Apple AirPods Pro review: Shut out the noise in comfort

Mala Bhargava | Updated on November 15, 2019 Published on November 15, 2019

Tha Apple AirPods Pro

A first look at the upgrade to the world’s most popular wireless earphones

Apple wasn’t the first to come up with totally wireless earphones, but the AirPods didn’t waste time becoming the world’s most popular in their category. And that’s despite all the complaining users did over the design, sound quality and battery life.

The AirPods have been selling so well, they teamed up with the other most popular wearable, the Apple Watch, to contribute significantly to Apple’s bottom line.

Its not too surprising then that Apple has decided to pay some much needed attention to their wireless earphones, adding features that are right on top of users’ wish lists — read active noise cancellation — as well as some they didn’t think of.

Both the AirPods and the AirPods Pro are available giving users the choice of which to buy, but one can safely bet the AirPods Pro will begin to outsell the regular ones.

The AirPods Pro are now quite possibly the world’s smartest wireless earphones. It starts from the set-up process. If you have your iPhone ready and working, all you need to do is open the case of the AirPods Pro, and a prompt will pop up on the phone’s screen. Then, press ‘Connect’ and they’re ready to use. They also pair automatically with all your other Apple devices, are are one tap away from use with those as well.

The Apple AirPods Pro in its case


But there is one more clever thing that you could have the AirPods Pro do before you start listening to music. Follow the on-screen instructions at set-up to test how they fit into your ears.

With the Pro’s, there are now silicone ear tips on the earbuds. These not only increase comfort, but take the music a little further into your ear, and seal the noise outside and music inside.

But everything depends on how they fit. Apple has a test for that, using tiny microphones on the AirPods Pro. Adjust the pods properly into your ears, and start the test from the iPhone’s screen. Press to play the test music. In a few moments, the iPhone will give you the results for each ear.

If you get two greens, you’re ready to go, but if not, you can fiddle with the adjustment or even change the ear-tip to see if that suits you better and gives a proper seal.

You get a choice of small, medium and large ear-tips though medium (the default on the AirPods) fit most people.

The earphones are really comfortable and can be worn for long, including to sleep. They never fall out.

Noise versus noise

The silicon ear-tips cut off a lot of outside noise, but they do so passively. Apple also has active noise cancellation for the AirPods Pro, this being their biggest differentiator from the regular AirPods.

An outward facing microphone detects sound from the outside. An inward facing microphone listens to sound inside your ear. The two are used to cancel each other out. Apple has said that the AirPods adjust noise cancellation using opposing sound signals 200 times a second to keep things quiet while you listen to music.

If it’s too quiet for you, and you need to tune in to what’s happening around you, long press and hold the stem of the AirPods. You’ll hear a soft ping and the noise cancellation mode will change. You can cycle through full noise cancellation, transparent sound (to listen to sounds outside) and no noise cancellation at all.

The noise cancellation is by no means the best in the business, but it does a good job of dampening sounds like air conditioner hums, and the steady sound of a car engine, aircraft whine etc.

You can no longer hear what people are saying, though you can just about hear enough to know they’re talking. You can hear outside music, but it only trickles though.

The moment you turn on your own music, that itself contributes to shutting off noise as well.

You can control the noise cancellation mode either from the stem of the AirPods or from the Control Centre on your phone. Or you could just ask Siri to do it for you. If you use an Apple Watch, then you can access the controls on the AirPods Pro.

Tweaked design

With the AirPods Pro you don’t have to tap the earbuds to give a command and put up with the huge thumping noise it makes inside your ear. You press the stem on either earbud instead.

The stem is now much shorter countering the complaints of those who hated the prominence of the longer stem of the regular AirPods.

There are other details, but the big ones are that the charging case is bigger (it is less pocketable and a little different), there are silicone ear-tips, and the stem is shorter with the controls on it. Pause, play, skipping tracks and toggling noise modes are from here.

Unfortunately, the only colour for these is still glossy white, which is a real pity as at least black as an option would be nice.

The AirPods Pros are IP4 rated, and can take some light rain or the occasional splash, but not outright submersion in water.

Satisfying sound

Just as with noise cancellation, Apple isn’t the best in the business as far as audio is concerned, but the AirPods Pro sound good enough for most non-audiophile listeners.

This time, there’s much improved sound quality with deeper richer bass and a more full sound. It also sounds better than the regular AirPods because the ear-tips go deeper into the ears.

The sound has been tuned to suit what people in general will appreciate, and the even the regular AirPods wouldn’t have been so popular if they hadn’t been meeting users’ needs, while the Pro should go several steps further because it sounds better.

The battery life is about the same as the AirPods, which is about four hours. It’s not great, but using the wireless charging case to top-up battery will keep you going for 24 hours, which should be enough for most.

The AirPods Pro on Android

The AirPods Pro do work on Android. But they won’t feel like they belong with that system — which is also okay, considering you do get the main features.

The set-up will be done the regular way: Go to Bluetooth settings and pair with the device. A button on the back of the AirPods’ case will put it in pairing mode. But you will not get the kind of prompt and interface you would on an Apple device, nor will you be able to test for fit.

There’s no Siri to trigger, of course, but you can’t translate that feature to the Google Assistant. Seeing that the Siri assistant is very much a part of the Apple experience on the iPhone, just as the Google Assistant is on an Android, that will be something major missing.

But the active noise cancellation is available and so are the music controls available on pressing the AirPods’ stem. Unless you’re very keen on those missing few features, you can consider the AirPods Pro for use with an Android phone.

The sound quality will be roughly the same, though it depends also on what the quality the phone outputs in earphones. At the same time, there are no end of wireless earphones available for Android phones that will have none of the intended features crippled from being used on a system they weren’t meant for.

A parting thought however: the Google Assistant will in any case hear you through the phone and respond there.

Price: Rs 24,900

Pros: Pretty good functional noise cancellation, extremely comfortable, secure in ears, clever fit test, improved sound quality, very neat Siri and Watch integration, smart painless setup

Cons: Still no colour options, battery life not great, the case is a little less pocketable

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Published on November 15, 2019
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