KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 15 — Whenever Apple makes a design that earns near-universal mockery, it's an almost guaranteed hit.
The original AirPods were the butt of many jokes but fast forward many years since their launch and there are so many knockoff AirPods it's hard to keep track.
Now the AirPods Pro are here to win over those not quite convinced by the AirPods. For the most part they address many of the non-Pro's shortcomings but hardcore audiophiles might beg to differ.
Familiar, but tweaked
Of course the first thing that's obvious is how much bigger the AirPods Pro case is. Its longer oblong shape is still pocketable and it's far from the largest wireless earbuds case out there.
The case needs to be bigger to accommodate the AirPods Pro buds that now come fitted with silicon tips that assure a better in-ear fit. It also supports wireless charging.
You have three sizes of tips and Apple even has a convenient app to test their fit that you can access from the Settings on your iPhone.
To access, connect your AirPods Pro and then head to Settings>Bluetooth and from My Devices, you should see the AirPods listed. Click on the information icon (that 'i') and then run the diagnostics test.
It's fairly straightforward and swapping out the tips is easy. You won't achieve a fit as snug as with a dedicated IEM and custom ear tips but the AirPod Pro's tips are at least comfortable.
What I appreciate most is that the Pro earbuds are easier to keep clean; the silicon tips help minimise the ear gunk on the main speaker grid (yeah, eww) unlike AirPods that will get dirty fairly easily if your earwax is the wet type.
Pairing was quick and seamless with the iPhone; not impossible with Android devices but you just need to jump an additional hoop.
What you do get with iOS is being able to check battery level, the Fit Test as well as being able to share audio via the Audio Sharing feature. Android still allows for active noise cancellation (ANC) and the Transparency mode.
The Transparency mode is pretty magical -- squeeze an AirPods Pro tip and you can switch easily between either ANC, Transparency or ANC turned off.
Transparency is the middle ground where there is some noise cancelling going on but you can still hear important sounds such as airport and train announcements or someone speaking to you, while your music still plays.
As for the noise cancellation, it's fairly effective and you can definitely feel the difference when you have it on. It makes music come to the fore without being spoiled by background noises and you don't have to turn up your volume to hear nuances in audio.
However the ANC isn't perfect as of course the silicon seal isn't quite as close a fit as custom ear tips or some other earbuds. In my area it made the sound of the busy highway disappear but on a train, I could still hear muffled conversations and train announcements.
My main problem with the non-Pro AirPods was that they sounded, of all things, better on some Android phones. This is partly because of how Apple approaches Bluetooth connectivity and insisting on its own AAC codec with iPhones not supporting the aptX standard.
The AirPods Pro's design that funnels the music more efficiently through the ear canal helps; you also get overall better sound that, while not close to the kind of quality you'd get from the Sony WF-1000XM3 it's fairly decent.
Apple tweaks the audio so you get a pleasant, averaged-out sound over the ranges. Maybe the bass isn't super-thumpy and the higher-ends aren't tinkly-bell clear but the sound is clear, pleasant and will sound good to the average users.
Serious audiophiles will likely still not find this quite up-to-par as Sony and Bose still have the edge as far as the audio quality is concerned, but for most other people the AirPods Pro are pretty decent.
Using it as a wireless hands-free device, I had no issues making or receiving calls and the microphones worked well enough there were no complaints about the audio quality on the call receiver's side.
Worth the money?
These are the AirPods Pro you need if you are a runner as they have a degree of water resistance that will make them able to hold up during workouts -- think running in the rain or sweating in the gym.
They're not made for swimming, though, as they're water-resistant and not waterproof.
If you're using an iPhone there are no other wireless earbuds that will offer the seamless "it just works" experience even if a Sony or Bose pair will arguably offer better audio.
The RM1,099 is steep but considering it works well with Siri, the Transparency mode is something you won't get with other earbuds and they're far less likely to fall out of your ears -- this might be a worthy buy for the iPhone music listener.
You can purchase the AirPods Pro from any official Apple retailer or online from the Apple webstore.
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