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AirPods vs Airpods Pro- Buyers Guide

Building upon the success of their 1st and 2nd generation AirPods, Apple released the AirPods Pro in late 2019.

Boasting several newly added features and improved capabilities, the AirPods Pro has gone on to rival the original models in popularity.

AirPods Pro is considerably more expensive than standard AirPods.

While it’s undeniable that the AirPods Pro offers many benefits over the originals, it’s important to compare them to establish whether they’re worth the extra investment, or if you’d be better off sticking with the more affordable AirPods.

In this AirPods vs. AirPods Pro guide, we’ll look at every aspect in detail, to figure out if the benefits of the AirPods Pro are significant enough to warrant their price tag.

After reading the following information, you’ll know which edition of the popular Apple Bluetooth earbuds is the right option for you.

AirPods vs. AirPods Pro – Key Differences

The original AirPods were first introduced by Apple back in 2016. Since then, they have released the 2nd generation and 3rd generation AirPods which have gone on to become hugely popular.

The 2nd generation AirPods addressed some of the common issues that users had with the original edition, with improved comfort, sound quality, battery life, and an addition of several features.

Then came the impressive AirPods Pro later in 2019. When comparing the specifications with the 2nd generation AirPods, it is clear that Apple designed the AirPods Pro to be better in every area.

The AirPods 3rd Generation bridged this gap somewhat, but they still fall short of many of the qualities offered by the AirPods Pro.

Furthermore, the AirPods Pro is considerably more expensive than the 2nd and 3rd generation AirPods, which leads to the question of whether upgrading is worthwhile.

Realistically, there is a wide range of factors that we need to consider to answer this question accurately. We’ll begin below with arguably the most important factor – sound quality.

AirPods vs. AirPods Pro – Sound Quality

Sound quality is difficult to measure, as it is largely subjective and based on the listener’s perception.

  • When comparing the sound produced by AirPods and AirPods Pro, there’s hardly any difference between them.

Both the AirPods and AirPods Pro use the same-sized speaker, which is basically identical. They also both project bass, mid and treble frequencies fairly evenly, with a well-balanced overall sound.

Some of the components that the AirPods and AirPods Pro share which contribute to their overall sound quality include:

  • Custom-designed Apple driver
  • Amplifier with a wide dynamic range
  • Accelerometers for motion and speech-detection

There are, however, several features that are included with the AirPods Pro, that the AirPods are lacking.

Some of these features have an undeniably positive effect on the overall listening experience, and one could argue that this results in improved sound quality.

As far as Bluetooth earbuds go, the AirPods (2nd or 3rd gen) and the AirPods Pro are amongst the best-sounding options available. This is largely down to Apple’s experience creating headphones over the years. Their expertise in the field is certainly evident.

If you’re making a decision based purely on sound quality, neither the AirPods nor the AirPods Pro is likely to disappoint.

Nevertheless, as I will explain in detail later in this guide, the AirPods Pro features some notable improvements which could lead to improved sonic clarity.

AirPods Eartip Designs & Overall Comfort

On the surface, there doesn’t appear to be much difference between these two Apple products. With that being said, there is one important point to consider: the AirPods Pro’s ear tips are much more comfortable.

While the AirPods are by no means uncomfortable to wear, the rugged plastic material that is used to construct their ear tips can leave your ears feeling fatigued after using them for long periods.

Apple recognized this when designing the AirPods Pro.

To combat the issue, they used a more forgiving silicone material to create the ear tips. This results in a noticeable difference in comfortability and facilitates longer periods of using the earbuds without any discomfort.

Check out this YouTube video that shows how to choose the best ear tip to use.

In contrast to the comfort of wearing over-ear headphones, which is a result of the combination of the cushioned padding that rests on the ears and the headband that holds them together, AirPods and AirPods Pro only contact the ear via their tips.

Consequently, the only real way that we can compare the comfort of the AirPods and AirPods Pro is by assessing the ear tip, and when we do so, there’s one clear winner. The AirPods Pro ear tips are malleable, and when placed inside the ear canal they morph to the ideal dimensions.

The harder plastic material that the AirPods ear tips are made from retains their original shape, which can cause them to push out against the ear and cause some pain as a result.

The only advantage of the harder plastic design is that it could be argued to fit the ear canal more tightly, which prevents the AirPods from falling out.

However, the AirPods Pro ear tips also feel sturdy and are unlikely to come out of the listener’s ear in most scenarios.

AirPods Pro & Noise Cancellation

A noteworthy difference between AirPods and AirPods Pro is that the latter is capable of active noise canceling. This built-in feature isn’t included in the 1st, 2nd, or 3rd generation AirPods.

Noise cancellation is a very useful feature if you need to make a phone call or listen to audio in an environment where there is a lot of background sound.

It minimizes the volume of external noise so that you can focus more on the audio coming through the earbuds.

  • AirPods Pro’s noise-cancelling feature is perhaps the main reason that Apple customers would choose them over standard AirPods.

Being able to listen to audio without the distractions of the outside world is very desirable for most people on their commute to the workplace or while trying to focus despite noisy surroundings.

It’s also worth noting that Airpods 3, or even the earlier versions will also provide a small amount of noise cancellation even though they lack the active feature included in the AirPods Pro.

This type of noise cancellation is referred to as PNI or passive noise isolation.

Rather than relying on electronic components to block out external sounds, the standard AirPods simply prevent sound waves from entering the ears due to their physical design.

Passive noise isolation is nowhere near as effective as active noise isolation, though.

As a result, if you feel that you would benefit from being able to focus on the sound coming through the earbuds with minimal outside noise then the AirPods Pro is probably the best choice for you.

Here’s a YouTube video review of AirPods Pro noise canceling feature.

AirPods Spatial Audio Explained

The 1st and 2nd generation AirPods did not include the spatial audio feature, which was exclusive to the AirPods Pro. However, the new AirPods 3rd generation has this feature installed. 

Spatial audio is Apple’s version of Dolby Atmos. It works by applying directional audio processing to the signal and tweaking the frequencies that are played back in each earbud so that they can be positioned anywhere in the stereo field.

This provides listeners with a 3D experience, creating the illusion that sounds are being played from behind, in front, to the sides, and even directly above.

  • While both the 3rd generation AirPods and the AirPods Pro have spatial audio capabilities, there is a key difference between the two. The AirPods Pro can tailor the listening experience by gauging the listener’s head movements.

Using devices known as gyroscopes and accelerometers, the AirPods Pro can adjust the positioning of the sounds with pinpoint precision. None of the previous versions of the AirPods released by Apple to date have this capability.

AirPods vs AirPods Pro Weight & Dimensions

As they are both Bluetooth wireless earbuds, AirPods and AirPods Pro have very similar dimensions and weight.

At 1.22 inches, the AirPods Pro is marginally shorter in length than the standard AirPods, which are 1.59 inches long. The Pro version has a width of 2.39 inches, while the standard AirPods are only 0.65 inches wide.

This difference is mainly because AirPods Pro has silicone earbud ends which add to their width. It could therefore be argued that the AirPods Pro are more visible and less likely to be left somewhere by accident.

The AirPods pro is 0.94 inches deep, while the standard AirPods are 0.71 inches. Again, this is a result of the slightly modified design of the Pro version, to accommodate the silicone earbud ends.

There is minimal difference between the weight of the AirPods and AirPods Pro. The former weighs 0.14 ounces, while the latter is slightly heavier at 0.19 ounces.

AirPods Pro also has a considerably wider charging case than the standard AirPods, but a reduced height. The depth of the two cases is almost identical, and the AirPods Pro case is 0.2 ounces heavier. 

Are Airpods Water Resistant?

AirPods 3 and AirPods Pro are both rated IPX4 water-resistant. This means that they are resistant to water from all directions, and won’t be damaged if they are momentarily submerged or left in the rain for a little while. 1st and 2nd generation AirPods are not water-resistant.

The IPX4 rating also signifies that AirPods 3 and AirPods Pro are resistant to sweat, which is useful if you’re planning on using them in the sun, the gym, or during a workout.

Interestingly, the 3rd generation AirPods’ charging case is also rated IPX4 water and sweat resistant, while the case which comes with AirPods Pro is not.

  • This is one of the few examples of the AirPods having an additional feature that is not included in the Pro version.

Despite the water-resistance of AirPods and AirPods Pro, you should avoid submerging them in water for too long as this will still cause them damage. They’re designed to survive minimal exposure to water, not to be used in a swimming pool!

Check out this YouTube video that demonstrates how waterproof AirPods can be!

AirPods Pro In-Ear Detection

Another interesting difference between AirPods and AirPods Pro is their ear detection method. The AirPods use a newly designed sensor that detects when the earbuds come into contact with skin.

The sensor detects water that is in the listener’s skin around their ear and uses this as a trigger to pause playback. The reason that it uses water to determine this is because this prevents audio from being paused or resumed when the AirPods are placed on a surface such as a table, or into a pocket or bag.

The way that AirPods Pro detects whether they are inside the listener’s ear is quite different from the aforementioned method.

Rather than search for water, they use dual optical sensors which can determine whether they are in contact with skin, or whether they are touching a different surface or material.

It could be argued that the sensor used in the AirPods 3 is more reliable than the one used in the AirPods Pro, as there is a chance that it could mistake the inside of the listener’s pocket with skin, and potentially resume playback.

Airpods Pro Conversation Boost Feature Explained

Another feature that AirPods Pro has that standard AirPods lack is the new “conversation boost”.

Available in iOS 15, this Apple-designed feature makes it easier for people who have tinnitus or other forms of mild hearing loss to use AirPods Pro for conversational purposes.

This innovative feature works by utilizing special microphones known as beam-forming, which essentially raise the volume of a person’s voice when they are talking to the AirPods Pro user.

For people who have mild hearing difficulties, AirPods Pro is a better choice than any of the three generations of standard AirPods released by Apple to date.

I have written an article that discusses whether AirPods can help with tinnitus. You can read it here.

Airpods vs AirPods Pro Battery Life

Unfortunately, a side-effect of offering more features than the standard AirPods means that AirPods Pro has to sacrifice one hour of listening time on a full charge.

This is the difference when features like spatial audio and ANC (active noise cancellation) are turned off.

Standard AirPods also offer an additional half an hour of calling time compared to the AirPods Pro when fully charged and two additional hours when the charging case is being used.

  • Standard AirPods are more efficient when it comes to battery life, but the difference is quite insignificant especially when you consider the range of additional capabilities offered by the Pro version.

AirPods Pro Pressure Valve

AirPods Pro has a pressure valve feature, which is designed to make the earbuds more comfortable to wear for longer periods. This is exclusive to the Pro version, so standard AirPods users aren’t able to enjoy the feature.

The reason that many people find in-ear headphones uncomfortable is that they cause a build-up of pressure over time when they are positioned inside the ear canal. Apple has designed the AirPods pro to combat this issue.

A tiny valve has been installed on the AirPods Pro, which allows the pressure to be reduced. This is a must-have feature if you often experience discomfort when wearing in-ear headphones.

AirPods Processing Speed & Audio Sharing

AirPods 3 and AirPods Pro use the identical Apple H1 chip which provides the processing power. Therefore, their processing speed is the same, so there is no clear winner in this respect.

The previous two editions of AirPods didn’t have audio sharing capabilities, but the 3rd generation do. This is also featured on the AirPods Pro.

  • The audio sharing feature allows users to play audio from any Apple device through two sets of AirPods or AirPods Pro simultaneously.

For example, if you wanted to listen to a music album while on a walk with a friend, you could stream the audio to both of your AirPods so that you get the same listening experience.

AirPods Adaptive EQ & Transparency Mode

One of the selling points of AirPods Pro compared to 1st and 2nd generation AirPods was adaptive EQ. This allows the headphones to tailor the frequency output depending on the way that they fit in the listener’s ear.

Apple has included adaptive EQ in the 3rd generation AirPods, so this is no longer exclusive to the Pro model.

Again, this has bridged the gap between AirPods and AirPods Pro, making it more difficult to choose between them.

Transparency mode is exclusive to AirPods Pro and AirPods Max. This feature is not included in any of the three generations of AirPods. When the mode is selected, it allows external sounds to become more audible.

It is essentially the opposite of the noise cancellation mode that I described earlier in this article.

The reason that an AirPods Pro user is likely to want to use transparency mode is if they need to be aware of their surroundings while listening to audio or making a phone call.

For example, if you are in a busy area with lots of traffic, it’s a good idea to use this feature so that you can avoid any danger.

AirPods Voice Controls & Touch Sensitivity

It’s hard to separate the AirPods and AirPods Pro when it comes to functionality and controls. Both devices have the potential to be controlled using your voice, thanks to the inclusion of Apple’s H1 chip.

Like the iPhone or iPad, Airpods and AirPods Pro respond to the “hey Siri” command.

  • You can use AirPods to make phone calls without needing to touch your iPhone or to play a certain album from your Apple Music library.

AirPods Pro has a slight bump on its stems, which when squeezed switches the earbuds to noise-canceling mode. It can also be used to skip a song, answer a phone call, or pause audio.

AirPods, on the other hand, are touch-sensitive. When you touch them once, the AirPods will answer a call or resume audio. Two touches cause them to skip a song.

Check out this YouTube video of a complete teardown of AirPods pro.

Final Verdict – Is it Worth Upgrading from AirPods to AirPods Pro?

When deciding between AirPods and AirPods Pro, you are faced with three main choices. You can either opt for the affordable AirPods 2, or the more expensive AirPods 3 or Pro edition.

AirPods 3 and AirPods Pro are quite difficult to separate, as they share many features and their specs are almost identical. However, there are some significant differences between them.

AirPods Pro offers spatial audio, which does have the potential to improve the listening experience by creating a 3D stereo field. This feature is not offered by the AirPods 2 or 3.

The noise-canceling capabilities of AirPods Pro are also the best of the three choices.

If you’re serious about getting the best sound quality, I’d recommend opting for the Pro model as they edge it in terms of the unique features they offer.

AirPods 3 do offer some advantages compared to the Pro version, though. Perhaps the most significant is their improved battery life, which adds on a whole hour of listening time on a full charge.

AirPods Pro is more comfortable to wear, thanks to its silicone ear tip. Standard AirPods have a harder plastic tip which can cause some discomfort especially if they are used for long periods.

To summarize, if you’re looking for the best possible sound quality and comfort, I’d recommend the AirPods Pro.

2nd generation Airpods are a good choice if you’re on a tight budget and don’t require all of the fancy features offered by 3rd generation AirPods and the Pro edition.

Related Questions

Can Reset AirPods Be Tracked?

I have written an article that covers this subject. You can read it here.

Should AirPods Have The Same Serial Number?

This is a much asked question that often causes confusion as to whether your purchased AirPods are actually genuine. You can find the answers to all these question in our article. You can read this article here.

Do AirPods Work With Zoom?

This is definitely possible if you know how! Find out how to get set up in this article.

Will AirPods Break If Dropped?

Check out this article for more information.

Are AirPods Good For Gaming?

This is much debated among gamers, check out this article for more information.

Will My Alarm Go Off With AirPods In?

AirPods alarms can be somewhat unreliable. Check out this article to make sure you don’t get caught out!

Can AirPods be used individually?

AirPods are designed to be used together, or individually. The sensor inside the AirPod detects when only one of the earbuds is being used, and the sound will be converted from stereo to mono so that you can hear everything.

How fast do AirPods charge?

Apple’s AirPods charge very quickly when placed inside the charging case. After just 1 minute of charging, you will get enough power to provide roughly 3 hours of continuous listening time.

Can AirPods batteries be replaced?

Yes, it is possible to replace the batteries in all of the different versions of Apple’s AirPods. In many cases, it may be cheaper to replace the battery than purchase a new set of AirPods. The Apple repair store provides this service.