Tech review: Apple AirPods Pro are the best headphones for your iPhone

The redesign of the AirPods Pro addresses two major design complaints of the AirPods - the long stem and lack of ear tips.
The redesign of the AirPods Pro addresses two major design complaints of the AirPods - the long stem and lack of ear tips.PHOTO: APPLE INC

Apple's true wireless in-ear headphones, the AirPods, have always split opinions, with haters ridiculing their long-stem design, but iPhone users loving their ease of use.

Last week, Apple introduced the AirPods Pro. It is not the successor to the AirPods 2, which was launched a few months ago, but a higher-end model that comes with a redesign, a bigger wireless charging case and new features such as active noise cancellation (ANC).

However, the headphones are still available only in white. I would have loved an all-black version.

Still, the redesign addresses two major design complaints of the AirPods - the long stem and lack of ear tips. The new model features a shorter stem, so you will not look like you are wearing white earrings. And it comes with three different-sized ear tips.

Like with the previous models, pairing the AirPods Pro with supported Apple devices is a cinch. Bring the case - with the earbuds in it - close to your Apple device, flick open the cover and a window showing the AirPods will pop up on the device. Tap Connect to finish the pairing process.

Once connected, you will find an Ear Tip Fit Test in the settings. Tap it, wear your AirPods Pro and tap Play. The test will let you know if the ear tips you are using are a good fit. If they are not, it will recommend a different size.

Unlike many in-ear headphones, in which the ear tips go deep into your ear canals, the ear tips of the AirPods Pro sit only slightly inside the ear canals. Comfort and fit are excellent - I can wear them for hours without any discomfort.

While running, I find I do not have to constantly push on the earbuds to get them to stay snug, like I have to with the AirPods 2. Plus, its IPX4 water-resistance means you do not have to worry about damage from light rain and sweat.

The biggest highlight, though, has to be the ANC. In each earbud are an outward-facing microphone that detects external sound and cancels the sound with anti-noise, and an inward facing one that listens for and cancels unwanted noise.

The ANC is said to be continuously adjusted 200 times a second, thanks to its H1 processor.

 
 

The noise cancellation works well, especially on an MRT train, where the headphones are able to block out most of the ambient sound apart from the announcements. Wearing them while walking on the streets, I cannot hear most chatter except for roadworks.

But if you want to hear your surroundings for safety reasons, such as when crossing the road, you can switch to the headphones' ambient mode, which Apple calls Transparency mode. It sounds more natural and there is less echo than the ambient mode of other headphones.

There is an indentation on the stem of each earbud, which is the force sensor. Press and hold it to switch between the ANC and Transparency modes. You can also do so on your iPhone's Control Centre by tapping the AirPods Pro volume control for the noise-control options.

You can also use the force sensor to answer calls and control music. Press it once to play a song or answer a phone call. Press twice to skip forward to the next track. Press thrice to skip backwards.

I find the audio quality to be superb. It is the best-sounding AirPods yet and sounds better than many true wireless in-ear headphones on the market.

Apple said the AirPods Pro use "adaptive EQ" that automatically tunes the low and mid frequencies of the music to the shape of your ears. But it still has no equalizer settings to let users customise the sound profile of their music.

Bass is punchy with detailed mids and clear highs. I can hear each instrument playing distinctly regardless of the genre of music.

Battery life is about 4hr 30min with ANC switched on, which is as advertised. This is decent, though its closest competitor, Sony's WH-1000XM3, can last eight hours with ANC switched on.

The wireless charging case will add about 20 hours of battery life. A USB-C-to-Lightning cable is included for charging the case, but no power adapter is included.

The AirPods Pro might be more expensive than the AirPods 2 with wireless charging case by $80. But I think it is well worth the extra money.


FOR

• Nice design

• Great sound quality

• Effective active noise cancellation

• Snug fit for more people

AGAINST

• Average battery life

• No customisation options or equalizer

• Still available only in white

SPECS

Price: $379

Connectivity: Bluetooth 5.0

Weight: 5.4g (each earbud), 45.6g (wireless charging case)

RATING

Features: 4/5

Design: 4.5/5

Performance: 4.5/5

Battery life: 3.5/5

Value for money: 4/5

Overall: 4.5/5 [ST Tech Editor's Choice]