All the attention around Apple is focused around the iPhone. Despite this, the Cupertino-based tech major has been able to create products that are now market leaders in every way — the Apple Watch is the most popular watch brand now and the AirPods the most sold headphones. The latter is visible when you travel in the US where everyone seems to be sporting these white earpods. And that is the perfect opportunity for Apple to push the envelope. This is where the AirPods Pro come in.
How are AirPods Pro different?
With the AirPods, I was under the constant fear that one of them would fall off because one of my ear was a bit larger. While they never did fall off, this fear did prevent me from maybe using then AirPods during a jog.
However, I have no such fears with the AirPods Pro. For one, they come with silicone tips and also have a design that gives these a smaller tail and hence a more compact feel. Now, the silicone tips is a good place to understand have Apple does, and sells, stuff better. For over a decade these tips have been common to earphones across price points.
But while everyone has spoken about how they help the fit, no one else has spoken about their impact on ‘seal’. Yes, a good tip that fits your ear canal well, does keep most of the noise out, even without noise cancellation. There is even a software programme in the settings to check if you have the right fit.
The AirPods Pro now has a small flat spot on each side which can be pressed to control the device. One press to take a call or pause a song, a double press to skip on the playlist and so on. You can also switch to the transparency mode with a press and hold.
On the phone’s control centre, as soon as the AirPods Pro are connected, you will see a new bar appear for them. Hard press on this and you get a screen to adjust the noise cancellation and go to transparency mode. You can also switch of noise cancellation fully if needed. But noise cancellation is on by default. The new dock can meanwhile be charged wirelessly.
How good are the AirPods Pro?
I have used noise cancelling headphones for a while now and an old Bose QC II has been my fellow traveller for years. However, I have used noise cancelling headphone mostly while travelling, to cut off the engine drone, to enjoy the movie better and to get some sleep when needed. But for the form factor of the AirPods, a device regular users wear almost always, that is just one of the use cases. So you now have noise cancellation during your morning walk, commute to the office, coffee break and even while sitting at your desk. And that just changes your life on its head.
To start with, I was out on my early morning walk and suddenly realised that the world had become a quieter place. Sadly, our cities are unnecessarily loud even without any effort. With the AirPods Pro on you are on your own, there is no honking of horns, no drone of old DTC buses and no other city buzz. Even in office, you get to think more as you are hearing less, there is lesser distraction.
In fact, Apple has a different take on noise cancellation. Yes, mics on the AirPods listen to noise outside and create the anti-noise needed to negate it. Others, too, do this; but the AirPods also have mics inside to listen to the output and adjust as needed. The result is very different from the other noise cancelling experiences I have had. You are in a sort of negative space like with others, but then you hear with more clarity when someone is talking to you for instance. But that voice is not ambiential, it is coming from inside the earphone, processed.
And this is before the transparency mode is on. With transparency, you get more ambiential sounds — the drone of the bus, the city buzz — but milder. But switching between normal and transparency modes, I got the feeling that the latter is maybe louder. So at times when you want to be more aware of what is happening around you, this might be the better mode to be on.
Now, let’s come to the audio quality. The AirPods were anyway a pair of great sounding headphones, despite being wireless. I can’t really say if the audio quality itself has become better, but the experience certainly has thanks to the noise cancellation.
The music is natural, but with the ability to push the limits with the high and lows. Also, the notes are layered. There is breathing space between what’s happening on the drums and the guitar. Listening to Aao Banvar Albela by Bluesanova, I had the vocals somewhere in the middle, while the background music kept floating on top. For a small, in-ear, earphone to be able to offer this kind of depth itself is awesome.
Despite the noise cancellation, the AirPods Pro gave me about 15 hours of on and off performance on a full charge, without even going into the dock. With the dock, this should be about 24 hours of playback. Also, the dock of the AirPods Pro can be charged wirelessly, which is a big convenience.
Should you buy the AirPods Pro?
If you are a dedicated AirPods user then it is time to update and you will enjoy every bit of it. If you have been contemplating a new pair for AirPods then it makes more sense to get these than the older version, if you can afford it. However, my issue here is the India pricing which is at almost Rs 100 to a US Dollar. If someone can get you the AirPods Pro at $249 then it is certainly a better deal than buying them here for Rs 24,990.
At the moment, these are the most functional and practical of all the true wireless earphones out there. I would buy it more forthe precious silence it offers than the great music quality.