In a stealthy announcement, Apple unveiled its monumental (and long-awaited) follow-up to the AirPods. Not just the best-selling wireless headphones, but the best-selling headphones, period, the AirPods have gone from meme to sensation – but with the AirPods Pro, Apple wants the ‘Pods to go Pro.
To this end, a bevy of features has been added to the AirPods Pro that retails for SGD 379. In-ear design. Double-layered active noise cancellation. Customised audio wizardry. IPX4 rated sweat- and water-resistance.
For reference, the Sony WF-1000XM3, the prime competitor in the true wireless active noise cancelling space, comes in at an RRP of SGD 349. The baseline AirPods go for SGD 239 with a regular case, while paired with the wireless charging case it can be had for SGD 299.
It’s a brief day one hands-on review, so it’s worth getting the price point out of the way. Yes, sweat-proofing and ANC comes at a S$80 premium to the wireless charging AirPods.
Yes, it’s also S$30 more than the Sony noise-cancelling true wireless buds. You get the IPX4 rating for that money, along with wireless charging and an improved design that focuses on keeping the Pro ‘Pods snug in your concha. A win, especially if you’re into HIIT or any other sort of sweat-inducing activity.
I’ve had a couple of hours with the AirPods Pro, and I have been constantly astounded at its performance. We’ll gloss through my first impressions, and leave noise-cancelling and sound quality for a more in-depth review.
Unboxing, we find the case and earphones under the square sleeve of papers. Underneath it is a USB-C to Lightning cable, along with two additional pairs of ear tips – small and large, with the medium-sized ones already mounted. The ear tips are easily removed by pinching and pulling, but it takes enough effort that it is unlikely to be inadvertently left behind for a doctor to retrieve.
The USB-C to Lightning cable might prove a slight issue for users who do not have a USB-C charging brick, but the Lighting port on the AirPods Pro means it will work with their iPhone charger, anyway. Those don’t come cheap on the Apple Store, by the way – starting at S$29 for the 1-metre version.
Flipping open the case, we find the one-tap pairing prompt we’ve come to love and expect from Apple’s audio products. There’s a few more steps to wait through, and I would have loved a button to skip them.
Jumping in, I confirm I’ve got the right ear tips for my ears. The Ear Fit Test plays a couple of seconds of Awake by Tycho, and confirms I’ve got a good fit. Medium works perfectly for me. This process apparently utilises an inward-facing microphone to analyse sound levels within your ear canal to ensure the seal is optimal.
Putting on the AirPods Pro isn’t as effortless as the regular AirPods since some wiggling has to be performed to ensure a snug, secure seal on both ears. I’ve got some ear canal asymmetry and usually struggle with other in-ear earphones to get the same snug fit in both ears, but this process was a lot easier on the ‘Pods Pro.
That I’ll attribute to the ingenious nozzle – or lack thereof. It’s barely there, and none of it is actually inserted into your ear canal. Instead, all that I have to negotiate are the supple white silicone ear tips. A big win, if I do say so.
The profile of the AirPods Pro is slightly different. They sit slightly further out for my ears, but that might be due to my slightly smaller-than-average concha. I suppose I would find it more uncomfortable to sleep with, but everyone’s anatomy is different. One thing is certain, though – the trademark “stem” is much, much shorter. I’d say about a third less than the original AirPods.
Squeezing and holding the stems on either left or right Pods toggles between Noise Cancellation and Transparency. Toggling between Noise Cancellation, “Off” and Transparency is also accessible via long-press of the volume slider in the Control Centre menu, or on Apple Watch via the AirPlay icon.
Short stem squeezes also accesses pause/play/call pick up/hang up (single squeezes), next track (double squeezes), and previous track (triple squeezes). Each squeeze on the pressure-sensitive portion of the stem (pictured below) elicits a soft click for aural feedback.
It’s harder to access than the simple taps on the OG AirPods, but the squeezes are very necessary given the new in-ear pedigree of the AirPods Pro. There’s a fair bit of finger action required in getting the right fit with the new in-ear design, and I was glad the controls didn’t go crazy during the process. That’s an issue I faced with the Sony WF-1000XM3 with its touch-sensitive pads.
Perhaps my absolute favourite part of AirPods – Pro or not – its ability to fit in the jeans change pocket. Yes – that tiny pouch, usually on the right, that you might use to put coins, keys or might leave vacant.
I dump plenty of stuff into my pockets, and I equally hate scuffing up my gadgetry and having horrendous clacking noises between the inhabitants of my pockets. Being able to fit in that tiny jeans pocket means I can have my AirPods with me at all times – no excuses. That’s an absolute blessing when the opportunity presents itself for a solitary stroll or for a contemplative commute back home.
Great news, then, that the AirPods Pro is a hair thicker, barely noticeably wider, and just a smidgen taller than the standard ‘Pods. That’s, of course, when the AirPods Pro is rotated portrait (as above) for more comparable dimensions.
Stay tuned for a full review of the AirPods Pro, which will include assessments of its noise-cancellation and sound quality along with notes on longer-term use.
If you’re not sold on an in-ear form-factor, active noise-cancellation or the S$379 price tag of the AirPods Pro, check out our review of the Gen 2 AirPods with wireless charging case (SGD 299), or our feature comparison between the Gen 1 and Gen 2 AirPods (SGD 249).
Apart from the Sony WF-1000XM3 (SGD 349) true-wireless noise-cancelling headphones, we’ve also reviewed other noise-cancelling headphones like the JBL Live 650BTNC (SGD 249), the Sony WH-1000XM3 (SGD 549) and the Jabra Elite 85h (SGD 428).