As each year comes to an end, I love reflecting on all the products that I’ve gotten to use and find it “fun” to try to pick a favorite. Some years, that’s hard. Other years, there’s nothing to it. This year was the latter—the Apple AirPods Pro was easily my favorite gadget of 2019.
You may be wondering how a set of earbuds—a product category that’s been around as long as I can remember—could possibly be my favorite product of the year. It’s understandable, and honestly, I’m still kind of shocked at how much I love them. But here we are, and even more than a month after my review, I’m still in awe of how great they are.
Apple started something fresh with the original AirPods—a set of earbuds that work as a pair without the need for wires. The AirPods jumpstarted an entirely new genre of earbuds: the true wireless earbud. Of course, the first (and even second) generation AirPods weren’t without their issues. Still, you can’t deny the fact that Apple literally created an entirely new product line that has been endlessly copied since the AirPods’ arrival.
But with the AirPods Pro, it perfected (well, almost) that product line. I’ve had two previously-untested sets of true wireless earbuds in my skull since I finished the AirPods Pro review, but guess which set I pick up when I want to make a phone call, need to hear what’s going on around me, want to block out unwanted noise, or just want the best experience? It’s the AirPods Pro every time.
These are the first Apple-branded earbuds with interchangeable tips for maximum comfort and the best fit, but the Active Noise Canceling and Transparency Mode options are unprecedented in this product category. And that’s what makes the Pro so great. When you need to block out surrounding garbage, the Active Noise Canceling (ANC) option is nigh unmatched in the true wireless category.
Transparency Mode, however, is what takes the Pro to the next level. I’ve used headphones and earbuds with “listen mode” (or whatever) before—it usually just activates the onboard mic and pumps very unnatural sound back into your head. There can even be some latency, which makes it even more unnatural (and annoying)! But Apple did what Apple does: figured out a better way.
Sure, Transparency Mode still uses the Pro’s mics. Still, it also leverages the H1 Audio chip to do a sort of reverse noise-canceling thing by tracking external noise and allowing in just the right amount of outside audio. The result is crystal clear sound that is so good you’ll forget you’re even wearing earbuds in the first place.
Combine this with the AirPods Pro’s unique ventilation system (which is also used for Transparency Mode’s effectiveness) that prevents that “ear clogged” feeling that’s so common with earbuds, and you have a winning recipe. Even if I weren’t willing to call the AirPods Pro the best tech product of the year, I would at least have to call them the most innovative.
But you know what? They’re both.
This might be the first set of earbuds I’ve ever truly loved, and I’ve been reviewing headphones for nearly a decade. These are the benchmark by which all other headphones I review will be measured, which is going to make 2020 a tough year for headphone makers (at least from my perspective).