The Apple AirPods were a huge hit when released back in 2016. It was a time before wireless earbuds really took off, and while it did take a few years (and a second generation) for the AirPods to become the success they are today. Almost everywhere you go now, you can see people walking the streets, classrooms, and virtual meetings with easily recognizable white plastic stems sticking out of their ears.
Things got interesting, though, when the Apple AirPods Pro (1st generation) was released in late 2019, which is what we will be looking at today.
The Apple AirPods Pro is a significant upgrade from the Apple AirPods line, offering a new design and advanced features, though with a slightly higher price tag. This review explores whether the additional features and improvements justify the investment and whether the AirPods Pro is right for you.
Design & Comfort
The Apple AirPods Pro (1st generation) design is primarily the same as that of the Apple AirPods, meaning the general shape and the instantly recognizable stem are present.
What differs, though, compared to the AirPods is that the AirPods Pro has removable silicone ear tips, which gives you some flexibility if your ear canal is not designed to fit the static shape of the AirPods exactly. Three sizes are included, and they have an excellent seal that passively blocks outside noise while keeping them solidly in your ear, even while running (I have tested them on 10km runs, and they work great!).
If you are like me, though, and want a fit that is a bit more snug, or if you are the rare person with an in-between size for your ears, I’d suggest you try the Dekoni Bulletz Memory Foam Earphone Tips. They are composed of memory foam and do a fantastic job of ensuring the AirPods Pro stays snugly in place, blocking even more outside noise than the included silicone tips.
The stems of the Airpods Pro are where the controls are located, and they are both highly responsive and intuitively placed. We’ll touch on the functionality of these a bit later, though. I want to note the vent system Apple implemented for pressure equalization. The AirPods Pro has two black vents located on each earpiece. The vents make the AirPods Pro always feel comfortable and that your ear is still breathing, never becoming too sweaty or uncomfortable.
The AirPods Pro also comes with a well-designed charging case. The case lid flips open and closed firmly and fluently, and the overall build quality is superb. The case itself is shorter but wider than the AirPods case, so they feel roughly the same size in the end. The charging case also supports Qi wireless charging.
The battery life of the Apple AirPods Pro ranges from 3.5 hours of talk time to 4.5 hours of listening time (5 hours without the use of Active Noise Cancellation and Transparency). I get very close to Apple’s estimated numbers in my own use and testing. The charging case gives you about 18 hours of talk time and 24 hours of listening time, and 5 minutes in the case will provide you with about an hour of listening. I’ve used the Apple AirPods Pro quite a bit when traveling, so I can personally vouch for those figures. Being able to quickly top up the battery of the AirPods Pro in the charging case while connecting to another flight at an airport is an absolute lifesaver. I’m not sure I’d be able to live without it!
One last thing on the design that I’d like to touch on is the sweat and water resistance. The Apple AirPods Pro is IPX4 certified, meaning you won’t damage them while working out or if you happen to get caught in a light rain while running outside. The last one may or may not have happened to me…
Let’s talk about the two headlining features that set the Apple AirPods Pro apart from both the regular Apple AirPods, as well as the competition:
Active Noise Cancellation
The Apple AirPods Pro’s standout feature is its Active Noise Cancelation (ANC). Once you put the earbuds in, the ANC automatically activates, and the entire outside world suddenly disappears. There is no stuttering, no background hissing, and no distortion of any sort when playing audio. The ANC filters out most of the predictable outside sounds almost too well. I have used the Apple AirPods Pro with ANC active while flying on a plane, as a passenger in a vehicle, at the cafe down the street in busy downtown Toronto, and while walking down the street in said busy city. Apple’s ANC implementation works so well that I hardly even notice what is happening around me. That can sound dangerous in some situations, which leads us to the next headlining feature.
Transparency mode does exactly what it sounds like it does. It uses the microphones on the AirPods Pro to let you hear what is happening around you. It does an excellent job of not making some sounds too loud, such as car horns or people shouting, but it’s just loud enough to give you spatial awareness of your surroundings. Transparency mode has become a must-have feature for me when walking down the street, allowing me to hear passing cyclists or cars coming out of a side street. Full props to Apple for how they’ve implemented this.
Another great feature is spatial audio with head tracking. This allows you to be immersed in the world of Dolby Atmos, whether it be the Dolby Atmos music available on Apple Music or Dolby Atmos-supported movies in the Apple TV app. The head tracking aspect is especially interesting as it ensures a consistent experience no matter where you are holding your device. The spatial audio feature is only supported when using an appropriate Apple device, no love for Android or Windows devices here.
Ear detection is another feature that is something I can never live without again. The Apple AirPods Pro can detect when you have removed one or both earphones and will pause the music until it is inserted back into your ear. It works wonderfully every time, just like most features Apple implements.
You might be asking how one controls certain functions, like increasing or decreasing the volume when there’s no volume slider on the earphones. That’s where “Hey Siri” comes in. The Apple AirPods Pro has “Hey Siri” support, so you can ask Siri everything from turning the volume up to playing a specific song. Anything that you can ask Siri on your iPhone can be asked here.
If you’re invested in the Apple Ecosystem, then the AirPods Pro really shines here with its ability to switch seamlessly between devices. The earphones are registered to your Apple ID, so they are available on any Apple device your Apple ID is signed into. Yes, that means everything from your Mac, iPad, Apple TV, and even Apple Watch. Want to move from one device to the other without taking out the earbuds? No problem. The AirPods Pro will switch to whichever is the active device intelligently, though. This feature had its growing pains a few years ago, but now it works so well that I don’t even notice it until I use a different brand’s wireless earbuds.
It’s time we discuss what is powering everything in the Apple AirPods Pro, the H1 chip. This chip enables all the great technologies and experiences you get with the Apple AirPods Pro. Without getting too technical, the H1 chip is responsible for all the processing the AirPods Pro is doing in regards to the sound, the Bluetooth connectivity, the digital signal processing (DSP), switching between devices, Siri voice commands, and the low latency that allows one to watch videos on a device without there being an audio delay (a common issue with Bluetooth audio devices).
Here are a few screenshots of the controls and settings for the AirPods Pro on the iPhone:
Regarding the sound, the Apple AirPods Pro has a similar sound profile compared to the Apple AirPods. They are very clear, favoring a more neutral balance between the lows and mids so that the audio never sounds like there’s too much bass. Apple has also done an excellent job with the DSP, as the lows, mids, and highs can be clearly separated. Not an easy feat for earphones. Apple has also made the soundstage feel more open than earphones should sound, a true testament to the engineering that went into designing the audio profile.
The Apple AirPods Pro uses Bluetooth 5.0 for wireless connectivity, and Apple made the unfortunate decision to limit the support to just the SBC and AAC codecs. This is also a limitation of iOS and iPadOS, but it’s still disappointing. You can argue that AAC 256kbps sounds fine, and there’s no benefit to a 320kbps MP3 encoding, but I’d still like to be given a choice. Apple favors stability, reliability, and crisp audio delivery, so their choice is understandable from that perspective.
If I had to sum up the audio quality of the Apple AirPods Pro in just one word, I’d say: Impressive.
The last thing I’d like to touch on is the experience of using the AirPods Pro with non-Apple devices.
Using the AirPods Pro with my Google Pixel 6a, the earphones pair just fine, and the audio sounds excellent. You don’t get any built-in way to control the various features, though there are 3rd party apps that attempt to rectify this. Some excellent options exist, such as Material Pods (my preferred suggestion) and OpenPods (needs to be sideloaded, though).
Pairing the AirPods Pro with Windows, specifically Windows 11, is great and works well. I’d suggest checking out the MagicPods app, though. It’s truly a gem and adds some great functionality.
It’s safe to say the Apple AirPods Pro (1st generation) is a significant improvement over the Apple AirPods (both the first and second generations), offering some of the best Active Noise Cancellation of any wireless earbuds and standout features such as Transparency, ear detection, and Dolby Atmos spatial audio support.
The AirPods Pro is the complete package if you’re looking for an all-in-one wireless earphone in the Apple ecosystem.
If you’re an Android user, check out the Sony WF-1000XM4 or the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II, as well as the Samsung Galaxy Buds 2 Pro. You may get a better overall experience, but if you choose the AirPods Pro, you won’t be disappointed.
The AirPods Pro is a solid choice for excellent audio, comfort, and convenience. Whether you’re a gym enthusiast, a professional needing reliable conference call audio, or an iPhone user looking for a seamless wireless audio experience, the AirPods Pro is worth considering. With its sleek design, advanced features, and water-resistant rating, the AirPods Pro is a versatile option for anyone seeking a premium wireless earbud experience.
HiFi Oasis Overall RatingHiFi Oasis Overall Rating
- Design & Comfort8/10 Very good
- Features7/10 Good
- Sound7/10 Good
- Industry leading Active Noise Cancellation (ANC)
- Extremely comfortable
- Extra features such as Transparency mode, Dolby Atmos spatial audio, Apple FindMy support
- Sound quality is excellent
- Battery life may be limiting for some use cases
- Android support sub-par
- Lacks built in volume control