AirPods Pro are a steal — even at $249 [Review]

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AirPods-Pro
You'd be crazy to buy regular AirPods instead.
Photo: Killian Bell/Cult of Mac

It has taken me just over a day to realize AirPods Pro are the best accessory I’ve ever purchased from Apple. They sound terrific, work exceptionally well with other Apple products, and feel great.

They might be pricier than their siblings at $249. But with new features like active noise cancellation and Transparency mode, they’re worth every penny.

Here’s our full review of AirPods Pro.

AirPods Pro review

I had no complaints with the second-generation AirPods I splashed out on just a few months ago. They’re not the best headphones for sound quality, but their convenience and simplicity make up for that.

Millions of other Apple fans agree with me, which is why AirPods are not only Apple’s most popular headphones, but the best-selling headphones in the world. There’s just one problem: Now we have AirPods Pro. And they make regular AirPods a hard sell. They’re so much better in almost every way that you’d be crazy not to spend the extra cash to upgrade to Apple’s newest buds.

AirPods Pro sport an all-new design

You get a lot for an extra $50, too (versus the price of regular AirPods with a Wireless Charging Case). It starts with an all-new design that’s more compact and uses silicone tips for the first time.

AirPods Pro look a little beefier than regular AirPods, but with a shorter stem that doesn’t look so dorky. They’re accented with black grilles, reminiscent of a stormtrooper’s helmet.

AirPods-Pro-vs-AirPods
AirPods Pro make old AirPods look … old.
Photo: Killian Bell/Cult of Mac

The new design is water-resistant for the first time. The IPX4 rating means you can’t take AirPods Pro in the shower, but they will be absolutely fine if you get the sweaty in the gym.

The silicone tips are a welcome addition. They help AirPods Pro stay in your ears, so you can work out without worrying about them falling out. I forced myself to jog (not far) just to confirm that.

Those all-important tips

The tips snap on and off with a click, so they’re easy to change and replace. But in true Apple style, they use a proprietary design that means you can’t swap them with third-party alternatives (yet).

Other options likely will flood Amazon and eBay in coming weeks, and Apple sells replacements for just $4. But if you already own some silicone tips you really like, they won’t fit AirPods Pro.

The AirPods Pro come with three pairs of silicone tips
The AirPods Pro come with three pairs of tips.
Photo: Charlie Sorrel/Cult of Mac

You should find Apple’s tips perfectly comfortable, though. They come in three sizes so you can enjoy the right fit, and a brilliant Ear Tip Fit Test helps you decide if you’re wearing them right.

You can perform the test in the AirPods Pro settings menu on iPhone or iPad. It plays a short piece of music and uses the earbuds’ internal microphones to determine if you have a good fit. The test then tells you if the tips you’re using are suitable, or if you should try some others. But it can’t tell you exactly which ones you should opt for. You’ll need to work that out for yourself.

AirPods Pro Ear Tip Fit Test: Are you wearing AirPods Pro properly
Are you wearing AirPods Pro properly?
Photo: Killian Bell/Cult of Mac

It’s important to get a good fit because the tips aren’t just for comfort. For the best audio, they must form an effective seal inside your ear. AirPods Pro wouldn’t be anywhere near as good without it.

The seal helps block out background noise and enables features like active noise cancellation and Transparency mode. And these are the biggest reasons to choose AirPods Pro over regular AirPods.

Decent noise cancellation

Both modes take advantage of the microphones baked into each AirPods Pro bud to listen to ambient noise around you. The AirPods Pro’s active noise cancellation then drowns it out, while Transparency lets a bit in.

Noise cancellation is surprisingly decent for a set of tiny earbuds. It does a great job of filtering background noise so that it can’t spoil your favorite tunes, but it has its limits.

The AirPods Pro noise cancellation makes all the difference.
Noise cancellation makes all the difference.
Photo: Charlie Sorrel/Cult of Mac

You won’t hear your air conditioning or the TV someone’s watching in another room. It will even drown out your co-workers in the office. But in particularly noisy settings, not everything will be silenced.

Use AirPods Pro in a busy coffee shop, and you’ll still hear customers trying to talk over each other and the barista hammering the portafilter as they empty it. On the train, you’ll still hear the announcements before each stop. But noise cancellation certainly makes a big difference, and it’s a great addition to Apple’s buds. And when you don’t want it, there’s a Transparency mode that’s even more impressive.

Even better Transparency mode

Transparency mode allows some ambient noise to enter your ears so you can still hear passing cars when you’re out for a run, or the kids coming home way past their curfew.

Unlike other headphones with this feature, which often make background sounds way too loud and unnatural, AirPods Pro are great at not amplifying things too much.

If you don’t want noise cancellation or Transparency mode, you can disable them both and use AirPods Pro just like regular AirPods. But be warned that your music won’t sound quite as good.

The AirPods Pro silicone tips come in their own little cardboard case.
The tips come in their own little cardboard case.
Photo: Charlie Sorrel/Cult of Mac

You can switch between the AirPods Pro listening modes in Control Center on iPhone and iPad, or by squeezing the stem on either bud for about a second. This activates the Force Sensor that’s new to AirPods Pro. That sensor also can be used to control your music. A quick squeeze will pause your music, while two quick squeezes will skip forward through your tracks. Three will skip backward.

The sensor offers more control than the taps you use to control regular AirPods, and I’ve found it to be much more reliable, too.

AirPods sound better than ever

AirPods Pro also sound better than regular AirPods. A lot better. That’s thanks to custom-built drivers, a new high dynamic range amplifier, and a feature Apple calls Adaptive EQ.

The Adaptive EQ works constantly while you use active noise cancellation, adjusting the sound signal 200 times a second so that it’s perfectly tuned to your specific ear shape.

AirPods Pro review: They are better in every way
AirPods Pro are better in every way.
Photo: Killian Bell/Cult of Mac

But even when the Adaptive EQ is inactive, you’ll enjoy greater sound quality. There’s much more bass this time around, and everything else is bigger and cleaner.

Details pop a lot better than with regular AirPods, with highs and lows that are now more apparent. Even voices are more robust, which is great for phone calls and audiobooks.

AirPods Pro, like regular AirPods, don’t get as loud as other earbuds you might have used. But they’re loud enough in most instances. They’ll certainly do damage at maximum volume for long periods.

Great battery life

Despite the new hardware and features, AirPods Pro still deliver great battery life. Apple says you can expect up to five hours of listening in between charges, or 4.5 hours with active noise cancellation enabled, and I’ve found that to be accurate.

The AirPods Pro case is a little bigger, but not by much
The case is a little bigger, but not by much.
Photo: Killian Bell/Cult of Mac

You’ll get more than 24 hours of use from the AirPods Pro case, which is slightly larger this time around, but still more than pocketable. And this one comes with wireless charging as standard. There’s also a handy fast-charging feature.

When you’re low on juice, pop AirPods Pro inside their case for just five minutes and you’ll enjoy around one hour of listening time.

AirPods Pro review: The verdict

AirPods Pro take everything that was great about AirPods and make it even better. The new features are wonderful additions, and they’re coupled with improved audio everyone will enjoy.

AirPods Pro are so good that they suddenly make regular AirPods difficult to recommend. You should absolutely spend the extra $50 on the newer model because they’re easily worth it.

You can order yours today from the Apple Online Store.

Buy from: Amazon — $234.98