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If audio is important to you, Consumer Reports has always found you could do better than the Apple AirPods. They’ve been convenient and well-designed, but first- and second-generation AirPods didn’t score high enough in our sound-quality testing to earn our recommendation. But with the brand new AirPods Pro, things are different.
The AirPods Pro sound really good. Like a majority of Bluetooth headphones, the Pros still might not suit the most critical audiophiles. But the significant improvement in sound paired with the features consumers love from the older AirPods should make this model a serious contender if you’re in the market for a pair of true wireless earphones.
Apple hasn’t just stepped up the audio quality with these new earphones. Chief among the numerous upgrades is the addition of active noise-canceling technology, which delivers superb audio blocking performance, according to our engineers.
At first glance, the most obvious change with the latest model is an updated design. The previous AirPods feature a one-size-fits-all earbud construction, while the Pros have interchangeable silicone tips. Some users may miss the original style, while others will celebrate the ability to customize the fit. According to Apple, one design change you won’t be able to see is the addition of splash resistance. (CR doesn’t test this attribute in headphones.)
The tips also help performance by blocking outside sound, a necessary improvement for noise cancellation. To ensure that you’re using the right-sized tips to seal off your ear canals, the new AirPods come with an easy-to-use feature that plays a short snippet of audio, which is then measured using internal microphones. Just keep in mind this feature is available only when the earphones are paired to another Apple device.
That doesn’t mean you have to be cut off from the world while you’re wearing the new AirPods Pro. The insert tips may make your ears feel slightly plugged up, even with noise-canceling turned off. But the AirPods Pro also have a “transparency” mode, which uses built-in microphones to intentionally pipe in outside sound. Apple didn’t invent this feature, but on the Pros it works particularly well.
The AirPods Pro let you cycle through the three noise settings—Noise Cancellation, Transparency, and Off—by squeezing lightly on the earphone stems. Combinations of shorter squeezes activate other controls, letting you start and stop playback and cycle through tracks. But there’s still no way to adjust the volume without calling up Siri or pulling out the device you’re connected to.
Battery Life Unchanged
The AirPods Pro maintain many of the best-loved features of the previous AirPods. Connecting to Apple devices is still seamless, and while the portable charging case is slightly longer than the original AirPods case, it’s still small enough to carry around in a pocket.
The advertised battery life is essentially unchanged. With Noise Cancellation or Transparency turned on, Apple says the earphones should last 4.5 hours. With those features off, you should expect the same 5 hours you’d get with the previous AirPods, according to Apple.
Like its predecessors, a fully charged AirPods Pro case is supposed to recharge the headphones for up to 24 full hours of playback. The case is compatible with wireless charging pads, which you can purchase separately. Apple first introduced wireless charging with the second-generation AirPods, which were released earlier in 2019, but you had to pay more for the upgrade. With the Pros, the wireless charging case comes standard.
Competition From Amazon, Samsung
At $250, the Apple AirPods Pro are well within the price range of other wireless portable noise-canceling headphones, particularly true wireless models. That’s only $50 more than the retail price of the second-generation AirPods with the wireless charging upgrade, though you may find the older models on sale during the holidays.
There are still plenty of other true wireless headphones worth considering.
The Echo Buds, Amazon’s new noise-canceling true wireless headphones, didn’t score quite as well in our tests, but they’re solid performers and far cheaper at $130. And while the AirPods Pro sound far better than Apple’s earlier models, they still don’t meet the audio quality of our top pick for true wireless sound, the Samsung Galaxy Buds, which also sell for around $130. (They aren’t noise-canceling.)
But for many consumers, the AirPods Pro will be an obvious choice.
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