In October 2019 – just seven months after Apple launched its second-generation AirPods – the Apple AirPods Pro were released into the wild. This souped-up version of the world's best-selling true wireless earphones brought some cool new features to the table, including active noise cancellation, better sound quality, IPX4 sweat and water resistance and – crucially for those who'd baulked at the standard AirPods' unusual form – much shorter stems.
As befitting a product bearing Apple's 'Pro' badge, these premium in-ear headphones don't come cheap. But is it worth spending all that dosh when they are so many alternatives you can pick up for less? To help you decide, we take a closer look at what the AirPods Pro have to offer, from style to sound quality, and everything in between.
- Our pick of the best AirPods alternatives
Apple AirPods Pro review: Design
The point of true wireless earbuds is that they're meant to be discreet, so the inclusion of those conspicuous droopy stems on both the first and second-gen AirPods set tongues wagging – and not entirely in a good way. With the AirPods Pro, Apple has reined things in a bit – the stems are still there, but they're now around 40 percent shorter, meaning you still get some of the head-turning individuality that the standard AirPods offer, without looking like stalactites have formed on your earlobes. Considering that some other wireless earbuds stick prominently out of your ears, it's clear that we need to make some ergonomic sacrifices if we want to cut the wires.
Despite being shorter, the Pro's stems offer more functionality than those found on standard AirPods. Apple has fitted each one with a Force Sensor, enabling you to control music playback, summon Siri and flit between different modes with a gentle squeeze or two. This enhanced technology might explain why the AirPods Pro weigh more (5.4g per bud) than their standard siblings (4g), but they’re by no means heavy – in fact, you barely know you're wearing them once plugged into your ears.
As well as looking better, the AirPods Pro are more comfortable than the cheaper versions. This is partly down to the internal tapers that conform to the shape of your ears, but also because Apple has provided soft silicone tips this time around – and with three different sizes in the package, it's likely that you'll find one that fits just right.
Apple AirPods Pro review: Features
Like the AirPods (2019), the AirPods Pro come fitted with Apple's latest H1 chip, which delivers quicker pairing, reduced latency, hands-free Siri control and around three hours of talk time – a decent increase on the original AirPods' two hours.
Where the AirPods Pro speed ahead of their forebears, though, is in their active noise cancelling technology. This comprises inward and outward-facing microphones in each bud, along with advanced software algorithms, and is accessed by a simple pinch of one of the stems. While it's by no means best in class, we found that it blotted out around 50 percent of ambient noise, primarily in the low frequency range.
That was enough to improve the listening experience significantly and immersed us deeper into the music – though we should warn you that using it will reduce the Pro's five-hour battery life by around 30 minutes. If you need to keep one ear on the world around you – for example, if you want to listen out for a train announcement – switching to the Pro's Transparency mode will let more of the outside in.
Other AirPods Pro features that are missing from the standard AirPods (2019) include Adaptive EQ, which, Apple claims, “automatically tunes music to the shape of your ears for a rich, consistent listening experience”, and IPX4 sweat and water resistance – handy for those bedroom moshing sessions.
The AirPods Pro come bundled with their own unique charging case that can be charged wirelessly using a Qi-compatible mat or via the provided USB-C to Lightning cable, and should be good for an extra 20 hours of power.
Apple AirPods Pro review: Sound performance
While 'Pro' might be pushing it a bit – we certainly can't imagine a professional music producer wearing them to master an album – the AirPods Pro deliver a gratifying audio experience, and one that's markedly superior to the standard AirPods' offering. Thanks to the presence of a high-excursion, low-distortion driver (not to mention those noise-isolating silicone tips), bass is clear and resonant; while a custom high dynamic range amplifier enables upper-frequency vocals and instruments to be heard with impressive clarity. The sound quality won't blow you away, but it might make you glad that you splashed out the extra money for the Pro set.
You can also expect your movie-watching to be enhanced, thanks to the Pro's spatial audio capability. A new firmware update has introduced a Dolby Atmos-style, immersive home theatre experience that'll get those film blockbusters thumping like a John Bonham drum solo.
Apple AirPods Pro review: The competition
The Cupertino outfit is expected to launch a brand-new version of the AirPods Pro, and also a new standard set of AirPods, at some point in the near future. But if you want to look beyond Apple entirely, there are plenty of other quality true wireless earphones out there.
Our favourites include the Sony WF-1000XM3 (opens in new tab) (£169/$229), which don't look anything special but boast a winning combination of superb noise-cancelling, detailed audio performance and a cosy fit.
Cheaper again are Cambridge Audio's Melomania 1 (£99/$108), which marry cool-as-you-like minimalism with stunning sound quality and an extraordinary 45-hour battery life.
Looking for something geared up for your workouts? The Bose SoundSport Free (opens in new tab) (£179/$199) not only handle music superbly, they're plenty rugged enough to keep up with your pavement-pounding antics.
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