The Dent

"We’re here to put a dent in the universe. Otherwise why else even be here?" - Steve Jobs

AirPods Pro Review: Is Silence Golden?

Before I get started with this post, allow me to set the scene a little bit. I am, by no means whatsoever, an audiophile. My experience with audio equipment, especially headphones is limited to the extreme. Since I started buying iPhones I’ve been using the supplied EarPods and then the AirPods, since their introduction in 2016. I’m mentioning this early doors so you can get a bit of perspective on what past experiences I will be bringing to bear when discussing the AirPods Pro. If I was a betting man, I would have thought the vast majority of people out there are coming from a fairly similar place, to be honest. With that being said, and assuming you’re still reading, let’s move on.

Hardware


The first thing you’ll notice when unboxing the new AirPods Pro is the redesigned wireless charging case. It’s now a shorter, wider version, but still retains that fairly distinctive look. While it isn’t especially important, I think I prefer the squared off look of the past generations, though perhaps I’m just used to it.

Flipping up the lid gives you your first glance of the new, redesigned AirPods themselves. The snug fit of the AirPods in their case, as seen in the first two generations looked good, but also made it easy to almost roll each bud out. The AirPods Pro doesn’t have either of these things. As you can see from the comparison shot below, the normal AirPods fit into the case snuggly, but leave a nice amount to grip when you need to pull them out.

The AirPods Pro, on the other hand, sit into a space far less moulded to the shape of the bud. I know this sounds pretty anal, and I admit it is, but they just don’t have that same premium feel you get from the standard versions as you put the AirPods back in and they are gently pulled into place. The Pros feel a bit less secure, I’m less confident they are touching the charging area, and they are far more fiddly to remove.

The AirPods themselves are quite different this time around as well. I’ve always been very lucky with the EarPods, and then AirPods, in that they have always fit into my ear perfectly. One way or another they seemed to fit with the contours of my ear and I’d forget they were even there sometimes. The AirPods Pro, on the other hand, not so much. Granted, I’ve only had them for a day or so, so they may just take some getting used to. I used them at work for quite an extended period of time and I think I’m slowly getting more familiar with the feeling in ear. Again, coming from someone with limited headphone experience, I’m used to my ear buds just slipping into the shape of my ear and then thinking noting more of it. Due, in part, to the new shape and new rubber tips, it’s been taking a lot more thought to get them in. When I bring them to my ear they’ve not been slipping neatly into place and so far I’ve not got then in in such a way that has felt instantly comfortable or even secure, more than a handful of times.

Once they are in, so far at least, it’s not been the most comfortable experience, though again it does feel like my ears are, somewhat at least, getting used to them. They certainly haven’t blended into the background of my consciousness like the standard AirPods do. In fact, the feeling that I have something hard and uncomfortable jammed awkwardly into my ear is more prevalent than any sounds I may be playing at the time. This experience is, as you’d imagine, incredibly subjective, however, and your milage not only may vary, it almost certainly will. I’ve been very spoilt so far, having a near perfect fit with everything Apple has supplied or sold up to this point. I am going to keep trying on this front, however. It may just require a new angle of placement compared to what I’m so used to to get the fit I like.

Also, before anyone writes me a letter, yes I have tried different tips. I tried the default medium size first, and have swapped to the small ones to try currently.

Performance and software


So, comfort and fit aside, how well do they actually work? Once again, as a non-audiophile user I have never tried a noise cancelling set of headphones or earbuds so I don’t have a lot to compare it to, but it feels like there is some real Apple magic going on on this front. Once they’re connected you have three options available to you. These are:

  • Noise Cancellation
  • Transparency
  • Off

The noise cancellation is truly a thing to behold. It’s incredibly effective and works like a charm. When I first turned it on it was a pretty strange experience and felt a little jarring to be honest. Initially I had nothing playing, so the almost eerie silence threw me a little. It felt like I was in some kind of vacuum. As soon as I started playing a song, however, it started to normalise a bit. Once I got used to the feeling it felt great.

You can switch between modes via a long hold / squeeze of the AirPods stem, or via a long press on the volume control in the Control Center

I have to admit that despite being very impressed with the technology itself, I’d never personally thought about why someone would want noise cancellation. My main use for AirPods currently has been at work, but while I’m working I’ll often have someone come up to my desk for something, and felt I should always have an ear open, both literally and figuratively. That being said, I used them for most of the day today and have to say I found it pretty incredible. My work is quite technical, and while I have to help others quite a bit throughout the day, sometimes I really need to just concentrate on what I’m doing. Throughout my first day using the tiny buds, I was able to completely drown out the surprisingly loud background noise of my office and really focus on my work. The noise cancellation, combined with a relaxing flowing river noise from Dark Noise was an extraordinary zen experience. I think I’m a convert.

The next option available for the AirPods Pro is the Transparency setting. Once again, this feels like some patented Apple magic at work. Because the new AirPods include rubber tips they, by their nature, already provide a physical form of noise cancellation or blocking. That’s where the Transparency mode comes in. I’ve written about five different paragraphs trying to explain what this mode is, and I’ve fallen short each time, so I’ll let Apple explain it:

“Transparency mode provides users with the option to simultaneously listen to music while still hearing the environment around them, whether that’s to hear traffic while out for a run or an important train announcement during the morning commute. Using the pressure-equalizing vent system and advanced software that leaves just the right amount of noise cancellation active, Transparency mode ensures that a user’s own voice sounds natural while the audio continues to play perfectly.”

This, like the noise cancellation, works incredibly well and really does make the surrounding noise clear and natural, completely mitigating the rubber bud in your ear.

Finally you can just turn it all off completely and the buds will then function just like standard AirPods, though slightly more audibly restrictive due to the rubber tips as mentioned previously.

I’ve heard a lot of people reporting that they think the AirPods Pro sound better than regular AirPods, but I can’t hear that personally. They do sound better with noise cancellation on, but only because you can hear the sound more clearly without as much background noise. Beyond that, however, they sound identical to me, personally.

To sum things up, did I need new AirPods? No, not at all. Do I need noise cancellation on the AirPds I don’t need? No, no I don’t. Am I going to keep them, regardless? Damn right I will. The siren call of interesting and enjoyable Apple tech cannot be ignored, it seems.