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The AirPods Pro are great — but now I wish I hadn't upgraded

The AirPods Pro laid out on a desk
(Image credit: Future)

I’ve spent the last two and a bit years debating upgrading my AirPods 2 to a set of AirPods Pro. While I use my AirPods for multiple hours each day, I could never quite justify the significant fee that upgrading would cost. 

However, last week while in an airport, I made a fairly impulsive decision to purchase AirPods Pro. This decision was primarily influenced by my AirPods-less partner wanting my old pair, but I was also overcome by the urge to shop that only comes about when you’ve got several hours to fill in the wake of a delayed flight. 

After 10 days of testing, I’m pretty impressed overall. There’s an awful lot to like about AirPods Pro, and I’ve found the range of additional Pro-exclusive features almost universally useful. However, I also can’t shake the nagging feeling that I probably would have been fine just sticking with my second-generation buds. Allow me to explain… 

Monetary mistake 

Firstly, before getting into the weeds of this piece, I must acknowledge that purchasing AirPods Pro in an airport is a ludicrously poor decision. I literally write about AirPods deals for a living so I couldn’t have been a bigger sucker paying (almost) full retail price for them inside an airport terminal.

With early Prime Day deals including a promotion that has slashed the price of the entire AirPods range, don’t make my mistake. If you’re looking to upgrade your AirPods or purchase your first pair make sure to shop around and save yourself some money. 

The AirPods Pro is currently on sale at Amazon for $199, (opens in new tab) which is 20% off the regular $249 price. 

A better fit 

Right out of the box the most noticeable improvement when comparing the AirPods Pro vs AirPods 2 is the refreshed design. While I’ve never quite understood the complaints that regular AirPods are prone to falling out — they’ve always felt secure in my ears — there’s no denying the semi-customizable fit of AirPods Pro is vastly superior. 

I was also pleasantly surprised to discover that Apple has created an Ear Tip Fit Test to help you make sure you’ve selected the silicon ear tips that best suit the shape of your ear — although in my case it was unnecessary, the default tips fit perfectly. 

The shorter stems are another small design tweak that makes a surprisingly large amount of difference. This change is far from revolutionary, and it’s a purely aesthetic one, but it gives the AirPods Pro a smaller profile and makes them look just a little bit more premium which is appreciated. 

Block out the world 

I found the AirPods Pro ANC immediately useful when I had the misfortunate of sitting in close proximity to a young child on the airplane.

The biggest upgrade the AirPods Pro brings is the inclusion of active noise cancellation (ANC), and for some people, this addition will likely be worth the extra cost alone. 

I can’t deny it’s pretty convenient being able to more effectively block out the often very noisy outside world. In fact, I found the AirPods Pro ANC immediately useful when I had the misfortunate of sitting in close proximity to a young child on the airplane — as seasoned travelers will tell you toddlers and lengthy flights are a nightmare combination. 

I also appreciate Apple ensuring that disabling ANC is an almost effortless process. Over the last ten days, I’ve found myself wanting to switch off the feature when walking across busy roads, or when I was working from home and needed to listen out for the doorbell as an important package was due to be delivered. The ability to switch between ANC and Transparency Mode with just a quick stem squeeze is wonderfully intuitive. 

Even more control  

Speaking of squeezing the steam, one upgrade that I’ve been pleasantly surprised by is the force sensors located on both AirPods Pro earbuds (these are also found on AirPods 3, released in 2021). These can be used to control functions such as switching ANC on and off and controlling your music and phone calls. 

With AirPods 2 you are limited to one function on either earbud that is activated by double-tapping the AirPod. Not only does this give you less control, but the act of vigorously tapping your AirPod can cause it to become dislodged or painfully pushed deeper into your ear. 

Granted, the force sensors aren’t perfect. Pressing them can be a little finicky due to the shortened stems, and I’d appreciate a way to increase/decrease volume without having to reach for my iPhone or activate Siri. Frankly, barking at an AI assistant while grocery shopping is something that I’ll never be comfortable doing. 

Comes at a cost 

Considering all the positive things I’ve said about the AirPods Pro, and the undeniable amount of upgrades included, you might be confused why I’m debating if upgrading was a wise financial decision. 

The simple truth is, as much as I really like my AirPods Pro, I’m not wholly convinced the significant upgrade fee I paid has been justified. I enjoy pretty much all the new features offered by AirPods Pro but I probably would have been content overall sticking with my AirPods 2. The improvements added with AirPod Pro don't feel utterly essential to me. 

Now if you’re looking to buy your first set of AirPods, I implore you to go Pro, on average they cost around $50-80 more and the additional features are easily worth that extra spend. However, if you already have a pair of regular AirPods, spending an extra $200 to upgrade to AirPods Pro is a much tougher sell. 

If you're on the fence, I would wait until this fall, when Apple is rumored to introduce the new AirPods Pro 2 with even bigger upgrades. But the AirPods Pro 2 could disappoint in other ways

Next: Forget AirPods — EarPods may still be the right earbuds for you.

Rory Mellon
Rory Mellon

Rory is a Deals Editor at Tom’s Guide based in the UK. He covers a wide range of topics but with a particular focus on deals, gaming and streaming. When he’s not scouring retailers for PS5 restock or writing hot takes on the latest gaming hardware and streaming shows, he can be found attending music festivals and being thoroughly disappointed by his terrible football team.