The Airpods Pro are an impressive set of earbuds that prioritize convenience, surprisingly good noise cancelling, ease of use, and comfort for people who are integrated into the iOS ecosystem; however, the sound quality leaves much to be desired, and audiophiles will find that the sound quality is not quite good enough for analytical listening sessions. While the Airpods Pro won’t have you digging through your music collection, the sound quality is sufficient for passive listening, and I never leave the house without them, whether it’s a quick trip on the subway or a 6 hour flight from NYC to SF.
Living with the Airpods Pro vs Airpods 1/2 in New York City
I didn’t really think much of the Airpods Pro when they came out, but it soon became one of those products that quickly became something I couldn’t imagine myself living without.
The first thing that stands out is the convenience. People have different preferences, but for me, the primary objective of wireless earbuds is that they should be more convenient than wired earbuds. The Airpods Pro’s case is a bit bigger than the original Airpods, but they still fit comfortably in the coin pocket. Just like the original Airpods, they work just as seamlessly with your iOS devices. I didn’t like the press mechanic at first to control the device, but I’ve grown accustomed to it quite quickly. I do miss the easy tapping features as before, but it’s not a dealbreaker. One thing that does bother is that if I want to talk to someone quickly, I have to press to pause and then long press again to go into transparency mode before talking to someone, which is actually kind of an inconvenience since it takes such a long time to execute. The other alternative is to take one of the earbuds out, but that’s kind of a hassle, especially if your hands are occupied. I do wish there was a single button press to activate both, but I doubt that level of customization will come based on Apple’s track records. I also personally don’t love silicon tips in general, but I’m hoping that comply will come out with something that might work with the Airpods Pro.
The noise cancelling is a game changer, especially in NYC. The Airpods Pro do a great job muting the annoying street noise, the subway droning, and the background cafe noise around you; however, if you aren’t familiar with noise cancelling, they won’t block out certain frequencies very well such as a baby crying or someone talking loudly near you. Yes, you’d still rather have the Airpods than not have them, but don’t set expectations too high. With that said, they’ve made a huge difference in my day to day use. I tried going out for a day with the old version as a test, and I just kept wishing I brought my Pros. For example, in the subway, I don’t find that things bother me as much as they did before because I can just drown out all the excess noise, which I couldn’t really do without blasting my original Airpods. Those annoying subway performers are a bit more tolerable since it’s easier to ignore them.
With all this said, you definitely have to be a bit more careful. Since the Airpods Pro drown out your environment pretty well, you need to make sure you utilize transparency mode and be conscious about when you need to know your surroundings. Whether it’s a high trafficked area or a sketchy block, make sure you’re still making a conscious effort to understand your surroundings.
Lastly, I do still use both the old Airpods and the new Airpods Pro. I found that Airpods are more comfortable in a completely silent environment and for short term usage under an hour because they feel more freeing. Also, I like to use them when working out outside where I don’t want noise cancelling. So for quick meetings at home or working out, I use the earlier Airpods, but I pretty much use the Airpods Pro for everything else.
Traveling with the Airpods Pro on Airplane
The Airpods Pro are officially replacing my Bose QC series for flights that I’ve been using for the past 5-6 years. They’re not perfect, but they’re good enough to replace them for flights under 7 hours. Comparing the Airpods Pro to the Bose QC35, the noise cancelling isn’t quite at the level that the Bose are; however, they are probably 75% there, and it was good enough for me. Just like the Bose, the Airpods Pro do a good job cancelling out the drowning engine noise of the plane, but babies crying and other noises will still be audible. In addition, I absolutely love how portable they are because as a light traveler, I save significant space in my small suitcase. Lastly, I hate having over ear headphones because of the bulk, and they don’t let me sleep in certain postures on a plane, so the Airpods Pro let me flip on my hood comfortably and sleep on my side, which was probably one of the biggest draws.
The downside is the battery life. They realistically last 3.5 to 4 hours at levels I listen to, so I have to make sure I charge them during bathroom or stretching breaks. They charge quickly, so it’s a minor inconvenience, but it’s something you definitely have to be aware of. In addition, they’re small, so you might accidentally drop them when you take them in and out of yours ears. Personally, I think these are minor trade offs for being able to travel light, but things might be different for you.
Compared to the original Airpods, it’s not really a comparison. If you need noise cancelling on a plane, then the original Airpods didn’t do anything really. As far as knowing if the Airpods Pro are good enough for you compared to Bose QC35s, it’s really subjective, so you’ll have to try them yourself.
The Airpod Pro are not for audiophiles who want to do any type of critical listening. For how much they cost, the performance is abysmal; however, it’s not intolerable at all, so they’re perfectly good for passive listening when you just need music playing in the background.
Objectively, the Airpods Pro are good at bringing out details within each track and have a surprising amount of soundstage depth; however, the pro list ends there. Bass is loose, lags behind, and overpowers many tracks. The highs don’t have crispness or sparkle and also feel too loose and all over the place. The mids sound too flat, thin, and hollow. Heavily layered tracks will feel a bit claustrophobic with the instruments almost playing on top of each other; yes, you can pick out individual instruments, but it’s something you have to be very conscious about doing.
Subjectively, I wouldn’t classify the Airpods Pro as audiophile quality because they’re just lacking in too many spots. I rarely find myself being impressed by any hifi tracks while listening to these, and I sure as hell won’t be going through my music playlist to see how certain tracks will sound on these earbuds. With that said, that wasn’t the main purpose of the Airpods Pro, so I’m more than ok with making that compromise. Nothing sounds offensive, and with a little bit of tuning, you can dial the balance to be a more tolerable. Since I’m a bit sensitive to bass, here’s my EQ I use on Spotify for the Airpods Pro.
Giorgio by Moroder – Daft Punk
- 00:00 – 00:36 – Pleasantly surprised at how much detail exists. Background chatter is pretty loud, bass is present, and his voice is forward. Soundstage is fairly cramped but tolerable. There’s a decent amount of depth.
- 00:36 – 1:08 – There’s plenty of bass, and it’s a little bit loose and overpowering. The highs are decently crisp and come through cleanly, and you can hear a lot of detail in all parts, but bass feels the most overpowering. Again, there isn’t a ton of separation.
- 6:58 – 7:30 – It’s evident here that both bass and highs come through cleanly, but bass is loose, and treble doesn’t have the crispness or sparkle you’d find in higher end headphones. The bass also feels like it’s dragging substantially.
Tom Sawyer – Rush
- 00:00 – 00:50 – Soundstage is consistently narrow here, so all the instruments sound pretty cluttered together. You can still hear all the instruments, but the bass is a bit too much and takes over from the vocals a bit too much.
Come Away with Me – Norah Jones
- 00:00 -1:00 – These are not particularly mid forward since her voice takes the backseat while the upright bass and piano pops take over the spotlight when they come in. Kind of annoying and unimpressive.
Four seasons L’estate III Presto – Vivaldi (Pavel)
- 00:00 – 00:44 Violin attacks are reasonably quick, and the depths is surprisingly good; however, sonically, there’s something really lacking in treble sharpness.
- 00:45 -1:04 Pavel’s aggressiveness feels a bit sluggish, and the lack of crispness in the highs is very apparent.
- 1:05 – 1:20 – I do like this section when all the instruments move together since you’re not particularly looking for separation, and there’s a lot of depth to make it fun to listen to. This is probably my favorite section in the testing so far.
Count Bubba – Gordon Goodwin
- 00:00 – 00:41 Same story here. You can hear all the instruments, but the saxophone and trumpet sound feels a bit cluttered and too close to each other to feel a sense of separation. Bass line is solid, but not as tight, just like previous tracks.
- 1:10 – 1:39 I actually quite liked the way the Airpods Pros handle this section. Very clean and enjoyable, but that’s because there are no other instruments in section.
Are the Airpods Pro right for you?
Who it’s for:
- People who want convenient wireless earbuds with good noise canceling and have a lot of iOS devices
- People who do short domestic flights and want to get rid of their bulky headphones
- People who like the Airpod 1/2, but it didn’t fit well
Who it’s not for:
- If you do a lot of active and critical music listening, don’t bother with these