I’ve reviewed a lot of truly wireless earbuds over the past year, and I’ve seen a lot of progress made in this particular niche. But the Apple AirPods Pro are on a whole different level—they completely obliterate anything else on the market.
I’m not talking about a small margin here either—AirPods Pro are significantly better than anything else I’ve tried for several reasons. From the active noise canceling to transparency mode, the vents on the sides, and the interchangeable tips, these are not only a big step up from AirPods, but game-changers in the entire category of truly wireless ‘buds.
The Case Is Still the Best in the Game
If you’ve seen AirPods, then you already have an idea of what the case is like. It’s the same basic thing, but a little shorter and a little wider (to accommodate the wider overall profile of each individual AirPod). Either way, it’s still just as pocketable as the original AirPods case.
And really, that’s one area where AirPods, in general, have always been better than the competition. Say what you will about the fit and feel of the ‘buds themselves, the size of the case has always been a winner. The same is true for the AirPods Pro.
Like with regular AirPods, the Pro will request to pair with your iOS device as soon as you pop open the case. Once paired with one device, they’ll also be paired with all the devices connected to your Apple ID, and you can easily switch between them in the Bluetooth menu. Easy peasy.
But you can also manually pair AirPods Pro with other, non-Apple devices (like Android) by long-pressing the button on the back of the case, then pairing as you usually would for your particular device. I’ve been using the AirPods Pro on the iPhone XR, iPad, and Google Pixel 4 XL, switching between them as necessary with absolutely no issues. It’s so nice to have one set of earbuds that seamlessly work across multiple devices.
But none of that is what makes Airpods Pro special. It’s not until you stuff these little white gadgets into your earholes that the real magic happens.
Once you get them inserted, it’s immediately noticeable how comfortable they are. If you’ve used AirPods (or even Apple’s wired earbuds), then you know how uncomfortable they can be—especially during extended use. The design isn’t great on those because they’re hard and not customizable, so unless they just happen to fit your ears perfectly, it’s a pretty lousy experience.
But the AirPods Pro change that (finally). They feature silicone tips, not unlike the ones that other manufacturers have been using since the dawn of time, so you can (mostly) customize your fit. I mean, there are only three different tips (small, medium, and large), but by golly, I bet one of them will fit your little (or big!) ear holes.
To help you find the best seal, there’s even a neat little trick when you have the AirPods Pro connected to an iOS device: the Ear Fit Tip Test. When you do the test, a little jingle will play in through your AirPods Pro (you need to be wearing them, of course) and use the internal mic to listen to the sound. From there, it can tell if the tips you’re using have a good seal or not.
In theory, it’s neat. In practice, it’s still neat…but not incredibly useful. I tested mine with the medium and large tips (I got them big ol’ ears, y’all), and it gave me “Good Seal” results from both. But the buds slipped out of my ears pretty easily with the medium tips, so I’m sticking with large.
And really, it makes sense. The Ear Fit Tip Test is slightly misleading in name because it doesn’t really help with fit—it detects a proper seal, which is required for active noise cancellation (and also good bass). So yeah, for that, it works.
But the tips are only part of the equation when it comes to the Airpods Pro’s comfort. The best part, at least in my opinion, comes from the vents on the side of each bud. These vents allow air to flow through the system, which gives them a very “open” feeling. You know when you stick some earbuds in and immediately feel like your ear is clogged? AirPods Pro don’t do that.
Instead, you can speak while wearing them, almost as if there’s nothing in your ear at all. These are the first earbuds I’ve ever been able to wear on phone calls because they don’t clog my ears to the point where my voice is muffled in my own head. And it’s incredible.
But there’s more to those little vents than just creating an open feeling.
Noise Cancelling and Transparency Mode are Game Changers
The vents, mics, and good seal aren’t just there for comfort or even sound quality—they’re also used for the new ANC (Active Noise Cancelling) and Transparency modes.
These two modes are total opposites of each other. Noise Cancelling mode, um, cancels out noises (like, outside noises), while Transparency mode lets noises in so you can hear what’s going on around you. Both modes use the various mics and vents on each earbud to do what they do, but they’re both incredibly fluid in the way they work.
For reference, I’ve never been a fan of noise-canceling on headphones. It makes my head feel closed off and creates an uncomfortable feeling of increased pressure that I really just don’t like. But since AirPods Pro do a lot to prevent the head clogged feeling in the first place, I don’t get the same sensation as I do with other noise-canceling headphones. It’s so nice to be able to block outside noises and ambient sounds without feeling like my skull could explode from the pressure.
On the opposite side of that, we have Transparency Mode. Instead of blocking outside sounds, this mode allows wearers to hear what’s going on around them. It’s not the first time I’ve used a set of headphones with this sort of feature—but it’s absolutely the best experience.
Often, headphones with this feature just activate the external mic and pump the sounds into your head through the speakers. This results in a very “artificial” or unnatural sound like everything you hear is being pumped through a recorder or an FM radio. It’s useful but slightly jarring.
Transparency Mode on the AirPods Pro is different. It uses the earbuds’ mics (both the internal and external mics) along with the venting on both sides to allow sound to come through in a very natural way. Several times when using the buds with Transparency Mode enabled, I forgot I was even wearing them. It’s incredible.
Now, that said, I still wouldn’t recommend using AirPods Pro for situations where you need environmental awareness, like running or cycling. Even with Transparency Mode enabled, they still muffle your hearing, especially while audio is playing. If you’re looking for a safer way to listen to music, podcast, audiobooks, or anything else, there’s nothing better than a good set of bone conduction headphones.
The Controls Are (Mostly) Excellent
You know what I hate on pretty much every set of truly wireless earbuds I’ve tried? The controls. They’re either janky touch-sensitive zones or physical buttons that require you to shove the earbuds too far into your ear just to get a click. Both of those options suck.
The AirPods Pro address both of those options with haptic controls built into the “sticks,” which is a best-of-both-worlds solution. It offers the tangible feedback of a real button, but the simplicity and clean look of touch control. And since it’s all built into the stick, you don’t have to worry about stuffing you earbud so far into your ear it touches your brain. I like it when earbuds don’t touch my brain.
As for the controls themselves, you can play/pause music (single press), skip tracks (double press), and either adjust the noise control (ANC and Transparency Mode) or call up Siri (long press). These settings are somewhat customizable on iOS under the AirPods Pro option on the Bluetooth menu (as seen in the screenshots above).
If you’re using AirPods Pro on a non-iOS device, the controls are basically the same—play/pause (single press), skip tracks (double press), and noise control (long-press). The downside is that you can’t customize these options, and even if you change them on an iOS device, those tweaks won’t apply to other devices. I’m just glad the default control layout is great, especially since the long-press switches between ANC and Transparency Modes. I would like a way to call up Google Assistant when using the AirPods Pro with Android, but that’s just me being picky.
As good as the controls are overall, however, there’s one thing missing: volume control. This is pretty much par for the course on most truly wireless earbuds, and I’m honestly not sure how it could be implemented on AirPods Pro without hindering other controls. So, really not a complaint here, just more of a note. It looks like you’re stuck adjusting the volume the old fashioned way—with your phone’s volume buttons. Oof.
Also, it’s worth mentioning that you can double press to change tracks, but it only works to move the track forward, regardless of which bud you press. I’d like for the right bud to jump ahead one track and the left to go back as most other buds do. The fact that they don’t do this is just weird to me.
They Sound Pretty Good, Too
I saw a few videos along the lines of “do AirPods Pro have audiophile quality sound” being shared across various social channels shortly after the initial release, which had me chuckling to myself. Of course, they don’t have audiophile-quality sound! There’s a reason audiophiles are audiophiles and can’t just pick up any set of earbuds off the shelf and start listening.
But that’s not the market Apple is after with AirPods or AirPods Pro. They’re after literally everyone else—you know, the rest of us. And for that group, the audio quality of AirPods Pro is pretty solid. There are changes that I’d make to fit my personal preference, but broadly speaking, I think they sound very good.
Compared to regular AirPods, they don’t have as much bass, which is honestly kind of surprising given the fact that they create a better seal. But what they lack in bass they make up for in clarity. They’re a very well-balanced set of earbuds with good range and response across all the frequencies that my normal man-ears can hear. But, as I said earlier, they’re not an audiophile’s dream by any means.
All that said, there are better-sounding truly wireless ‘buds out there. The Jaybird Vista immediately comes to mind, as does the Jabra Elite Active 65t. Those are both great sets of truly wireless buds that sound incredible. If sound is all that you’re after, then you may be better suited with one of those (or even regular AirPods).
Really, it’s all the other things in the package that make AirPods Pro worth it. The sound quality is good, but the full package—comfort, noise-canceling, transparency mode, and the haptic controls—is what makes these the best truly wireless ‘buds I’ve ever used.
Here’s What We Like
- Incredibly comfortable
- Noise Cancelling and Transparency Mode are both great
- Streamlined case with wireless charging
- Good, intuitive controls
And What We Don't
- Lacking bass
- Lack a "track back" gesture and volume control