So… you’ve got that gorgeous iPhone and- if you followed the
– a shiny new pair of AirPods 2 (unless you, like me, couldn’t decide and got both AirPods and BeatsX).
But… that colleague sitting besides you just went in on a pair of AirPods Pro… and you now have AirPod envy.
Are her Pro-labeled Pods better than your second-generation ear-toothbrushes?
In this article, I’m comparing the
because… well, just because. It’s up to the contest to determine which are the better choice. Set?
3… 2… 1… Fight!
As with my comparison of AirPods 2 Vs. BeatsX, we need to talk about how much these toys are going to cost you. And, like with my comparison of AirPods 2 Vs. BeatsX, I feel obliged to remind you that your gorgeous iPhone came with a beautiful , perfectly usable pair of wired EarPods, EarPods that I personally misplaced within a week of getting the new iPhone. EarPods which cost $29.99 to replace, should you choose to.
Right. Let’s tear the band-aid. AirPods Pro will set you back the “premium” price of $249.99. Yowza. For that amount, you could have bought both pairs of headphones from the previous fight. We’ll discuss what that sum of cash gets you in a moment.
The AirPods 2 comes in two price tags: $159 for the regular pair, and $199 if you want the wireless charger case.
In case you haven’t bought AirPods 2, the Pro model will cost you an additional $90 over the standard 2’s, and $50 over the wireless charging Pods. Or, if you, like me, have already bought AirPods 2, you will have to fork out additional $249.99, which, admittedly, is a tough pill to swallow.
Winner: Too soon to tell.
Battery Life and Connection
One good thing about battery life is that both the AirPods 2 and the AirPods Pro have more or less the same battery life.
Both sets will get you around 5 hours on a charge, and both charging cases carry a max of 24 hours of recharge when you put the Pods away.
That does not mean everything is the same; if you choose to use the AirPods Pro’s Transparency or Noise Cancelling features, you’ll shorten the battery life by about 30 minutes per charge.
Having said that, Apple estimates that in the case with both pairs, you will get about an hour of use after five minutes of charging.
As far as the connection is concern, both are bundled with the same H1 chip and therefore will pair instantly and seamlessly with your Apple devices, and can quickly switch between devices associated with your Apple ID.
Winner: The AirPods 2 have a half-an-hour lead over the AirPods Pro if you utilize the more advanced features (which honestly, you are, because why else would you purchase the AirPods Pro?), but with the similarly quick charge time in the case, I personally don’t think 30 minutes is enough to claim victory here. So, tie.
Sound and Features
Finally. This is where the differences start to emerge. Because I talked a lot about the features of the AirPods 2 in my last fight, I’ll mostly discuss what the Pro’s offers in comparison.
I’ll discuss fit in another category, but the first and most clear difference between the two sets of Pods is the Pods themselves. Not only do the Pro Pods come with a wireless charging case without having to fork out a few extra bucks, but the Pro’s have a complete different form factor. Of course you still have the stem that makes them appear like EarPods with the wires chopped off, but what you’ll notice is the way they go into your ear. While the traditional AirPods have maintained the same design of the EarPods, the AirPods Pro have adopted in-ear design complete with removable silicone tips.
Personally, , I’m not a fan of silicone tip headsets. But outside of Apple’s Ear and AirPod designs and over the ear headphones, most companies have adopted silicone tips. It’s all you ever see. For me personally, they give me a headache and make me feel as if I’m underwater.
One thing I didn’t know until I tested the AirPods Pro is that this is because this style of headset is putting pressure on your ears. Unlike AirPods (1 and 2) and EarPods, which are open enough to still let air in and out of your ears, the silicone tip design block everything up. Except for the AirPods Pro. Apple’s design includes vents that reduce the pressure, making them feel more comfortable than any other headphones of the same nature out there.
But the true magic happens when you pop them in your ears. After identifying the right tip size for your AirPods (via Settings, you can do a size test to find which tips fit the best; Thankfully, mine work with all three, but the smallest ones felt the most comfortable) and you pop them in, they sound… well, they sound almost the same as standard AirPods. However, they include two different modes you can activate.
The first is Transparency Mode, which uses the microphones to allow outside sounds to get in, making it feel almost like you aren’t wearing them at all. This mode allows you to keep abreast of your surroundings and even hold conversations with the Pods in (keep in mind, if music is playing, it’s a good idea to keep the volume low to avoid asking people to repeat themselves). Having said that, there’s a stigma with wearing headsets while trying to hold a conversation; even though you are pretty sure you can hear the other person with Transparency on, there’s a likelihood that the person you are conversing with may think you aren’t attentive because you didn’t take out your headsets.
While the Transparency mode is convenient, comparing them to the AirPods 2 and the original AirPods (which allows in ambient noise by design, whether intentional or not) there’s not much of a difference. Granted, you may not always want your AirPods to let in outside sound (and we’ll discuss that in a bit ), but if Transparency is the main reason you are considering the Pro’s over the 2’s, consider that you will hear ambient noise just as easily with either pair.
The second mode- and arguably the best- is Noise Cancellation. The Cupertino based brand states that with this mode, the Pro Pods play “anti-noise” which cancels out the outside sounds before they reach your ears. Now, I think calling it noise “cancelling” is a stretch; in real-life usage, it is more like noise dimming. As soon as you enable it, it feels as if someone turned the volume down on the external environment. You can still hear it- especially louder noises and voices- but it is definitely muted. Listening to music in this mode certainly enhanced sound and clarity over the regular Pods, and it is better for you, too; you don’t have to turn the volume up to unsafe levels to hear the music.
With Noise Cancellation enabled, the AirPods Pro certainly have better sound quality than the AirPods 2. In Transparency mode or with all modes turned off, the sound quality is, frankly, similar. I switched back and forth between the AirPods Pro and AirPods 2 and couldn’t notice a difference. At least, not enough of a difference to justify the extra bucks. Similarly, with the AirPods 2 in, I could still hear my surroundings about as well as I could with Transparency enabled with the Pros. If you are planning on utilizing Transparency mode at all time, the AirPods 2 are perhaps a better- at least a cheaper- option for you. However, if the Noise Cancellation feature sounds interesting, then definitely go for Pro.
Since both includes the H1 chip, they both can activate Siri with your voice. But the way you control them is totally different. If you are used to regular AirPods, the Pro design takes some getting used to. Instead of tapping your Pod, you are required to squeeze the stem. Each stem has a touch-capacitive button that produces a satisfying click sound in your ear (the click is played through whichever Pod you are interacting with). One squeeze plays or pauses the media, two squeezes plays the next track, three the previous track, and a long squeeze jumps between Noise Cancelling and Transparency.
While you can customize the tap settings for regular AirPods, you can only customize the long squeeze, selecting between mode switching and Siri summoning, the latter which is redundant because you can easily activate Siri with your voice. That said, you do get more controls with the squeezing than with tapping, as the regular AirPods can only have a maximum of one control per Pod.
There is no way to control volume outside of asking Siri to do it or using your iPhone or Apple Watch to do it.
Winner: I give it to AirPods Pro in this category. The Noise Cancellation mode alone is a big leap forward, but I also like that Apple found a solution for the pressure that makes it hard for me to use this style of an headphone. I’m not sure if Apple is the first company to vent the pressure, but they are the first one that I’ve tried.
Ah. Now, here’s where we come to it. If there’s Been one universal gripe about the original AirPods, is been that they are one size fits few. How then to the Pro Pods stack up?
They fit quite well at first; and unlike the regular AirPods design that is one-size-fits-a-few, the inclusion of different tip sizes means you will surely find the size that fits your ears perfectly.
Having said that, original AirPods have always fit my ears perfectly. But the AirPods Pro are a bit slippery, and that’s even before you pop them in your ears. I fumbled or dropped at least one of the Pro Pods while taking them out of the case around 50% more often than I ever had with the regular AirPods.
To make things worse, while they are in my ears, they have a tendency to slip out. Actually, I’ve tried all three tip sizes, and with each after a few minutes, I find myself pushing one of the pods (usually the left one) back in place. Granted, the regular AirPods and the EarPods have always had this issue, and I am one of the lucky few whose ears wonderfully fit the original design, but it just feels more prevalent with the AirPods Pro, or at least more noticeable; if you have activated the Noise Cancelling mode, the moment a pod begins to loosen its hold on your inner ear, sound begins to trickle in, a sound that otherwise the Pods would be actively cancelling.
I did a headache-inducing head-shake test, and the standard AirPods stayed in longer than the Pros. And I’m not the only one facing this issue; A lot of people online have talked about the AirPods Pro getting slicker over time and having challenge keeping them in.
Winner: Depends on your ears; I give this to the AirPods 2 because I just can’t keep a decent enough seal with the AirPods Pro to make the noise-cancelling feature worthwhile- or to shake the sensation that sooner or later I am going to lose one of the Pro Pods in the toilet or something. And that would be quite unfortunate. However, you may be lucky, particularly if the standard AirPods don’t fit your ears pretty well.
So here, sadly, is where AirPods Pro started to fall apart for me. Especially since I am upgrading from AirPods 2, which, frankly, are still pretty new to my headset collection. But this is possibly the most subjective category, so your experiences might differ from mine.
The first thing I noted about my usage of the AirPods Pro was that I wasn’t using them; they spent more time in my pocket than they did in my ears. However, that’s also the case about the AirPods 2. Although, I can use Transparency with the Pro’s and can hear my surroundings pretty well with the 2’s, if I’m not listening to something, I don’t like to have them in my ears. That, however, is mostly a personal preference.
My other usage issue is also of a personal nature, and this, dear reader, is where you will need to do your own homework to find out if this will be an issue for you. The AirPods Pro make my head hurt.
Here is the thing: apparently my ears are sensitive to the anti-noise that the Pods produce to cancel out the regular noise. This combination of noise and anti-noise brings about sensation of pressure in my ears. Even with Apple’s pressure vent, it simply feels like it is strengthening. It only takes minutes of listening in Noise Cancelling mode for the symptoms to manifest themselves, and while the sensation dispels the instant I switch to my AirPods 2 or my BeatsX headsets, a dull ache radiates through the back of my head for a few hours. It’s quite sad, but it is there. I’ve read online that some people are able to get over it, and others don’t experience it at all. But sadly, I’m not one of those people.
I also suffer from Tinnitus, which becomes much more noticeable with active noise cancellation. While music is playing there is no issue, but if my ears are ringing before I put the AirPods Pro in, it can get worse once they are blocking out the sound. On a possibly unrelated note, I’ve also noticed some disorientation while using them in Transparency mode, as if the pass-through effect is fidgeting with my equilibrium.
Again, perhaps my ears are just too sensitive to certain things; I’ve tried other styles of headsets that cause similar effects; both the ANC on Beats Studio 3 and the vibrations of Aftershockz Bone Conduction headphones give me headaches of the same nature, and the BeatsX definitely give me a similar feeling of pressure when they are inserted (though I attribute that more to the stuffing of silicone into my ear canal). There is no absolute best pair of headsets out there. However, I’m not about to part with $250 to have headaches all the time, no matter how charming the noise cancellation feature is.
Winner: Again, I give it to AirPods, for the simple reason that they don’t give me headaches that last for hours.
I’ve explained in details on how the AirPods Pro stack up against the AirPods 2. But I want to take a moment now to compare them to other headphones I’ve got lying around.
For starters, the BeatsX headphones that I compared the AirPods to in my previous contest. While the BeatsX have a lot in common with AirPods Pro in the style of headphone, there are some pros and cons in each. Of course, the BeatsX have no active noise cancelling feature, however, if with the right size tips on them (and I wish Apple would extent the ear tip fit test in Settings to their other headphones), I couldn’t tell much of a difference between the active noise cancelling of the AirPods Pro and the passive noise cancelling of the BeatsX. Though with the AirPods, you don’t get that irritating rustling sound that persists with the BeatsX cable. But on the flip side, the around-the-neck design of the BeatsX means that even if one falls out of your ear, it isn’t going anywhere.
When looking at headphones with active noise cancelling, I also considered the Beats Studio3. It’s almost unfair to compare the massive over-the-ear Beats to the tiny in-ear AirPods, but since they both bundle this anti-noise feature, they are worth taking a look. While the Studio Beats do have the advantage of passive noise cancellation given their design, comparing the ANC head to head with the AirPods Pro is about equal. If I had to choose one, I think I would have chosen the AirPods, as the silence of the ANC is- I don’t want to say more noticeable, but maybe more apparent- however, with the Beats, the Active Noise Cancellation is optional and doesn’t affect the sound quality of the music (again, that passive noise cancellation does a good job in most cases ), whereas you get a noticeable increase in sound quality when you enable active noise cancellation with the AirPods Pro.
And while the AirPods Pro design minimizes noise and adds bass that the original design can’t compare to, it’s still no match against a proper pair of headphones. The Studio3 (and even the wired, on-ear Beats EP and the aforementioned BeatsX) deliver much more punch than the AirPods Pro can achieve. Granted, Beats are popular for being bass-heavy, but even compared to my fiance’s Skullcandy Hesh 3 headphones or JLab’s GoFlex sports headphones, the AirPods Pro are still lacking in delivering the oomph that other headphones in this price range can deliver.
And if the price is a key determiner, with $70, you can get JLab’s Air Sport or Air Executive, both of which will probably stay in your ears better than the AirPods Pro (particularly the Sport, which have an over-the-ear hook too hold them in place), fantastic passive noise cancellation (when I tried the Sports last year, I could hardly hear the lawnmower engine through the headphones), and a similar pass-through feature to Apple’s Transparency Mode called Be Aware Audio (although this admittedly sounds much more electronic than Apple’s version; you won’t be fooled out of knowing you are listening to a recording of the outside world).
I’m not going to pronounce a winner here, as this fight is exclusively between the AirPods Pro and the AirPods 2, but allow me to say that even for the charm of the AirPods Pro, there are better- and cheaper- options on the market.
Parting is such sweet sorrow. That’s what flashed through my mind as I drove to the Apple Store to return the AirPods Pro. I really wanted to love them. I really did.
But as you have seen, the AirPods 2 won this fight hands down, at least for me. Again, many of these categories are subjective and you may not find the issues I faced affect you at all. Take this less as a condemnation of the AirPods Pro and more of a personal experience that I am sharing with you.
But for shits and giggle’s, let’s run it down. The AirPods 2 are cheaper (especially if you already own them). Personally, they fit perfectly (and while they might not fit you well, many users have complained that the AirPods Pro are unnecessarily slick and that the silicone tips do very little to help them stay in), and they don’t cause headaches.
But even if those don’t hit you the same way they hit me, consider that the Active Noice Cancellation with the AirPods isn’t really that much better than the passive noise cancelling you get with the BeatsX, which costs $150 less; the Transparency mode feature, while a cool party trick, isn’t really any more transparent than the standard AirPods already were; and for the amount of $250, you can grab a much better headsets(albeit without the H1 chip and Apple’s magic pairing). Actually, with the same amount of money, you can get both pairs of headphones from the previous fight and have the best of both worlds (and more battery life between them).
It’s all, honestly, up to you. Personally, they didn’t work for me, but that isn’t saying that the AirPods Pro aren’t outstanding pieces of technology. I really loved the idea of having one pair of headsets that could do everything I needed them to while fitting inside the smallest pocket of my jeans. But alas, earwax*.
*Earwax is something significant to consider when wearing your headsets; particularly if your headsets are getting shoved into your ear canal. Be sure to clean your Headsets on a regular basis. And fun fact; Apple included a mesh filter inside the silicone ear tips of the AirPods Pro to trap earwax before it gets all over the headset grill. Sounds good, right. If I had done a category about earwax, the AirPods Pro would have taken the crown. Oh well.