Apple’s AirPod Pro earbuds add active noise-cancelling

They start shipping this week.
Apple Airpods Pro

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This story was originally published on Oct. 28th, 2019.

Apple’s AirPods Pro earbuds are the most popular Bluetooth headphones on the planet at the moment. This morning, however, the company announced its new AirPod Pro headphones, which add active noise-canceling, improved sound, and a redesigned form factor with interchangeable tips. The Pro model costs $250, which is a significant jump up from the $179 price point on the original AirPods wireless earbuds. Here’s a look at what you’ll get if you plop down the cash when they start shipping on Wednesday.

Noise-canceling technology of the AirPods Pro

Apple has clearly been spending considerable time working on its active noise-canceling tech lately. Just a few weeks ago, Beats (which Apple owns), introduced its new Solo Pro on-ear wireless headphones. The $300 phones are shaped much differently than the minuscule AirPod Pro, but the tech inside appears to be very familiar.

The Apple AirPods Pro uses a pair of built-in microphones to listen to the ambient sound around you and create enough active noise canceling (ANC) to block out what it considers an appropriate amount. So, when you’re on a plane, it’s cranked. When you’re walking around on the street, it may back off so you don’t get hit by a bus.

The ANC level adjusts 200 times every second, according to Apple. Though, if the company follows the same tactics as the Beats Solo Pro, the actual transition should be smooth and almost imperceptible to the listener.

Also, like the Solo Pro, the high-end Apple AirPods have a transparency mode that listens to your surroundings and actually pumps outside sounds in so you can talk to people or perform other hearing-intensive activities without taking the pricy little nuggets of technology out of your ears and risk losing them.

AirPods Pro
The charging case holds enough extra juice for roughly 20 more hours of listening. Apple

Swappable silicon tips

Personally, regular AirPods barely fit my ears—they just refuse to stay in. The AirPods Pro, however, use swappable silicone tips that come in three sizes out of the box. In addition to helping with the fit, these also create a tighter seal around the ear to provide some old-fashioned sound isolation to go with the active noise canceling.

While the fitness-specific Powerbeats Pro still likely provide a better workout experience, the Apple AirPod Pro is rated to endure sweat and moisture from other sources, like rain. You can’t swim in them or accidentally dunk them in the bath (or worse, the toilet), but they should stand up to typical workout activities.

When you’re wearing them, each AirPod Pro listens to the sound in and around your ear to determine if the tip is providing a tight seal and it will recommend you swap them if it thinks you need to swap for a better fit.

Apple AirPods Pro battery

If you’re hoping for lots more AirPods Pro battery life, you might be disappointed to find out that you can still expect the same five hours of listening in standard mode. Kicking on the active noise canceling drops that time down to 4.5 hours, and talking into them for calls or video chats will further drop that down to 3.5 hours.

The battery case holds several full charges, and you can get up to 24 total hours of listening if you stop to recharge it regularly. The case charges wirelessly via induction or by the standard Lightning cable, just like the latest non-pro AirPods.

Apple AirPod Pro
The AirPod Pro has touch-sensitive controls that let you perform actions with taps. Apple

What else is new in these Apple headphones?

As with the Solo Pro headphones, you can use a series of taps to tell the Apple AirPods Pro what to do. Siri will also always listen when you summon it, as you’d expect from headphones using Apple’s H1 chip inside.

At $250, these are a big price jump from the $179 standard models, but if the noise-canceling in the Beats Solo Pro is any indicator, it will perform really well. It could make a big difference for frequent travelers or people who work in noisy environments and need more isolation than typical AirPods offer. If you decide to buy these earbuds, they price tag makes them worth taking good care of. Make sure you know how to clean AirPods to ensure prolonged use.