The AirPods Pro are superb lifestyle headphones and good for sports too, as long as you get on with the wingless fit. They come at a hefty cost, however, and you can get better value from Jabra’s headphones in particular.
- Great ANC
- Comfortable fit
- Good sound quality
- More expensive than rivals
- Can shake loose during exercise
- Short battery life
The Apple AirPods are the most popular headphones in the world, which is really something when you remember how we all laughed at the sticky out bit that hangs from your ear when they launched.
Key to the success of the AirPods was just how easy they are to use, especially, as you’d expect, for people with other Apple devices. Pop them in your ear and they connect to everything at the click of a button. This is, in theory, the case with all Bluetooth headphones of course, but having tried a lot of the best workout headphones and the best running headphones over the past couple of years I can say confidently that none of them work as seamlessly as the AirPods.
The same is true of the AirPods Pro, and that’s just the start of what’s on offer. The fit of the buds has been enhanced by a silicone ear tip. Again, this is the case for loads of headphones, but Apple has made its silicone tips a little bit better than most – they click into place when you fit them for one, and the AirPods will also analyse the shape of your ear quickly and tell you (in Settings) if you’re wearing the right tips out of the three provided with the AirPods – a very nifty feature. The buds are certainly comfortable to wear all day, or until your battery runs out.
A good fit is key, because the AirPods Pro offer active noise cancellation. A microphone detects external noise and the AirPods actively cancel it out so you can get more immersed in what you’re listening to. There’s also a transparency mode, where the microphone picks up external noise and mixes it with what you’re listening to – so it’s more prominent than if the noise cancellation simply turned off – which is great when running outside.
The noise cancellation and transparency features are excellent. I was surprised and impressed at how much the AirPods filtered out the noise of traffic and the background roar of the London Underground, while the transparency makes for a much more sociable experience in the office when wearing the headphones. Though you will have to explain to people why you’re not taking your headphones out to talk to them. (In fact, you probably still should take them out, just to be polite.)
While the AirPods Pro are not fully waterproof, they have an IPX4 rating, meaning they are resistant to water and sweat. Having used the original AirPods for many sweaty workouts and runs in the rain without ill effect, I have no concerns about the AirPods Pro on this front. Just don’t take them in the pool.
After a few runs with the AirPods Pro I’m not entirely convinced by their fit for exercise, however. The original AirPods sat in my ears securely simply by virtue of being so lightweight, though I know that not every user found that they stayed in place during workouts.
The silicone ear tips should make the AirPods Pro more secure, and I’m sure they will be for some people, but I found the in-ear part of the bud would move a little out of my ear canal during runs, no matter which tip I was using. The buds themselves never actually dropped out of my ears during a run, but it did lessen the effect of the noise cancellation.
Another slight problem I have with the AirPods Pro for exercise is the new controls. Apple decided that the tap controls of the original AirPods wouldn’t be suitable on the Pro because it would be uncomfortable with an ear tip plugged in. Instead there is a force sensor on the stem of each bud. You squeeze and hold this to switch from noise cancellation to transparency mode, click it once to play/pause, twice to skip and thrice to skip back.
All very simple when sat at a desk, but the force sensor was sometimes hard to use when running at pace without tugging on the bud. You can get Siri to do everything instead by saying “Hey Siri”, which the buds pick up without fail… but call me old-fashioned, I like to control my music myself and preferred the tap control.
One thing that hasn’t really changed from the original AirPods is battery life. You get five hours on the buds, which reduces to 4½ when using noise cancellation or transparency, and a further 19 in the case. There are truly wireless buds that offer more in the way of battery, but 24 hours in total is very good considering the AirPods Pro case is pocket-sized and the buds themselves offer active noise cancellation. You can also get an hour of battery on the buds from five minutes’ charging in the case in a pinch.
There are other truly wireless buds out there that offer active noise cancellation, including the Libratone Track Air+ headphones, although I recently tested those and found them to have too insecure a fit for exercise. There are also the Sony WF-1000XM3 buds, but they aren’t designed for sports.
The AirPods Pro are, then, the best noise-cancelling buds for sporty types at the moment, and they are pretty remarkable. Even if they don’t offer the same lock-down fit when running as they do when at your desk, they are secure enough to exercise in, the sound quality is excellent and immersive, and the noise cancellation will make journeys on public transport and trips to the gym far more pleasant.
All of that comes at a hefty cost, however. While £249 is not the highest price I’ve come across for truly wireless buds, it’s still a whole load of cash. Right now the AirPods Pro justify the price by being the best noise-cancelling sports headphones you’ll find, but expect a raft of competitors to come out and undercut them in the next 12 months.
Nick Harris-Fry is a journalist who has been covering health and fitness since 2015. Nick is an avid runner, covering 70-110km a week, which gives him ample opportunity to test a wide range of running shoes and running gear. He is also the chief tester for fitness trackers and running watches, treadmills and exercise bikes, and workout headphones.
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