The H1 chip also enables Hands-free Siri. I won't dwell on this since it isn't new, but the ability to summon the virtual assistant without reaching for your phone or tapping an earbud remains an underrated luxury. Especially when you have your hands full or are otherwise occupied. Other companies may beat Apple in terms of noise cancellation and overall sound quality, but always-on Siri it a key advantage for AirPods (and some Beats headphones).
Sound quality is noticeably better on the AirPods Pro than the previous models. Apple employs what it calls Adaptive EQ, which automatically tunes the low- and mid-range frequencies to each user's ear. There's also a built-in amplifier that Apple says enhances clarity while also optimizing battery life. It's a lot of techspeak, but the end result is much better audio quality than even the most recent AirPods can muster.
There's great clarity to the sound, with things like snare drums, synth riffs and snappy kick drums popping through the rest of the instruments. Often with earbuds, the sound can seem like compressed noise being blasted into your ears. The better true wireless models overcome this, and Apple does, too. On Survive's RR7400: LG041717, for example, the synths and drum machines created a layered soundscape with obvious depth. And on more bass-heavy tracks like Phantogram's "Mister Impossible," that low-end tone just purrs. There's some pleasant thump, but it's restrained, so it never becomes overpowering.
During long listening sessions, the AirPods Pro remain comfortable. They feel like they go just far enough into my ear to get a good seal, but not quite as far as other true wireless earbuds. This makes them a lot more comfy. It also makes them feel like they could fall out at any moment, but somehow they never do. It's just a different feel and fit than I'm used to, but it's much more enjoyable. Even after nearly five straight hours trying to drain the battery, I didn't feel like I was suffering to keep them in -- and that's rarely the case.
With noise cancellation and Transparency turned off, Apple says you can expect the same battery life as the previous AirPods: five hours. Turn on ANC and you'll get up to 4.5 hours of listening or 3.5 hours of talk time on a charge. I found those estimates to be pretty accurate, though I managed 4 hours 45 with noise cancellation on during what I'd consider a "regular" work day and the volume at 75 percent or higher. When you add in the case, you're looking at up to 24 hours of total listening time. Apple says with five mins of charging in the case, the AirPods Pro will give about an hour of use. Like the previous model, they also come with a wireless charging case that will work with any Qi-certified mat. I haven't yet committed to wireless charging at home, but it's handy if you have the necessary gear.
At $249, the AirPods Pro are squarely in premium true wireless territory, where most of the flagship models from other companies reside. They're $19 more than Sony's stellar WF-1000XM3, which offer better sound quality, more powerful ANC and last an hour and a half longer. However, the AirPods Pro have hands-free Siri and a more comfortable fit. So it comes down to your priorities, really.
Amazon's $130 Echo Buds have hands-free access to Alexa, but the sound quality isn't outstanding. And that set only has Active Noise Reduction, which doesn't perform as well as true active noise cancellation. Still, Amazon's take on true wireless earbuds are nearly $120 cheaper than the AirPods Pro. Even with the caveats, that will be enough to sway some -- especially the Alexa die-hards. Apple also has the Powerbeats Pro in its arsenal. Despite an absurdly huge case, Beats' true wireless earbuds sound great and offer hands-free Siri, but the over-ear hook design isn't for everyone. But if you can go without ANC and wireless charging, they will save you $49.
The AirPods Pro are a definite upgrade on both AirPods models that came before. ANC works well, and on the whole, the added features make these the best true wireless earbuds Apple has built thus far. The design still isn't for everyone. But for early adopters whose first-gen AirPods are likely approaching the end of their life, the AirPods Pro is worth the extra investment when it's time to snag a new pair. If you've been considering AirPods, but haven't yet committed, do yourself a favor and make the splurge. You'll be happy you did, especially if you need Siri to always be listening.