or the ‘Hey Siri' command. With the AirPods Pro, things have changed a bit.
You can still customise some functions through the Bluetooth settings on your paired iOS device and invoke Siri either through the force-touch sensor or hands-free, but there's a bit more to the software as well. Unfortunately though, you can't customise any functionality on an Android smartphone, and will need an iOS device to get the best out of the AirPods Pro.
For one, a paired and connected AirPods Pro headset now shows in the form of a small icon on the volume controls, and you can quickly switch between noise cancellation, transparency, and neither. The same feature isn't available for 2nd Generation AirPods, so it's a new addition specifically for the Pro headset. The ‘press and hold' function can be set to adjust either noise cancellation or invoke Siri on your iOS device, and the automatic ear detection and microphone settings can also be adjusted.
There is also a ‘Ear Tip Fit Test', which lets the device run a test to help you figure out which tips give you the best fit and noise isolation. We were able to get a good fit with all three sets of tips, although we personally preferred the large ones in terms of comfort. This will of course be different for different users, so it's recommended that you run this test when you first set up your AirPods Pro to figure out which pair of tips suits you best.
The charging case on the AirPods Pro sees one big change - it's wider and shorter than the case of the regular AirPods to factor in the shape of the Pro earpieces. The rest of the design is familiar, with an indicator light on the front, pairing button at the back below the hinge, and Lighting port for charging the case at the bottom. The case comes with support for Qi wireless charging as standard; there's no non-wireless option like with the 2nd Gen AirPods.
The cavities inside are shaped to fit the AirPods Pro earpieces perfectly, and have magnets for them to snap into place and charge. Charging the case itself continues to require a Lightning cable which is a bit disappointing; we'd have preferred the more universal USB Type-C here, given that Apple now has a handful of products that use this standard for power delivery. Wireless charging isn't as fast as regular wired charging, but is nice to have if you already have a decent wireless charger.
Battery life for the AirPods Pro is similar to that of the AirPods (2nd Gen) in terms of the number of hours you get out of the earphones and case, but it's worth noting that this is with noise cancellation active on the Pro model. We usually got a little over four hours of continuous listening with these earphones, with noise cancellation switched on and the volume set to around 80 percent. The case let us charge the earpieces fully about four and a half times, for a decent total of around 22-23 hours of battery life per charge cycle.
Apple AirPods Pro performance
Now that we've covered the basics, let's get to what matters the most in our review of the AirPods Pro - sound quality and performance. We used the earphones with an Apple iPad mini (2019) (Review), a OnePlus 7T Pro (Review) and a MacBook Air, with all three devices using Apple's preferred AAC Bluetooth codec.
This allowed us to put the AirPods Pro through a variety of use cases, including listening to music, watching videos and movies, and making voice and video calls. We also comprehensively tested the active noise cancellation and Transparency modes.
The standard Apple AirPods don't sound bad, but there has always been something missing, largely because of the outer-ear fit. The Apple AirPods Pro finally get things right, fixing some of the basic issues we had with the AirPods earlier, and we loved how these earphones sounded.
The sound is engaging, immersive, and clean; we couldn't really pinpoint any issues with the sound quality. The AirPods Pro sounded as good as or better than every other pair of true wireless earphones we've had a chance to review.
The AirPods Pro is a big step up from the 2nd Gen AirPods
Regardless of the device in use, we got consistently capable sound output, with excellent responsiveness across the frequency range. The AirPods Pro were able to comfortably handle every genre of music properly, with the sonic signature adjusting almost magically to whatever tracks we played. Listening to rock classic Baba O'Riley by The Who, the earphones provided capable bass while maintaining detail in the mid-range and the highs. We were also particularly impressed with stereo separation and the soundstage; there was audible width and depth in the sound.
Moving on to Deadmau5's Raise Your Weapon with the volume turned up to way above ‘safe' levels, the AirPods Pro produced an entirely different sonic experience that was perfectly adjusted to the electronic/dubstep genre of the track. The mid-range saw a considerable boost for the initial vocals, followed by some tight bass and sparkling highs when the punchy electronic beats kicked in.
What really impressed us was how quickly the earphones adjusted to the change in tempo and attack midway through the track when it switches to raw dubstep. The AirPods Pro were fast, responsive, and extremely capable, regardless of genre.
While we loved the quality of the low end, it's worth noting that the AirPods Pro don't exactly deliver very aggressive sub-bass. We did feel a bit of a dip in the lowest of lows, but the mid-bass picked up capably and made for an entertaining, realistic interpretation of the sound. While you'll obviously hear a lot more detail from a high-end pair of wired earphones or headphones, the AirPods Pro do just about as good a job as is currently possible using Bluetooth for transmission.
A couple of big factors contribute to this significant improvement in sound quality - better noise isolation thanks to the design and in-canal ear tips, and active noise cancellation. The noise isolation, on its own, made only a small impact on overall sound quality and wasn't quite as good as we've experienced with the Anker Soundcore Liberty Lite earphones.
However, the design of the ear tips and the inner microphones are meant to assist active noise cancellation. With cancellation turned on, the earphones give the impression of a very good passive seal.
The active noise cancellation isn't quite what you'd get from a good pair of over-ear headphones, but is extremely effective given the in-ear design. In our experience, a lot of ambient sound was cut out, including the hum of an air-conditioner, traffic noises, and more - essentially repetitive sounds with a flat wavelength. It even softened voices and sounds like the honking of a car, and certainly made music and vocals much cleaner and more audible.
The responsiveness and flexibility of the AirPods Pro also made for excellent sound output when watching videos and on voice calls. Dialogue in videos, TV shows, and movies was crisp, sound effects were clear, and the audio in videos we recorded was natural and realistic. We had absolutely no trouble at all on voice calls, with the AirPods Pro doing a good job on both ends of the call even in noisy environments.
AirPods have been phenomenally popular since their launch, and have established the company as the leader in the true wireless space. With the AirPods Pro, Apple has an absolute winner on its hands. This new model has everything that it should take to keep the company's lead in the segment intact. These earphones look and feel good, sound great, and have useful features that improve the overall experience significantly.
The earphones themselves only have a few small issues such as the lack of volume controls, the slower responsiveness of the force-touch sensor, and the continued use of the Lightning standard to charge the case of the AirPods Pro. However, there is one big problem - the price in India.
At Rs. 24,900, the Apple AirPods Pro is very expensive. While it is significantly better than the AirPods (2nd Gen) in all ways, it's hard to imagine having to pay the same amount as you'd shell out for a class-leading pair of over-ear noise cancelling headphones such as the Sony WH-1000XM3. It's even more disappointing when you consider the difference in the price of the AirPods in the US and India. Even with taxes, the price of the AirPods Pro in the US is around Rs. 5,000 less than in India.
Regardless of whether you're an Apple user or not, there's no better pair of true wireless earphones you can buy today. If you have the budget for the AirPods Pro, this is a strong recommendation from us.
Price: Rs. 24,900
- Improved design and fit
- Superb sound quality
- Very good battery life
- Good active noise cancellation and Transparency mode
- No volume controls on the earphones
- Lightning port for charging
Ratings (out of 5)
- Design/ comfort: 4.5
- Audio quality: 4.5
- Battery life: 4.5
- Value for money: 3
- Overall: 4
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