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AirPods Pro Review: Practically perfect

The AirPods Pro are the ultimate wireless earbuds

Editor's Choice
(Image: © Tom's Guide)

Our Verdict

With active noise cancelling, a better fit and resistance to sweat, the AirPods Pro are the ultimate wireless earbuds.

For

  • Modern, functional design
  • Great active noise cancelling
  • Expanded, easy to use controls
  • Comfortable semi-custom fit
  • Great sound

Against

  • No companion app
  • Battery life could be longer

Loose fit that can't make a perfect seal? Have some silicon tips and take Apple’s new fit test. No active noise cancelling? These AirPods have powerful ANC. Weird-looking design? All right, it's still weird-looking, but the stem on these AirPods is shorter.

Priced at a premium $249, the AirPods Pro answer nearly all the criticisms of its predecessor while raining on Amazon's, Sony’s (and everyone else's) parade. Apple crammed in three microphones, a powerful audio driver and made it all come together in a pair of buds that feel like magic. Yes, the battery life could be longer. But the AirPods Pro are officially the best wireless earbuds you can buy and are among the best best headphones overall.

AirPods Pro price and release date

The AirPods Pro are available now in the US and UK for $249/£249. You can tack on Apple's AppleCare+ for Headphones for an extra $29, which gets you two years of warranty support including up to two incidents of accidental damage coverage.

AirPods Pro design: Still weird but more subtle

We laughed at the AirPods design when Apple's earbuds first arrived. Hell, I definitely made some "Something About Mary" hair-gel jokes. And, yep, there are plenty of AirPods Pro memes floating around about the mini-hair dryer aesthetic. But ultimately, it's Apple that'll have the last laugh when the earbuds are flying off the shelves. Because, while the AirPods Pro do have a polarizing kitschy retro-modern aesthetic, there's a method behind the madness.

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

For starters, take a look at the head of the AirPods Pro, which is larger than the previous buds and holds two black mic vents. At the top of the stem sits another vent, hiding another microphone. At the bottom is a slim glossy chrome circle. Toward the end of the bud that goes into your ear is a new and notable addition: a silicon eartip.

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Give the stem a squeeze and you'll discover an embedded Force sensor that lets you toggle between noise cancelling and Transparency mode.

The stem is shorter than on previous versions of the AirPods, and now has a small notch cut into them. Give either a squeeze and you'll discover an embedded Force sensor that lets you toggle between ANC and Transparency modes (more on that later). 

The AirPods Pro weighs 0.19 ounces each and measure 1.2 x 0.9 x 0.9 inches. The 2nd-gen AirPods are a bit smaller and lighter at 0.14 ounces and 0.7 x 0.7 x 1.6 inches, but the 2nd-gen AirPods have longer stems than the Pros. The AirPods Pro are lighter than both the Amazon Echo Buds (0.3 ounces and 0.9 x 0.9 x 0.9 inches) and the Sony WF-1000XM3 (0.3 ounces and 1.1 x 0.7 x 1.3 inches)

For you fitness fanatics or heavy sweaters, the AirPods Pro are IPX4 rated, which means that they're sweat- and water-resistant like the Amazon Echo Buds and the Powerbeats Pro.

At 1.6 ounces and 2.4 x 1.7 x 0.9 inches, the AirPods Pro's charging case is wider and heavier than past AirPod cases (1.3 ounces, 2.1 x 1.7 x 0.8 inches). But when you consider the Echo Buds (2.5 ounces, 3 x 2.2 x 0.9 inches), the AirPod Pro's case is downright tiny.

AirPods Pro comfort: A perfect fit

Usually, I experience a low level of panic when I wear AirPods. I love how light they are, but without a tight seal, I always worried about one falling out. Not with the AirPods Pro. For the first time in AirPods or EarPods history, Apple is including silicon ear tips. And not just one pair, but three.

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But how do you know which ones are your size? Your iPhone will tell you. In the Bluetooth section of the iOS Settings menu, you'll see an AirPods tab. Tap it, and you'll find the Ear Tip Fit Test. When initiated, the AirPods Pro will play a song in your ear. While the sound is playing, the interior microphone is listening for how the sound hits your ear canal, taking into account the unique curvature and bumps. If it's a fit, you'll get a green Good Seal notification. If not, a note will designate whether you should adjust the fit or change to a different size. 

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Somehow, my tiny ears were fine with the medium tips, so I didn't have to swap. But if you do, they pop off relatively easy. While the new tips attach with a click, Apple purposely shortened the attach point and tapered the tips so that they conform better to the unique shape of your ear. That meant I could galavant around NYC without worrying about an unfortunate AirPods mishap. In fact, I wore the AirPods Pro for well over 2 hours in blissful comfort. If I had one complaint, it's that the tips are white. I know that earwax is healthy and all, but that doesn't mean I like seeing it on my tips.

AirPods Pro setup

Thanks to Apple's H1 chip, pairing the AirPods Pro to an iDevice is easy, breezy and beautiful. Seconds after popping the top on the charging case, a picture of the AirPods Pro appeared on my iPhone XS Max, signifying the earbuds were paired. As expected, pairing the AirPods Pro to my Samsung Galaxy Note 8 took a bit longer since I had to press the button on the back of the case to initiate pairing, and then go into the smartphone's settings menu to connect.

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In the iOS Settings menu, you can change the long press from toggling between ANC/Transparency mode to either ANC/Off or Transparency/Off. Or, you can just use it as a secondary Siri launcher on either bud. Automatic Ear Detection, which transfers audio from a connected device to the AirPods ProPros when you put them in your ears, can be disabled. And you also tweak the microphone settings. 

I really want Apple to make at least a rudimentary equalizer for people to play with. No matter how good a pair of buds or headphones sound, I like having the ability to tweak the bass, highs and mids. If the company can put one in the Beats Pro Solo app, why not the AirPods?

AirPods Pro controls

Apple put my complaints to rest about the limited touch controls with the AirPods Pro's Force Sensor. It's here that you can play/pause, skip tracks and switch the ANC on and off. All you have to do is tap. A single press will play/pause or answer/end a call depending on the situation. A double tap skips songs forward, while a triple tap skips backward. Long pressing the sensor controls active noise cancelling. And, yes, this control scheme carries over to Android.

I have to tell you, tapping on those skinny stems is so much more comfortable than pressing buttons on the part of the bud resting in my ear. The motion just pushes the bud farther into my ear, which is pretty uncomfortable. 

Controls for the AirPods Pro can also be found on your iPhone in the Control Center. From there, you can control volume, ANC and Transparency mode. For everything else, you'll have to refer to Siri.

AirPods Pro Siri features

Hands? That's so passéé. The H1 chip makes sure that you can keep your hands to yourself. Similar to other headphones and earbuds in Apple''s catalog, the AirPods Pro offer hands-free Siri. That means you can control the earbuds and other smartphone functions just by saying "Hey Siri." But Apple is expanding Siri's feature set with Announce Messages with Siri.

Announce with Siri allows the digital assistant to read your messages to you as they come in. Naturally, the feature works with the Messaging app. However, it also works with third-party apps. We've reached out to Apple to determine which apps and will update this review when this information is obtained.

AirPods Pro noise cancellation

If finally happened. At long, long last, Apple has officially joined the ANC party, and it sounds really good. And that's saying something for a pair of truly wireless buds. Sitting in a totally quiet room, I can hear a small buzzing from the negative noise that the internal microphone is creating to counter external sounds.

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It's nowhere near as pronounced as on the Echo Buds, which use active noise reduction (ANR) courtesy of Bose. Yep, you're reading that right. In a sheer quiet test, the AirPods Pro is quieter than a Bose-collaborated product. To be fair, the WF-1000XM3's ANC is pretty silent, too.

With the Transparency Mode on, I didn't have to stop listening to SZA's "The Weekend" while I talked to my staff writer about upcoming deadlines.

But neither pair of buds will deliver silence in a noisy setting. At best, you'll get a severely dampened sound cone. Without music on, I could still hear my colleagues chatter in our open office while I was wearing the AirPods Pro, but my colleagues sounded like they were in a room several feet away. The Sony and Amazon buds produced a similar effect, but while the WF-1000XM3's were just as quiet as the AirPods Pro, I still heard that negative noise in the Echo Buds over my colleagues' noise.

When I played music, I was a little disappointed that I had to pump the volume to about 60% to drown out my co-workers. It was better than the Echo Buds, which was approximately 65%, but nowhere close to the WF-1000XM3's 45%. To combat the din of the C train, I had to turn the volume on the AirPods Pro up to 70%, while the Echo Buds and the Sonys required me to crank things to 75% and 55%, respectively.

AirPods Pro Transparency Mode

Sometimes, you've got to let the outside world into your ANC-created peace. For those moments, Apple has added a Transparency Mode. Activated by either a long-press on either of the Force Sensors or via the iPhone controls, Transparency allows ambient noise to be piped into the soundstage. It's good for runners and other pedestrians who want to keep track of their surroundings while listening to music. For me, it means that I didn't have to stop listening to SZA's "The Weekend" while I talked to my staff writer about upcoming deadlines. And when I was done answering questions, a quick stem squeeze let me get back into my zone, listening to music and pumping out this review.

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And while I appreciate Transparency mode, I wish Apple would have taken it a bit further and let me adjust just how much outside noise I let in, similar to the Echo Buds and the Sonys. Hell, even the Jabra Elite Active 65t have an adjustable HearThrough Mode, and the Jabra earphones only have noise isolation. The companion apps for both the Sonys and the Echo Buds let you adjust ambient noise volume. And out of the three, the WF-1000XM3 does Passthrough or Transparency mode the best, delivering clear, loud conversation to effortlessly mix in with the ongoing music.

AirPods Pro audio quality

The AirPods have never targeted the audiophile crowd, and neither do the AirPods Pro -- and that's perfectly fine. The buds still manage to deliver clean, balanced audio that's loud and plenty enjoyable. 

I started my testing with Tank's "When We." On the AirPods Pro, I heard sturdy bass accompanied by a more controlled keyboard. The drum machine had plenty of room to breathe, and l was able to focus on Tank's voice, which sounded warm and tempting.

When I switched over to the Echo Buds, the lows were thick with a rather diffused keyboard that distracted from Tank's sensual tenor. Sony's bass-heavy audio profile didn't serve it well here, serving up lows that were a little more aggressive than I would have liked. Still, the singer's lovely falsetto shone through, as did the drums.

Out of three pairs of buds, my caller ranked the AirPods Pro as the best, followed by the Echo Buds and the Sony WF-1000XM3. And I agree.

Chris Stapelton oozed melancholy and grit on "Nobody's Lonely Tonight." Soft drums and a soulful guitar had their due on the AirPods Pro. Although the track was cooler on the Echo Buds, that didn't mean I couldn't hear the twang of the guitar and the grittiness in the singer's voice as he spun his tale of love lost. The Sony buds had the warmest presentation of all, which made it sound like the artist was right in front of me. However, the guitar sounded a bit muddy, particularly on the solo, which bled into the drums' soundstage. 

When I listened to Missy Elliot's "Throw It Back," I was a little disappointed at how muted the lows sounded on the AirPods Pro. However, that let me enjoy the reverb on the artist's laid-back rhyme scheme and notice some of the more obscure portions of the track. You want bass? The WF-1000XM3 is the undisputed king, but almost at the expense of the track. But it was just restrained enough so that you could hear the cowbells, triangle and other minor details in the song. This is one time where the Echo Buds restrained performance served it well. The finer details of the song had plenty of room to breathe against the super-deep lows.

AirPods Pro battery life and Bluetooth

Apple rates the AirPods Pro for 4.5 hours of battery life (compared with 5 hours on the AirPods 2), while both models offer 24 hours of juice with the charging case.  Like the AirPods 2, the AirPods Pro's case charges wirelessly so you can pop it on a Mophie Pad if you don't have a Lightning cable handy. Also, the new charging case now gives an hour of battery life rather than merely 5 minutes of charge time.

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I squeezed about 4.5 hours from the AirPods (including a 40-minute commute, 2 hours of Netflix, a 1-hour phone conversation, 1.5 hours of Steven Universe and a whole bunch of YouTube videos) before I got a low-battery notification.

The Echo Buds are rated for an estimated 5 hours of battery life while the WF-1000XM3 has an estimated 6 hours. When it comes to fast charging, the Echo Buds can get 2 hours of charge from 15 minutes in its charging case, while the Sony buds can get 1.5 hours in 10 minutes. 

MORE: Best Wireless Headphones - Bluetooth Earbuds and In-Ear

The AirPods Pro use Bluetooth 5.0, which can connect to other devices with faster, more stable connections than previous iterations. It also has the ability to connect to multiple devices. In terms of range, Bluetooth 5.0 theoretically can reach 800 feet. So when I left my phone buried in my couch in the living room, I could still listen to music in my downstairs office.

AirPods Pro call quality

Good call quality is hard to find in a pair of earbuds, but Apple is starting to make headway as I discovered when testing the AirPods Pro in a busy New York City street.

When I called my co-worker inside the office on both the Echo Buds and the Sonys, he reported that although he could hear me, I sounded slightly underwater and he could definitely tell I was using a pair of headphones to call. Most of the background noise was muted save for a passing ambulance and a particularly noisy bus. He also noted some static from the WF-1000XM3. He sounded good on my end of the call, but there was some muffling. 

MORE: Best wireless earbuds of 2019

With the AirPods Pro, my caller reported a relatively clear conversation with  better sound quality than the competition. Outside noise was pretty much a nonfactor, until a police car drove by sirens blaring. As for me, I had no problems carrying on a conversation as his voice came through loud and clear. 

Out of the three pairs of buds, my caller ranked the AirPods Pro as the best, followed by the Echo Buds and the Sony WF-1000XM3, and I agree.

Bottom line

Apple surprise-revealed the AirPods Pro with little fanfare. But they are most assuredly a very big deal. Somehow, the company managed to squeeze three microphones and six sensors into the tiny, redesigned casing and still had room for its lauded H1 chip. They even added eartips.

The result is some of the best active noise cancelling I'’ve heard in a pair of truly wireless earbuds. And they're comfortable –– not loose-fitting comfortable, not snug-but-I-can-deal comfortable ––  truly comfortable. Hands-free Siri just keeps getting better and better, and the audio is pretty great. 

I still need Apple to bite the bullet, however, and make a companion app with an equalizer and adjustable pass-through mode. And it would be awesome if the company could figure out a way to surpass the 5-hour mark on battery life. Speaking of which, check out the $229 Sony WF-1000XM3 if you want more control over your ANC/Transparency modes and longer endurance. But overall, the AirPods Pro is the new king of wireless earbuds.