Without the large terrace in my old block of flats and my AirPods Pro, I would not have survived the lockdown. I’ve used the latter so often on long phone calls while walking the patio that one evening, when I was trying to take more steps than usual, they popped out of my sweaty ears and got trampled under my feet. The AirPods Pro have been my closest ally in my loneliness as well as in the claustrophobic environment of Zoom calls. Now the latest version is here and with some additional features for what are already the best truly wireless headphones on the market.
Truly wireless earbuds are hard to improve on, especially when the audio quality is already good. However, Apple has thought outside the box on how to achieve this and justified the gap between device updates. At first glance, you might think that almost nothing has changed in terms of design. But there are new elements here – a small lanyard loop, the ability to charge with the Apple Watch charger, and some speaker grills.
Why would the AirPods Pro case need speakers, you might ask? Well, that’s because Apple is trying to solve a problem that many users face, which is the case misplacement. Now you can use the FindMy app on your iPhone to search and find the case just like you would use the Apple AirTags. If you’re near the location and still can’t find it, there’s an option to make the case play a sound and that’s why these have speakers.
I first tested the feature at Ahmedabad airport while waiting for a flight, and it worked beautifully in the crowded room with multiple iPhones the device could ping. Back home in Noida, the AirPods still seem to show the airport as the location, even though it’s been over 10 days since I got back from Gujarat. I think it’s because the phone detects the AirPods are nearby and the earbuds are inside.
Setting up Apple devices is so easy. As soon as you take the AirPods Pro out of the box, the iPhone will guide you on what to do next. You’ll also be prompted to take photos of your ears to customize the spatial audio experience for you. Many other earbuds, notably from Sony, are doing this now. You can also check that the silicone tips fit perfectly, and the app will recommend if you need a better seal. All of this prepares you for the experience ahead.
The first AirPods Pro had very good noise cancellation. And Apple has really outdone itself with what it offers in this version. The noise cancellation is perfect in many ways, and it’s not just keeping the noise out. Once you wear the new AirPods Pro, it’s like wearing two capsules of silence. They simply negate the sharpest sounds and muffle everything else. And without creating the kind of negative space we identified with noise canceling in the early years.
If you travel in the US, you realize how popular the AirPods are as a product. It’s like everyone wears a pair. And this is where the new adaptive transparency feature of the new AirPods Pro is so innovative. In Transparency mode, AirPods instantly block out loud noises around you on their own. This is a great feature for those who wear these in urban settings.
The difference between Apple’s noise-cancelling and transparency modes also needs to be highlighted here. You have the noise canceling mode which negates most of the ambient noise around you. You can turn this off and hear what you would hear without the AirPods. But in transparency mode you actually hear a little better than natural. This is the best mode when you are with people or in a situation where you may need to interact with others, e.g. B. at an airport. In a noisy restaurant, this ensures you hear everyone at the dining table.
Using the AirPods Pro is very easy, especially if, like me, you’re a slave to the Apple ecosystem. For one, the AirPods know when they’re in your ears and turn on noise-cancellation automatically. Then they connect to your iPhone by default. If you’re working on the MacBook, you’ll be asked if you want to connect there. If you do this and later close the MacBook, it will be paired with the iPhone again.
Yesterday I was in the office canteen and didn’t realize I left the iPhone on my desk. A call came in and I had to answer it on the watch. Voila, the call was in my ear thanks to the AirPods, which I hadn’t previously paired with the Apple Watch Ultra I reviewed last week. That’s the ease of use you pay for, along with everything else.
But how good is the audio quality?
Well, let me tell you that spatial audio makes more sense on Apple devices than headphones from others. For example, I was listening to the latest episode of my favorite Empire podcast at Delhi airport and the spatial audio made me feel like I was in a room flanked by William Dalrymple and Anita Anand. The sense of space these tiny AirPod pros can recreate even while listening to a simple podcast is amazing.
And that goes to a whole new level when you’re listening to something from Apple Music produced for consumption with spatial audio and Dolby Atmos. Like Luke Comb’s performance hurricane because a live audience literally transports you to Charlotte. It is as close to reality as possible.
With something richer, like the title track of Garuda Gamana Vrishabha Vahanathe AirPods show their versatility. They fill your ears with layers and speed up the game when needed, but without trampling on the details that contribute so much to the composition. This is almost like examining the OST under a microscope, paying equal attention to notes large and small.
Ramin Djawadi’s Overture for Surreal is on a completely different spectrum. AirPod Pro’s near-surreal noise-cancellation blends with the soothing tones of Djawadi to create a satin pillow to sink into and soar into your own secluded worlds.
The AirPods are easy to control by pressing their stems to pause, play or skip a song. And you swipe up the level to increase the volume. But I preferred to use the iPhone for that, which was almost always nearby.
The battery life lasts for a week with regular use. If, like me, you’re also wearing AirPods all day to block out the noise that has begun to permeate our lives when we return to public spaces, then maybe you can get by for three days on a full charge. But the best part for me is how this can be juiced up on the wireless charger I keep on my office desk.
At Rs 26,900, the new AirPods Pro aren’t for everyone. But I’d happily stick my neck out and call these the best truly wireless headphones out there. Well, I’m not saying that because these have the best audio profile at the moment. There are models from Sony and Sennheiser that may be able to do this better, but no other earphones offer such a complete package as the AirPods Pro. This is a bundle of the best in noise cancellation, ease of use, convenience and audio quality, especially for Apple users. And that makes the AirPods Pro worth every penny you spend on it.