Seven things I learned after my first day with AirPods Pro

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The original AirPods on the left, the new AirPods Pro on the right.


Sarah Tew/CNET

In case you hadn’t heard, Apple is releasing a new set AirPods on Wednesday. They’re called the AirPods Pro, they cost $249, and they deliver two new features to Apple’s headphone line. They’re the first AirPods to feature a noise-isolating design — with silicone ear tips that push into your ear canal — and the first ones to offer active noise-canceling, which electronically blocks external noise. I got an early review sample and took the new AirPods for a spin in the noisy streets of New York City, then brought them back to the office for some further listening. Here are my early impressions.

They fit comfortably and securely

I’m one those people with ears that aren’t ideal receptacles for the original AirPods, which are now on their second generation. I can wear them, but they don’t stay in my ears all that well. I feel them start to fall out if I do anything too strenuous in them, like dash across the street to make a light or catch a bus, which you sometimes have to do in New York City.

With the AirPods Pro, I have no such problem. They fit my ears securely. I can run with them — and they’re sweatproof, Apple says. It’s also worth noting that they come with small, medium and large ear tips. I was worried I would need an extra large tip to get a tight seal, but the AirPods Pro’s large ear tips fit my ears just fine.

 The long and short of it is the new design will fit more ears than the original AirPods. I hesitate to call it a universal fit because there are always exceptions, but they’re close. The only issue is that some people simply don’t like having silicone buds stuck in their ears, even if they’re as soft and pliant as Apple says these tips are. That’s the reason why so many people like the original AirPods. They just sort of nestle in your ear — and when they fit right, they’re really comfortable. A few people in the office I talked to said that even though the AirPod Pros sounded better, they still preferred the fit of the regular AirPods.


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They sound better 

The first thing you notice about the AirPods Pro is that they simply sound better than the standard AirPods. Thanks to their noise-isolating design and new drivers that are tuned for that design, they clearly have a lot more bass and richer sound. Also, thanks to the noise-cancelling, which is effective, they sound a lot better in noisier environments like city streets. The standard AirPods sound decent in quiet places but due to their open design, they just don’t do well when confronted with external noise. It can literally drown out your music.

The Ear Tip Fit test helps determine which size is right for your ears. 


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They’re even better for making calls

The standard AirPods are quite good for making calls. With the release of the second-generation model this year — some call them the AirPods 2 — Apple improved their noise-reduction capabilities, particularly wind noise. The AirPods Pro have three microphones on each bud, one of which is a beamforming mic that’s designed to pick up your voice. They also have similar noise reduction capabilities, plus a vent system that’s not only supposed to relieve some of the pressure that can build up in your ear from a noise isolating design coupled with noise-cancelling, but can help cut down on wind noise a tad, an Apple rep told me. More importantly, you can simply hear callers better because of the Pros’ noise-isolating design.

They don’t sound better than the Sony WF-1000XM3 — but they’re smaller

I compared the AirPods Pro to its closest current competitor, the Sony WF-1000XM3, which also has adaptive noise cancelling. The AirPods Pro sound excellent for true wireless earphones, but the WF-1000XM3 arguably sounds a little better — bigger and smoother overall, with slightly warmer sound, they’re more pleasant to listen to for longer listening sessions. The Sony WF-1000XM3’s noise cancelling is also as effective as the AirPods Pro’s noise cancelling. And the Sonys battery life is rated a little higher. In active noise cancellation mode, Apple says AirPods Pro will deliver up to four and a half hours of listening.

All that said, the AirPods and their charging case are significantly smaller than than the Sonys. The charging case is wider than the standard AirPods’ case and a little thicker, but it’s still a very small package. And size matters when it comes to these types of earphones. The case and the AirPods are literally half the size of the Sonys. There’s something very appealing about that. 

The Pros have shorter stems. 


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The stems are shorter and I like the new controls better — but there are still no volume controls on the buds

The standard AirPods have touch controls. You tap or tap-and-hold a touch zone on the side of the bud. The AirPods Pro have a force sensor in the stem of each bud — and the stems are shorter, which is good. You pinch the stem to activate the controls. Pinch twice quickly to advance a track forward. Press-and-hold to toggle between noise cancelling on or off or a transparency mode that allows sound to leak in (so you can hear train announcements, for example). You can also program the press-and-hold function to call up Siri manually if you don’t want the always-on (hands-free) Siri feature to be active. Like the AirPods, the Pros have Apple’s H1 chip that allows for always-on Siri, so you can call up Apple’s voice assistant simply by saying “Hey, Siri.”

Apple says the air vents on the inside of the buds help release some pressure.


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It’s worth spending the extra $50 on the AirPods Pro instead of buying the AirPods with Wireless Charging

If you like your current AirPods and they fit your ears well, you don’t need to run out and buy the Pros (I’d wait for your AirPods to die, which they will sooner rather than later if you use them a lot). But if you’ve been eyeing the $199 AirPods with Wireless Charging, I’d pass them by and go straight to the Pros. The Pros have a wireless charging case too, and their superior sound and added features are worth the extra dough.

The big question will be how low will the standard AirPods (without wireless charging go). They list for $160 but they often cost less and we’ve seen for them for as low as $130. As their price creeps down, I’d say those are the AirPods to get if you don’t want to spend too much money on AirPods. Forget the wireless charging. It’s an overrated feature and should cost less. 

The Beats Powerbeats Pro are in trouble

A lot of people were looking for better sound and a more secure fit than the AirPods and they both in the Beats Powerbeats Pro. Apple, of course, owns Beats, and the Powerbeats Pro have big bass and dynamic sound as well as long battery life in a sporty design. They also cost $250 but have lately been selling for $200 (that probably should have been a tip off that the AirPods Pros were coming). The Powerbeats Pros are still a very good true wireless headphone but the big strike against them is their bulky charging case. With their sweat-resistant design, bolder sound, and more secure fit, the AirPods Pro are clearly a direct competitor. The smaller size and more discreet profile of the AirPods Pro makes them the more appealing choice than the Beats.  

Of course, there’s plenty more to talk about when it comes to the AirPods Pro, and I’ll post my full review after further testing and comparisons. But suffice to say for now, they’re going to be at the top of a lot of wish lists this holiday season.