'Tipped' to impress
Tune out the noise and hear it all with the Apple AirPods Pro
They still look like brushes dangling from your ears - only shorter and with a whole new bag of tricks - and Apple wants you to hear all about it.
After gifting the 'Pro' tag to the high-end iPhone 11 units, Apple's back at it with the spanking-new AirPods Pro. And you can bet there should be something special if an Apple device has that suffix.
With the two previous AirPods, Apple basically just sliced off the cables from the EarPods and voila. With the AirPods Pro, a major revamp was made: It now comes with silicone eartips that play a critical part in this whole endeavour.
The AirPods Pro retains the looks of what came before it, coming in an immaculate white finish, only shorter and wider. The LED indicator remains up front just like the second-generation AirPods. In the box, you get small and large pairs of silicone eartips (medium is slapped on by default), plus a USB-C-to-Lightning charging cable, which may pose a problem for those who don't have a wall plug or any place else with a USB-C port. An alternative: Its case supports wireless charging.
If you've been using AirPods, you know the drill when it comes to connecting it: Just open it near your iPhone and once it's detected, go ahead and connect it.
You may also notice that there's a tiny flat part on the stems of the AirPods Pro that face front when you're wearing them: Those are home to what Apple calls force sensors, which - unlike the previous AirPods that you need to tap on the sides - you can press in order to control this new gizmo.
This is like force touch on MacBooks, only on a really smaller scale. And it works like controls on other headsets: Press once to play, pause or answer a call; twice to skip a track forward; thrice to skip backward; and long press to switch between noise cancellation and transparency. It works well, and its placement up-front ensures that you won't have a problem pressing it. On the Bluetooth menu of your iPhone, tapping on the 'i' icon to the right of AirPods Pro will take you to an expanded menu in which you can tinker around with your AirPods Pro. You can also customise what will happen when you long-press each 'Pod, either to switch between noise controls or call Siri.
The neatest thing in this menu is the Ear Tip Fit Test. Slip on the AirPods Pro and go ahead with the test; it'll play a short music clip to determine if the silicone tips currently being used provide the best seal to maximise sound quality and noise control. If green comes out, you're good to go; otherwise, swap the eartips with those in the box to check your fit.
As far as the sound quality is concerned, it's excellent. Apple says the innards are customised and has an adaptive equaliser. Compared to the previous AirPods, I've felt - heard, rather - richer sound. Active noise cancellation pretty much does its work; it doesn't really block everything out 100 per cent, but you can feel the serenity when it's active. Transparency mode, meanwhile, is very good.
Which leads us to a little drawback: There is no way you can adjust EQ or noise control levels. Battery life remains the same, with up to five hours in one go - but that's with noise cancellation and transparency off; use these and that'll go down by half-an-hour. Important: You'll need to have the latest versions of Apple's operating systems installed on your devices to enjoy everything we've discussed.
Dare I say it, Apple's up to its old tricks again: A new take on something that's already there. The price is, again, up there, but to be fair, it's a minimal difference from its competitors. That said, there's a very interesting thought to this: There are other competing wireless earbuds that may sound better to the strictest technical sense, so there is room for improvement for Apple. And this makes us look forward to when the next Pro sounds off.
Chip: Apple H1
Audio: Active noise cancellation, transparency, adaptive EQ, custom driver/amplifier
Sensors: Optical, motion-/speech-detecting accelerometer, force sensor
Connectivity: Bluetooth 5.0
Durability: IPX4, sweat-, water-resistant
Battery: Up to 5h; over 24h with charging case
Pros: Better sound, good noise controls, faster connections, customisable fit
Cons: Max battery life remains the same, USB-C cable could pose compatibility issue, higher-priced, needs app for more customisation
Author's rating: 4/5