Airpods Pro - the end of wired earphones

Earphones have come a long way. It's about time we forget about the headphone jack.

May 17, 2020 - 10 min read

Before I discovered to the world of wireless headphones, I had a pair of Marshall Major wired on-ear headphones. I used the Marshalls at home. For everything else, I carried Apple EarPods in my pocket.

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I have to admit that I was a bit late to join the bluetooth headphones party. I got my WH-1000XM3s only last year. It was my first pair of bluetooth headphones. About after a week with the WH-1000XM3s, I stopped carrying wired earpods. Noise cancelling was great for morning commutes in London. Battery life was so good that I never had to care about it. Returning back to wired headphones was not an option for me anymore.

However, the WH-1000XM3s are huge and can't be carried around easily. This made me want in-ear noise cancelling alternatives. Around the same time I started my search, Apple launched AirPods Pro. The reviews were all good so I decided to give it a try.

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In this blog post, I will be talking about my overall experience with Apple's AirPods Pro. The following list is ordered by importance to me.

1) Comfort

Earphones will stay in your ears for quite some time. They need to feel comfortable enough so they don't distract you from doing your work.

I found AirPods Pro to be very uncomfortable during the first week, but then I stopped feeling the pain. I don't know how that works, but trust me, the pain is gone. I'm not the only one who says this. There are plenty of posts over reddit and macrumours discussing comfort issues.

When you put the AirPods in, they sit on top of the anti-tragus area that I highlighted on the picture below:

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During my first week, AirPods made this area feel a bit painful. I had to take them out every 30 minutes and rest my ears. I imagine this would be a bigger issue if you have small ears.

They are also physically much bigger compared to original AirPods. If you feel uncomfortable with those ones, AirPods Pro are probably going to feel worse. Make sure you try them before buying!

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2) Sound quality is good

I am not an audiophile but I have witnessed the sound quality of WH-1000XM3s. Even though they can't even come close to WH-1000XM3s, I never felt like I need to immediatelly switch to WH-1000XM3s. They don't quite shake your brain like the WH-1000XM3s do, but they do sound amazing given their size.

3) Noise cancelling is as good as it gets for earphones this size

Once you get used to noise cancelling headphones, there is no going back. At the time of writing, WH-1000XM3s have the best noise cancelling on the market. When walking around in London, or when in the tube (underground, metro, subway), there is no way anything can match the WH-1000XM3s. I would say AirPods Pro are 60% as good as the of WH-1000XM3s in this area. I have no scientific way of measuring this at home though.

AirPods Pro provide good levels of noise cancellation considering their size. If you never tried noise cancelling headphones before, you'll be amazed how good these things are.

4) Connectivity and switching between devices

Here are the instructions on how to switch between devices on WH-1000XM3s:

  1. Turn off the headphones by holding the power button for 5 seconds
  2. Wait 5 seconds
  3. Hold the side button for 10 seconds to enter bluetooth Pairing mode
  4. Connect to WH-1000XM3s on your device's bluetooth settings

On AirPods it goes like this:

  1. Connect to AirPods on your device's bluetooth settings

I don't understand why this was such a big issue for WH-1000XM3s. This feature alone makes the AirPods a lot more convenient to use compared to the WH-1000XM3s.

5) Microphone quality

When it comes to microphone quality, AirPods are much better than WH-1000XM3s. The WH-1000XM3s are well known to have the worst microphone on this planet. Overall, I have to say I'm very impressed by the AirPods in terms of picking up sound. You will have no trouble even if you're in a loud environment with the AirPods Pros.

Keep in mind most bluetooth headphones in the market still can't replace wired alternatives. In my testing I found the good old wired EarPods mics to be much better in terms of microphone quality.

For calls, AirPods are absolutely fine, but if you're thinking about streaming or making a YouTube video, just use the wired ones. I use Rode smartLav+ for my videos and streams.

6) Controls and the lack of them

I have one big thing to complain in here. How come we don't have volume controls built in? I don't want to be awkward and say "Hey Siri, volume down" in public. I'd very much rather have physical controls to adjust volume levels. What's weird is, AirPods let you control almost everything except volume levels.

So, Apple has built in squeeze controls on the AirPods Pro. Here is how I adjusted mine to work:

  • Squeezing left/right once: Play/Pause
  • Squeezing left/right twice: Skip song
  • Squeezing left-right three times: Previous Song
  • Squeeze and hold left: Toggle between noise cancelling and transparency modes
  • Squeeze and hold right: Activate Siri

These settings can be adjusted by going into Settings -> bluetooth -> AirPods Pro. It's a shame that you can't assign triple squeeze right to decrease the volume.

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7) Battery Life and Charging Case

I found the battery life to be about 4 hours with noise cancelling when listening to music at 50% volume. If you're using the microphones, battery life drops to about 3 hours. This is great considering the physical size of AirPods. Plus, putting them inside the charging case for 5 minutes will give you an additional hour of listening time. These things charge fast!

The charging case is able to fully recharge AirPods about 4-5 times. Battery life will not be an issue. The case is pretty much the best thing about the design. It is almost no bigger than a pack of dental floss. It is glossy so it comes in and out of your pocket with ease. The flap on the top feels solid and will not open on its own. The case indicates battery level and charging status using the led light.

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However, if you are on an international flight for over 4 hours and you're sleeping, make sure you grab your WH-1000XM3s for that 25 hours of continuous noise cancelling.

8) Price

With a price tag of $249, AirPods Pro is $50 more expensive than an Apple Watch 3 and $80 cheaper than a new iPad.

However, considering there are no alternatives with all of these features on the market, I have to say the price is acceptable.

9) Spy Mode

AirPods come with an accessibility "feature" that will allow you to transmit your sound from your iPhone's microphone directly into your ears. You can basically put your iPhone in another room in your flat, and listen to what's going on in that room. Here is a tutorial on how to enable this feature.

Conclusion

Apple has made a great pair or earphones and noise cancelling is the cherry on top. The sound quality is good and switching between devices is a breeze. Charging case is easily pocketable and provides plenty of battery life. My only concern is the high entry price for these earphones but I don't see any cheaper alternatives with all of these features. When you have no competitors, you are allowed to keep the price high.

Moral of the story is:

Earphones have changed a lot since the last 3 years.

The future of earphones is certainly interesting. I think this technology is going to get cheap pretty fast. I wonder what the next generation is going to bring...