Apple’s new AirPods Pro will hit stores beginning tomorrow, October 30th, and today, I got a chance to give them a try and put the company’s active noise cancellation to the test. As someone who has never been able to fully enjoy the regular AirPods — they just don’t fit my ears securely — the in-ear design of the AirPods Pro is super appealing.
Three silicone tip sizes come in the box, and iOS has a built-in fit test that briefly plays a bit of music to check whether you’ve got a good seal. An internal-facing microphone compares what you’re hearing to what the speaker driver is putting out. If there’s too much of a difference, the test will tell you to adjust the fit or try a different size and re-run it.
I got a “good seal” result with both the medium- and large-sized tips. So from that point, it’s really about picking which one feels most secure and comfortable. Apple says that many people might end up using different sizes for each ear, which is something that other earbud manufacturers also encourage customers to try. If you lose your tips, you’ll be able to buy replacements in each size from Apple’s retail stores.
Some people dislike in-ears because they feel pressure when wearing them. This can happen if the silicone seal is too tight. To overcome this, Apple designed a vent system into the new AirPods that equalizes pressure on both sides of each earbud so you never have that buildup of air.
The $249 AirPods Pro include a multi-microphone system (two in each earbud) that analyzes external ambient sound and cancels it out with anti-noise. After some early time with them, I can already say that the noise cancellation is legit. The AirPods Pro do a good job of cutting down on outside noise. They’re earbuds, after all, so the effect isn’t miraculous, but Manhattan streets are a proving ground for noise canceling tech and the AirPods are off to a strong start.
Each earbud runs its own noise cancellation process independently. (You can still use just one AirPod individually if you want.) Apple says you’ll get 4.5 hours of continuous music listening when NC is enabled, but like other AirPods, there’s enough juice in the carrying case to power them for a little over 24 hours.
Noise cancellation can be controlled from iOS Settings, Control Center, through Siri voice commands, or the indented “force sensor” area of each earbud. The old tap gestures are now gone since tapping a silicone earbud into your ear canal can get uncomfortable. You control these AirPods by squeezing the force sensor: a quick squeeze to pause or play, twice to skip a track, or three times to go back. Holding down switches between noise cancellation and transparency modes. You hear a tiny little click sound whenever you use the force sensor to confirm your squeeze was registered, but there’s no button that actually moves.
Transparency mode lets you hear what’s going on around you. You just hold the force sensor, and a little chime indicates that you’ve entered ambient sound mode. The vent system also comes into play here, as you can talk at people normal volumes without speaking awkwardly loud or shouting because of the ear tip seal. You’re free to just leave transparency mode active whenever you want, so this is a helpful feature for people who like the awareness provided by the open-air design of the regular AirPods. If you’re running outside, it can be important for safety.
As for sound quality, Apple says the AirPods Pro contains new custom-built drivers and amplifiers. But the real key ingredient is a feature called Ambient EQ. As you listen to music, the AirPods Pro adjust the sound signal 200 times a second to optimize audio for your specific ear shape with the help of an internal-facing microphone. Now, in some ways, you’ve got to take the company’s word for this stuff. How is anyone really going to know if that analysis is happening? It’s not something you hear or can detect. But when you turn off noise cancellation, Ambient EQ also goes with it — and you can hear a difference. The AirPods Pro do sound slightly slightly better with Ambient EQ enabled.
I like what I’m hearing so far. AirPods have never been about rumbling bass, but these are a clear improvement. Jenny Lewis’ “Red Bull & Hennessey” has a really heavy mix, and the AirPods Pro handles it wonderfully. These new AirPods cost a lot more at $249, so they’ve got to compete with other earbuds in that price range — and a lot of those sound terrific. I’ll need more time to compare them against the Powerbeats Pro, Echo Buds, Sony’s 1000X M3s, and other premium earbuds. Stay tuned for more sound quality impressions in the full AirPods Pro review. And if you’ve got any questions about Apple’s new noise-canceling earbuds, let me hear ‘em in the comments.
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