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Are the AirPods Pro earbuds really worth buying over the original Airpods?

The best-selling audio devices have had an update but are they worth the extra £50?

David RS Taylor@davidrstaylor
Monday 17 May 2021 12:51
<p>They certainly look the part, and fit nicely into the Apple ecosystem, but are they worth the extra investment over the AirPods?</p>

They certainly look the part, and fit nicely into the Apple ecosystem, but are they worth the extra investment over the AirPods?

If you’ve ever looked for a pair of wireless earbuds, you’ve probably been greeted by the near-ubiquitous, tell-tale white of the Apple behemoth. The original Apple AirPods were - and continue to be – a wildly popular choice for a huge number of consumers.

If it feels like every second earphone user has some Apple earbuds, that’s because it could be close to the truth: depending on who you believe, Apple sold between 35 million and 59 million AirPods units in 2019, the upper end of which accounts for over 50 per cent of the market. Even at the lower end of that range, AirPods are a big deal.

Very popular, yes, but good? That’s a trickier question to answer. There’s no doubt that the original AirPods offer good sound and a nice look, but they’ve been bugged by the same complaints since their introduction: for their price, it’s not the best sound, and for some ears, the fit simply doesn’t work.

Apple decided to fix this with the conception of the AirPods Pro, with a more recognisable bud design helping the fit, active noise cancellation (ANC) and a big leap in audio quality thrown in.

Unsurprisingly, the AirPods Pro were released with fanfare and a pretty high price point, and haven’t really deviated much from that since. They certainly look the part, and fit nicely into the Apple ecosystem, but are they worth the extra investment over the AirPods?

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AirPods Pro

Type: In-ear

Noise cancellation: Yes, including ANC and transparency mode

Weight: 5.4g per earphone

Battery life: 5 hours, plus 19 hours from the wireless charging case

Buy now

Design

We like the AirPods Pro. They retain the general aesthetic of the original AirPods, while adding a heightened level of finesse. The classic Apple glossy white finish is still present, but a black accent – courtesy of a microphone grille on each earphone – adds some contrast. Plus, the “storks” are at least a third shorter, giving them a more inconspicuous spot in your ear.

The body is thicker, but doesn’t jut out of the ear, and the tips are impressively non-intrusive, yet managed to fit snugly in any ear we threw at them. Once we’d picked the right tip size (the box comes with three size options), the AirPods Pro were one of the most comfortable pairs of earphones we’ve ever worn – you can hardly feel them. This is especially impressive alongside how much noise they block out before you even switch ANC on, as the tips fit snugly and offer great passive noise cancellation.

Sometimes, this can result in a vacuum feeling in your ear. Another clever design element in the Pro is the ventilation system – yes, you read that correctly. The earphone’s design employs a series of vents to equalise the pressure in your ear, dodging the feeling of sucking your eardrum away whenever you take the earphone out.

Read more: B&O Beoplay HX headphones review– the new champions of noise cancellation?

The AirPods Pro also happen to stay in your ears, which is bafflingly not a prerequisite for every pair of earphones. They stick in place while working out, even holding their own during the head shake test. Sweat and water resistance sweetens the deal when it comes to the gym or rainy training day.

Set up is characteristically easy: open the wireless charging case near an iOS device and tap, and the Pro are paired to all the devices signed in to your iCloud account. It’s clever, clean and very Apple.

Sound

The extra chunk to the Pro body has given designers enough room to include the extra audio technology that makes these earphones a world above the original AirPods. They have a lovely, warm sound to them, beautifully balanced across the register. Apple’s adaptive EQ automatically tunes low and mid frequencies to the shape of your ear, which kicks in the longer you listen. Bass could be pumped up a little in general, but this is only noticeable in particularly bass-heavy tracks. It’s a sound topped by few rivals.

The ANC is impressive, shutting out the majority of ambient noise, and dampening any sound that gets through. Apple claims that this is due to the Pro analysing your surroundings and tweaking noise cancellation 200 times every second, something you’d more readily expect in over-ear headphones.

Read more: 10 best earbuds and headband headphones to help you get a peaceful night’s sleep

Each earphone has an outward-facing microphone, sensing ambient noise, while an inward-facing microphone listens out for any sound that snuck through the passive noise barrier. It’s an intricate system that wouldn’t sound out of place in any pair of headphones and serves to provide a strong noise-cancelling performance.

The Pro also offer a transparency mode: just press and hold the sensor on the right earbud’s stem to flick between ANC and transparency, letting more of your surroundings in without needing to pull the earphones out.

The verdict: AirPods Pro

Rumours abound that the AirPods Pro are getting a sequel at some point this year, and we’d expect them to be sold for a similar price to the first set’s original tag. While we await the release of the Pro 2 with bated breath, the AirPods Pro are a high-end pair of earphones that are difficult to find much fault in. They’re certainly worth the extra 50 quid or so compared to the AirPods, with solid active noise cancellation, a better battery, and much-improved sound quality.

If you’re a member of the iOS family, the AirPods Pro are the best in-ear earphones you can get on the market, and will continue to be until Apple decides to release a successor. For non-iOS bods, these are still a compelling option, as although the sound isn’t class-leading, it’s still impressive, and they’re the most comfortable earbuds we’ve tried.

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Still deciding? check out our head to head review between the AirPods Max and the AirPods Pro

IndyBest product reviews are unbiased, independent advice you can trust. On some occasions, we earn revenue if you click the links and buy the products, but we never allow this to bias our coverage. The reviews are compiled through a mix of expert opinion and real-world testing.