AirPods Pro vs Apple AirPods 2 full review

You wait years for an AirPods update and then two arrive in the same year: the second-gen AirPods in early 2019, and the AirPods Pro in the autumn. But which is right for you, and what are the differences?

Apple calls the Pro models "Magic for your ears", which may or may not refer to the new noise cancellation feature, which should be able to isolate and exclude ambient noise significantly better than the open design of the AirPods. But there's a lot more to the Pro upgrade than that.

In this comparison review we explain the key differences between the standard (early-2019) and Pro AirPods models, and help you decide which pair of wireless earbuds are right for you.

When you reach a decision, you can buy both sets of AirPods direct from Apple.

Noise cancellation and transparent mode

By far the biggest news, and the single most important reason for choosing the AirPods Pro over the standard AirPods, is noise cancellation.

Two microphones (one outward- and the other inward-facing) listen to ambient noise and work with the H1 chip to create a counter-sound, adapted to the user's ear and the earpiece's fit, to block out unwanted sound and thus improve audio quality. The sound is then adjusted 200 times per second.

A special transparency mode is also available to allow more sound to reach you - this could be vital when, for example, cycling in heavy traffic. It is activated either from the Control Centre, or by simply holding on to a new pressure sensor on the stem of the earbuds.

AirPods Pro vs AirPods: Audio quality

Adaptive EQ and better sound

Beyond the noise reduction feature, the audio itself has been upgraded. Among other things, it now features adaptive EQ, which adjusts low and medium frequency to the listener's ear for a more enveloping sound.

But it's still not as good as the audio of some earbuds out there: in our AirPods Pro review, Jason Cross writes that "The bass isn't quite as punchy as I'd like, and the highs don't have that sharp crisp sound that makes cymbals sound great." He acknowledges that improvements have been made ("they sound good enough, and quite a bit better than regular AirPods"), but points out that audio professionals would never use these for real production work.

Sweat- and water-resistant

The AirPods Pro are officially IPX4-rated, unlike the regular AirPods. That means they should be fine at dealing with sweat during hard workouts, and splashes of water.

Design

The Pros' noise cancellation feature relies on their ability to physically shut out more sound than previous AirPods. The design has been updated to this end: at the far end are a couple of "ear peaks" that isolate more sound, and which can also give a better fit than regular AirPods with their more open shape.

Included in the package are eartips in three different sizes. In addition, there is a new software feature that scans your ear to see if the tip you've chosen is right.

AirPods Pro vs AirPods: Better fit

On the shaft are new gestures to control playback, or rather pressure. One press pauses the music or answers a call, two presses skip to the next song and three presses go back one step.

A long pressure switches between noise reduction and transparency. Siri is activated by saying "Hi Siri".

Weight and shape

The AirPods Pro have a new design, with a shorter stem, and a new, flatter charging case. Each headphone is also slightly heavier than a standard AirPod.

AirPods

  • Height: 53.5 mm
  • Width: 44.3 mm
  • Depth: 21.3 mm
  • Weight per earbud: 4g
  • Total weight: 40g

AirPods Pro

  • Height: 45.2 mm
  • Width: 60.6 mm
  • Depth: 21.7 mm
  • Weight per earbud: 5.4g
  • Total weight: 45.6g

Better - and worse - battery life

AirPods Pro can play music or other audio for 4.5 hours, according to Apple's figures, before having to charge in its charging case. That's half an hour less than is offered by the AirPods, presumably because of the demands of the noise cancellation feature. However, talk time is slightly better: 3.5 hours versus three hours for the AirPods.

Regardless of these discrepancies, the total battery life with the charging case included is the same as before, at 24 hours.

High system requirements

If you have an iPhone 6 (which cannot upgrade to iOS 13) or a first-generation Apple Watch (which can go no later than watchOS 4), you cannot use the full feature set of the AirPods Pro. The headphones have very high system requirements. In order to use them, one of the following is required:

  • iOS 13.2 or later
  • iPadOS 13.2 or later
  • watch OS 6.1 or later
  • macOS 10.15.1 Catalina or later

The Listen Together feature is also not supported on iPhone SE, iPhone 6s or iPhone 7.

Like the AirPods, the AirPods Pro have a standard Bluetooth connection and can be used with non-Apple devices - it's just that not all features will work.

Higher price

AirPods Pro cost £249/$249. The second-generation AirPods cost £159/$159 with the standard case and £199/$199 with a wireless charging case.

That's a moderate difference in price, particularly given that the Pro models come with the wireless charging case included - you're looking at an extra £50/$50. Remember to shop around, however, since it's often possible to find the older models for a lower price than Apple recommends. Take a look at our roundup of the Best AirPods deals for more advice.

Verdict

The upgrades are so significant - active noise cancellation, better audio quality, better fit, multiple eartips, improved water resistance - and the additional cost so moderate, that it's now hard to make a case for the early-2019 AirPods. Those with a very specific budget or a personal dislike of flexible eartips may prefer them, perhaps, but most will find the Pro models a better choice.

Check for deals, however, as some vendors may see which way the wind is blowing and start to offer tasty savings on the older AirPods.

This article was originally posted on Macworld Sweden. Translation and editing by David Price.

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