If you're in the market for a pair of new wireless earbuds and you also happen to own an Apple smartphone or tablet, chances are the Apple AirPods and AirPods Pro are on your radar.
The Apple AirPods Pro sit above Apple's second-generation AirPods. They're priced at £250 ($250), so demand quite a premium over the £159 ($159) AirPods 2, but they do boast an all-new design, active noise-cancellation and some unique features.
But the big question is are they worth buying over the standard AirPods? Alternatively, if you already own a pair of the AirPods, is it worth upgrading? Read on, and we'll explain which we think is better...
The Apple AirPods 2 don't have any form of noise-cancelling tech – you'll have to rely on noise isolation from the buds themselves.
The AirPods Pro address that. They feature (extremely effective) active noise cancellation that is continuously adjusted 200 times per second. Noises such as the thrum of a train are more or less completely eradicated, while less predictable sounds such as office chatter are reduced to a whisper.
The Pro buds also boast 'Transparency' mode. It comes in handy when cycling or jogging, since it allows sound in from the outside world. it works beautifully, achieving a nice blend between your music and the outside world – without sounding too synthetic.
*Winner: Apple AirPods Pro*
The 2nd Gen AirPods (2019) deliver up to five hours battery life, with another 19 hours added by the charging case. The AirPods Pros claim a little less – 4.5 hours – plus 19 hours from the charging case. (To get the maximum battery life out of the AirPods Pro, you'll need to disable noise-cancelling).
Both AirPods have similarly-sized wireless charging cases, which are compatible with Qi-based wireless charging mats. The Pros come with the wireless charging case as standard, whereas the 2nd generation AirPods are available with the standard charging case (£159/$159) or a wireless charging case (£199/$199).
If either pair runs out of charge, five minutes back in the case will give you another hour of listening.
*Winner: Apple AirPods*
Design and fit
In theory, the standard AirPods should fit any ear thanks to Apple's 'universal fit'. In reality, that's not always the case, and there's no way to adjust the fit if they do feel a bit loose.
The AirPods Pro offer a much more customisable fit, with silicone tips in a range of sizes. And if you’re not sure which to use, Apple will help you find the correct fit thanks to the built-in 'Ear Tip Fit Test' which you can run once the headphones are in place.
While the noise-cancelling AirPods Pro are designed to fit snugly, they also feature tiny air vents to reduce that pressurised feeling that you often get from in-ear noise-cancelling headphones. It's a welcome addition if you're sensitive to that kind of thing.
Planning on taking your Apple earbuds to the gym? The AirPods Pros are far better suited to sporty adventures too - they're IPX4 sweat- and water-resistant (standard AirPods offer no water resistance).
*Winner Apple AirPods Pro*
Thanks to a combination of Apple's splendid H1 chip and Bluetooth 5.0, both the AirPods and AirPods Pro offer flawless wireless performance and supremely quick pairing.
We haven't experienced dropouts with either and find Apple's automatic pairing (insert an earphone and it instantly connects to your phone) to be predictably quick and responsive.
Both the Apple AirPods 2 and AirPods Pro can be controlled with the power of your voice – Apple's H1 chip enables the buds to act upon any “hey Siri” voice commands.
What's more, both models have touch controls – albeit in a slightly different form.
The AirPods are touch-sensitive; touch once to play or answer a phone call, touch twice to skip a song, and so on. The AirPods Pro have a small ridge on each stem which you squeeze to switch noise-canceling modes, skip tracks, pause music and answer calls.
One disappointment common to both AirPods is that Siri is the only method for adjusting volume without reaching into your pocket for your phone's controls. If that's a deal-breaker, you might be better off with the Beats Powerbeat Pro buds.
Apple's 2nd generation AirPods brought extra loudness and a touch more sonic sophistication to proceedings. As with most Apple products, sound is clean, neutral and nicely balanced. Like the pricer Pros, the standard AirPods don't have a ton of bass, but if you like sparkling vocals, they're great pound-for-pound performers.
As for the Pros, there's no artificial boosting of bass or treble enhancement. The midrange is where the AirPods Pros really shine, with plenty of texture and detail, with no hint of brightness. They sound richer and fuller than the AirPods 2 and dig out a bit more detail. We did find the Pros performed slightly better with the noise-cancelling switched off, though.
Overall, the Pros are the best-performing AirPods we've heard to date, but they're not quite able to match the sound quality of the Sony WF-1000XM3, which are still the best wireless earbuds we've heard at this kind of money.
*Winner: Apple AirPods Pro*
Firstly, you should know both pairs of AirPods offer a great user experience, especially if you're already an iPhone user. You also need to take into account the rather large price difference.
You could save yourself over £100 ($100) by opting for the 2nd generation AirPods and you'll even get marginally better battery life. And there are some great AirPods deals around right now, so it could be even more.
But, the AirPods Pro up the ante and justify their premium price tag with state-of-the-art noise-cancelling, improved comfort, sportier credentials and better sound quality.
If your budget allows it, we'd opt for the AirPods Pro, but if you can only stretch to the standard AirPods (and you're happy with the fit) they'll still serve you extremely well.