Digital Trends may earn a commission when you buy through links on our site.

AirPods Pro vs. AirPods: Which are better?

Wireless earbuds are now ubiquitous — and Apple’s AirPods paved the way. With their tiny design, flip-lid charging case, and dead-simple operation, it’s no wonder the AirPods and AirPods Pro become the earbuds to which all others are compared. But which AirPods should you buy? The classic AirPods are reliable and well-priced, while the $249 Pro feature Active Noise Cancellation (ANC) and a host of other upgrades.

If you’re not in a hurry to buy, you might want to keep an eye on the rumor mill. A new generation of AirPods Pro, as well as a cheaper AirPods Pro Lite, is supposedly on the way. If you can’t wait, however, below we break down the current models to see how they stack up in various categories. Ultimately, you’ll want the true wireless earbuds that meet your needs without blowing your budget.

Further reading

Price

Apple’s AirPods start at $159 — that’s the version that comes with a normal charging case that you power up via a Lightning cable. There’s also a $199 version that comes with a wireless charging case. The AirPods Pro, on the other hand, ring in at $249, the same price as the Powerbeats Pro. Then there are the replacement costs associated with each, should something break or go missing. A single AirPod will cost $69 to replace, while the AirPods Pro will run you a cool $89 apiece. Even the charging case is more expensive: It’s $69 for the AirPods wireless case and $89 for the AirPods Pro wireless case.

There are plenty of reasons for the AirPods Pro’s hefty price, but there’s no doubt that if you’re looking for the most wallet-friendly way to get your AirPods on, it’s the non-wirelessly charging AirPods. It’s also worth noting that you can still find a pair of the original, first-gen AirPods for slightly less.

Winner: AirPods

Water resistance

Ever since Apple introduced the original AirPods, consumers and reviewers alike have bemoaned the fact that they aren’t officially able to deal with sweat or rain. Not that this has stopped folks from running with them or taking them to the gym, but the reality is that doing so is taking a risk. The AirPods Pro finally put an end to the worry: They feature IPX4 water-resistance. IPX4 is good enough to keep the AirPods Pro safe from damage during even the sweatiest of workouts, and they’ll hold up under adverse weather conditions.

They’re still not waterproof, however. You certainly can’t swim with them, and even cleaning them should be done with care. Some protection is better than none, however, so the AirPods Pro clearly take this one.

Winner: AirPods Pro

Sound quality

The AirPods Pro don’t just sound better than the AirPods, they sound way better. Compared to the second-gen AirPods — which deliver improved sonic range and loudness over their first-gen counterpart– the AirPods Pro have raised the bar, offering better bass response and a beautiful midrange full of detail and brightness. Apple has finally delivered a set of true wireless earbuds that compare well with the best we’ve heard, and that’s saying something.

With a true in-ear, noise-isolating design, the AirPods Pro already have a huge advantage, simply because they seal out the outside world better. But when you add the better fit offered by their three sizes of silicone eartips, and Apple’s new adaptive EQ, which automatically modifies the low- and mid-frequencies of the music to the shape of an individual’s ear, it’s a game-changer as far as sound quality goes.

Winner: AirPods Pro

Noise cancellation

Much like water resistance, it’s hard for the regular AirPods to win a category they don’t even compete in. The new AirPods Pro are the first AirPods to offer active noise cancellation (ANC), a feature that is becoming more common among the better wireless earbuds on the market. The technology uses a combination of microphones and software to analyze outside noise, and effectively cancels it out using equal and opposite frequencies. Additionally, the earbuds offer three noise cancellation settings — on, off, and something called Transparency Mode, which allows the microphones to let some outside sound in, so you can hear what’s going on around you.

Now, let’s talk about passive noise cancellation. Again, it’s hard for the non-regular AirPods to compete here. Passive noise cancellation is basically the noise that’s kept out due to the seal the earbud makes in your ear. The universal fit of the AirPods may be adequate to block out some sound for some users, but if noise cancellation, passive or active, is an important feature for you, the AirPods Pro offer three sizes of eartips for you to choose from.

Apple has experienced some recent pain with its noise cancellation in the AirPods Pro, but in May, it addressed the issue, offering two troubleshooting support pages (here and here). Amazingly, when it debuted, Apple’s version of ANC performed just as well as Sony’s and considerably better than the Bose Active Noise Reduction featured in the new Amazon Echo Buds.

Winner: AirPods Pro

Fit and comfort

It wasn’t by mistake that Apple’s original iPod earbuds became so popular (and iconic) — after all, their one-size-fits-all design was perfectly adequate for most people. For many, however, the fit had been lacking. Their hard plastic could become uncomfortable over hours of prolonged use, and they easily fell out of your ears when making even the most basic of movements.

The AirPods Pro largely solve this problem with a redesign that includes customizable silicone tips, allowing the earbuds to fit a wide range of ear shapes. Vastly more comfortable, the tips allow for a better seal (see passive noise canceling above) and more comfort, especially when wearing for longer periods of time. The snug fit also ensures the buds stay put even during the most rigorous workout. The Pros also feature a unique venting system that helps reduce that feeling of pressure inside the ear, which is often associated with tight-sealing earbuds. Vents on the outside of each bud equalize that pressure for further comfort.

If you’re not sure what size tip is the best for you, Apple’s thought of that, too. Using the microphones and speaker drivers in each earbud, as well as the Ear Tip Fit Test app, you can measure sound levels to help determine if you’re getting the best fit or if you should try a different size.

Winner: AirPods Pro

Battery life

The AirPods started their existence with a battery life that was considered good though not great. Five hours of continuous operation between charges was once considered decent, but with the ever-expanding field of options offering longer life, Apple has some catching up to do. Disappointingly, the AirPods Pro still haven’t improved this number at all, and if you keep ANC turned on, you only get 4.5 hours of continuous playback. Recent rivals, such as Sony’s stellar WF-1000XM3, which offer 6 hours of noise-canceling operation (8 hours without), are raising the bar. We’d love to declare the AirPods Pro the winner here, but clearly, Apple has not made battery improvements a priority for its latest AirPods.

Winner: Draw

Call quality

It’s rare to be on a Zoom call these days without seeing many participants sporting Apple’s iconic AirPods. When it comes to call quality, the first- and second-gen AirPods have been known to perform well, with the latter generation getting some noise reduction upgrades and improvements when it comes to handling wind. When compared with the AirPods Pro, call quality is actually pretty close, with perhaps a slight advantage going to the Pros. But where the Pros really take a significant lead is in their sound-isolating design. Not only does the tighter seal allow you to hear calls better, but the microphones in each earbud work with speech detection to reduce background noise and pick up your voice better. The AirPods Pro’s vent system also works here, helping to reduce wind noise for even quieter calls.

Winner: AirPods Pro

Charging case

Apple AirPods Pro

The charging case that comes with the AirPods has become almost as iconic as the earbuds themselves. Small, comfortable to hold, and outfitted with a flip-lid design that makes it fun to use, it’s a hard act to follow. Apple made it better when it introduced the wirelessly charging version for the second-gen AirPods, but can the AirPods Pro improve on the design even further? Yes, yes they can.

With a more rectangular shape, but a smaller overall size, the wireless charging case for the AirPods Pro is more pocketable than the AirPods’ charging case. The lid is every bit as easy to open one-handed once you get used to the new shape, and one of our reviewers now prefers it to the older model.

Winner: AirPods Pro

Conclusion

Unless you’re looking to spend as little as possible, the new AirPods Pro are simply better than the AirPods in every way. For $50 more than the wireless charging option, Apple has provided a ton of value. From their active noise cancellation and IPX4 rating to their superior sound, comfort, and call quality, it’s hard to find a single fault. That said, if you don’t like the way in-ear buds feel at all, stick with the AirPods.

Editors' Recommendations