AirPods Pro workout test: It's a game-changer

(Image credit: Future)

I've been longing for a pair of sweat-resistant AirPods for years. I didn't want to buy a fitness-focused pair of Bluetooth earbuds — who wants to invest in two pairs of earbuds when one will do? — so I ran with my first-gen AirPods nearly every day for a year and a half. Then they died, the victim of a corroded battery (marked by the telltale sign of blue-green gunk leaking out of the stem) that contributed to a charging case malfunction. 

I've used sweat-resistant Bluetooth earbuds in the year since I stopped working out with AirPods, including Jabra's Elite Active 65t and Jaybird's Vista. But I still sported a fresh pair of Apple's buds for everything else — listening to podcasts, taking phone calls and streaming music — because they're just more comfortable to wear. Even Powerbeats Pro, which Apple-owned Beats launched earlier this year, were too sporty. I found the around-the-ear hooks, lack of tip sizes and bulging charging case made them less versatile than AirPods.

Now the AirPods Pro are here, and they are the Swiss army knife of Bluetooth earbuds. I no longer need separate earbuds for my workouts and daily life.

AirPods Pro Ear Tip Fit Test: Finding the right fit is key

The small and medium ear tips passed the fit test, but only the medium tips offered consistent active noise cancellation.

The small and medium ear tips passed the fit test, but only the medium tips offered consistent active noise cancellation. (Image credit: Future)

AirPods Pro comes with three tip sizes — small, medium and large — in the box. When you pair the earbuds to your iPhone, the setup process will guide you through an Ear Tip Fit Test to determine which size offers the best fit for true active noise cancellation. But this isn't a foolproof test — it requires some trial and error to truly find the best fit.

In my case, both the small and medium tips passed the test. The small tips felt like they offered a comfortable fit and a solid seal, so I hit the pavement to put them to the test. But as I was running outside, I realized I could hear much of the world — passing cars, dogs and pedestrians — through my right earbud, even with active noise cancellation enabled. 

I swapped in a medium tip, which hadn't felt as comfortable on my initial try-on as the small tip, on the right earbud. Then I went for another run. The size adjustment made a huge difference in sound quality. When active noise cancellation was enabled, I could only hear the music. With it off, I could hear more of the outside world. When I turned on Transparency Mode, I could hear everything — my playlist, chattering kids near the high school along my running route, oncoming cars. Without a solid fit, everything sounded basically the same, regardless of which mode I was using.

AirPods Pro audio: Running to the beat

Pairing AirPods Pro to a Peloton bike is easy, but repairing them to my iPhone could be more seamless.

Pairing AirPods Pro to a Peloton bike is easy, but repairing them to my iPhone could be more seamless. (Image credit: Future)

Confession: I will not be using active noise cancellation when I run outside, because I value my life and want to be aware of my surroundings. Inside the gym is a different story. Active noise cancellation is a godsend when I need to block out grunting weightlifters or the person who thinks it's socially acceptable to blast their workout tunes on a speaker (lady, get some headphones like the rest of us).

But even without active noise cancellation enabled, my tunes were bass-forward and propelled me to run faster as I pounded the pavement. I also appreciate how lightweight the AirPods Pro are. It feels as if I'm wearing nothing at all, which isn't the case with Jabra, Jaybird or Powerbeats. None of those earbuds are particularly heavy, but you can definitely feel them in your ears.

In addition to running, I paired the AirPods Pro to a Peloton bike for a few 30-minute spin classes. The bike screen prompts you to pair Bluetooth earbuds to listen to the instructor and the class playlist, which I did by opening the AirPods case and pressing the pairing button. With active noise cancellation enabled, I couldn’t hear the squeak of the bike pedals or my own exasperated sighs during particularly tough climbs. 

But I wish the AirPods would seamlessly pair back to my iPhone after a class. I had to reconnect the earbuds to my phone in the Bluetooth settings, and in a few cases, I had to set up the AirPods again from scratch. That process should be much less painless, but I doubt most people are pairing their earbuds to their exercise equipment on a regular basis.

AirPods Pro vs. AirPods: Sweat-resistant and worry-free

I never have to worry about damaging AirPods Pro with sweat.

I never have to worry about damaging AirPods Pro with sweat. (Image credit: Future)

Aside from comfortable ear tips and active noise cancellation, the feature I love most about AirPods Pro is sweat-resistance. I know plenty of people work out with their first- and second-gen AirPods without any ramifications, but I've been burned before and don't want to risk it again. Now I don't have to worry about it.

The pods stay in place, regardless of which activity I'm doing, whether it's outdoor runs, side planks in the gym or spin classes. The latter in particular is a sweat fest. At the end of a Peloton ride I'm usually dripping, and, yes, that includes my ears. But the AirPods never slide out, and I don't have to think about damaging them.

Bottom line

The regular second-gen AirPods are much cheaper than AirPods Pro, but to me, the peace of mind is worth the cost. These are earbuds that can handle all of life's activities.

Caitlin is a Senior editor for Gizmodo. She has also worked on Tom's Guide, Macworld, PCWorld and the Las Vegas Review-Journal. When she's not testing out the latest devices, you can find her running around the streets of Los Angeles, putting in morning miles or searching for the best tacos.