October 31, 2019
Yesterday I was riding from the nearby T station towards the center of town to pick up our daughter from our nanny share. As always, I heard the surrounding traffic while listening to a podcast. After docking at the Blue Bike station at the end of my route, I lifted my hand to my ear and held the stem of my ear buds for a second and whoosh. The world went away. This is what it’s like to have the new AirPods Pro in my ears. I hear the noise when I need it and don’t when I want it to go away.
I am new to writing reviews of headphones. A company recently sent me a pair to review on my YouTube channel. In fact, two companies have sent some. But I am not yet at a professional reviewers level of experience. So I will not use those wishy-washy words to describe the feelings I experience as the tones smother my ears. That‘s as close as I can get and it just sounded stupid. I try to avoid sounding stupid. I will however tell you what I can see and hear and touch.
Earlier in the day I had just received the new AirPods Pro. Yeah, it’s kinda like a team of Attorneys General, so don’t say AirPod Pros. The package was unassuming and even the case inside the box was almost exactly the size I had gotten used to holding in my pocket for the last few years. But these weren’t my old AirPods.
When looking at the case, you can see these are different. Like someone glued the old ones shut, turned them over, and cut a new opening into the side. Somehow they also grew just a touch. When they are each in a pocket, I wouldn’t be able to tell which was which so they aren’t all that much bigger and in a few days I will probably forget that change.
The case holds a similar charge to my original model, but adds support for wireless charging. The only wireless charger I have is in my car, so I will have to try that feature on the next road trip. The earphones sit snugly in the case, just like the old model. It feels just about the same getting them out.
Putting these in my ears however is different. It requires being a little more fiddly. That’s probably just me getting used to it, but most ear buds with rubber tips are a little more fiddly. They sit and stay in my ears just as well as the old pair. You will probably have seen reviews where the talent will shake their heads wildly to prove how much better these sit in their ears. I don‘t know what they do for a living but I cannot imagine doing that to my head regardless of what I am listening to. The one action that did cause the regular AirPods to fall out was when I take off a sweater. I learned to take out the buds, then take off the sweater, then reseat them. The Pros allow me to skip the steps before and after sweater removal. Win for the AirPods Pro.
As with the originals, the new Pro model supports gestures to do a few automatic actions. One of my complaints about the original AirPods was the fact that there was one gesture… a double tap. I set one ear to skip forward on a double tab and to play or pause on the other ear. But I always wished I could use other patterns to do things like you can on wired buds. In Overcast when using the Apple wired buds, I could tap to do one thing, double tap to do another, triple does something else, along with a few other patterns. But no such luck with the AirPods.
The second complaint was that while I could listen to music, or a podcast, on the walk to and from the subway on my commute, I could not listen when on the subway. I just couldn’t turn the levels up high enough to hear anything. So I would have to play that game without a soundtrack, or heaven forbid, have to read an article…shudder.
The AirPods Pro are different. Put these things in while sitting in a quiet room and they don’t seem to be anything special. In a quiet room I am not sure I hear any difference between the originals and the pro model. But sitting under an industrial HVAC and the lower part of the rumble dissolves to nothing, just like with a bigger pair of noise cancellation headphones. But in a quiet room, I definitely hear the difference between some over ear headphones and the AirPods. The AirPods are… quieter.
While there isn’t a lot of hair up top, the sides of my head have just enough to rustle against the earcups of bigger headphones. And in a quiet room with no music, I hear that rustle. It’s annoying. AirPods are small enough that there is no rustle. Walking on the street with a pair of around the ear headphones, and other than looking like an idiot, that rustle is just too much. And then there is the weirdness of the air pressure. That pressure is something I never could put my finger on until putting Airpods Pro in my ears. Walking to the T was nice. I could block out the sound that I didn’t want to hear. I just heard my music at a regular level. Every part of the track was there and no major parts were missing. And no rustling of the hairs of my beard.
When I got onto to the Orange Line for my ride to Green Street, I kept my headphones in. I didn’t change the volume. I just kept on listening. It took a few stops for me to notice that I could hear everything perfectly. Either I got a train car with an upgraded sound dampening system, or these AirPods really do a good job. Then at the other end I got up to the surface and picked up a Blue Bike for the ride home. A long press of the stems and it goes to transparency mode. I could hear the cars coming up behind me and could avoid that pedestrian jumping around the corner. Drop off the bike on Center Street, long press the stem again, and the world disappeared again like it was never really there.
So based on this review so far, you probably think I am nuts; an Apple fan boy not to be trusted. But I have to say they aren’t perfect. I haven’t taken a flight so I have no idea what they will be like in that scenario. They will only last for 4.5 hours with noise cancelling on, so they will only be good for the shorter flights without a break. Again, it’s early days, but I don’t think I will want them on that long, anyway. Maybe I am just not used to them but they don’t feel as comfortable as the original model which I could easily forget I was still wearing. And a good pair of Bose cushions the ear so delicately that 18 hours in a single sitting is not a problem. One of my biggest complaints is that the only customization you can do is whether a long press on one ear is activating Siri and on the other ear is setting the noise cancellation mode. I cannot customize what happens with a tap, double tap, or triple tap. I would love for those gestures to do the defaults on one ear, and then maybe trigger some Siri shortcuts on the other.
But all in all, I think these new AirPods Pro are fantastic. For the price, I am really impressed. I expected them to be ok. In fact, I expected to have to return them, not being able to justify the cost. But I will not do that. If you find yourself in some noisy situations with the low rumble that noise cancellation does its magic on, then they are amazing. They cannot match the cancelation features of the new Bose 700, but they are definitely easier to pack, and AirPods don’t make me regret the beard or require me to think when removing a sweater. Who doesn’t care about those features?!?!
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