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AirPods Pro vs. AirPods: Which Wireless Earbuds Should You Buy?

(Image credit: Future)

Apple's AirPods helped kick off the wireless earbuds revolution, but the company kicked things up a notch for the AirPods Pro. In fact, Apple's buds earned 5 out of 5 stars in our AirPods Pro review. So which one is right for you?

The AirPods Pro is, as its name suggests, designed for people who want premium features and are willing to pay a higher price. You get noise cancellation, a transparency mode, customizable fit, water resistance and more. The regular AirPods is no slouch, though, as you get the same easy pairing along with solid audio quality.

Yes, the AirPods Pro are the best wireless earbuds overall, but the AirPods are a better value. Here's how the two compare.

AirPods 2 vs. AirPods Pro: Specs compared

AirPods 2AirPods Pro
Wireless Charging Case
Yes ($40 extra)
Yes, included
Rated Battery Life5 hours (24 hours with charging case)4.5 hours (24 hours with charging case)
Water ResistanceNot rated for sweat- or water-resistanceIPX 4 (can withstand sweat and water, but not for use in water sports)
Case Size1.74 x 2.11 inches x 0.841.78 x 2.39 x 0.85 inches
Case Weight1.41 ounces1.61 ounces
Special FeaturesAudio sharing, announced messages with SiriActive noise cancellation, transparency mode, adaptive EQ, customizable fit, audio sharing, announced messages with Siri

AirPods Pro vs AirPods 2 design

AirPods 2

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Most sweat-resistant Bluetooth earbuds look like tiny buds that you stick in your ear and are so unobtrusive that some people might not even notice you’re wearing them. Not AirPods Pro. Apple is sticking with AirPods’ signature style, complete with gleaming white stems that drop down from the ear, for its latest set of Bluetooth ‘buds.

But the newest AirPods are customizable, a first for Apple, so you can ensure a perfect fit. Three sizes of silicone tips — small, medium and large — are included in the box. If you’re unsure which size fits best, Apple has created the Ear Tip Fit Test to calibrate the AirPods and determine which tips are the best ones for you. The tips click in, so you don’t have to struggle to swap them out.

I also appreciate that AirPods Pro features a new vent system for equalizing pressure. This means the new ‘buds should be comfortable to wear, which isn’t always the case with sealed earbuds.

The second-gen AirPods have what Apple calls a “universal” fit. There are no customizable silicone tips, and those ‘pods aren’t designed to nestle in the ear canal. Instead, they sit just outside of it, so you can still hear the world around you.

AirPods Pro vs AirPods 2 audio and special features

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The design changes Apple made in AirPods Pro are for one specific reason: Apple is betting on superior sound with a suite of new features exclusive to these earbuds.

The Pros offer active noise cancellation with an outward-facing microphone that listens for sound and then works to counter it before it reaches your ear. An inward-facing mic also listens for sound, and similarly works to cancel that, too. Apple says the noise self-adjusts 200 times per second for consistently perfect audio quality. Along with the sealed fit of the Pro’s design, you’ll be able to completely tune out the world around you.

But AirPods Pro also have a transparency mode so you can still listen to your playlists and podcasts while hearing what people say to you (or the outside world while exercising outdoors).

Pressing a new force sensor embedded in the stems of the AirPods Pro activates transparency mode, which lets in external noise so you can listen to what’s happening around you without pausing the audio. You can feel for the sensor with your fingertip, because the new pod’s stem is grooved. Squeezing the groove again resumes active noise cancellation. You can also use the volume slider in the iPhone’s Control Center to switch between noise cancellation and transparency mode.

The AirPods Pro also have Adaptive EQ. Other Bluetooth earbuds, including Jabra’s Elite Active 65t and Jaybird’s Vista, let you manually adjust the EQ levels in a companion smartphone app. AirPods adjust on the fly according to the shape of your ear and the audio you’re listening to. I can’t wait to put this to the test.

AirPods 2 don’t have many unique audio features, though they do offer solid sound. Like AirPods Pro, the second-gen ‘pods offer audio sharing, so you can listen to a song or podcast from the same device with a friend who also has AirPods, and have Siri announce new text messages. 

For advanced audio, AirPods Pro is the clear winner.

AirPods Pro vs AirPods 2 fitness and water resistance

With AirPods Pro, Apple has finally made a much-anticipated sweat- and water-resistant pair of AirPods. As someone who has shorted out the battery of her first-gen AirPods by running outside (and getting caught in a few downpours), this is the pair I’ve been waiting for. If you don’t like the hooked design of Powerbeats Pro, a sporty AirPods alternative from Apple-owned Beats, AirPods Pro is the best option for fitness buffs.

AirPods Pro vs AirPods 2 performance

Both AirPods 2 and AirPods Pro have Apple’s latest H1 chip with 10 audio cores. In the second-gen AirPods, this results in faster Siri responses. The same applies to the AirPods Pro, but the H1 chip also powers real-time noise cancellation — without sacrificing battery life.

AirPods Pro vs AirPods 2 battery life

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Both AirPods 2 and AirPods Pro have wireless charging cases, which are compatible with Qi-based wireless charging mats. You can buy a pair of second-gen AirPods without a standard charging case for $40 less than the premium version. AirPods Pro doesn’t offer a choice of charging cases. 

AirPods Pro deliver 24 hours of battery life, with 4.5 hours in the pods and an additional 19-20 hours in the case. If you disable active noise cancellation, you can squeeze up to 5 hours of listening out of the AirPods Pro before sticking them back in the charging case. That’s the same as AirPods 2, which don’t have noise cancellation.

AirPods Pro vs AirPods 2 price

There’s no denying that the $249 AirPods Pro are pricier than their predecessors. The second-gen AirPods are available for $159 without a wireless charging case and $199 with one. You’ll also be able to find AirPods deals for the second-gen buds, which is unlikely for the newest model.

Bottom line

If you want noise cancellation, a customizable fit and a sweat-resistant package, AirPods Pro is the clear winner. But for those who just care about great sound and a relatively affordable price, the second-gen AirPods are still better than most wireless earbuds you can buy.