Apple's (AAPL) AirPods Pro are set to hit the market on Oct. 30, and they're generating quite a bit of buzz. The earbuds aren't so much a replacement for the standard AirPods, as they are a more premium version.
That also means you'll pay about $50 more for the $250 AirPods Pro with wireless charging case than for the AirPods with wireless charging case, which run $199.
The AirPods Pros have been highly anticipated for some time now, and these are their best features: active noise cancellation; audio transparency; a new design that helps them fit better; touch controls; and a feature that lets you send music from one iPhone to multiple earbuds.
Active noise cancellation
The original AirPods provided quality audio in a compact package with plenty of battery life. According to IDC, the AirPods are also the best-selling earbuds in the world. But the AirPods, unlike some of their competitors, didn't offer active noise-cancelling technology. Sony, for example, offers active noise cancelling on its WF1000XM3 earbuds, but those start at $229 compared to the standard AirPods’ $159 price point.
Active noise cancellation, or ACN, uses external microphones on a pair of earbuds, to listen to ambient noise, then feed an equal, but opposite, sound into your ear to cancel it out.
Apple has now added the feature, and it makes a big difference in the listening experience. But to ensure any ambient noise you do hear doesn't cause that muffled, underwater sound, Apple built vents into the AirPod Pros that let air pass between the outside of the earbuds and your ear canal.
This also helps ensure that you can still have a conversation with someone standing in front of you without screaming at them, since the sound of your own voice will sound just about normal to you.
ACN is a great feature to have when you're sitting in a busy office, or trying to relax on a crowded flight. But it's not exactly perfect when you're biking around town, or trying to listen to announcements during your morning commute.
To address that, Apple has added what it calls a Transparency mode. When active, Transparency uses the AirPod Pros’ various microphones — there are three on each AirPod Pro — and pumps the ambient noise you into your ears.
The function doesn't enhance the sound around you, so you can't, say, spy on your coworker across the office, but it does let you hear things like people, sirens, and passing cars as if you didn't have a pair of earbuds in.
A new design
Part of the reason you'd even need the Pros’ Transparency mode is that the earbuds now come complete with silicone ear tips. See, in order for Apple to offer ANC, it needed to create a seal within your ear to prevent external noise from getting past the buds. The tips accomplish that goal by effectively plugging your ears.
Unlike other earbuds, though, the Pros don't use a plastic peg that is then covered in a silicone tip to sit in your ear. Instead, the tip itself has a plastic core from which the silicone juts out. That core sits just outside of your ear, making it feel more comfortable than competing earbuds.
To figure out which tip is right for your particular ear, Apple added a tip-sizing feature that utilizes the AirPods’ microphones and speakers and plays a quick tune to ensure audio isn't escaping from the Pros. If it does, you'll get a notification telling you to reposition the Pros or try on a new tip.
The original AirPods included touch controls that let you activate Siri, pause and play music, answer calls, and skip tracks by tapping their sides. But since the AirPods Pros now have tips that go into your ears, Apple didn't want to rely on controls that would essentially make you push the Pros deeper into your ear canals.
To that end, the company has added touch controls to the stems of the Pros. Those stems, which are now shorter than the original AirPods', have a flat-touch surface that you can squeeze to interact with the Pros. You can long squeeze them to change between ANC and Transparency, double-squeeze to change songs, squeeze them three times to rewind, and more.
You'll hear a small click in your ear when you activate the touch feature, letting you know that the command has been accepted.
If you don't want to control the Pros via their touch controls, you can long-press the volume slider in the Control Center on your iPhone to pull up a menu that lets you switch between ACN, Transparency, or turn off both features entirely.
This is a feature that is available along with iOS 13.2, but it's worth mentioning as you need that software to use the Pros. Audio sharing allows you to temporarily send audio from one iPhone or iPad to multiple Apple or Beats earbuds or headphones.
To set up the feature you can bring a pair of AirPods, for example, close to your iPhone while listening to music. You then press the sync button on the back of the AirPods case and that's it. You'll be able to quickly share audio in less than a minute.
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