The Apple AirPods Pro has a new design, new features, and a new price tag, but it’s still unmistakably AirPods. While the original model caught a lot of (deserved) flak for not sealing the ear canal, these Apple earbuds not only seal the ear, but also provide active noise cancelling (ANC). On paper, the AirPods Pro is light-years ahead of the old ones simply by this fact alone. But is it worth the cash?
Editor’s note: this post was updated on October 18, 2021, to address changes to Apple’s AirPods Pro repair program that now extends to noise cancellation cracking issues, address the new MagSafe charging case, and to update the frequency response chart.
Who should buy the Apple AirPods Pro?
- Apple iPhone users who want true wireless earbuds will get the most out of the AirPods Pro, and for them: these are the best true wireless earbuds for the latest generation of iPhones.
- True wireless enthusiasts will like them, mostly because the options for active noise cancelling in this type of gadget is fairly rare unless you pick up Beats, Sony, or Huawei models.
- Gym rats and cardio monsters will appreciate that actually, you know, stay in your ears. The sweat resistance is a big plus here too.
How do you use the AirPods Pro?
When you first start using the AirPods Pro, you’ll want to find the right size ear tip to use, because the rest of your experience hinges on it. If the ear tips are too big they’ll be painful, and if they’re too small then they’ll likely fall out.
Once you’ve installed the correct ear tip size, they’ll fit securely in your ear canal. After you pair the AirPods Pro with your phone, you should be able to jump right into music listening without futzing with too many settings. Like any other Apple product, the product’s ethos is to be something that “just works.”
To that end, there are a few features that the AirPods Pro adopted to make them more useful than your garden variety true wireless earbuds. For example, transparency mode allows you to pump in surrounding sounds so you don’t miss your stop, or you can join in a conversation without skipping a beat. You can easily enter transparency mode by long-pressing the stem which is now actually functional instead of unsightly (though still a little ugly, let’s be honest). A single squeeze on the stem will pause or play music, a double squeeze will skip to the next song, and a triple squeeze will skip to the next song.
Additionally, there’s even an ear tip fit test that you can do to ensure that they’re in your ear correctly. To do this you have to go into Bluetooth settings, and then tap on the small “i” icon next to the AirPods. From there, you get a few more options if you’re on iOS such as the ability to rename them, control whether you want active noise cancelling on or off, customize the function of tap and hold on each earbud, and do the ear tip fit test. This will test whether you should use a different set of ear tips or whether the active noise cancelling is working properly.
While we’re on the topic of the ear tips, these have been redesigned as well. Unlike basically every other pair of earbuds that pretty much universally use the same ear tips, these are designed specifically for the AirPods Pro. Around the speaker driver of each earbud is a small section where the ear tip clicks into nicely and securely stays put. No more pinching the silicon ear tip in order to squeeze them around the nozzle, though to be fair these don’t have a nozzle.
On October 18, 2021, Apple announced the new AirPods (3rd generation) and with that, it quietly updated the charging case for the AirPods Pro. Now, the AirPods Pro case is MagSafe compliant, so you can use it with the same MagSafe wireless charger as your iPhone 12 or later.
How do you connect on iOS?
Connecting to the AirPods Pro is as simple as ever on an iOS device, though you will need to update to iOS 13.2 in order to connect. Thankfully, if you aren’t up-to-date the first thing that pops up on your device will be a prompt telling you to update. Once that’s done, connecting is just like pairing with any other Apple audio product thanks to the H1 chip. A small card pops up from the bottom and then all you have to do is press “Connect.”
After you do that, they will be paired with every other device on your iCloud account as well. The card that pops up will give you some helpful information like battery life on the charging case and both earbuds. One cool feature is that if you place only one AirPod back in the case, you’ll see a small red “x” where battery life should be. I’m sure if you lost one you’ll know that by the time you try to put them back in the case, but it’s still pretty cool.
How do you connect on Android?
If you’re on Android or using a Windows PC then the process is a little different, though it remains unchanged from the previous AirPods. Just long-press the button on the back of the charging case to enter Bluetooth pairing mode, and then search for it in the Bluetooth settings of your device. Once paired, you should be good to go. It’s worth noting that you won’t get certain features if you’re using them with Android. Specifically, the auto-pause detection when you remove one earbud from your ear won’t work, and saying “Hey Siri” won’t work either. Thankfully, active noise cancelling and transparency mode work just fine as it’s controlled by a hard press of the stem.
NB: A number of AirPods Pro users have noted that they have had connection issues even after updating the firmware of the earbuds. If you’re reading this review looking for a fix: you won’t find one here. You need to contact Apple tech support and potentially arrange for a new pair. True wireless earphones are notorious for skips, stutters, and other connection issues, and it seems that the AirPods Pro is no different. Be sure to update the firmware as soon as it becomes available, and to practice good battery habits for best results. We cannot guarantee that this will help, but it will give you the most ammo when you take your product back to the Genius Bar for replacement.
Apple AirPods Pro vs AirPods (3rd generation): What’s the difference?
If you’re wondering why Apple fans are clamoring to pick up the AirPods Pro, it’s because they fix the most egregious issue with cheaper model: an unsealed ear canal. That may not seem like a big deal, but it’s an improvement that you’ll notice immediately—something we’ve harped on endlessly at SoundGuys.
Related: Apple AirPods Pro vs Apple AirPods
So why is getting rid of noise important? The answer is twofold.
The AirPods Pro seals to your ear canal and prevents external noise from drowning out your music. This preserves the sound quality without the interference of auditory masking. Passive isolation in tandem with effective noise cancelling means that you’re less likely to increase the volume to block out those external sounds, which potentially protects your ears from noise-induced hearing loss.
So what do the Apple AirPods (3rd generation) and AirPods Pro have in common? Well, a lot: both headsets include a MagSafe charging case with a Lightning input, share the same IPX4 water-resistant rating, use Apple’s Adaptive EQ, and are spatial audio-compatible.
If you want to remain aware of your surroundings at all times, the AirPods (3rd generation) is a solid pick for iPhone users, but if you plan to take plenty of flights or spend a lot of time on the subway, the AirPods Pro makes more sense for you.
Is the AirPods Pro waterproof?
The AirPods Pro is water-resistant and has an IPX4 rating to show for it. As far as the charging case goes, it’s relatively unchanged. It’s slightly beefier than the previous version, but not by much and if you take the old case and turn it sideways, that should give you a rough idea of how big it is. If you want to go further in-depth, we cover that in a head-to-head with both versions of AirPods.
How does the AirPods Pro sound?
This is always the toughest part to address with any review because everyone’s anatomy is slightly different. However, Apple’s attempts to make the Pro version a little more special led them to add in a feature that attempts to equalize your music based on the shape of your own ear (read more: What is a DSP?). Because of this, all AirPods Pro will sound a lot more similar from person to person than they would with other headphones. Additionally, with actual noise cancellation, they sound much better than their predecessors by virtue of the fact that your music isn’t competing with bus engines, the airplane cabin, or noisy street.
Because of the ear tips and relatively good isolation, these sound obviously better than the previous version. The low end of these still isn’t going to be on par with the PowerBeats Pro by any means, but they’re significantly more powerful than the AirPods 2. The fact that you can actually hear the bass with these highlights that it’s fairly tight and controlled with just a slight bit of emphasis to give the tiny drivers inside a little help. The low end in Callaita by Bad Bunny punched made its presence felt without sounding forced or fake, which is a trap that earbuds tend to fall into to make the low end heard. Don’t get me wrong, you’re still going to be missing out on some of your favorite sub-bass synths, but drum kicks and deep voices come through fine.
The AirPods Pro have a consumer-friendly response and do a good job of maintaining balance across the frequency spectrum.
Speaking of voices, the AirPods Pro do a good job at reproducing vocals as well, with a neutral frequency response all throughout the mids. This means that no one note in the mid-range will be made to sound louder than any other just because of the headphones. That said, you can see that this is exactly the case in the highs where notes around 11kHz and above have some (green) peaks of extra emphasis. This can be a bit of an issue when listening to songs like Songbird by Cory Chisel where I feel the strumming and guitar squeaks approach the point of harshness instead of clarity. Still, it isn’t an issue in most songs and I’ll take this over the previous AirPods frequency response any day of the week.
Should you use Apple Music as your streaming service with AirPods?
Dealer’s choice, because it doesn’t really matter all that much.
On May 17, 2021, Apple announced that its Apple Music service would support hi-res, lossless audio. But does this mean you should use Apple Music with your AirPods? Well, it doesn’t matter, because you’re not going to get any benefit whatsoever if you’re listening with your AirPods Pro. If you used Apple Music before, it won’t be any better or worse after the update.
The main tangible benefits to using Apple Music would be the spatial audio, and app ecosystem—which are not small, but they’re not going to afford you an audio upgrade.
Is the AirPods Pro good for phone calls?
One use case that can’t be ignored when it comes to AirPods is the microphone. I see more people talking on the phone via their AirPods than their phones nowadays. Luckily, the Pro still has a really good microphone for picking up the human voice. Most of the important frequencies in the human voice lie between 100Hz and 3000Hz, and the AirPods Pro does a good job at not over-emphasizing or de-emphasizing any one part of that frequency range. They’re not perfectly neutral though, so you will find some variations here and there but for the most part, you shouldn’t have any issues talking on the phone with these.
As of March 23, 2021, 4,060 readers have rated the above mic sample as somewhere between “okay” and “good.” This is a pretty typical result for true wireless earphones, and at the upper end of what you should expect to get out of any products of this type.
How good is the noise cancelling?
The most important feature of the new version is without a doubt the active noise cancelling, and these are some of the best noise cancelling true wireless earbuds on the market. While they’re not going to completely rid you of the low rumble of planes and trains, they render midrange sounds half as loud as they’d sound without any kind of ANC. Are they mind-blowingly amazing? Absolutely not, and something like the Sony WF-1000XM4 still does a better job in this aspect, but the AirPods Pro is fine for most people.
The AirPods Pro have two tiny microphones both on the inside and on the outside, and they work in the same way that all active noise cancelling headphones do. Apple claims that the inward-facing microphones are measuring sound 200 times per second in order to ensure that it’s producing the correct sound to counteract it which, is all but impossible to test on our end. Still, the end result isn’t bad.
Can updating the firmware make the ANC weaker?
A number of users report worse ANC performance after updating to firmware build 2B588. There’s a trend among ANC headsets in that failed Bluetooth updates seem fairly common. If you find that your AirPods Pro have worse ANC than they started with, then you should do the following:
- Place your AirPods Pro back in their carrying case
- Factory data reset your AirPods Pro by holding the setup button for 15 seconds, or until the light flashes amber three times, then turns white
- Re-charge the carrying case, and then re-attempt the firmware update
- If the problem persists, contact Apple support
Unfortunately, this is a common problem with Bose, Sony, and other Bluetooth headsets requiring updates over Bluetooth—not just Apple. Hopefully one day these can be applied over a physical wire, because it seems that Bluetooth just isn’t cutting it for some people.
On October 14, 2021, Apple extended its AirPods Pro repair program to three years after purchase, rather than the old two-year warranty. AirPods Pro owners can receive free replacement earbuds, or repairs, if ANC issues arise. If you notice that the noise cancelling doesn’t work anymore or there’s static crackling, you may be eligible for its repair/replacement program.
What is spatial audio and when will I get it?
During WWDC 2020 Apple announced compatibility for “spatial audio” with the AirPods Pro. Spatial audio is Apple’s version of simulated surround sound; It uses a combination of software algorithms and the accelerometers in your AirPods Pro to place sound cues around you in 3D space. This simulates the immersive experience of sitting in the middle of a full surround sound setup.
Spatial audio is available in iPadOS 14 and iOS 14
One cool thing is that the accelerometers of the AirPods Pro will supposedly sync up with the accelerometer inside the source device that you are watching videos on. That way if you’re in a car or on a plane the audio that you’re listening to will change only when you move your head instead of when the vehicle makes a turn.
Currently, spatial audio only works with a handful of apps including Apple TV+ and Disney, for videos encoded for 5.1 and 7.1 surround sound as well as Dolby Atmos. To get access, you must update to iPadOS 14 or iOS 14 or later—so it won’t work on any non-iOS devices.
The Apple AirPods (3rd generation), AirPods Max, and AirPods Pro all support head-tracking spatial audio with Dolby Atmos through Apple Music or an Apple TV 4K.
How long does the battery last?
In our testing, we managed to get 5 hours, 6 minutes of constant playback with ANC turned on (connected to an iOS device), which is just above average for most true wireless models. It’s worth mentioning that Apple claims you’ll get about 4 hours and 30 minutes of constant playback with active noise cancelling turned on and the volume turned to about 50%. The charging case will give you enough charges to last you 24 hours of total listening time, and what’s better is that the case is fully compatible with any Qi wireless charger or MagSafe charger.
One issue that we have is that the charging case still requires a Lightning cable because, well, reasons. The cable that’s included in the box is now USB-C on one side and lightning on the other, which is mind-numbingly annoying as now you’ll need to bring this specific cable with you wherever you go. Of course, it isn’t a big deal if you already own the newer iPhone as it also comes with this same cable, but if you haven’t upgraded yet (or don’t plan to) this is an annoying inconvenience that you’re just going to have to deal with.
Like every other set of true wireless earphones, what’s really going to let you down is battery longevity. Because each earphone uses a tiny battery that requires recharging often, you’re going to rip through its usable capacity in about one-to-two years. That’s not a long time to own an expensive audio product, so someone looking to buy their last audio products for a while should steer clear. Additionally, the AirPods Pro isn’t easy to take apart, so many people might be tempted to just throw them away at the end of their lives. This is really bad for several reasons, and not the least of which is its damage to the environment.
How do you clean the AirPods Pro?
If you use your earbuds every day, chances are they’re going to get dirty pretty quickly. Just as you (hopefully) clean your ears every once in a while, you should also provide the same service to your earbuds. Thankfully, cleaning your AirPods Pro is pretty simple and we have a full article explaining step-by-step how to do it. All you really need are some cotton swabs, drug store rubbing alcohol, a paper towel, a toothbrush, liquid dish soap, and a spirit for adventure! Okay, that last one isn’t actually necessary, but it can’t hurt.
Is the Apple AirPods Pro worth it?
If you want AirPods—or have an iPhone—the AirPods Pro are the only AirPods we’d recommend picking up for several reasons. Not only will they sound significantly better than the original ones, but they offer more in the way of features and useful accessories too. Sure, they’re $50 more than the latest AirPods with wireless charging, but you get a lot for that extra cash. If you’re an Android user, you should skip the AirPods Pro. Sure it’s good if someone happens to gift you a pair for some reason, but you’ll miss out on a lot of the features that make the buds worthy of consideration, due to lack of cross-platform support.
Deciding where to buy your AirPods Pro can be difficult, but there are a few key things to remember before you purchase any electronic device: does the vendor offer a good warranty; how is its customer service; is there a live chat function? We’ve put together a detailed guide on where to buy headphones to ease your concerns, but remember that you’ll pay a premium for better warranty coverage and customer service.
What to consider instead of the AirPods Pro
While these true wireless earbuds mark a serious upgrade over the original AirPods, there are plenty of other models like the Sony WF-1000XM4, Beats Powerbeats Pro, Jabra Elite 85t, and the Amazon Echo Buds (2nd Gen) that offer competitive performance for a competitive price. The Amazon Echo Buds support hands-free Alexa and compare favorably to the AirPods Pro.
Additionally, they suffer all the drawbacks of true wireless earbuds—like batteries that won’t last beyond a couple of years tops. If you’re looking to make a wise investment in your audio, I’d caution you to look at something like the Bose QuietComfort 45 before picking this up. Not only will the batteries in on or over-ears last much longer than the tiny cells in true wireless earbuds, but they’ll also be much more durable and long-lasting.
If you’re an Android user trying to attain that AirPods aesthetic with Android functionality on a budget, try the TCL MOVEAUDIO S600 or the slightly quirky functionality, HONOR Earbuds 2 Lite. Meanwhile, the affordable Google Pixel Buds A-Series, does not have active noise cancelling, but is a serious contender in the true wireless market for anyone that uses the Google Assistant on a daily basis. If ANC is important, the Samsung Galaxy Buds 2 is a great choice, especially for Samsung users, who can take advantage of Samsung Scalable Codec.
However, if you’re an iPhone user, you’ve probably already made up your mind about staying in the Apple ecosystem. If that’s the case, then you can forge ahead with the knowledge that yes, these are the AirPods you should get.
What about the Apple AirPods Max?
If you like everything about the AirPods Pro but just can’t see yourself going with a pair of true wireless earbuds, then the new AirPods Max might be for you. After running our objective and subjective tests on them, we can say with confidence that they are a very good pair of active noise cancelling headphones, and they have great sound quality. That being said, they’re still super expensive, and you can find lots of alternatives that perform similarly well for much cheaper.
The AirPods Max seems to share many, if not all of the same features as the AirPods Pro but in an over-ear design. You’ll get active noise cancelling, a transparency mode, spatial audio, ambient EQ, and even the same H1 chip inside for quick pairing. Most iPhone owners will be perfectly happy with the AirPods pro though—hence why the Pro model made it one of our favorite AirPods Max alternatives.
Frequently Asked Questions
Contact Apple Support. A number of AirPods Pro that were manufactured before October 2020 have a known issue that Apple is investigating. If you send them in, you should be able to get them examined and replaced, if your AirPods Pro are not out of warranty.
That depends on how loud they're talking, but in general ANC doesn't do a great job of attenuating voice sounds. This is because ANC works best on droning, constant tones, rather than quick, irregular noise. Usually, the more noise you avoid the better, so if someone's being annoying next to you: figuring out a way to get them to stop talking will be the most effective way to enjoy your music.
Getting a good fit is critical to any music listener, so we often recommend people look into after-market memory foam ear tips like the ones from Comply. Currently there aren't ones available, but they're set to release sometime in May of 2020.
Oof. That's a pain. Unfortunately, the only thing you can really do is to turn everything off, and let it sit in a warm, dry place for a few days before attempting to charge or use it again. DO NOT try to turn it on or use it before doing this. But I should warn you: that earbud might already be cooked. Water is rarely pure, so the little imperfections like dissolved minerals can cause shorting in electronics if it gets inside the housing. Hopefully the water-resistant nozzle membrane prevented any ingress of water, but you never know. Give it time.
Yes, they will connect via AAC or SBC codecs. You will likely not notice any drop in performance, but many of the features of the AirPods Pro will not work on an Android phone.
The Apple AirPods Pro has some of the best noise cancelling technology among true wireless earbuds, but they can't compete with the likes of the over-ear Sony WH-1000XM3 headphones. True wireless ANC tech is still in its infancy and the first wave of ANC true wireless earbuds are impressive but performance is all over the place. If you need to study in silence, we recommend the Sony WH-1000XM3, Bose Headphones 700, or AKG N700NC.
Good question! But headphones don't block out every sound at the same level. Typically, you see in-ears like the AirPods Pro block out a lot of high-pitched sound, while letting in low-pitched sounds. If you scroll up, you can see exactly how the AirPods Pro block out noise in the charts. If the chart is a little hard to read, this article should help.
Play? Yes, but Hi-Res audio is a certification, not really a performance benchmark. The AirPods Pro use AAC as their primary Bluetooth codec, which won't hit the exact thresholds needed for that certification. However, you're unlikely to hear any deficiency in sample rate or bit depth—especially if you're listening on a bus, train, or airplane. That said, if you're looking for high-end audio, you're better off looking for something that's actually geared toward that task.
Complicated question! We have a whole article about this subject, complete with breakdowns of different performance metrics.
The Apple AirPods Pro are completely redesigned from the original AirPods and second-generation AirPods (2019); the Pro earbuds feature defined nozzles that create a solid seal to the ear. This improves passive isolation and facilitates active noise cancelling. What's more, the AirPods Pro use a DSP to measure your ear canal and make on-the-fly adjustments to optimize audio quality. If you want a head-to-head run down of the differences, read up on our Apple AirPods Pro vs AirPods article.