So this year is the year for some technical upgrades, one of them was the upgrade from iPhones 6s Plus to iPhone 12 Pro, you can read about that in my previous post. The other one is earbuds, from EarPods to AirPods Pro. The changes in the iPhone I would describe as incremental, which means faster, better, prettier. But in the AirPods, it’s a whole new level of experience.
If the iPhone had kept the audio jack, I doubt I’d change the good old EarPods to anything else because they just worked perfectly fine. But since Apple decided to remove the audio jack, I ended up with 2 choices, buy an adapter, from lightning connector to audio jack, or buy the wireless headphones. The idea of having the dongle hit me harder than recharging the headphones, so I decided to get a pair of wireless earbuds.
Initially, I started looking at earbuds reviews from different audio manufactures, but the AirPods Pro had particularly good reviews and integration with the iPhone and Mac, so I decided to jump the train and get them.
After I got them and got to spend a fair amount of time using them I completely fall in love with my new earbuds, the AirPods Pro. So much that I couldn’t see myself going back to EarBuds never again.
The differences between the two are enormous, and I think you can’t really compare them side-by-side, except for sound and mic quality.
Out-of-the-box there is a pretty straightforward setup experience, as with everything that Apple makes. Immediately after opening the case and pulling out the AirPods, they got recognized but the iPhone and get successfully paired. But what I appreciated a lot was the integrated sealing test which let you find the best ear-tip for your ear size. Here I discovered that my ear canals have different sizes on each side, on the left I wear a small ear-tip, and on the right medium.
After finding the right ear-tips for my ears, I went straight to play some music, and the differences are notable, but not overly notable as I expected. After spending some time with them and doing tests with different kinds of music genres, the sound is detailed and not over-saturated. But I’m not an audiophile so don’t trust me on this one, there are good reviews on this subject which you should check out if this one of your concerns.
The audio listening is accompanied by 3 different listening modes, normal mode, active noise cancellation, and transparency mode. And this is where they come to shine.
The active noise cancellation (ANC) mode is incredibly good and I love it. It successfully eliminates almost all major external sounds, and I say almost because some sounds still get through but it’s really a small percentage. So listening to my favorite podcast while walking near the busy road or working in the coffee shop is such a joy I almost cannot believe it. In theory, the sound quality would deteriorate because of all filters applied, but that’s not the case, the sound quality remains very good, I’d argue even better than without activating the ANC.
Another listening mode is the Transparency Mode, which is completely opposite of ANC, it puts the external sounds at almost the same level as the output sound. This comes in very handy in situations where I need to be aware of the sounds around me, like for example while riding the bicycle. Sometimes I completely forget that I’m wearing the AirPods, this mode really makes me integrate with my surroundings instead of isolating.
Then there is this thing Apple calls spatial sound, which is basically 3D surround sound, as What HiFi describes it:
Apple spatial audio takes 5.1, 7.1 and Dolby Atmos signals and applies directional audio filters, adjusting the frequencies that each ear hears so that sounds can be placed virtually anywhere in 3D space. Sounds will appear to be coming from in front of you, from the sides, the rear and even above. The idea is to recreate the audio experience of a cinema.
Well, I haven’t got the chance to really enjoy this feature, but from the tests I did, it sounds interesting.
The controls are placed on the stem, giving a clicky feeling, they work pretty well, but unfortunately, I can’t manage the sound volume directly from the stem, instead, it should be used Siri, or via the phone or mac, that is the only thing I found that is missing.
Now the most uncomfortable topic for any wearable device, the battery! The AirPods Pro will work for 4.5 hours on a single charge, and 24 hours with the charging case. To me, this is pretty great because I can’t wear them for more than 2 hours, my ears get uncomfortable, and then I’ll put them back in the case, if they stay in the case for at least 5 minutes, they’ll get charged for another hour of listening time. So the only thing I should be worried about is to not run out of juice in the case and I’m fine. I wish the new iPhone 12 had a possibility of reverse-charging, but I guess we’ll need to wait for that.
Speaking of design, the stem, which is way shorter than the one on “normal” AirPods and looks better, doesn’t make any sense to me. It’s an old design for wired earbuds, but for wireless, they could have design something more modern. But I guess they are keeping that for the next releases.
In conclusion, the AirPods Pro is really really good, but if you are already in the Apple ecosystem, otherwise I’m not sure I’d recommend them.