I have just bought a pair of AirPods Pro. Have I made the right choice?
For the past two years, I have used a pair of AirPods. I actually came by them when buying a MacBook Air for my daughter. They were free, as part of a university bundle. She already had a pair, so, it was a case of me being in the right place at the right time (for once!). Since then, even with the enormous number of headphones I have lying around the studio, these have still been my go-to pair virtually every day. Convenient, small and well designed, makes them so easy to grab.
With trading up to AirPods Pro, what am I hoping for, and were there any alternatives that I should have looked at?
The AirPods transition
So, as I just said, I will be trading up from my two-year-old AirPods 1st Generation to the latest version of the Pro’s later today. There are many aspects that fascinate me about what I am about to experience. If you have watched some of my YouTube content, then you’ll know I am a headphone guy. For years, I have worn studio headphones for radio work and audio editing. Those experiences are, clearly, very different. With those kinds of headphones, good EQ, long-term comfort and the soundstage is critical. In a studio environment, you get to know your headphones. It sounds daft, I know, but you almost build a relationship with them.
In turning to the dark side, and wearing AirPods regularly, I needed to adjust and re-evaluate what I was expecting from them. Firstly, I can attest, that being in the Apple ecosystem means AirPods are a delight. At times, actually, almost too good. Once paired, they will seek your nearby Apple devices, be it a Mac, iPad, or iPhone and pair seamlessly. I happen to be lucky enough to have three or four devices around me most of the time, and I must admit, AirPods do find themselves getting ever so confused. In theory, they are supposed to look for whatever device has live audio playing and pick it up. I have found that sometimes they attempt to search for a Mac that has nothing playing, or stop the device I am listening to content on. This doesn’t continually happen, but often enough to be a pain, so I have turned of the auto-pair. Other than that, the experience has been all positive.
Being in-ear does not concern me in the least, as the fit and comfort are great. My ears must be optimised for AirPods, as I have never had any of the poor fit issues, or them dropping from my ears that many report. The EQ sounds fairly neutral, which is more to my liking on consumer grade headphones. I am not keen on over EQ’d bass on such small ear pods, and the treble is comfortable too. I listen to an awful lot of spoken word podcasts, and they deliver a well-balanced, flat sound which makes dialogue, easy to consume. So, the AirPods experience has so far been perfect for me. But, what am I hoping for from these new Pro’s, then?
The AirPod Pro’s and what I am looking forward to
Number one on the list is Active Noise Cancellation, for what Apple describe as ‘an immersive experience’. My old school audio head, tells me to get noise cancellation through in-ear AirPods must be a big ask, but, I have heard enough positive feedback, that I am prepared to give it a fair trial. Part of the effectiveness, I’d imagine, is because the AirPod Pro come with three different silicon ear tips, thereby giving a tighter, more secure fit. This would help, I’m sure. Apparently, according to Apple, they continually adapt to the geometry of your ear. Then, with the outward-facing microphone, the AirPods detect external sound and counter it with anti-noise, cancelling the external, unwanted sound before you even hear it. And, as if that was not enough, and inward-facing microphone listens inside your ear for any unwanted sound, and also deals with that.
Moreover, the AirPod Pro also have something called Adaptive EQ, which is yet another audio experience that I am excited to hear. Hopefully, with my background, my ear may pick up on some of these finer nuances. I know these latest version of AirPod, with the H1 chip, also have Spatial Audio, which is something I have never experienced either. The fact they are sweat resistant is an added bonus. The battery life has never been an issue with the pair I have currently, so I see no issues there.
Why not Beats?
Knowing I was in the market for a new pair of in-ear, noise-cancelling ear buds, I did consider switching brands and going the Beats route. They, too, come with exchangeable tips and are noise-cancelling. They have the same H1 chip, and I know I am biased, but I do like Apple’s design. I am not as keen on the stemless appearance of the Beats, and my experience in the past with Beats, are that they feel less than premium. I fear they would not integrate quite as effortlessly in to my Apple workflow and the user interface I think I prefer too on the AirPods.
Above all else though, it is the Beats trademark sound that put me off. I have listened to Beats before, and they always seem to have a very heavy bass EQ on them. I get the kind of market they are aimed at, and understand, why they have made them with this sound characteristic, but it is just not for me. As I find my listening changing to more spoken word, I want a pair of ear buds that reflect that. Heavy bass, on dialogue, is a muddy, cluttered, uncomfortable experience.
So, as I write this, I am still eagerly peering out of my studio window, and looking at the tracking to see if my parcel has yet arrived. I am excited, I will not try to deny. Over the past two years, I have been so happy with the pair I have, that migrating to their bigger brother should be a big step forward. I think of all the user experiences, I am most looking forward to the ACN (Active Noise Cancelling) feature. You can just bet, I will be trying that out later tonight. I will let you know in future blogs what I make of them and if they get my seal of approval.
I do still count this purchase as a cheap get out though. I came oh so close to getting AirPods Max, you would not believe! Luckily though, sense prevailed. I have plenty of headphones for indoor or studio use, and at very nearly double the price of the Pros’s, it really was hard to justify. Also, I don’t know if even I have the front to wear those in public!
What AirPods do you own? Are you happy with the AirPod Pro’s? Be sure to let me know.
P.S. – they have just arrived!
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Originally published at https://www.talkingtechandaudio.com/blog on March 30, 2022.