Change is inevitable, but in the case of the AirPods, it feels like the Pros should be the ones we should’ve got right from the start. Lightweight, active noise cancellation and the instant pairing with iPhones – it’s a recipe that is bound for success. But now since they’re late to the party, do they manage to hold their own?
Without losing sight of how small… tiny actually, they are, we have to confess we are a bit in awe of this engineering feat that Apple have pulled off. Sure, its Active Noise Cancellation (ANC) isn’t as aggressive as some on-ear headphones but they’re tinier than a peanut, so you can’t help but marvel at the internal packaging. Two mics, one facing outward and one inward, measure noise and create a signal that’s exactly opposite in phase – in effect, cancelling the noise out. Uniquely, unlike most ANC headphones out there, the AirPods Pro also consider how your ears are dealing with all the noise on the inside, hence the inward facing microphone sends data like ear-tip fit and amount of noise passing through the passive seal and calculates how much processing is required on the fly.
All this happens 200 times a second so you can block out the nonsense. It works wonderfully to a great degree, especially indoors where it creates your personal space without any of the office clatter or angry sounds from the coffee machine. Apple’s own H1 chip is credited for a lot of processing, EQ, amplification and, of course, ANC. It’s designed to optimise the weight and shape of the AirPods so that they stay in place in your ears even with some serious fitness or fun activities. Part of the charm is the instant pairing when you flip open the case. In the case of the Pro, you also get controls to toggle between ANC on, off and Transparency mode, which lets more of the world in your ears.
Sound vs Noise
Adaptive EQ is used to tailor the sound specifically to your ears in relation to how the fit of the AirPods Pro is. Three different sizes of silicone ear tips are bundled and in typical Apple fashion, they click into place, both on the AirPods Pro and even in their packaging, reducing chances of losing them due to a loose fit. If you don’t have the right size plugged in to the AirPods Pro, the Ear Tip Fit test built into the Bluetooth menu of the AirPods Pro will let you know and advice trying another size. Nifty. Large fit the best for me in terms of the perfect seal and that is half the battle won when you’re trying to block out the world with earpieces this small.
The low and mid frequencies are continuously adjusted to ensure a balanced sound. Amy from Allan Rayman sounds raw, rich and emotive. Electronic music benefits from the improved seal and lower bass too, making for an entertaining listen. Noise-cancelling is effective enough to be used in everyday environments. Step in to a flight with a wing seat or a kaali-peeli cab and it won’t block out the outside noise completely but is effective enough to let the music get drowned out like on the regular AirPods. Custom-made drivers with a claimed LF response of 20Hz reside in the tiny chamber with vents designed to equalise ear pressure. This helps in making the sound more natural than “processed” and that’s probably why some might feel that the ANC isn’t as strong or aggressive as the competition. Pressure-sensitive stalks can be customised for Siri or Transparency controls and work well. Looking at them in pictures would make you feel that pressing on them firmly might dislodge them from your ears, but that isn’t the case in reality at all. There’s also a slight click when you’ve applied the requisite pressure to perform the action.
Siri works for calling, track changes and so on, but we miss a touch volume control. You have to rely on your Apple Watch or iPhone in your pocket for that. This kind of defeats the purpose of wireless headphones since it assumes that your phone is always in your hand or that you must have an Apple Watch on your wrist.
So, are the AirPods Pro worth it? In a word, yes! But it’s not as black and white like the rest of the world. A similarly -priced Sony would offer better outright sound while a Bose can cut off noise to a greater degree. But none of those options are as light or portable or play well with Apple products across the board like the AirPods Pro can. Seamlessly connecting from the iPhone to an iPad to a Mac or even the Apple Watch, it shows off how rewarding staying in an ecosystem can be.