After its “basic” headphones, Apple is switching to true wireless in-ear noise reduction headphones: the AirPods Pro. Are they worth their price increase? Can they compete with Sony’s? Do they work on both Android and iOS? Here’s our full test to find out.
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After its “basic” headphones, Apple is switching to true wireless in-ear noise reduction headphones: the AirPods Pro. Are they worth their price increase? Can they compete with Sony’s? Do they work on both Android and iOS? Here is our full test to find out.
After popularizing the market for true wireless headphones, Apple is renewing its range and launching the AirPods Pro, in-ear (or rather semi-intra) headphones that also benefit from a noise reduction system. Offered at 279 euros, they compete directly with the Sony WF-1000xm3, both in terms of price and technical characteristics. Is the comparison legitimate? Audio quality, autonomy, comfort, here is our point-by-point opinion.
Apple AirPods Pro
Autonomy announced4.5 to 5 hours of audio playback (with or without ANC)
Autonomy announced with case24 hours of audio playback
Case weight45.6 g
This test was carried out with AirPods Pro purchased by FrAndroid.
Our video test
A smaller and very elaborate design
The design of AirPods has often been mocked. However, this does not prevent the small white stems from multiplying in the ears of public transport users in the Paris region – and certainly elsewhere. Despite a certain commercial success, Apple has nevertheless listened to the criticisms and revised the design of its wireless headphones with its new generation of AirPods Pro.
The stem that comes out of the ear is smaller, perfectly directed towards the mouth, which makes them much more discreet than the first two generations. A more aesthetic observation than anything else, but which may be important for those who prefer to avoid looking like a start-uper between two meetings.
However, there is an important difference with these AirPods Pro: they are in-ear headphones where the first and second generation AirPods are “buds” headphones, which sit in the pinna without entering the ear canal. Personally, this is not something that bothers me, but many people struggle with this format. Apple nevertheless offers three tips to adapt to different ears and some who do not like this type of headphones have admitted to finding these AirPods Pro comfortable. They are therefore worth trying.
You have to admit that the AirPods Pro are very comfortable to wear. They are very light (5.4 grams each) and are easily forgotten in the hollow of the ear without ever hurting. Their shape is well thought out and they can also be caught easily. This rod of discord is therefore a plus here to position the earpiece in the ear or remove it.
Note, however, that the two earphones differ quite badly and that it happened to me several times to have to look at the misleading (“R” / “L”) on each earphone to know in which ear or in which location of the box I had to put them. Funny when you know that on the main AirPods Pro page, Apple has put two right headphones. To believe that they too have trouble telling them apart…
The earphones are also relatively slippery and I have several times dropped them when taking them out of the box or trying to put them back in.
As for the rubber tips, they are quite confusing to change at first. It is a simple clip system that requires a little force to remove them the first time and to have the right angle to put them back. Even if they should not be changed all the time, it is a blow to put them on badly and to lose them regularly. When you know that the exchange is only done in the Apple Store or via the after-sales service, this is not necessarily good news.
Also, AirPods Pro are only available in white. Nothing allows me to say today that they will age badly, but rubber tips that will fit in our ears rarely remain immaculate over time.
Finally, on each stem is a capacitive button with audio feedback to make it clear that the click has been taken into account. However, I will come back to this button later.
AirPods Pro are IPX4
The good news is that the AirPods Pro are IPX4, which means they’re splash and sweat resistant, and they stay in place in the ears, even when exercise. In my case, it happened several times that I repositioned them a little in my ear.
The case of the AirPods Pro fits horizontally (like the WF-1000xM3), and not vertically like the AirPods, a consequence of the reduction of the stem and the enlargement of the head of the earphone. However, with its dimensions of 45.2 x 60.6 x 21.7 grams, it remains in the same order of magnitude as for the first generation. Suffice to say that it easily fits in any pocket and does not stand out too much.
It has the same technical characteristics as the old model. It is glossy white, easy to open even with one hand and displays a diode on the front and a pairing button on the back, as well as a Lightning port on the bottom for charging. There is no polarizer inside to know which earphone fits in each slot, but it is impossible to slide the right into the left slot and vice versa.
A little anecdote, however: it is apparently possible to store your AirPods Pro incorrectly. It happened to me once to take out one of my flat AirPods although there was still battery in the transport box, and several times to have an error signal on one of the headphones opening the box near my iPhone.
Good active noise-canceling
If Apple has opted for an in-ear design for its AirPods Pro, it is to take advantage of passive noise reduction. This type of earphone blocks the ear canal and therefore partially reduces outside noise. A necessary point for active noise reduction to be effective. The reverse would be the equivalent of putting an armored door to a straw hut.
The H1 chip created by Apple is quite impressive
The AirPods Pro therefore have an active noise reduction system that uses an external microphone to pick up ambient noise and reduce it by generating a wave of the same amplitude, but in phase opposition. The two waves then overlap and… cancel each other out. That’s for theory (or “magic” as Apple calls it). In practice, capturing all the sounds is often very difficult and even the most advanced headphones (such as the Sony WH-1000xM3 or the Bose Headphones 700), with their multiple microphones, struggle to suppress certain noises.
For their part, the AirPods Pro are doing quite well compared to their size. On this point, the H1 chip created by Apple is quite impressive, but it is nevertheless less efficient than the noise reduction of its main competitors, the Sony WF-1000xM3. For all the dull noises that act like a hum along the length, like an airplane engine, a highway outside your window, or even construction, the noise is totally annihilated.
It becomes much easier to cut yourself off from the world
As soon as the sounds vary more and rise a little more in frequency, the reduction is less good. The voices of my colleagues or the snapping of my fingers on my mechanical keyboard, for example, remain well perceptible and intelligible when the music is not started.
Where I can isolate myself easily by putting on my headphones and only activating the noise reduction, here this is not the case. The reduction is not strong enough for that. Once the music is started, however, it becomes much easier to cut yourself off from the world, even at a fairly low volume. No need to crank the volume up for peace, noise reduction takes care of it for you.
The reduction is not only less powerful than those of Sony’s true wireless headphones, but it is also less configurable. Apple tends to impose its choices on its users to make their lives easier, but advanced users will appreciate having a choice of Sony headphones, which they won’t have here. Measurements are made, according to Apple, 200 times per second to allow real-time adjustment of noise reduction. It is impossible to voluntarily allow certain noises to filter out more than others.
Like all other current headphones and earphones with active noise reduction, Apple uses its microphones to offer the “transparent” mode. This makes it possible to record external audio to retransmit it directly to the user’s ears, which is practical for hearing what is around us without having to remove your headphones (to listen to an announcement on the metro, for example).< /p>
On this point, I must admit that I was particularly blown away. Even the Jabra Elite 65h, which is one of the best headsets I have tested in this area, does not offer such a realistic and pleasant rendering. When you switch to Transparent mode, it almost feels like you no longer have headphones in your ears.
As with the Sony WF-1000xM3, Apple is content with SBC and AAC codecs, compressed formats. If it’s a shame not to find a lossless format, it’s unfortunately a hardware constraint on such small true wireless earphones, which cannot carry the same components as on headphones (even if only the battery ) and who favor stability over quality. No surprise therefore here to see only these two formats. For iPhone users, the advantage is that files from iTunes are streamed directly in AAC, which avoids re-compression.
Brought as a perk, Adaptive EQ is there to take care of, as the name suggests, real-time audio EQ. It is also a way for Apple to impose its tastes on the user and not to offer an equalizer to choose the audio profiles you want for each musical style. A good for a bad therefore.
It’s even more frustrating that the audio quality of the AirPods is good… but uneven. Overall, the bass is well-defined, as are the mids, but the high-mids and highs lack a bit of depth. “Overall” being an important point of the previous sentence. Indeed, due to the adaptive equalization which “automatically calibrates the music” and “improves the audio rendering by adjusting the low and medium frequencies”, I found myself blaming the AirPods Pro for different shortcomings depending on the music listened to, especially in terms of bass management.
As an example, on Berzerk by Eminem, the bass resonates well in my ears, but on Brothers by Rilès, some of it blends into the mids. And this is just one example among many others on many hours of listening to music of all genres and podcasts.
These are, however, remarks from a fussy person accustomed to enjoying the warm sound with the marked signature of a Sony WH-1000xm3 headset and it should not be forgotten that the AirPods Pro are simple small in-ear headphones. Put in this context, the AirPods Pro have a very good audio quality that far surpasses that of the first generations. They are certainly not earphones for audiophiles, but they will manage to seduce the greatest number without any problem.
In-game latency has been reduced
Finally, note that in-game latency has been reduced compared to the previous generation. If it was relatively marked with the AirPods, it must be admitted that even by straining your ears, it is no longer easy to detect latency here.
During calls, the noise reduction of the AirPods Pro continues to be active and therefore allows you to be well isolated from outside noise. However, the sound is far from exceptional and the voices are muffled, both in reception and in transmission. The conversation remains audible, but the sound quality remains very average.
The external microphone is also mainly used for noise reduction for the user and is therefore not used to reduce transmitted sounds. If you are in a noisy environment, your correspondent will hear everything.
The “ magic ” of Apple
On its promotional page, Apple promises to put “magic in your ears”. For an automatic equalizer and noise reduction that is nothing really new, the term is clearly overused, but Apple seems to forget its real magic, linked to its ecosystem and its ease of use.
On a daily basis, the AirPods Pro are designed to make technology accessible, from pairing which is done with a simple gesture with an iPhone (open the box), to managing the tips. In the iOS Bluetooth accessory settings, you can perform an ear tip fit test that plays music and uses the built-in mic to check for optimal acoustic performance. If this is not the case, it may be advisable to change the tips of the AirPods Pro or replace them in the ear. The biggest problem with this feature is that you have to look for it in the depths of iOS and novices will certainly not find it naturally.
There is also the now familiar automatic pause when removing an earbud. Note, however, that the touch button at the stem is not the best idea, especially since it has been shortened. In fact, we often press it by mistake by wishing to readjust the AirPods in our ears or by removing them. Nothing horribly frustrating, but for a brand as attentive to detail as Apple, it’s a surprising point. Note also that as with many true wireless earphones, no volume adjustment is made from the earphone itself.
What’s missing is multipoint pairing
In the end, what is missing is multipoint pairing. It’s quite rare on true wireless, but the constraints of pairing with a PC for example and then returning to the phone mean that on a daily basis I ended up keeping my headphones connected to the computer to avoid going – Tedious returns. This is a recurring flaw in this product line, but it deserves to be highlighted.
On Android, of course, all that magic isn’t there, but the AirPods Pro work just as well. By using the button behind the box, you can pair the AirPods to any device, and you can use noise reduction or Transparent mode as well.
On the other hand, the automatic pause is not there. Too bad when you know that the WF-1000xM3 offer it on both platforms.
Autonomy remains in the same waters
As for autonomy, Apple remains on the same or almost the same basis. Count around 4 to 4.5 hours of continuous listening with the AirPods Pro and around 22 hours away from an outlet thanks to the charging case. Where Apple has been strong is that these figures are very close to those of the previous generation, but with a shorter stem, active noise reduction which consumes a lot and a charging case which has not gained too much overweight.
Clearly, for everyday use, the AirPods Pro do the trick, but they might be a bit limited for some. To be seen according to your use of course.
Pricing and availability
AirPods Pro have been available since October 2019 at a price of 279 euros.
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