Apple AirPods Pro: testing today's hottest Bluetooth earphones
Wireless Bluetooth earphones have spread quickly thanks to the comfort the offer. You just pop them in your ears and forget about them. Apple pioneered the range, in terms of mass retail at least: but Apple is far from being the only brand on the market for this product. The latest Pro version of Apple's Airpods enjoys a full range of functionalities, earning these miniscule models top-of-the-range status.
Apple is no newcomer to earbuds. Their characteristic, white-coloured wired model has been out since the launch of the iPod portable music player nearly twenty years ago. They then started coming with all iPhones. So Apple has already produced hundreds of millions of wired white earphones.
Just a few years ago, no-one would have imagined cutting the cord and making the earphones Bluetooth. But, with the help of technology, manufacturers rose to the challenge. Now, the part that goes in the ear has been able to accommodate a Bluetooth chip, a digital/analogue converter, an amplifier and a battery. These Bluetooth earbuds are called "true wireless" because they genuinely have no need for a cable. A piece of design wizardry that has become a part of the everyday.
Features: true wireless intra-auricular earphones, active noise reduction, IPX4 certification, three pairs of tips, Lightning USB-C cable, totally autonomous operation for 29 hours
Codecs: SBC, AAC
Connectivity: Bluetooth 5, Lighting for charging case
Weight: earphones – 5.4 grams / charging case – 45.6 grams
AirPods Pro general description
Apple has kept the rounded, white design of its iconic earphones for the new Bluetooth earbuds. The Pro version also contains an automatic noise cancellation system.
Apple provides three flexible silicone tips: small, medium and large, to fit all ears. They clip onto the earbud very easily. They come with a venting system to equalise inner-ear pressure, for optimal comfort. If you aren't sure, it is possible to check whether the tips are a good fit using a test via the app. Once you've got the right tip for your ear, it becomes clear that the AirPods are neither tiring nor constrictive, weighing in at 5.4g.
The central oblong part sits on the base of the pinna. It ends in a stem that allows you to hold the earbud. This stem contains an invisible button. There's one on either earbud. Their action can be personalised via smartphone. At the base of the stem, two metallic parts charging. Like all "true wireless" intra-auricular headphones, AirPods Pro come with a charging case.
Clad in bright white, the case is used to transport the AirPods as well as to recharge them. The case contains a battery. The charging case itself is recharged using an Apple charger cable for iPhone or iPad with a Lightning connection, or wirelessly, via induction with a Qi charger. A Lightning USB-C cable is included. The case is easy to carry and weighs a little over 45g.
Almost 30 hours of independent use
We appreciate Apple's attention to detail which is on display in the workings of the case. The magnetised catch closes with a little snap that really inspires confidence. A button allows you to check on the charger status via an LED light: green when it still has charge, orange when it will soon need charging.
The battery life of each earbud is 5 hours. The battery life of the charging case is 24 hours, allowing 4 to 5 charges of the earbuds. When the earbud battery has run down, simply put them back in the case. The first five minutes of charging provide one hour's worth of power. Note that AirPods Pro use slightly more power when they are being used to make phone calls.
As part of the Apple universe, AirPods Pro are first and foremost compatible with the main Apple devices: Mac, iPad, iPhone, Watch, iPod and Apple TV. They can be connected to an Android smartphone, if you're happy to lose most of their functionalities. The connection is made over Bluetooth 5. As for the codecs, they only use SBC and AAC, the latter being used across all Apple products. So no Hi-Res codecs. As usual, Apple is tight-lipped about the precise technical details. We don't know much about the transducers they use, apart from that they are "long-excursion" and that they offer "high dynamic range" amplification.
AirPods Pro are certified IPX4, so they are resistant to water and sweat, and so ideal for use during sports. In-built sensors detect when they are inserted into the ears. That way, the music cuts out when they are removed.
It's not possible to connect AirPods Pro to two devices at once, like a computer and a smartphone. But Apple does let it work the other way around: you can connect two pairs of AirPods Pro to one device so two people can listen at once.
An effective noise reduction system
Compared to classic AirPods, AirPods Pro boast a noise-reduction system. They come with external microphones, which constantly analyse their sound environment. There are also microphones inside the earbuds. By combining the two, the AirPods can figure out how much external noise you are hearing alongside the music. Once the noise reduction mode is activated, the external sounds disappear.
AirPods Pro offer very high performance in this area. They very effectively cut out background noise, crowds and dull noise. We used them on a flight, and the engine noise disappeared completely. On the other hand, the medium range is less corrected, so nearby voices can still be heard, if more faintly. The "transparency" mode allows you to amplify external sounds, so it is as if you were not wearing earphones at all. It's also possible to use AirPods Pro in "normal" mode, but that would be a waste.
The mobile app on the iPhone allows you to check on the charge level in both charging case and earphones. It's possible to personalise the action of the button on each earbud. Naturally, by saying " Hey Siri", you can talk to Apple's Artificial Intelligence assistant via the microphones in the AirPods.
The AirPod Pro’s music restitution has a linear feel about it. No single register takes centre stage, unlike a lot of headphones which accentuate bass frequencies. However, there is weight in the upper bass and lower mid-range in general. There is nothing lacking in the bass department. The treble is precise without either dazzling or becoming shrill. The stereo separation is as it should be, with a great panorama between one ear and the other. But the sonic image hardly comes out to surround your head, which is to be expected with earbuds. When we turn up the volume on high-quality recordings, we can enjoy a decent sound level with a detailed sonic image that doesn't descend into noise.
Pop in and forget
Effective noise cancellation
Very much a part of Apple's world
No Hi-Res codecs
No double connection
Apple isn't really an audio brand, even though they've been producing earphones for a long time. By launching these true wireless intra-auricular earphones, Apple has challenged the champions of the field, like Sony, Bose, Jabra and Sennheiser. And Apple has won. The AirPods Pro are easy to wear. They enjoy great all-round autonomy. They are good at cancelling out noise. And the plain, linear sound restitution allows you to relax and enjoy any style of music, even when you hike up the volume. If you're looking for quality rechargeable Bluetooth earbuds, for now, the AirPods Pro are the smart choice.
Translated by Edward Maltby