The AirPods Pro are the wireless earbuds you should buy if you want noise-cancelling without carrying bulky cans. At a premium of $249, you get a lot for your money compared to the regular AirPods, including powerful ANC, a customizable fit, and sweat and water resistance. The design still looks a bit odd, but Apple has shortened the stems on these earbuds and added useful gesture controls.
Apple threw in three microphones and a powerful audio driver, and brought it all together in a pair of buds that feel like magic. Yes, the battery life could be longer. But the AirPods Pro are the best wireless earbuds you can buy, and the best noise-cancelling headphones you can get in an earbud design.
AirPods Pro price and availability
The AirPods Pro are available now in the US and UK for $249/£249 but have dropped to $199 on select sales. If you buy direct from Apple, you can add AppleCare+ for Headphones for an additional $29, which gives you two years of warranty support, including up to two cases of accidental damage.
Right now, Amazon’s Black Friday AirPods Pro deal has the buds at $159, which is the lowest price we’ve seen for the buds.
We laughed at the design of the AirPods when Apple’s earbuds first launched. Heck, I definitely made some “Something About Mary” hair gel jokes. And yes, there are plenty of AirPods Pro memes floating around about the mini hair dryer aesthetic. But ultimately, Apple will have the last laugh when the earbuds fly off the shelves. Because while the AirPods Pro have a polarizing, cheesy, retro-modern aesthetic, there’s method behind the madness.
First, take a look at the AirPods Pro’s head, which is larger than the previous buds and includes two black microphone openings. At the top of the stem is another vent that hides another microphone. At the bottom is a sleek shiny chrome circle. At the end of the earbud is a new and notable addition: a silicone earbud.
The stem is shorter than previous versions of AirPods and now has a small notch cut into it. Press either, and you’ll discover an embedded force sensor that lets you toggle between ANC and transparency modes (more on that later).
The AirPods Pro weigh 0.19 ounces each and measure 1.2 x 0.9 x 0.9 inches. The 2nd Gen AirPods are slightly smaller and lighter at 0.14 ounces and 0.7 x 0.7 x 1.6 inches, but the 2nd Gen AirPods have longer stems than the Pros. The AirPods Pro are lighter than the Amazon Echo Buds (0.3 ounces and 0.9 x 0.9 x 0.9 inches) and the Sony WF-1000XM3 (0.3 ounces and 1.1 x 0.7 x 1 .3 inch)
For you fitness fanatics or heavy sweaters, the AirPods Pro are IPX4-rated, which means they’re sweat- and water-resistant like the Amazon Echo Buds and the Powerbeats Pro. The newer Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro are the most durable of all, with an IP67 rating for full waterproofing, but IPX4 is enough for rain and sweat.
At 1.6 ounces and 2.4 x 1.7 x 0.9 inches, the AirPods Pro charging case is wider and heavier than previous AirPod cases (1.3 ounces, 2.1 x 1.7 x 0.8 inches ). But when you consider the Echo Buds (2.5 ounces, 3 x 2.2 x 0.9 inches), the AirPod Pro’s body is downright tiny.
I usually experience a low level of panic when wearing AirPods. I love how light they are, but without a tight seal, I always worry about one falling out. Not with the AirPods Pro. For the first time in AirPods or EarPods history, Apple is adding silicone ear tips. And not just one pair, but three.
But how do you know what your size is? Your iPhone will tell you. In the Bluetooth section of the iOS settings menu, you will see an AirPods tab. Tap on that and you’ll find the Eartip Fit Test. Once activated, the AirPods Pro will play a song in your ear. As the sound plays, the internal microphone listens as the sound hits your ear canal, taking into account the unique curvature and bumps. If it matches, you will receive a green seal of approval notification. If not, a note will indicate whether you should adjust the fit or change to a different size.
Somehow my tiny medium-tipped ears were ok so I didn’t have to swap. But if you do, they bounce off relatively easily. While the new tips attach with one click, Apple intentionally shortened the attachment point and tapered the tips to better fit the unique shape of your ear. That meant I could roam New York without worrying about an unfortunate AirPods mishap. In fact, I wore the AirPods Pro for well over 2 hours in blissful comfort. If I had one complaint it would be that the tips are white. I know earwax is healthy and all, but that doesn’t mean I like seeing it on my tips.
AirPods Pro review: setup
Thanks to Apple’s H1 chip, pairing the AirPods Pro with an iDevice is easy, airy and beautiful. Seconds after opening the top of the charging case, an image of the AirPods Pro appeared on my iPhone XS Max, meaning the earbuds were paired. As expected, pairing the AirPods Pro with my Samsung Galaxy Note 8 took a little longer as I had to press the button on the back of the case to initiate pairing and then go into the phone’s settings menu to connect.
In the iOS settings menu, you can long press the ANC/Transparency mode toggle to change either ANC/Off or Transparency/Off. Or you can just use it as a secondary Siri launcher on both buds. Automatic ear detection, which streams audio from a connected device to the AirPods ProPros when you put them in your ears, can be turned off. And you also tweak the microphone settings.
Apple has put to rest my complaints about limited touch controls with the AirPods Pro’s Force Sensor. Here you can play/pause, skip tracks, and toggle ANC on/off. All you have to do is type. A single press plays/pauses or answers/ends a call, depending on the situation. A double tap skips songs forward, while a triple tap skips backwards. A long press on the sensor controls active noise cancellation. And yes, this control scheme carries over to Android.
I have to tell you that patting those thin stems is so much more convenient than squeezing the part of the bud that rests in my ear. The movement just pushes the bud further into my ear, which is quite uncomfortable.
You can also find controls for the AirPods Pro on your iPhone in Control Center. From there you can control volume, ANC, and transparency mode. For everything else, you’ll have to refer to Siri.
AirPods Pro review: Siri features
Hands? It’s so passé. The H1 chip ensures you can keep your hands on you. Much like other headphones and earbuds in the Apple catalog, the AirPods Pro offer hands-free Siri functionality. This means you can control the earbuds and other smartphone functions just by saying “Hey Siri”. But Apple is expanding Siri’s capabilities to include Announce Messages with Siri.
Announce with Siri allows the digital assistant to read your incoming messages aloud. Of course, the feature works with the messaging app. However, it also works with third-party apps. We’ve reached out to Apple to determine what apps are available and will update this review as soon as that information becomes available.
Review: noise cancellation
Apple has officially joined the ANC party and that sounds really good. And that says something about a pair of truly wireless buds. When I’m sitting in a perfectly quiet room, I hear a faint hum from the negative noise that the internal microphone creates to counter external noise.
It’s not nearly as pronounced as the Echo Buds, which use active noise-cancellation (ANR) courtesy of Bose. Yes, you read that correctly. In a pure quiet test, the AirPods Pro are quieter than a Bose collaboration product. To be fair, the WF-1000XM3’s ANC is pretty quiet too.
Samsung jumped on the ANC train for the first time with the Galaxy Buds Live. But these earbuds use a unique form of noise-cancelling designed to block out low-frequency background noise, and they barely came close to the AirPods Pro in our comparison tests. Even the latest Galaxy Buds Pro aren’t that good at canceling out external noise.
With no music, I could still hear my coworkers chatting in our open plan office while wearing the AirPods Pro, but my coworkers sounded like they were in a room several feet away. The buds from Sony and Amazon produced a similar effect, but while the WF-1000XM3 were just as quiet as the AirPods Pro, I still heard this negative noise in the Echo Buds above the noise from my peers.
When playing music, I was a bit disappointed that I had to turn the volume up to around 60% to drown out my colleagues. It was better than the Echo Buds, which accounted for around 65%, but fell nowhere near the WF-1000XM3’s 45%. To combat the noise of the C-train, I had to crank the AirPods Pro volume up to 70%, while the Echo Buds and Sonys had me cranking it up to 75% and 55%, respectively.
In fact, our streaming editor found the AirPods Pro to be great for watching TV, partly because of their noise-cancelling capabilities.
AirPods Pro-Test: Transparenzmodus
Sometimes you have to let the outside world into your peace created by the ANC. For those moments, Apple added a transparency mode. Activated either by a long press on one of the force sensors or via iPhone controls, transparency allows ambient noise to be channeled into the soundstage. It’s good for runners and other pedestrians who want to keep an eye on their surroundings while listening to music. For me, that means I didn’t have to stop listening to SZA’s The Weekend while discussing upcoming deadlines with my staff writer. And when I finished answering the questions, a quick squeeze of the stem had me getting back in my zone, listening to music, and pumping out this review.
And while I appreciate the Transparency mode, I wish Apple had taken it a bit further and let me adjust how much outside noise I let in, similar to the Echo Buds and Sonys. Even the Jabra Elite Active 65t has an adjustable HearThrough mode, and the Jabra earbuds only have noise isolation. Companion apps for Sonys and Echo Buds allow you to adjust the volume of ambient noise. And of the three, the WF-1000XM3 does the passthrough or transparency mode best, delivering clear, loud conversations that blend effortlessly into the music playing.
AirPods Pro review: audio quality
The AirPods never appealed to the audiophile crowd, and neither did the AirPods Pro – and that’s perfectly fine. While we don’t see the AirPods Pro as a great choice for audiophiles, they still manage to deliver clean, balanced audio that’s loud and enjoyable.
I started my tests with Tanks “When We”. On the AirPods Pro, I heard powerful bass accompanied by a more controlled keyboard. The drum machine had plenty of room to breathe and I was able to focus on Tank’s voice, which was warm and enticing.
When I switched to the Echo Buds, the bass was thick with a rather diffuse keyboard that distracted from Tank’s sensual tenor. Sony’s bass-heavy audio profile wasn’t great here, delivering lows that were a little more aggressive than I would have liked. Still, the singer’s beautiful falsetto shined through, as did the drums.
Chris Stapelton exuded melancholy and bite on Nobody’s Lonely Tonight. Gentle drums and a soulful guitar had their place on the AirPods Pro. Although the track was cooler on the Echo Buds, that didn’t mean I couldn’t hear the rasp of the guitar and the grain in the singer’s voice as he told his story of love lost. Sony’s buds had the warmest presentation of them all, making it sound like the artist was right in front of me. However, the guitar sounded a bit muddy, especially on the solo, which bled into the drums’ soundstage.
When I heard Missy Elliot’s “Throw It Back,” I was a little disappointed with how muffled the low end of the AirPods Pro sounded. However, this allowed me to enjoy the reverberations of the artist’s relaxed rhyme scheme and notice some of the more obscure parts of the track. you want bass The WF-1000XM3 is the undisputed king, albeit almost at the expense of the track. But it was just understated enough that you could hear the cowbells, triangles and other little details in the song. This is a time when the Echo Buds’ understated performance served them well. The finer details of the song had plenty of room to breathe against the super deep lows.
AirPods Pro review: battery life and Bluetooth
Apple rates the AirPods Pro at 4.5 hours of battery life (compared to 5 hours for the AirPods 2), while both models offer 24 hours of juice with the charging case. Like the AirPods 2, the AirPods Pro case charges wirelessly, so you can snap it onto a Mophie Pad if you don’t have a Lightning cable handy. In addition, the new charging case now offers a battery life of just 5 minutes charging time.
I squeezed about 4.5 hours off the AirPods (including a 40 minute commute, 2 hours Netflix, 1 hour phone call, 1.5 hours Steven Universe and a whole bunch of YouTube videos) before getting a low battery notification.
The Echo Buds are rated for an estimated 5 hours of battery life, while the WF-1000XM3 has an estimated 6 hours. When it comes to fast charging, the Echo Buds can charge 2 hours in 15 minutes in their charging case, while the Sony buds can reach 1.5 hours in 10 minutes.
The AirPods Pro use Bluetooth 5.0, which can connect to other devices with faster and more stable connections than previous iterations. It also has the ability to connect to multiple devices. In terms of range, Bluetooth 5.0 can theoretically reach 800 feet. So when I had my phone buried on my couch in the living room, I could still listen to music in my downstairs office.
AirPods Pro review: call quality
Good call quality is hard to find in a pair of earbuds, but Apple is slowly making progress, as I found while testing the AirPods Pro on a busy New York City street.
When I called my colleague in the office with both the Echo Buds and the Sonys, he reported that while he could hear me, I sounded slightly underwater and he could definitely tell I was using headphones to call. Most of the background noise was muted except for a passing ambulance and a particularly loud bus. He also noticed some noise from the WF-1000XM3. It sounded good on my side of the call, but it was a bit muffled.
With the AirPods Pro, my caller reported a relatively clear call with better audio quality than the competition. Outside noise was pretty much not a factor until a police car pulled by, sirens wailing. As for me, I had no trouble holding a conversation as his voice came through loud and clear.
Of the three pairs of buds, my caller ranked the AirPods Pro as the best, followed by the Echo Buds and the Sony WF-1000XM3, and I agree.
AirPods Pro review: Verdict
Somehow, the AirPods Pro manage to squeeze three microphones and six sensors into a tiny, redesigned body and still have room for the highly acclaimed H1 chip. Apple even added earbuds this time.
The result is some of the best active noise canceling I’ve heard in a pair of truly wireless earbuds. And they’re comfortable – not loose-fitting comfortable, not snuggly-but-I-can-comfortable – really comfortable. Siri hands-free is getting better and better and the audio is pretty great.
However, I still need Apple to bite the bullet and create a companion app with equalizer and adjustable pass-through mode. And it would be great if the company could find a way to break the 5-hour battery life mark. Speaking of which, check out the $229 Sony WF-1000XM3 if you want more control over your ANC/Transparency modes and longer endurance. But overall, the AirPods Pro are the king of wireless earbuds.