No one wants to spend $250 on a set of outstanding wireless noise-cancelling earbuds — let’s say, second-generation AirPods Pro — only to find they don’t fit well, even with a choice of ear tip sizes.
But unfortunately, it can happen. It happened to me, actually. But once I explored after-market ear tips (the part that goes into your ear canal), I quickly solved the problem at minimal expense.
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AirPods Pro: Third-party ear tips can save your relationship with your new favorite earbuds
I recently wrote a mostly glowing review of AirPods Pro 2 for Cult of Mac. I had good things to say about every aspect of the comfortably-familiar-yet-much-improved buds. They sound great. They have improved noise cancellation. They have improved battery life and work with Find My. But I couldn’t make them fit perfectly.
Because everyone is different, fit can be as subjective as sound preference. Some people love a good seal in the ear canal. Others hate having something in their ears and prefer earbuds that dangle. But in any case, fit is half the battle with earbuds, because discomfort or the chance they’ll fall out and get lost might make you avoid wearing them no matter how good they sound.
After reviewing plenty of earbuds, I know I like buds with ear tips and no stems that lodge fairly firmly in my ears. AirPods Pro 2 almost fit that bill, except they have stems. But fortunately, the body of each bud is just slim enough not to block the ear tip from going into the ear (I’ve found some buds of similar design are a little too bulbous, inhibiting insertion).
Pass-fail: Ear Tip Fit Test
So the AirPods Pro 2 fit initially felt pretty good, if not super-secure. But then I took the Ear Tip Fit Test. You can try the test while setting up the earbuds, or anytime. The test results consistently questioned the fit, making it seem worse.
The Ear Tip Fit Test — in Settings under Bluetooth > AirPods Pro > Ear Tip Fit Test — is there to help ensure you’ve selected the best ear tips to ensure a good seal in the ear canal. The seal enables you hear the most sound from the buds and less sound from external sources. So it’s good for overall sound quality and noise cancellation.
The test is simple and takes just a moment. The results show up under a graphical image of each earbud as either “Good Seal” or “Adjust or Try a Different Ear Tip.” I figured my ears were at least nearly identical, but my left ear failed many more times than my right ear did.
Through some trial and error, trying different tips and adjusting the buds, I determined that the medium ear tips were the best I could do, even though the left ear kept failing and now has self-esteem issues. I felt I might have to limit my use of the buds to around the house, because on walks the left bud needed frequent adjustment to stay secure.
Third-party ear tips to the rescue, even if they can’t past the fit test, either
But I soon found a possible fix for the issue. After reading my review, Nvidia hardware/chip engineer Steve Glaser wrote to me about his fixes for fit problems with the original AirPods Pro ear tips:
I experimented with a bunch of aftermarket earbud tips for my AirPods Pro 1. The memory foam ones are nice once you figure out that you’re supposed to squeeze then before insertion. When they expand, they form a nice seal. Don’t yet know if they fit the new AirPods as well (though it looks like they should).
Also good are the silicon sleeves that provide an “ear hook” to help hold the AirPods in place. Unfortunately you have to take them off when putting them in the case so they are easy to lose (or get left / right mixed up — labeling is hard to read, especially in low light).
And that, along with anecdotal evidence that others have problems with ear tip fit — or are plagued with Ear Tip Fit Test failures despite a seemingly good fit — made me go looking for a fix.
I felt certain I could save my AirPods Pro 2 from desk duty, fighting with my Sennheiser closed-back headphones over which gets the most use — while some lesser earbuds that happen to fit snugly get to go on adventures about town.
On the first try, I solved the hell out of the problem. That’s because I bought three different products, and they all fit better than Apple’s stock ear tips. With each of the after-market tips, the earbuds felt more secure even in the apparently problematic left ear.
Naturally, I wondered what the Ear Tip Fit Test would think. I tested my favorite size in each of the three third-party ear tips three separate times. And despite feeling more secure than Apple’s ear tips with no apparent sound problems, they all failed every test. That suggests that only Apple’s ear tips can pass the test.
Here are the products, which all work with AirPods Pro and AirPods Pro 2, present no issues with audio quality and fit fine in the charging case:
Azla SednaEarfit Xelastec — $24
Made of a thermo-plastic elastomer, these soft ear tips adjust to body heat to gently fit different ear shapes, the company said. They also look kind of cool in contrast with the white AirPods Pro, being dark but transparent. They fit well but seemed more apt than Apple’s to come off in my ear upon removing an earbud.
Comes with two sets of tips in the size you choose. Luckily, the medium-large size I chose seemed to work.
Where to buy: Amazon
CharJenPro Memory Foam Ear Tips with Silicone Shield — $25.99
These tips are made of memory foam with a silicone shield to protect the foam and make it last longer. The foam can expand and contract to keep a good seal in the ear canal. Pro tip: Press the tips gently before inserting and they’ll expand to fit.
Comes with one pair for each size — small, medium and large.
Where to buy: Amazon
Delidigi Silicone Earbuds replacement — $12.99
The double-flange design of these soft silicone tips helps with a stable fit and has no trouble fitting in the closed charging case. I didn’t find these to be quite as secure-fitting as the others, but they fit better in the left ear than Apple’s.
Comes with two pairs in each of three sizes — small, medium and large.
Where to buy: Amazon