Why would anyone want to pay more for the AirPods Pro? The way I see it, it’s for these following reasons:
Overall, the AirPods Pro are superior headphones. The improved isolation thanks to the in-ear design and active noise-cancellation makes a world of difference especially when you are out and about and in a noisy environment. It means your own music is less tainted and you don’t have to listen at higher volumes (which can damage your hearing) just to drown out unwanted sounds.
Obviously, the AirPods Pro are pricier. But if you are already thinking of getting the wireless charging case to go with your AirPods, then the price premium is just S$80. At S$80, the choice is obvious for me ― AirPods Pro all day every day.
Thanks to the ear hooks, the Powerbeats Pro fit even more securely than the AirPods Pro. And because the Powerbeats Pro are larger, a full charge yields a longer music playing time of 9 hours. Sweat and water-resistant ratings are similar for the two ― IPX4. For those partaking in extreme sports or intending to exercise for long periods, the choice is clear. Furthermore, I find the Powerbeats Pro to sound better than the AirPods Pro ― likely because of its larger 12mm drivers.
This is the big one. After all, the Sony WF-1000XM3 are the only other true wireless headphone to have active noise-cancellation. Furthermore, the two are priced quite similarly. The Sonys are S$349, though it can often be found for slightly less online, and the AirPods Pro are S$379.
The Sonys have the advantage in sound. The WF-1000XM3s have a more impactful sound, more sparkly highs, and beats the AirPods Pro in terms of clarity and resolution. I prefer the Sonys’ sound, though I also concede that their aggressive nature can also sound tiring after extended listening periods. The Sonys also have superior battery life ― 6 hours against the AirPods Pro’s 4.5 hours.
In terms of noise cancellation, the two are evenly matched, which is impressive on Apple’s part given that Sony noise cancellers are widely considered to be the best in the business today. However, Sony’s equivalent of the AirPods Pro’s Transparency Mode, which they call Ambient Sound Control, is noticeably inferior. Apple’s Transparency Mode is vastly more natural sounding.
The AirPods Pro also counter with their tight integration with iOS and macOS. If you use Apple devices, particularly the iPhone, the AirPods Pro are much more convenient and pleasant to use. If you intend to use these headphones daily, this is an important factor to consider. The Sonys are less intuitive to use and requires users to use a separate app to get the best out of them. The AirPods Pro are also sweat and water resistant and the Sonys are not.
As for wearing comfort, I find the AirPods Pro to be superior mostly because they are smaller and lighter. But as I said earlier, my ears are quite forgiving and the Sonys aren’t uncomfortable by any means. And though they might look unwieldy as if they might fall out of your ears, they fit me ok.
But in terms of portability, the AirPods Pro are king because the charging case still fits easily into pockets. The same can’t be said for the WF-1000XM3’s charging case, which is absolutely massive when placed next to the AirPods Pro’s. You can squeeze them into your pockets but it’ll result in a ridiculous looking bulge in your pants.
If sound quality is your utmost priority, then I think the Sonys are the way to go. But they are definitely more cumbersome, less intuitive, and likely to be less comfortable for most people.
The AirPods Pro are a stunning set of headphones from Apple. They have impressive active noise-cancellation and the best ambient listening mode of any headphone that I have tried. They are also comfortable, super portable, dead easy to use, boast decent water resistance for exercising, and have solid audio performance. They might be a little pricey (S$379) but I think anyone who tries it and the regular AirPods will quickly come to the conclusion that the premium is well worth it. Furthermore, their only true competitor ― the Sony WF-1000XM3 ― isn’t what you’d call affordable either at S$349.
There are, however, a couple of issues worth addressing. The proprietary design of the silicone ear tips means aftermarket ear tips are out of the question, at least until third-party makers figure out how to accommodate for the AirPods Pro proprietary ear tip mounts. Tough luck if you prefer foam tips or have a favourite set of tips that you like to use. The AirPods Pro’s tight integration with iOS means it’ll work best on Apple devices. You can use with Android devices, but the experience isn’t as seamless and magical. Plus, you lose out on features like the Ear Tip Fit Test.
Finally, and perhaps more crucially, the AirPods Pro have a limited lifespan. The problem is the batteries. They are small and have a limited number of recharging cycles, and if you are a heavy user, the AirPods Pro will die sooner rather than later. It’s not so bad if the batteries are replaceable, but they aren’t. You’ll need to get a new set, which means coughing up S$379 again. But to be clear, this is a problem that plagues all true wireless headphones and not just the AirPods Pro and AirPods.
Having said that, if you wield an iPhone and you are dead set on getting true wireless headphones even though their batteries will die someday, the AirPods Pro are a no-brainer recommendation.