AirPods Pro: first impressions

I’ve been using a pair of AirPods Pro for just under a week now. I use headphones in three main environments, and up until now have used three separate pairs, each of which works best for that environment. As they combine true-wireless comfort, noise-cancelling, a high promise transparency mode and closed-backs, I wondered whether the AirPods Pro could possibly replace at least a couple of my existing sets. Here we go.

Commute. My go-to headphones for my commute were a pair of first-gen AirPods that I’ve had nearly three years. I walk my commute, so I like to be able to hear what’s going on around me on the street; the open backed AirPods work great for this. This is obviously a place where transparency mode comes into play. However, both the Sony and Bose pairs mentioned below have transparency modes that, well, just don’t feel transparent. They make it feel like the outside world is coming through water. The AirPods Pro, however, while they do seem to have minor trouble with siblants in spoken-word, feel much closer to super-imposing your audio on the surroundings than any other transparency mode I’ve used. It’s suprisingly close to the experience using the original AirPods. On top of this, you can obviously turn to noise-cancelling on busy streets rather than turning up the volume. These two combined are a game-changer; right now I’m not tempted to swap back.

In the office. The original AirPods are essentially useless in the office for blocking out chatter. So I’ve been using a pair of WI-1000X for a couple of years, which block out background chatter really well, especially when used with the foam tips they come with. However, here too the AirPods Pro still work okay even without foam tips, and the lack of neckband and wires are just as noticable an improvement as with my walk into the office. In addition, the AirPods Pro charging case is just easier to use than the somewhat fiddly charger of the WI-1000X. At the moment, I’m grabbing for the AirPods Pro in the office. They block out enough chatter and true-wireless is just way more comfortable.

Flying. For drowning out engine noise on flights, I have found the (wired) Bose Qc20 beat the WI-1000X (the reverse is true for office chatter, strangely). The noise-cancelling is better on the Bose pair, and they fit into a very small carrying pouch compared to the neckband-saddled WI-1000X; much easier to chuck into a bag. I would say the AirPods Pro have about the same noise cancelling effectiveness as the Sony headphones. I’ve yet to fly, so time will tell whether the convenience of the wireless headphones beats out the (likely) better noise cancelling of the Bose pair. I’ll certainly be taking both to try them out as I feel it’ll be a close call.

Overall I’ve been surprised by how close the AirPods Pro have come to replacing the three pairs I used previously. Time will tell how I end up settling long term, but Apple have hit a good balance with these headphones. I suspect the convenience of the true wireless, good-enough noise-cancelling and compact size may make these my go-to headphones most of the time. Oh, and they sound good enough too – but you’d expect that for the price.

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