Two weeks ago Apple announced and released the 16 inch MacBook Pro. This was around two weeks after the AirPods Pro were announced and released. In typical new Apple product fashion, the AirPods Pro were sold out at the Apple Store near me almost immediately. A week after launch they were supposed to be back in stock on November 22. When the new MacBook Pro was announced I took another look at the in-store stock and saw they were once again carrying the AirPods Pro so I biked over and picked up a pair to try. Even though I have reviewed the Surface Headphones and the second generation AirPods I am not an audiophile. My music collection is not all vinyl records and it is not all FLAC copies either. I try to focus on what I notice when using them and their functionality. The same would be true for AirPods Pro as well but they come with a feature not typically seen on earbuds, active noise cancellation. This feature along with the fact that they provide a better seal in the ear make AirPods Pro a really good pair of earbuds with only a few downsides.
The two major things I like about these earbuds is the active noise cancellation and their fit in ear. Compared to the last pair of AirPods, AirPods Pro are 100% better because they fit in ear 100% better. Apple provides three differently sized ear tips so you can get the best fit possible while using AirPods Pro. The ear tips also provide the benefit of blocking out some outside noise. I will call this natural blocking of noise due to the shape and design of the earpiece, noise isolation. When testing AirPods Pro I compared against two other earpieces, the Jabra Elite Active 65t and the Surface Headphones. Below is how I would rate the earpieces when it comes to noise isolation.
- Jabra Elite
- AirPods Pro
- Surface Headphones
The Jabra Elite earbud is larger than a single AirPod and the eartip goes a little deeper into the ear canal as well. This allows the Jabra Elite to block out more noise than AirPods Pro, when it is in the "Off" mode, meaning no noise cancellation and no transparency mode. The Surface Headphones on the other hand are closed back, over ear headphones so they do not enter the ear canal at all. The outside shell and the earmuffs are the only things that can block out noise when active noise cancellation is off. When the Surface Headphones are turned on you either get noise cancellation or some transparency which lets you hear sounds around you better, basically eliminating noise isolation. To truly test the noise isolation I had to turn the Surface Headphones off and while they do reduce outside noise, the earmuffs do not reduce noise as much as the other two devices. Noise isolation is important because the more noise isolation, the quieter you need to play music through the earpiece in order to hear it.
Now, active noise cancellation is a completely separate thing, from Wikipedia:
Sound is a pressure wave, which consists of alternating periods of compression and rarefaction. A noise-cancellation speaker emits a sound wave with the same amplitude but with inverted phase (also known as antiphase) to the original sound. The waves combine to form a new wave, in a process called interference, and effectively cancel each other out – an effect which is called destructive interference.
Noise cancelling earpieces will usually only cancel out noises below 1000 hertz (1kHz). Below this frequency is where most airplane and car noise is. So to test noise cancellation I played airplane noise on my speakers and tried all three devices to see how well they cancelled out the noise. Below are the rankings.
- AirPods Pro
- Surface Headphones
This is where AirPods Pro do really well. They completely eliminate the lower and mid sounding frequencies with only a little high sounding frequency remaining from the engine. On the Surface Headphones all frequencies were still noticeable even if reduced greatly. I would say the Surface Headphones provide about 75% of the noise cancellation of AirPods Pro. The Jabra Elite do not have active noise cancellation.
When combining these two noise reduction techniques here is what my ratings are in terms of overall noise reduction.
Overall Noise Reduction
- AirPods Pro
- Jabra Elite
- Surface Headphones
Even though the Jabra Elite do not have active noise cancellation they block out so much noise that they beat out the Surface Headphones in most cases. AirPods Pro are not as good at noise isolation but their active noise cancellation is top notch and that pushes them into first place for me. However, devices have different use cases and other features which makes the choice a little bit harder.
Here is where the three stand in terms of battery life.
- AirPods Pro: 4.5 hours of listening time with a single charge, up to 5 hours in "Off" mode. 24 hours of charge from charging case.
- Surface Headphones: 15 hours of listening time with a single charge, up to 18 hours by disabling Cortana voice-activation.
- Jabra Elite: 5 hours of listening time with a single charge. 15 hours of charge from charging case.
This is why during the two weeks I still used my Surface Headphones while in the office most of the time. I never have to worry about them losing charge during the day. Even if I forget to charge them for the night they can still last me another day. Even still I can charge them while wearing them. The best use case for headphones is in stationary, office like environments. This does not mean AirPods Pro aren't OK for the office, they just may die on you during the day, or may die on you when you're making your way back home.
When I am on the move I greatly prefer earbuds, they are inconspicuous and they do not get in the way of hats or helmets. Both the Jabra Elite and AirPods Pro also provide some level of waterproofness. Jabra Elite are IP56 resistant while AirPods Pro are only IPX4 resistant. IP really means IP Code. The first character stands for solid particle protection, basically dust, and goes from 0 to 6 or can be X. The second character stands for liquid ingress protection, basically water resistance, and goes from 0 to 9 or X. X means the protection was not tested for. Water resistance is important for me because I live in Seattle where rain is somewhat common. Being able to listen to good rain tunes in the rain is important. During the two weeks there was only one instance where it was raining and I was going on a bike ride. Before I left my apartment I picked the Jabra Elite over AirPods Pro because I did not want to risk them in the rain. A 4 rating in terms of water resistance does not fill me with confidence.
Since all the devices have microphones I also recorded some audio.
After all that, AirPods Pro still have most of the great AirPods features like quick pairing with an iPhone and pausing music when an earbud is removed from the ear. Instead of tapping on an earbud to do an action, you now squeeze a stem. I prefer this much more because there is a click when you squeeze one of the stems. You can only play/pause music, control noise cancellation, or activate Siri, you cannot control volume still. Compare this to the Jabra Elite which does have volume controls on the left earbud. I also mentioned earlier that the fit of AirPods Pro is much better than AirPods. I did however notice that the Pro version did shift in my ear slightly during normal use and that would cause the in ear seal to slowly open which would reduce the efficacy of noise reduction. This happened anywhere from every 20 to 40 minutes and was not too annoying but was noticeable. This has not happened with other earpieces I have used before and I also tried different sized ear tips with AirPods Pro to make sure I was using the right size for my ears.
I bought the Surface Headphones for $350, I bought the Jabra Elite Active for $187, AirPods Pro are currently $250. If $250 isn't a troublesome amount of money for you, and you are looking for a pair of good wireless earbuds I would recommend AirPods Pro. I would not recommend AirPods, get a pair of in-ear earbuds like the Jabra Elite Active, they are only $30 more than AirPods and you can actually hear your music at reasonable levels when you are outside. If you live in a rainy climate you could probably get away with using AirPods Pro but if they stop working after a hard rainstorm do not complain to me. Are wireless earbuds worth it? After using wireless earpieces for over a year I would say yes. It is especially great while at the gym or while biking, This does not mean I do not miss the headphone jack still cause it does come in handy still but Bluetooth can handle most use cases. Am I going to keep my AirPods Pro? No, even though I really AirPods Pro the Jabra Elite have slightly more functionality and are more waterproof, active noise cancellation does not make up for that.