They’re finally here: Apple today announced the AirPods Pro, a noise-cancelling, (presumably) better-sounding variant of its extremely popular true wireless earbuds. This marks the first time Apple has introduced a ‘serious’ headphone since 2008’s Apple In-Ear headphones.
By serious, I mean a headphone that actually prioritizes sound quality. While the AirPods are decent for what they are, they won’t win any prizes for their fidelity. It’s difficult to make an earbud with a proper bass balance unless you create a seal with the ear canal. The AirPods Pro do just that, as Apple‘s first headphones to use ear tips since the aforementioned 2008 model.
Because the headphones now create a proper seal, they will presumably block out more sound by default. On top of this, Apple has added active noise canceling, which uses two microphones to capture and mitigate background noise. The company says the microphones “continuously adapt the sound signal about 200 times per second.
But many AirPods users liked them precisely because they didn’t require a seal. It means a more comfortable fit for those with persnickety ear canals, and it means you have better awareness of the outside world. Apple claims it has you covered. The AirPods Pro introduce a ‘pressure-equalizing vent system’ that purportedly minimizes discomfort sometimes seen in other in-ear designs. The company also includes a ‘transparency’ mode, which you might’ve heard called an ‘ambient’ or ‘awareness’ mode on other products.
This typically uses the microphones to augment the sound you hear rather than cancel it out, but Apple says it uses its pressure-equalizing system to leave just the right amount of noise-cancelling active to ensure natural sounding voices. It’s a handy feature to have should you want to be aware of your surroundings or want to be able to listen to the outside world while still getting notifications and the like. You’ll be able to activate it right from the earbuds with a tap.
On the sound quality front, Apple claims ‘consistent, rich bass down to 20 Hz.’ This is not particularly remarkable, as that’s something literally every half-decent earbud does. But that doesn’t matter, because the AirPods Pro are for people who loved or wanted AirPods, but wished they came with better sound. The keyword here is ‘consistent,’ as creating a seal with your ear allows for a far more stable acoustic environment than an open design.
The earbuds feature a custom high-excursion, low distortion dynamic driver, which seems to be a new design. Moreover, Apple says the AirPods Pro include ‘Adaptive EQ,’ which automatically modifies low and mid frequencies to the shape of your ear.
As someone who prioritizes sound quality in my earbuds, this is the first time I’ve ever had the slightest interest in AirPods. For those who already loved the reliability and ease of use of AirPods, but wanted better sound quality, it might be a dream come true. Sound quality was always the main advantage competitors had over the AirPods. If the AirPods Pro live up to their promise, everyone else will have to step their game up.
The AirPods Pro will be available to order online for $249 from October 30th, and will be available in stores “beginning later this week.”