A Quick Review of the Apple Airpod Pros

    I heard about the Apple Airpod Pros on Oct 28, I immediately ordered a pair, and they were delivered on Oct 30. I've spent the past several days listening to them, and in a nutshell they're very nice. They're not audiophile headphones, but I didn't expect them to be and they're so convenient that I don't really care. There are dozens of other written and video reviews available all over the place, so I won't bother replicating the basics here. I'm just going to write about the details I've noticed that I haven't read about elsewhere.

Sound:

    The Airpod Pros sound very good. I wouldn't say they're audiophile quality, but they're decent. They're dramatically better than the regular Airpods. Vocals, percussion, strings all come through cleanly. Bass is clean enough. Overdone and a bit imprecise, but greatly improved from the Earpods and original Airpods, which I won't listen to. So that's not a bad foundation. But the details, the structure you build on top of that foundation is what makes sound equipment "audiophile quality".
    The Airpod Pros don't have much in the way of staging. The sound is fairly one-dimensional. When you close your eyes, you're not going to visualize the band standing around you. You won't be able to point out where each instrument is coming from. In fact, this is the oddest feature of the Airpod Pros. Mids/highs and bass are pretty thoroughly disconnected. It sounds like the mids and highs are coming from a few feet in front of me, but the bass is coming from right underneath me, as if I'm sitting on the subwoofer. If you're used to inexpensive headphones and you just want more bass, this might be really nice. But it's distracting and disorienting if you're used to listening to high-end stereos that have excellent staging.
    Additionally, the bass is unnaturally loud overall, which again isn't surprising coming from the company that owns Beats. The unexpected low-end clarity makes it totally bearable, but it would be really nice if Apple included a manual equalizer for the Pros. A basic 5-band would be enough. If I could decrease the bass by 20-30%, acoustic recordings would sound drastically better overall. (That having been said, if you usually listen to heavily produced hip-hop/pop, you will adore these headphones. Bach and Philip Glass sound a bit off, but Beyonce sounds fantastic.) Overall, the Airpod Pros sound very good. More than sufficient for listening to music at work.

Other Concerns:

    As far as non-audio concerns go, the Airpod Pros are excellent. Build quality that Apple is famous for, that no other electronics manufacturer can match. Outstanding convenience. Excellent in-ear comfort. I can wear these things for 4-6 hours, until I'm flat out tired of listening to music, with little to no discomfort.

    The most impressive feature for me is the silicone earpieces. With the Etyomic ER-4S, I've always used foam earpieces. Etymotic's silicone earpieces just don't seal well for me. Same for the BeoPlay E8. Same for Shure, Sennheiser, UE IEM earpieces. But Apple figured it out. The stock silicone earpieces on the Pros seal beautifully and are vastly more convenient than foam earpieces that have to be compressed and carefully inserted. I guess it's just because the earpieces are oblong instead of circular, but it looks like a solution that only Apple could produce. Apple engineers know how to make durable, inexpensive micro-mechanical parts. They make their own micro-connectors for phones and tablets. And these earpieces look like they have at least three different materials overmolded with tolerances of about 0.01mm, connected to the airpod body with a micro-sized interference clip. It's a beautiful little design.

    As for power, again outstanding. Yesterday I listened to my Pros for about six or seven hours, and after placing them back in the case the earbuds were back to 100% after a few minutes and the case was still at 80%. You could take these on a 2 or 3-day trip and not worry about recharging them until you get back home.

    My only gripe about the hardware is that you can't control volume using the earbuds. I have to reach all the way into my pocket to adjust volume on my phone, like a caveman. Jeez.

Comparisons:

    For the past fifteen years my go-to mobile headphones have been the Etymotic ER-4S or ER-4SR. The crystal clarity that they deliver is just amazing. I've never found another in-ear headphone that comes close. But they're not perfect. Their main drawback is convenience. I've only ever had them seal properly when using the foam earpieces, which might be extremely inconvenient for an office environment where you need to remove/replace your headphones frequently. Additionally, the foam pieces wear out after a few weeks of use, which means I'm always carrying spares in the case and ordering new spares every few months. And you can't wear them while lying down because they stick so far out of your ears. And they cost $100 more than the Airpod Pros. And they're not wireless.
    I tried out the original Apple Airpods years ago, but I was extremely disappointed by their below-average sound quality. The Pros are dramatically better by all measures.
    I reviewed and then disassembled the BeoPlay E8 earbuds previously, which sounded about as good as the Airpod Pros but were abysmally unreliable. (I went through three pair in six months.)
    I tried out the Sennheiser Momentum earbuds, and I was sorely disappointed. Sound quality is about comparable to the original Airpods. Sennheiser knows how to make good earbuds, and in this case they chose to make bad ones. Odd. The Airpod Pros are vastly superior for the same price.

Overall:

    The Apple Airpod Pros are an excellent product. The sound quality is very good, though not quite audiophile quality. It would be really nice if Apple gave us a basic equalizer, because I'd like to be able to reduce the bass levels a bit. Build quality and convenience is unmatched. These will probably replace my Etymotic ER-4SRs for daily use.

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