The illustrious Apple AirPods Pro seems to one-up the AirPods (2019) in every way including a better fit, active noise-canceling, improved battery, and more. While it may seem like an effortless win for the AirPods Pro, there is one thing holding consumers back: the $249 price. Let’s find out if the AirPods Pro is better than the AirPods.

Do the AirPods or AirPods Pro have a better fit?

A picture of the Apple AirPods Pro in a man's left hand (foreground) with an iPhone and the AirPods Pro wireless charging case in the background.

The redesigned AirPods Pro now have dedicated nozzles that insert into the ear, making for a more stable fit and improved audio quality.

We’re going to address the biggest difference between the two AirPods models first: fit.

The new AirPods Pro sport dedicated nozzles, which is exactly what we’ve been begging for since the original AirPods release. Sure, the wireless earpods still look funky, but we promise, the redesign dramatically improves sound quality. The AirPods (2019) don’t seal to the ear. While this can be beneficial in moments when you need to hear your surroundings, it severely degrades audio quality. External noise drowns out the detail in music because our brains have limited bandwidth for processing stimuli (see: auditory masking).

Pictured are the old and new Airpods next to each other - Apple AirPods Pro vs AirPods

Both the first and second-generation AirPods feature a nozzle-less design.

This same updated design enables another new feature: noise canceling. The Apple AirPods Pro can actively cancel noise, something we haven’t yet seen from previous Apple earbuds. This is a huge leap forward for Apple as it keeps listeners safe by protecting their hearing. How? Well, you’re less likely to increase the loudness of your music because the ANC technology is doing plenty of heavy lifting to hush your surroundings. When using non-noise canceling earbuds you’re more inclined to drown out background noise by increasing music loudness. Exposing your ears to 85dB or louder for long periods of time puts you at risk for noise-induced hearing loss.

Winner: Apple AirPods Pro

Apple AirPods Pro vs AirPods: Which are better workout earbuds?

A picture of a man wearing the Apple AirPods Pro against a gray background.

The AirPods Pro earbuds are IPX4-rated, meaning they can withstand your sweaty workouts.

Yes, the AirPods Pro are more durable than their predecessors and received an IPX4 water-resistant rating. Although plenty of gym-goers use older AirPods to workout, water damage isn’t covered by the warranty. If you happen to short-circuit the old AirPods due to sweat, you’re out of luck, which isn’t the case with the Pro version. The new fit also helps when exercising because the ‘buds are more likely to remain secure in your ears, something we had difficulty maintaining with the original design of Apple’s true wireless earbuds.

Related: Best true wireless workout earbuds

Onboard controls

A picture of the Apple AirPods Por in a man's left hand against a green background.

The Apple AirPods Pro have indentations to indicate where the touch controls are located.

Both earbuds feature onboard controls but operation is slightly different. The old AirPods use touch controls that require you to tap the outside of either housing, and the AirPods Pro feature an indentation on either stem. The latter uses force sensors to register short and long squeezes against the stem. No matter which AirPods you have, functionality can be customized by entering your iPhone’s Bluetooth settings and selecting the “i” icon next to the desired device. From there, follow the appropriate prompts to control what each tap or press commands.

Both AirPods models support automatic ear detection whereby removing one automatically pauses playback; reinserting the AirPods resumes playback. This function isn’t supported by Android phones, however, and can be toggled off via an iOS device’s settings.

The AirPods Pro charging case is wireless by default

Pictured is the Airpods case with the 'buds inside.

The AirPods (2019) wireless charging case costs an extra $40 at launch.

Unlike the AirPods (2019) which has a two-tiered purchasing option, a standard or Qi wireless charging case, the Apple AirPods Pro includes a Qi wireless-compatible charging case from the get-go. While this could be seen as a nuisance by listeners who don’t want or need wireless charging capabilities, it falls more in line with the company’s prioritization of simplicity. What’s more, we’re happy to see Apple combine the wireless charging case with the AirPods Pro, rather than up charging customers for it like what happened with the AirPods (2019).

While the AirPods are cheaper, we strongly feel that the redesigned Apple AirPods Pro are worth saving for when it comes to build and fit.

Winner: Apple AirPods Pro

Microphone quality

The AirPods (2019) has excellent microphone quality and outperforms most of its competitors, thanks to the sensors and accelerometers packed into the housings. Apple further improved this technology and the microphones’ frequency response with the AirPods Pro.

AirPods Pro:

AirPods:

Voice reproduction follows a slightly more neutral frequency response which bodes well for low voices in particular. A speech-detecting accelerometer works in tandem with the beam-forming microphones to attenuate background noise and hone in on relaying your voice to the person on the other end of the call. Both microphone arrays are great, but when push comes to shove, the AirPods Pro have a leg up on the AirPods… if only just barely

Winner: Apple AirPods Pro

Connection quality and Bluetooth codec support

A picture of the Apple AirPods Pro battery levels on an iPhone - Apple AirPods Pro vs AirPods

The Apple AirPods Pro and AirPods (2019) connect seamlessly to iOS devices, a benefit of the H1 chip.

Now, let’s look at Bluetooth codec support. Since both are Apple products, both support high-quality streaming over the AAC codec and have an integrated H1 chip, which facilitates hands-free Siri access, streamlined autoconnect and usage across iOS devices, as well as energy efficiency. H1 chip benefits are only afforded to those with iOS devices; Android users still reap the perks of Bluetooth 5.0 from either pair of wireless earbuds, though.

Connection stability within the Apple ecosystem is unparalleled. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said when using the AirPods or AirPods Pro with an Android device. Android has yet to figure out a universal way of handling AAC streaming across devices, making its performance dubious at best. This means Android users are knocked down to streaming over the default SBC codec. Although this is a bummer, it’s not necessarily a deal-breaker as SBC has come a long way since its inception.

Winner: Draw

Battery life

This one’s pretty easy to measure. We subjected each pair of earbuds to a constant 75dB(SPL) output via an iOS device and compared the results. The AirPods (2019) afford 4.125 hours of playback, while the AirPods Pro afford 5.1125 hours of playback with noise canceling on. We ensured that both Bluetooth headsets streamed over the AAC codec. We were initially skeptical of the Pro’s battery life, but it exceeds that of the Sony WF-1000XM3, a direct ANC competitor.

No matter which pair of earbuds you buy, the charging case allows for 24 hours of combined playback and charges via Lightning cable. Both AirPods units support quick charging. The older model supplies three hours of playback from 15 minutes of charging, while the AirPods Pro supplies one hour of playback from 5 minutes of charging. This is the same; Apple just decided to change its wording on the official specifications page.

Winner: Apple AirPods Pro

Sound quality and isolation

See also:

Apple Music review

Now that we’ve broken down the glaring differences between the two AirPods models, let’s dig into sound quality. Although the 2019 version’s price reduction makes it more appealing than ever, both the AirPods and AirPods Pro remain expensive even for true wireless earbuds. As long as you’re paying a premium, you should get something that sounds good.

The charts above depict the frequency responses of both pairs of earbuds, illustrating how much emphasis is placed on a certain frequency range. The AirPods Pro have a more neutral-leaning bass response, which is a direct result of the new fit: a booming low-end is unnecessary since the new AirPods Pro create a solid seal, filtering out external noise. The AirPods (2019) have the objectively more exaggerated low-end, but this was measured in a controlled setting. The moment you step onto a train platform, bass notes become masked by louder external noises, making it harder to perceive.

The Apple AirPods Pro easily outperform the AirPods (2019) when it comes to both sound quality and noise canceling.

High notes (1100Hz and above) sound twice as loud with the AirPods Pro compared to the AirPods. This treble emphasis makes it easier to hear harmonic resonances, so our brains perceive this as greater detail in music playback. It’s by no means an accurate representation of an original audio file, but it does follow a generally accepted consumer-friendly sound signature.

Apple AirPods Pro vs AirPods: Noise canceling and isolation

The first and second-generation AirPods’ isolation properties are hardly measurable because of the lacking seal. However, the AirPods Pro noise canceling earbuds are a completely different story. These effectively attenuate low and high-frequency sounds, making it easier to enjoy your music without distraction.

In the chart above, the higher up the line, the more attenuated a certain frequency is. For example, when listening with noise canceling turned on, low-pitched sounds (e.g. air conditioner units) are about half as loud they would be without ANC. High-frequency noises (e.g. a boiling kettle) are rendered even quieter. You can toggle between three listening modes: noise canceling, off, and transparency by squeezing the stems. Transparency mode lets outside noise in, so you can respond to a train ticketer or temporarily be aware of your surroundings.

Winner: Apple AirPods Pro

A picture of the AirPods Pro earbud with the silicone sleeve removed to reveal the nozzle - Apple AirPods Pro vs AirPods

The AirPods Pro silicone sleeve pops into a divot surrounding the nozzle, which ensures a more stable connection between the pieces.

In case you haven’t been keeping score, the Apple AirPods Pro wins this head-to-head. If you’re an iPhone user, it’s well worth it to save up for the AirPods Pro as opposed to settling for the AirPods to save a buck. The AirPods Pro make it extremely easy to pair with an iOS devices, even if you have an Android phone, the process is easy enough.

Of course, subjective preference matters, too, and if you think noise canceling is an unnecessary frivolity, there are plenty of true wireless AirPods alternatives, including the Beats Powerbeats Pro. For those who are really on a budget, the Creative Outlier Air remain the best value true wireless earbuds available.

Next: Best true wireless earbuds

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