After months of rumors and hints found in its operating systems, Apple has finally announced the AirPods Pro. Available for $249, they feature a tweaked design with shorter stems and silicone eartips and provide better sound, active noise cancelling, and come with a wireless charging case.
Here’s what you need to know about Apple’s new high-end AirPods.
Update 10/30/19: AirPods Pro are now available. We’ve updated our FAQ with information about replacement tips, too.
Do they have active noise-cancelling?
Yes, the big new feature of the AirPods Pro is active noise cancelling. AirPods Pro continually adapts to outside noise using a pair of microphones and software.
An outward-facing microphone detects external sound to analyze environmental noise. Then, an equivalent anti-noise wave is calculated and mixed into the audio going into the user’s ear. An inward-facing microphone listens toward the ear, and AirPods Pro cancels remaining noise detected by that microphone.
Noise cancellation continuously adapts the sound environment 200 times per second.
What’s this about a new design?
The AirPods Pro look very much like the now-iconic AirPods, only tweaked. The ‘buds now have soft silcone eartips.
The stems are shorter, too. In all, the AirPods Pro are about 30mm (1.22 inches) tall. Regular AirPods are 40mm (1.59 inches) tall.
And you can get them in any color you want, as long as it’s white.
Do they sound better than AirPods?
They should! Having silicone eartips to produce a seal in your ears is an important part of producing good low-end sound for in-ear earbuds. That alone should improve the audio profile of the AirPods Pro.
Apple points to a number of other improvements. There’s Adaptive EQ, which “automatically tunes the low- and mid-frequencies of the music to the shape of an individual’s ear” and a custom high dynamic range amplifier that “produces pure, incredibly clear sound while also extending battery life.”
There’s a new custom sound driver, too. All these things should produce significantly better sound than regular AirPods, though we’ll have to see how they fare against other similarly-priced in-ear earbuds.
What’s Transparency Mode?
As with the new Beats Solo Pro (and most active noise-cancelling headphones these days), Apple offers a “Transparency Mode” that leaves some noise-cancelling active, while also piping in some sound from the outside world using the external microphones.
This helps your own voice sound more natural, and allows you to hear traffic on a busy street, for example. It’s an important safety feature.
How do I control AirPods Pro?
There’s a new “force sensor” on the stem that is used to engage noise cancelling or transparency mode, or play/pause and skip tracks. It’s like a virtual button that doesn’t actually move.
Press once to play/pause tracks or answer phone calls. Press twice to skip forward. Press three times to skip back. Press-and-hold to toggle between noise cancelling and transparency mode, or to invoke Siri (you can switch its function in the Bluetooth settings on on your iPhone).
Can I use “Hey Siri” hands-free?
Sure can! The AirPods Pro use the same H1 chip found in the second-generation AirPods, PowerBeats Pro, and Beats Solo Pro. You can invoke Siri by simply saying “Hey Siri” just like you can on your iPhone.
How much do they cost?
The AirPods Pro cost $249. There’s only the one model—no colors or options. Regular AirPods can be bought with a regular Charging Case for $159 or with a Wireless Charging Case for $199. The AirPods Pro only come with a Wireless Charging Case—so in effect they cost $50 more than the similarly-equipped AirPods.
As with regular AirPods, you can add a free engraved message.
Can I get AppleCare+?
Yes. Just as with regular AirPods, AppleCare+ costs $29 on the AirPods Pro.
If you need to get your AirPods Pros replaced, it costs $29 per item (each earbud, or the Wireless Charging Case) if you have AppleCare+. If you don’t, each item costs $89 to replace. The AppleCare+ replacement costs are identical to the AirPods, but the out-of-warranty costs are $30 higher per item.
What if I lose the eartips?
Apple is said to offer replacement eartips for $4, though they’re not yet listed on Apple’s site.
How long do the batteries last?
Apple says the batteries last for up to five hours of listening time without noise cancelling, and 4.5 hours with it. You get 3.5 hours of talk time on phone calls.
By recharging in the case, you get “over 24 hours” of listening time and 18 hours of talk time.
They do. You can only purchase AirPod Pro with a Wireless Charging Case, in fact. They’ll charge with any Qi-certified charging mat (just like the iPhone). You can always plug in a Lightning connector to charge it up, too.
Are they waterproof?
Not really. Apple calls them “sweat- and water- resistant for non-water sports and exercise,” and they have an IP rating of IPX4.
That means you should be fine sweating all over them when you work out and you shouldn’t worry about getting caught in the rain, but you shouldn’t dunk them under the faucet to rinse them off or try jumping into a pool.
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I have written professionally about technology for my entire adult professional life - over 20 years. I like to figure out how complicated technology works and explain it in a way anyone can understand.