It was bound to happen. With Apple on an accelerated “Pro” kick in recent years, AirPods Pro is the latest product line to earn the moniker. It joins the ranks of iMac Pro (2017), iPad Pro (2018), iPhone 11 Pro (2019), and the completely re-tooled Mac Pro (2019). The “Pro” name itself isn’t new – the MacBook Pro and the original Mac Pro were both born in 2006. But will the new AirPods earn the right to be called Pro? Let’s evaluate.
Apple has finally ditched the “hanging-on-for-dear-life-so-please-don’t-move-your-head-too-quickly” design that has changed little since the introduction of the wired EarPods in 2012 and the updated EarPods with Lightning Connector in 2016. They are opting to return to an in-ear design for AirPods Pro – something they haven’t dabbled with in quite some time.
Flexible silicone tips help Airpods Pro adjust to the shape of the ear, making them more comfortable and providing a better seal for better sound. A unique venting system also aides the effort by allowing air pressure to equalize, a common problem when something is essentially vacuum-sealed inside your ear canal.
AirPods Pro come with three different sizes of tips and can actually help you decide which are right for you, or if they are seated correctly in your ear. This is done by analyzing what you are listening to, detecting the amount of air pressure, and comparing it to the audio level.
These are definitely Pro moves.
Active Noise Cancellation
With two microphones and software that monitors sound signals 200 times per second, AirPods Pro instantly create anti-noise frequencies to cancel out any unwanted background noise. This allows the user to be free from external distractions, especially in louder environments. Of course, this can be an issue if you need to be aware of sounds around you – e.g., while jogging in traffic, when someone is speaking to you, or the ever-loved inadvertently shouting at someone because you can’t hear yourself talk. AirPods Pro have a solution for that – switching from Active Noise Cancellation mode to Transparency Mode.
Transparency Mode uses the integrated air-venting system and noise-canceling features to balance outside sound with the audio you are listening to. Apple states that this is primarily done by decreasing the amount of noise reduction, but it does not mention if it also uses the internal microphones to amplify external signals like some high-end professional in-ear monitoring systems do. They also haven’t said whether or not Active Noise Cancellation can be used on its own without audio playing, so it’s relatively safe to assume that it can’t.
Having noise cancellation absolutely qualifies as Pro, though let’s wait to see how well it works in real-world situations. So for now, we’ll call this feature “Pro-ish.”
Everyone’s ears are shaped differently, which means that everyone’s ears “hear” differently. Apple’s Adaptive EQ accounts for this by monitoring the sound with the internal microphone and adjusting frequency amplitudes as needed. Providing for these differences helps ensure that what you are hearing is what was intended to be heard.
Apple reports that the high-excursion drivers in AirPods Pro are capable down to 20Hz for low, rich bass, and the efficiency of the custom high dynamic range amplifier provides clarity to the top end while helping to extend battery life.
Adaptive EQ technology also falls in the “gotta hear it to believe it” category. The idea of real-time adjustments in frequency equalization would be a Pro feature as long as it works well and doesn’t sonically color things in a way you wouldn’t want.
Apple’s system-in-package (SiP) design with the H1 chip powers everything from sound to Siri. With 10 audio cores, the H1 has extremely low latency, enabling real-time noise cancellation, the Adaptive EQ, and the hands-free “Hey Siri” we have become accustomed to. And it does all of this at the same time while maintaining a battery life of up to 5 hours of continued use. If you have the included Wireless Charging Case fully juiced up and on hand, you’ll have up to 24 hours before needing a recharge.
Apple’s innovations in chipset technologies have historically been very well received, so for now, let’s assume this is Pro-worthy.
One has to wonder if adding the word “Pro” to the end of a product name is merely an excuse to jack up prices. Additional functionalities and/or new and updated features sufficient enough to justify calling something “Pro” have to exist. Making the new AirPods Pro look like tiny hairdryers is not enough.
AirPods Pro are available for order now at apple.com, and for purchase in stores beginning Wednesday, October 30 – and they come with a hefty pro pricetag of $249. The current non-pro AirPods are $199, so the question is, are the features of the Pro worth the extra $50? We may need to wait and see (rather wait and hear), but we’d love to know your initial thoughts and whether you’ll be taking the Pro leap!