Apple AirPods Pro were first released in late 2019, and despite the world of earbuds having developed massively since then – including excellent new models that are a direct competitor to the – they remain not only some of the most popular premium earbuds, but also some of the best noise-cancelling earbuds overall.
It's no surprise that AirPods Pro immediately found favour with Apple aficionados, because they brought certain unique features that the regular-flavour AirPods (2nd Gen) have – including quick pairing with Apple devices and instant switching between your devices – to headphones with a much better fit and much strong sound quality.
They launched at a pretty typical price for high-end noise-cancelling headphones, and if you look at Apple's own store, they still cost that amount… but everywhere else online, they're now buyable for around 25% cheaper than elsewhere.
This, along with the fact that they've been updated with more features over their life – including Find My support so they can be found when lost, and Spatial Audio 3D sound support, plus more new features in iOS 15 – means they've lost little of their appeal since their arrival two years ago.
For creative pros, the effectiveness of their noise cancellation and reasonably low latency (for Bluetooth headphones) makes them an excellent choice, as does their impressive and reasonably neutral sound reproduction. The only real weak point is the battery life, but even that's got some nuance to it.
Apple AirPods Pro review: features
AirPods Pro are designed to pair instantly with Apple devices – simply open the lid of the case and a message pops up on your iPhone or iPad enabling you to connect with a tap – which is just the first of many Apple-exclusive features on them.
They do work with Android, just like any other Bluetooth headphones, but the only real feature you'll have is active noise cancellation.
They also support hands-free Siri, so that you can say "Hey Siri" while wearing them to invoke Apple's voice assistant, and ask it to do things like send messages, change your music and so on. They also have a feature called "Read messages", which basically has Siri read out any text messages you receive to the Messages app. These can both be enabled during the pairing process.
The other thing that's worth doing early is an ear fit test – once you're wearing the AirPods, you can fun a test that uses the built-in sensors to see whether you're using the best size of eartips, and whether that's giving you a suitable seal (and therefore sound quality).
Once you've paired them with one iPhone or iPad, they become immediately available to other Apple device on which you've signed into your Apple ID, and will auto-switch from one device to the other. So if you were listening to music on your iPhone, but grab your iPad and start a video, the AirPods Pro will move over to the iPad's sound. It's a really nice touch.
They also add themselves to the Find My app as soon as you've paired with them, which helps you to avoid losing them. This keeps track of when they were within range of your devices, so you can see if they're nearby, or where you last had them. And they can use the Find My Network of other people's iPhones to report their location back to you remotely, if someone goes within Bluetooth range.
Speaking of Bluetooth range, the connection range and stability of AirPods Pro is pretty impressive, as is their speed of connection – they're connected and ready to go by the time they're out of the case and in your ears.
The controls on AirPods Pro are unique: you squeeze the sticks to control them. It works just like a button, but you pinch instead of pressing. One squeeze for play/pause, two to skip forward, three to skip back, hold for a moment to switch between ANC mode and Transparency mode.
Somewhat improbably, this is brilliant. In the time since AirPods Pro have been released, we've tested a lot of earbuds with alternative options, and none is quite as good. The trick is that the system is very reliable, impossible to trigger accidentally, and doesn't cause any discomfort. Buttons on the outside of earbuds can mean shoving the earbuds into your ears, touch panels are usually either too easy or too hard to trigger. The AirPods Pro squeeze can be done in gloves too, unlike some touch panels.
Naturally, the active noise cancellation is one of the key features of AirPods Pro, and as we've already alluded to, it's pretty damn great. For cutting out droning low noises and for suppressing regular conversations around you to a low murmur, it's really top-tier stuff. They're also excellent with wind noise, which is where a lot of earbuds fall down – it's still audible with AirPods Pro, but is suppressed down to just some lower frequency noise. A lot of even high-end headphones are totally caught out by wind to this day, but with AirPods Pro you can still hear a podcast clearly without cranking up the volume.
The Sony WF-1000XM4 and Bose QuietComfort Buds are both slightly better overall, so really demanding travellers may prefer those, but the difference just isn't very big. When it comes to stopping noise, AirPods Pro absolutely earn the premium price tag.
The Transparency mode is much like what you find on most ANC headphones: it uses the outside mics to actually pipe in the world around you without you taking the headphones off. This reviewer finds the Transparency mode to actually be just a tad too transparent, and it'd be nice if you could tweak it a little (Bose offers a whole scale of transparency levels, for example), but it's undoubtedly effective.
The other major audio feature to talk about is Spatial Audio, which is Apple's special implementation of 3D sound, using the movement sensors inside AirPods Pro to recreate 3D sound fields. When you're watching a Dolby Atmos movie on your iPhone or iPad, AirPods Pro can recreate the audio of a surround system, as if there are real speakers around you, and the device is the TV. Turn your head and the sound shifts – it basically detaches the audio from the drivers and puts you inside a 3D sound space. It's really effective, and is a lovely feature to have, though it's less effective here than on the AirPods Max, which show it off to its best.
You also get Spatial Audio 3D sound from Apple Music tracks that are available in Dolby Atmos. Here, it works a bit differently – you still get the sense of the sound being detached from the headphones and into a 3D bubble around you, but it moves with your head this time. It's a bit more hit and miss than with movies, because how enjoyable it is really depends on what the particular Atmos mix of a song is like, but we do think anyone working in sound should be giving it a try.
Battery life on AirPods Pro is their weakest point – at 4.5 hours per charge from the buds, they're behind pretty much all the competition, which tend to get 6 or more hours these days. However, the total 24 hours of charge you get from the case as well is actually right in line with the competition.
Having said that, we think Apple's numbers are a bit on the pessimistic side anyway – they seem to last a little better than promised, though far from the 9 or 10 hours of the likes of the Cambridge Audio Melomania 1+ or Mastery & Dynamic MW08.
And on top of that, AirPods Pro's buds are lighter and less bulky than even the brand-new Sony WF-1000XM4 (which are much smaller than their predecessor). So it's a shame the battery life is weak, but it does come with a benefit.
Apple AirPods Pro review: build/design
It's no surprise that the build quality of everything to do with AirPods Pro is impeccable. The case is a solid, pristine lump of plastic, with a stable and totally reliable hinge. The lid clicks closed with a little magnetic pull, which is obviously deeply satisfying to play with.
The buds are held in the case magnetically, and don't wobble or fall out of it – ever. But they're easy to get your finger round and to remove them.
Unlike regular AirPods, AirPods Pro come with silicon eartips. Three sizes are included in the box, and it may not surprise you to learn that these are made with special Apple design sauce – they connect to the actual buds using a custom click-on connector instead of the usual 'just squeeze a rubber bit over a plastic tube' connector of most headphones.
It's effective, though, and they're an excellent fit. When you put them in your ears, twist just a little and they'll be in totally solidly – we haven't had any problems from them falling out in regular use, or during moderate exercise. The fit being good also helps with noise isolation, of course.
There's not much left to say about Apple's stick design that hasn't been chewed over for years – these are a more discreet version of it, so will perhaps placate people who find original AirPods too showy.
We will say that, as more and more wireless earbuds become as small and hidden as possible, we do like that the white sticks of AirPods act as a clear affordance for other people, making it clear that you have headphones in – rather than getting into a situation where someone is trying to talk to you and you don't realise, and then everyone feeling embarrassed and/or annoyed afterwards.
Apple AirPods Pro review: price
AirPods Pro are officially priced at £249/$249/AU$399, which is pretty much in line with the official prices of competitors such as the Sony WF-1000XM4, Bose QuietComfort Buds or Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro at launch.
However, those are all newer products. The good news is that pretty much any online retailer has big discounts on AirPods Pro pretty much all the time. Expect to pay more like £180/$180/AU$299.
This is a good price for headphones of this quality, with these features. Newer competitors, like the ones named above, tend to cost full price, or close to it, so AirPods Pro have a good cost advantage there.
And then you have the likes of Beats Studio Buds or Samsung Galaxy Buds+ that cost another step down – but they performance of AirPods Pro is a major step above, justifying the higher price.
In the grand scheme of true wireless headphones, the price you can find for AirPods in retailers (rather than from Apple) makes them a good buy.
Apple AirPods Pro review: sound quality
Despite the strength of the competition, AirPods Pro still impress with their audio. Getting balance right is a boring skill in audio, but produces great rewards – with AirPods Pro, everything gets to be full and punchy without overwhelming the sound.
Bass is a rich foundation to the sound, solid but well structured; the mid-range provides power and definition; treble is clear and detailed without getting sharp or overly bright. It's also a really easy-listening mix – it hides the flaws of lower-quality recordings fairly well, but you can hear all the little touches in higher-quality tracks – though we should again mention here that there's no Hi-Res support of any kind.
They're fairly dynamic too, and have a nicely wide soundstage – we mentioned that the Spatial Audio modes feel like they're taking the sound away from being pumped directly into your ears, but actually AirPods Pro never much like the music is being stuffed in, making them pleasant to listen to for long periods (especially when you factor in their lightness and comfort).
They're not the cream of the crop any more, though. The Sony WF-1000XM4 are a little more dynamic, and offer a slight step up on bass power, while still balancing the rest with that neatly.
And if you take a step up to the likes of the Bowers & Wilkins PI7 or Bang & Olufsen EQ, you also hear a widening of sound to be more natural, along with feeling like they hit richer depths in the bass as well as even more elevation of the treble, and that the mid-range is half a step quicker to rev up.
AirPods Pro remain really strong on sound quality for the money, though – it's no surprise that more expensive models do it better.
Unlike some music-focussed buds, though, AirPods Pro also really shine with voice-only material, including podcasts and audio books. They make voices sound really clear and able to punch over outside noise, but stay natural, and don't let them get too bassy. Combined with their strong mic quality, this also makes them good for calls and VC.
Apple AirPods Pro review: should you buy it?
It is awfully obvious to say that Apple owners should definitely consider AirPods Pro, but that doesn't make it untrue. They are basically the 'default' headphones of this kind for your iPhone, and that's earned. They do all their key functions really well, they're comfortable, and as long as you don't pay MSRP, they're priced perfectly well.
Android users should really look to something with similar features geared for Android – the Sony WF-1000XM4 include Android's Fast Pairing and Find My Device support, for example – and if you want the absolute best noise cancellation in any earbuds, the Bose QuietComfort Buds are the way to go.
If you want something similar to AirPods Pro but for cheaper, Beats Studio Buds will save you about 30% on the price, but still feature a smart small design and active noise cancellation. They also feature Fast Pairing and Find My support on both Android and iOS, neatly. The sound and ANC quality are both weaker than AirPods Pro, but both a strong for the cheaper price, still.
But between the general quality of AirPods Pro's core features, plus its extra cool flourishes such as 3D audio support, and the way Apple will keep developing what they can do, AirPods Pro remain a smart buy today.