I just started testing Apple's new $249 AirPods Pro headphones, which land in stores tomorrow and are already available to order.
This isn't my review yet, but after about an hour with them I already have a pretty positive impression. They're expensive, yes, but they're also super nice.
Here's what I think so far:
Apple did a really good job with noise cancellation. I tested noise cancellation in a loud room with a lot of background noise and found that it drowned out most of the background noise so that I could clearly hear music and a podcast. I also placed a phone call on the side of a busy road in New York City and could hear clearly without noticing cars whizzing by.
You turn noise cancellation on by holding the arm of either AirPod Pro for a second or so, then switch to Transparency mode, which lets you hear important sounds in the world around you, by holding it again. You can also switch between the two modes, or turn them off, in the Control Center on your iPhone -- that's the settings menu you pull down from the top if it's a phone with Face ID, or pull up from the bottom if you have a home button.
You turn on noise cancellation on by holding the arm of either AirPod Pro for a second or so.
But if you hold it down for another second, you end up in Transparency mode, which lets you hear important sounds in the world around you, like announcements at a train station or, if you're running on a busy road, cars coming by. (You can hear people talking, too, but it seems more respectful to just pull the AirPods out out if you're having a conversation.) I like that it doesn't amplify outside noise too much. It's a nice balance of music and what I need to hear.
The AirPods Pro are far more comfortable than AirPods and the Amazon Echo Buds, which I recently reviewed. Apple did this in part by shortening the small plastic part inside of the headphones that usually protrudes out of the headphones and into the silicone buds. On other headphones, it can jam into parts of your ear and cause discomfort.
Also, Apple added vents so that, when noise cancelling is on, it doesn't feel like you've suddenly got a head cold and a lot of pressure.
To set the AirPods Pro up, just open the case and click a notification box that pops up on your phone. Apple presents a quick demo of how to use the new controls on the arm of the earbud (the part that hangs down). For example, a single squeeze pauses or plays music. A double squeeze moves to the next track. I like this option instead of the tap, since it means you're not tapping the headphone into your ear. You can say "Hey Siri" to ask anything at any time, too.
Apple has an "Ear Tip Fit Test" which analyzes the headphones when they're in your ears and tells you if there's a good seal. If there isn't, you can try another ear tip size. Apple includes three sizes in the box, which should appeal to folks who have complained that regular AirPods don't fit their ears. Do this while you're setting them up, but I found my ears had a good enough seal right with the buds that came on the AirPods Pro.
The AirPods Pro sounds really good so far. They still have a surprising amount of bass for their size, but you can still hear other parts of the songs, like highs and mids, pretty well. This was from a limited sample: I only listened to a few songs while I was writing this post. But, I'll keep listening and comparing to other headsets for my full review.
One early concern I have, though, is that when I called myself and left a voicemail I noticed that the call quality was pretty muffled, more so than I'm used to with my regular AirPods. A friend I called also noticed this. I'll see if this is a bigger issue over the coming days.
I'll test these during the coming days and on a flight across the country this weekend. I'm looking forward to seeing how the noise cancellation sounds on an airplane, where I usually bring my much larger Bose QC 35 headphones. And Apple promises up to 4.5 hours of battery life with the noise-cancellation on, so I hope that holds up for most of my flight.