As previously reported, it's earbuds season, and there are officially a lot of new wireless headphones on the market to choose from. But your decision might have just gotten easier, now that AirPods Pro have arrived. Their main differentiator? Active noise cancellation — a new frontier in AirPods and the world of wireless earbuds at large.
What are the new AirPods Pro features?
AirPods Pro have an entirely different design than their predecessors. The bud has a silicone tip (that comes in three sizes to provide a more exact fit — more on this later), and thusly, a much better seal in the ear. There are three modes of listening you can choose from, or even toggle between over the course of a single song. They are Noise Cancellation, which mutes external noise for a seriously immersive listening experience, Transparency, which uses built-in vents to unblock the sound of the outside world (so like, your own voice sounds actually normal and not like you're wearing earplugs), and Off, which is the regular ole AirPod fare that you're used to.
It's really easy to switch between these modes as you please, which you can do in four different places. There's your iPhone's Bluetooth settings, where you can select your AirPods Pro and manually select whatever mode you want for the environment you're in. Or there's the iPhone Control Center, which you can access by swiping down from the top of your screen, where you can press on the volume slide and toggle between the modes that way. There's also the AirPlay button on your Apple Watch, which lets you click through the modes, and finally the AirPods themselves, which have single buttons on each that you can press and hold to click through each Noise Control mode. You can also use the buttons to access Siri or to play, pause, and accept calls, which is very convenient and a welcome addition to the AirPod hardware.
What's also unique about these earbuds is their Ear Tip Fit Test. You can access this test in your iPhone's Bluetooth settings, which instructs you to place the AirPods in your ears and hit play on some sample music while the in-ear audio is measured to ensure that you have the right amount of seal on your Pods. (If it's deemed insufficient, you'll be instructed to adjust your AirPods or try a different size tip.)
As far as performance, I am seriously shocked by how good the noise-canceling is. (And I have subsequently used them all day, even without music, to block out the noise in my open floor plan office.) And while the noise-canceling capability necessarily makes your ears a bit more plugged up than regular AirPods do (since a physically tight seal is required to block out outside noise), they honestly feel minimally obtrusive. Their wireless charging case is only slightly bigger than the original AirPods case (which is to say, still very compact and pocket-friendly), and the aesthetic of the Pros, though slightly smaller-stemmed, remains true to the AirPod's sleek integrity.
AirPods Pro are also water- and sweat-resistant — which the old ones are not. So if you're looking to get really sweaty and lose yourself in some music, these are definitely better for you than the original AirPods. In terms of battery life, AirPods Pro can support four-and-a-half hours of listening on one charge (as compared to five hours with the regular AirPods) and 24 hours with the full case charge (like the originals). As for Siri integration, AirPods Pro and AirPods both respond to "Hey Siri" hands-free, but with the Pros, you can have Siri read your Messages to you out loud, too.
How much do AirPods Pro cost?
The new 'Pods will set you back $249 — which puts them at the most expensive end of the wireless earbud spectrum. For reference, the new Google Pixel Buds will be available early next year for $179, Echo Buds are available for pre-order for $129.99, Apple's PowerBeats Pro cost $199.95, and Microsoft's Surface Earbuds tie with AirPods Pro for $249. As for regular AirPods, they cost $159 with the normal charging case and $199 with the wireless charging case.
So are the new AirPods worth it?
Amongst their competitors, the only rival to the AirPods Pro noise-canceling technology is the Echo Buds noise-reducing technology (made possible with Bose Active Noise Reduction Technology), but that only limits background noise, as opposed to canceling. And while Powerbeats Pro are also sweat- and water-resistant, they are not noise-canceling (despite doing a pretty solid job of sealing out noise). So if noise-canceling technology is important to you (whether strictly for airplanes or so that you can find some zen on your subway commute) and you don't want to mess with the over-ear kind, AirPods Pro are your best option.
If noise-canceling doesn't appeal to you, though, you're best off with the regular AirPods, which retail starting at $159, or Echo Buds, which are sweat-resistant and noise-reducing for $129.99.
When will AirPods Pro be released?
You can order AirPods Pro now, which will begin shipping tomorrow, or you can buy them in Apple Stores later this week. To use them, your iPhone or iPad must be operating on iOS 13.2, and your Apple Watch needs watchOS 6.1 or later.