Apple AirPods Pro Review

Apple’s AirPods Pro is a pricier, more feature-rich take on the AirPods

Verdict

AirPods Pro are excellent earbuds and easy to recommend, especially if you’re deep in the iOS ecosystem. They sound great, are far more comfortable than competing headphones and the ANC is very effective. Add to that the typical AirPods feature like a strong connection and easy pairing and you’ve got a very complete product.

Pros

  • Much improved design over original AirPods
  • Excellent noise cancellation
  • Well integrated with the Apple ecosystem
  • So comfortable

Cons

  • ANC strength can’t be manually altered
  • Pricier than most of the competition

Key Specifications

  • Review Price: £249
  • ANC with transparency mode
  • 24 hours of battery life with the case
  • Wireless charging case
  • Three tip sizes
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Apple’s AirPods Pro is a pricier, more feature-rich take on the now iconic true wireless AirPods.

They have a slightly smaller footprint, better fit and excellent noise cancellation. Yet one of the biggest improvement over the AirPods (2019) is the huge jump in sound quality.

They might be on the pricey side, but these are an excellent pair of truly wireless buds that make a perfect duo alongside the iPhone 11.

AirPods Pro setup and features – Built for iOS, but compatible elsewhere

AirPods Pro is primarily made to work best with Apple devices, whether that’s an iPhone, Mac and iPad. The integration with these products, in typical Apple fashion, is excellent.

Flip the case open for the first time and a pop-up will appear on your iOS device (as long as it’s running the latest version) prompting you to connect. Once paired, the earbuds will be easily accessible on any Apple device signed in with your Apple ID without the need to re-pair.

Another nifty trick in the setup process lets you run a quick sound test to make sure there’s a good seal between the silicone tip and your ear. If there is any sound leakage then you’ll be prompted to switch to a different sized tip. 

The experience might be slicker on Apple’s own products, but these still work perfectly well with anything that supports Bluetooth audio. There’s a small circular button on the back to force the case into pairing mode and from there you pair them just as you would do any other device.

airpods pro

Internally, AirPods Pro are very much the same as the second-gen AirPods. There’s an H1 chip providing the grunt and this enables features like ‘Hey, Siri’, faster switching between devices and the excellent and stable connectivity. 

AirPods Pro audio and noise-cancelling – Huge improvements

Once derided for its audio prowess, Apple has seriously upped its games in recent years and simply assuming these are going to sound bad because they’re not from a typical audio brand is lazy. Whether it’s the iPhone 11 Pro, the latest 16-inch MacBook Pro, the iPad Pro or the HomePod, the vast majority of Apple’s products offer best-in-class sound.

While I wouldn’t go as far as saying these are the best earbuds in this category, they’re not to be dismissed and produce a sound that’s excellent across many different genres of music along with podcasts and audiobooks. They also sound a lot better than AirPods.

Bass is noticeably deeper here than AirPods and the detail in vocals and songs heavy with strings are a lot clearer. The soundstage is much wider too, and there’s a warmth that’s completely ignored from Apple’s previous truly wireless earbuds. I will say the Sony WF-1000 XM3 does sound better, offering a slightly more fuller sound that can be pumped louder, but the difference isn’t all the obvious.

It’s the addition of Active Noise Cancellation (ANC) that really makes these the AirPods to buy and the way it works here is excellent, even if it’s possibly not as customisable as I would like.

At the most basic level, ANC cancels out noises around you and lets you focus more on what you’re listening to. The open style of the original AirPods meant that all-sorts of sound would get into your ear, but with the in-ear design and ANC here that’s no longer an issue.

With ANC on, I was able to comfortably listen to a podcast on the rattling London tube (which, according to the Apple Watch 5, was 95 decibels) with only a few bits of outside audio creeping in.

This isn’t the more complete noise cancellation you’d get with an over-ear pair of Bose NC 700 or similar, but it’s still effective for commutes and office listening. For a long, loud flight I think I would still prefer some over-ear cans just for that complete isolation.

airpods pro

You can’t alter the strength of the ANC though; it’s either on, off or in Transparency mode. Transparency mode uses an array of mics both on the inside and outside of the bud to funnel in sound when you want to hear an airport announcement or someone talking. You can access this either by holding down on the stem or through the volume slider on iPads and iPhones.

It’s a handy feature but it would still be nice to dial the ANC down manually if the situation called for it. Apple does say that the noise cancellation ‘is continually adjusted at 200 times per second’ which is a stat that’s virtually impossible to test.

AirPods Pro design and fit – In-ear design with a supreme fit 

The AirPods Pro looks very much like the original AirPods, but also very different. The charging case remains a glossy puck but it’s now wider and squatter – like you’ve turned the original case on its head. There’s still a glowing light on the front for status indications, a button on the back for pairing with anything that isn’t iOS and a Lightning port on the bottom for charging.

Flip open the case and you’re greeted by two very distinctive protruding buds at an angle from their charging bays. The actual AirPods Pro has a much shorter stem than the regular AirPods and a slightly more bulbous top.

Each stem has a capacitive pad on the side. When pressed, this slight divot performs the function previously achieved by a tap on the side of the AirPod. A light press pauses it, while a number of taps skips forward or back. You can also enter the seriously impressive Transparency mode by holding it down.

While I understand that tapping on the earbuds while its deep inside your ear isn’t the most elegant solution, this new system is fiddly to say the least. Grabbing the stem without feeling like you’re going to pull the bud out is a constant irritant for me and you have to press it just that little bit too long for any of the functions to work. There’s also no way to change the volume without either asking Siri or bringing out your phone – neither of which is ideal.

Of course the biggest difference is the in-ear design. Instead of resting inside your ear, the Pros delve down right inside your ear. They have silicone tips at the end which come in three sizes: small, medium and large and generally feel very comfortable.

I’ve always had issues with this type of earphones before giving me earache after extended periods, but I so far haven’t had anything like that here. This is likely down to the vents on the outside, which there to get rid of that clogged feeling often found on earbuds of this type. 

airpods pro

Apart from creating a seal that helps the noise cancellation, this in-ear style also gives these AirPods a much tighter fit. If previous AirPods simply fell out when you did anything that required your head to move these will feel much more secure.

These AirPods are, as a result, much better for using in the gym or when you’re on a run. Apple clearly knows this as it has added a basic IPX4 water resistance rating to ensure no damage should occur from light drizzle and sweat. Just don’t go as far as wearing them in the pool.

My biggest issue with the design of the AirPods Pro is the reluctance to offer anything other than a glossy white colour option. The case gets dirty so quickly and dust gets caught inside, quickly becoming a right pain. A black, or even iPhone 11 Pro-like Midnight Green, variation would have been much better.

AirPods Pro battery life – About the same as the AirPods

Apple’s claim of 4.5 hours of juice per charge for the AirPods Pro has mostly rung true throughout my time with buds and this is with the ANC turned on all the time. That’s not quite on par with the excellent Sony WF-1000XM3 (we got about 6 hours per charge with these) but about the same as the normal AirPods. The case itself offers roughly 24 hours of charge and a couple of minutes charging got me 45 minutes of listening.

You can stretch the endurance out marginally by turning off ANC. I got roughly 20-30 minutes of extra juice per charge by doing this.

Apple has stuck with Lightning for the AirPods Pro, which is hardly a surprise as its still the port you’ll find on most iPads (Pro aside) and every iPhone. You do, however, get a USB-C to Lightning cable in the box so you can charge them directly from a newer MacBook without the need for a dongle. Qi wireless charging is here too and it’s the method I tended to favour when charging up the AirPods Pro.

Related: Best wireless headphones

Should you buy the AirPods Pro?

AirPods Pro are excellent earbuds and easy to recommend, especially if you’re deep in the iOS ecosystem. They sound great, are far more comfortable than competing headphones and the ANC is very effective. Add to that the typical AirPods feature like a strong connection and easy pairing and you’ve got a very complete product.

My only slight reservation is the price, which puts these above the better sounding (though much chunkier) Sony WF-1000XM3. It’s also a similar price to what you’d pay for the over-ear Bose QC35s.

We continually check thousands of prices to show you the best deals. If you buy a product through our site we will earn a small commission from the retailer – a sort of automated referral fee – but our reviewers are always kept separate from this process. You can read more about how we make money in our Ethics Policy.

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