Price (RRP): $399
Apple’s AirPods have been a runaway success and it’s not uncommon nowadays to spot the familiar white ‘sticks’ hanging out of many a commuter’s ears. According to Apple, the AirPods hold the number one position for wireless earbuds in the market.
Recently, brands including Huawei, Bose and Sony have joined the ‘completely wireless’ noise cancelling earbud bandwagon, however Apple didn’t have a solution, until now. (You can read about Apple’s most recent AirPods with charging case here.)
The new AirPods Pro buds, however, come with Apple’s own flavour of Active Noise Cancelling (ANC) technology, along with several other features and a revamped design.
A bit about Active Noise Cancelling (ANC)
Active Noise Cancelling was made popular with full sized headphones, thanks to the likes of Bose’s QuiteComfort range. With earbuds, especially completely wireless ones, there were a few technical challenges to overcome including battery life, miniaturisation and ergonomics. The technology has finally matured where we can enjoy an amazingly immersive audio experience in a tiny, wire-free and lightweight device.
For Active Noise Cancelling, the AirPod Pros feature two microphones – one on for the inside of your ear, and one for the outside. The outer microphone monitors ambient noise so the ANC system can create ‘anti-noise’ waveforms. This effectively ‘cancels’ out sounds such as airplane engines, air-conditioning fan droning and the like.
The second internal mic monitors what you are hearing and provides another level of noise cancelling to reduce any other unwanted sounds.
The entire system monitors and adjusts itself 200 times a second, so it can keep pace with the changing audio landscape and optimise sound quality.
Then there’s ‘passive’ noise cancelling, which is created by the physical seal the earbuds create by blocking your ear canal from outside sounds.
No longer one size fits all
The AirPods Pro are unlike older AirPods in that they use a flexible silicon rubber tip to seal your ear, rather than a one-size-fits-all plastic bud.
There are three different sizes to choose from. Apple has 3D modelled thousands of inner ears to come up with an optimised shape for the ear tips. There’s also a clever ‘fit test’ that will recommend which sized ear-tip you should use for the best experience. This is nice as it’s sometimes not all that easy to tell how well an earbud fits into your ear, and the noise cancelling can be impacted by a poor fit.
The fit test is as simple as putting the buds in your ears and then listening to a short audio sample. The system will tell you if your left and right buds pass or fail the test. Separate scans for each ear also determine if you need different sized tips for each ear.
Changing tips is straight forward. Just fold the silicon backwards and detach the tip with a firm click. Swap to a new tip and press it back into place. The anchoring is sturdy too so there shouldn’t be any issue of the tips falling off.
AirPod Pros Transparency mode
While Noise Cancelling technology is a great way to immerse yourself in music and audio, it’s not always that beneficial in terms of your situational awareness. You could, for example, step into danger because you didn’t hear an approaching car or miss an important announcement at a train station or airport. When training, you might miss your coach barking instructions at you while to groove away to your favourite tracks.
Apple’s Transparency mode lets you stay aware of the sounds around you by creating a mix of ambient noise and your internal audio, or even a phone call. The effect is quite impressive, and it even makes it easier to focus on voices and sounds in noisy environments than you might without your earbuds.
Transparency mode uses the external mics to pipe sounds into your ear that would otherwise be muffled by the silicon tips. There are also a series of vents that help balance the air pressure inside and outside your ear. Active Noise Cancellation is still enabled, which helps keep the world sounding natural, such as your own voice. Otherwise, when having a conversation with someone, your voice would sound like your fingers are stuck in your ears.