Mostly dubbed, often criticized, the Airpods have succeeded in establishing themselves as a benchmark in the audio accessories market. Apple is relaunching its cash machine with a Pro version that adopts the in-ear format. We used the Airpods Pro for several days. Here is our full test.
It's hard to miss the Airpods. Those that some call cotton swabs have managed to reach the general public. For their audio quality? Probably not. But Apple has been able to imagine a practical product (especially for iPhone users), simple to use and terribly effective on a daily basis. Their price, although high, remains within the reach of the greatest number and makes it possible to reinforce (or to access) this feeling of belonging to a community: if you wear your Airpods cotton swabs, you are trendy my darling!
Despite their phenomenal success, headphones struggle to convince the most sensitive ears. Faced with increasingly fierce competition, the American must win the hearts of music lovers and those who, punished by Mother Nature, arrived on our planet with non-Apple certified ears. Do you see the earphone that drops every two seconds?
With the Airpods Pro, this problem will no longer exist. They adopt the in-ear format (more stable) and incorporate active noise reduction technology. Apple thus promises to retain the practicality of the first Airpods while flattering the eardrums of informed users. Successful bet or much ado about nothing? So we tested them for several days.Summary
- Airpods Pro price and availability
- The Project
- Brand new design
- Features: simplicity according to Apple
- Passable autonomy
- Audio quality: it's much better
- Excellent everyday
Airpods Pro price and availability
Airpods Pro are available at a price of 279 euros on the official Apple website (personalized engraving offered) and at all partner distributors. As always, Apple positions its headphones in a premium segment. Among its main competitors, Sony's WF-1000XM3 intras stand out as the most serious alternative.
To create its Airpods Pro, Apple started from scratch. Designing in-the-ear headphones required breaking away from the first versions, which were totally different. The engineers therefore did their intraspection (Prize for the best pun 2019).
The idea was therefore to preserve the aesthetic identity of the Airpods while making the best use of the intra format and the active noise reduction. In order to reach an ever wider audience, Apple has chosen to provide the same experience to all users. It is therefore impossible to personalize the sound (with an equalizer for example) or to completely adjust the noise reduction yourself. You understood : Apple wouldn't be Apple if it didn't impose its style a bit. Regardless, if the result is up to par and meets the needs of as many people as possible, Apple will have accomplished its mission.
Brand new design
Mockery and jeers surround the design of the first Airpods of the name. This did not prevent them from being a hit, so much so that they have established themselves as fashion products. Nevertheless, Apple has listened to the critics: no more cotton swabs… Well, in part. The Apple retains the same format, but shortens the stem. More discreet, it is perfectly oriented towards the mouth for voice capture (still just as good, we will come back to this).
The most observant will note the presence of a small hollow: it is a capacitive button allowing you to control the music (short presses) or to navigate (long press) between the different listening modes (active noise reduction, passive or transparent mode).
At the intersection of the stem and the mouthpiece, a grille protects the external microphone and filters the wind for a clear reproduction of the voice. Apple also leaves space for the passage of air to avoid the clog effect caused by pressure. This corrects a point often criticized by the “anti-intras” and makes the Airpods Pro much more pleasant to wear than the competitors. Especially since its light weight (5,4 g) enhances comfort.
Finally, Apple had the good idea to include the earpiece in the head. Most of the time, this small piece of plastic sticks out slightly. And although it is surrounded by a rubber, you can sometimes feel the edges of plastic, which can cause irritation. Here, the tip that is inserted into the ear canal, more flexible, makes the whole thing more pleasant. The icing on the cake, changing tips (three sizes are included in the box) remains very simple.
The new format of the Airpods Pro forces Apple to change that of the case. The shorter stems led engineers to adopt a horizontal format, like the Sony WF-1000XM3. Nevertheless, the Pommes brains managed to keep a compact body (45,2 x 60,6 x 21,7 mm). You can therefore always slip them just as easily into a pocket, including the zippo pocket of jeans. Only small complaint: it does not seem as solid as the vertical case of the first Airpods (creaking noises, small game in the opening system).
Finally, let us specify that Airpods Pro only come in glossy white contrary to rumors. There are therefore no (for the moment) black Airpods Pro, even if the opposite would have pleased us.
Features: simplicity according to Apple
Let's answer the Airpods compatibility question once and for all: yes, they can be used with Android smartphones/tablets or Windows PCs. BUT the experience will never be as pleasant as with a Pommé product. Apple puts its customers first and makes things much easier when using its devices. An iPhone (or iPad) spots the Airpods Pro in a matter of seconds upon opening the case. A window then appears at the bottom of the screen and facilitates pairing: in 10 seconds, you're done.
With this Pro version and the arrival of noise reduction, Apple goes further. In order to benefit from an optimal sound quality, it accompanies the user in the choice of earmolds in order to personalize the noise reduction. Thanks to the two microphones (internal and external) and the H1 chip, Airpods Pro scan the ear canal of each ear and determine which tips are the most suitable. For some users, the tip of the left ear may be different from that of the right ear. Once this configuration is complete, you can use the Airpods Pro. Operation time: five minutes (if you need to change the tips).
Apple offers three listening modes: neutral (passive noise reduction), noise cancellation (active noise reduction) and transparency. The first isolates external sounds passively. Basically, intras clog your ear. The second triggers active noise reduction. The headphones analyze outside sounds 200 times per second (according to Apple) and, thanks to the H1 chip, further isolate you. By the same process, the Transparency mode reconstructs external sounds and simulates the use of conventional headphones. You hear more surrounding noise.
These three listening options are available from the iPhone Quick Settings. On Android, you will have to go directly through the headphones: a long press on the stem allows you to switch from one mode to another.
Last but not least, the arrival of iOS 13 rhymes with shared listening. You can temporarily stream the music to another pair of Airpods. We tested this feature with the Airpods Pro in public transport: again, the configuration is efficient and fast.
The autonomy of the Airpods Pro varies greatly depending on the use you will make of it. Count average four hours of continuous use, provided you do not abuse the active noise reduction and/or the Transparent mode. In this case, count rather 3h30 of listening. The box promises 24 hours of additional battery life: like previous Airpods, just put them away for charging to begin. Apple does not reach the performance of competitors and in particular Sony intras (with an unpronounceable name) which allow nearly 6 hours of continuous listening.
Apple provides a (damn) lightning cable with a USB-C termination. On the other hand, she did not see fit to provide a power supply in the box. After all, everyone has this type of charger, right? In short, count 1h30 for a complete recharge of the case and the headphones.
Audio quality: it's much better
At the risk of offending fanboys, the first two versions of Airpods did not shine with their audio quality, which was just mediocre. Good news, the Airpods Pro sign the beginning of a new era (well, we hope so).
Much better than their predecessors, they finally legitimize their rather high price. The Airpods Pro are intended for the general public, the Apple therefore takes no risk. The sound is balanced with good bass and pleasant mids. The highs are sometimes on the tightrope (slight distortion), but the whole remains very convincing. In general and whatever the style of music, Airpods Pro pump out warm, round sound that's pleasing to the ear. Podcast lovers will appreciate.
Despite these good points, they remain below the competition and in particular the WF-1000XM3 intras from Sony. Firstly because they have much more character. But especially because Sony authorizes the personalization of the listening thanks to an equalizer, which Apple does not offer. La Pomme prefers to control its product from start to finish (surprising, isn't it?). Adaptive EQ automatically adjusts mids and bass to suit the user's environment and music style. Apple consensus? Yes, but effective.
The author of these lines was among those allergic to Apple headphones. Not by choice, but by default: they never fit in his ears. The Airpods Pro are therefore a blessing since they hold up perfectly, even during intense sports sessions.
Waiting around the bend, Apple masters active noise reduction very well. In the metro, the train, in the city center or next to a jackhammer (yes, we also tested this situation), the insulation is stunning. The Apple clearly has nothing to envy to the intras of Sony. On the other hand, contrary to what some (fanboys?) repeat on social networks, the insulation of a helmet remains much better. The Transparent mode, on the other hand, reproduces the surrounding noise perfectly. In this little game, Apple outclasses all its competitors.
Finally, the quality of telephone calls, a strong point of previous versions, remains very good. The shortened stem does nothing: the voice is clear and the attenuation of ambient noise exemplary.
Thus, Apple fulfills its mission perfectly. Airpods stand out as excellent daily intras, almost flawless in public transport and extremely effective in all environments. Provided, of course, that you use them with an iPhone or iPad.