AirPods Pro: A quick review

Short version: this is the best product Apple has ever shipped.

My credentials on this: I’ve been using Apple products since the Mac SE and Apple IIe. I’ve had a Mac in every major processor generation since the 68k, most of the iPods, most iPads and every iPhone except the latest one.

Clearly I love a lot about how Apple does their work.

But this is the pinnacle of their abilities: a hyper miniaturized, super futuristic, intensely satisfying piece of personal hardware.

First, let’s hit the deltas with the original. They don’t look stupid anymore. Look, I loved the original but they looked a little stupid. The stems were too long. We all got used to it and it didn’t matter because the hardware was otherwise so convenient and easy to use.

But now the proportions look great. The stems are nicely balanced against the rest of the unit.

Of greater importance, though, is the elimination of seams on the buds. The old model would get fucking nasty, building up gunk in its seams. In the new version, there’s minimal gap between the white plastic and the black housings for microphones and sensors.

They’ve moved the indicator light to the front face instead of inside the lid. This is nice—great to know at a glance if they’re done charging.

Now, the new stuff.

Their magic valves are amazing. I don’t understand how this works but it does: you put the AirPod in, and then it equalizes pressure so that the rubber cup seals against your ears without trapping air inside uncomfortably. This alone destroys all competition in the rubber-cupped earbud space. I’ve never had anything so reliably comfortable also go in my ear.

The noise cancellation is truly impressive. It just cleans things up so well. John Gruber noted this in his review: you can use them without music to enjoy silence wherever you are. It’s really nice. If I still worked in open plan offices, I would submit an expense report with these on it and go to the mat for their indispensable value.

Speaking of rubber cups, it’s impressive how they snap into place. You know they’re seated properly. It’s a very tactile experience. Feels great, and yet again, just destroys the incumbent rubber cup bullshit gang. Replacements are $4. These also make the buds so much easier to clean compared to the gunk scoops on the last model. Each cup has its own screen to prevent crud entering the speaker chamber it covers.

I love them for music as much as voice calls. I can hear myself clearly despite the rubber cups and my correspondent sounds like they’re in a quiet room with me.

One gripe: the things are just supposed to die when their battery does? I wish Apple would make the batteries replaceable. I’m not sure how to make that work against the miniaturization at play, but it seems worth doing. I bought the Apple Care+ for $30 because I know I’ll destroy these batteries inside two years. That will give me a free replacement when it happens, assuming I don’t lose them.

Since the iPhone, my read on Apple has been that they create futuristic, science fiction artifacts that you can buy right now. The iPhone 4 was a perfect example, and these AirPods Pro are another. They just seem impossible, but they’re quite real.

After Cook took over, there was much handwringing about whether he’d be able to ship the sort of detail oriented, aesthetic-defining, delight-inspiring work that put Apple on the map. I think this answers that quite definitively.

Worth every dollar.