For reasons that go deeper than I care to get into, that title was a tad bit hard to write. I don’t hate Apple. On the contrary, I actually appreciate a lot about Apple’s hardware on a regular basis. I know, for instance, that they are responsible for the smartphone as we know it. They pioneered high-res, colorful displays and aluminum bodies in laptops. Apple makes the best tablets you can buy and the multi-touch gestures we enjoy as we swipe around on our Android and Chrome OS devices largely owe their existence to the iPhone and iPad. Apple gets a lot right in hardware and they do some extremely baffling things as well, but I have to give credit where it is due.
One of those places is in the wireless earbud space. Let’s face it: truly wireless earbuds were hot garbage pre-AirPods. Between wonky connectivity to corded catastrophes (see the original Pixel Buds for reference), the truly wireless earbud was not a realistic piece of hardware until Apple unveiled the AirPods. Though joked on at first, their rise to prominence in the market has revolutionized personal wireless sound accessories and pushed everyone – including Google – to step up and try to compete.
From this, we’ve had the emergence of all sorts of competitors to the AirPods from all sorts of manufacturers. I’ve owned wireless earbuds from Mobvoi, SoundPeats, Amazon, Samsung, Jaybird, Razor, Apple, Google, Jabra, Sony, Skull Candy, and JLab in the time since AirPods became a product. I held out for quite some time before giving the first iteration of Apple’s earbuds a whirl, and after I finally gave them an honest chance, I hated the fact that I waited so long. After wearing them for a few years at this point, there are still few truly wireless earbuds that come close to the comfort, ease of use, and portability of the original AirPods.
AirPods are great, but I want more features
Lately, however, a few other features have come along in other earbuds that have me looking elsewhere. For instance, the Mobvoi Ticpods ANC and the Amazon Echo Buds both offer some nice noise reduction, while the Razor Hammerhead earbuds offer up virtually lag-free audio for gaming. That’s great until you consider The Ticpods and Amazon solutions have cases that are way too large for pocketability while the Razor earbuds give me a sleek case without noise cancelling and without any modecom of comfort. The Amazon Echo Buds are comfy, but they lag like crazy. The Ticpods ANC aren’t great on comfort, either.
So, what am I after, then? Well, my ideal earbud would have a small, pocket-friendly case, low latency for videos and games, great sound, hours-long comfort, small profile, strong connections, basic wireless controls, and some sort of noise cancelling or isolation. I sincerely hoped that the Google Pixel Buds would be all those things, but while they are pretty close, there are issues. For one, the latency is the worst I’ve heard on any wireless earbud without contest. Second, for my ears, they simply hurt after about an hour of use. Finally, there have been some significant connectivity issues that Google is working on, but that are still present in some form. Simply put, the Pixel Buds fell into the same trap as other earbuds: getting some of the equation right while missing some pretty significant pieces of it altogether.
As you can tell from my list of attempted earbuds, I’ve tried many devices while looking for the one set that could do everything I want. I’ve been sidetracked and swayed by each and every newcomer to the market and chased after one attempt after another. All the while I’ve looked past the one set that, in the back of my mind, I knew would probably be able to deliver everything I was looking for: the AirPods Pro.
These earbuds sound fantastic and are easily the most comfortable buds I’ve ever worn. They stay connected farther away than any other wireless headset I own and they slip into a pocket unnoticed. They have basically no lag whatsoever on iOS/Android/Chrome OS and they have basic controls on the earbuds themselves for play/pause, skip and to turn ANC off or on. They have an insanely-good pass-through mode that almost makes it feel like you aren’t wearing them at all, and they have enough noise cancelling that I can shut out the outside world when I need to with a quick squeeze of the earbud.
They do all the things I’ve been looking for in a wireless earbud, and I have to admit that I completely love them. It is an amazing feeling to pull out a pair of wireless earbuds from my pocket and know that I can use them for any and all situations. Whether its getting work done while drowning out the outside world, getting in a quick match of PUBG Mobile or hopping on the Peloton to sweat through a workout: the AirPods Pro simply deliver every single time. They connect and move between all my devices from my OnePlus phone to my Acer Chromebook to my iPad Mini, too, so there’s no real reason to skip these out of a fear that they won’t work with non-Apple hardware. I’ve finally found the one set of earbuds that I take everywhere and use constantly and as much as I wish this is the experience Google would have delivered, its time to simply admit that they didn’t.
AirPods Pro come with some downsides, too
As high as I am on these little guys, there are some real issues with them that some users won’t want to deal with. First up is the price. For many of you, the idea of a $249 set of earbuds sounds ridiculous. Pun intended. While I don’t make any bones about these earbuds being costly, I have to admit that I feel they are worth it. I’ve gone through many earbuds in the past few years that all shoot for this sort of experience, and they all fall short. The only other headphones I’ve spent this sort of cash on are the Bose QC35 II and, again, they just deliver. I did the exact same thing with them as well, trying out headset after headset to get something on par with the comfort, sound, and feel of the QC35 II’s. Yet, in the end, I ended up eventually buying the Bose. I just had to prove to myself that the Bose were actually that much better than the competition just as I’ve done with the AirPods Pro. In both scenarios, that is absolutely the case.
A second downside is more of an aggravation, but I really wish Apple would have ditched the lightning port and opted for USB Type C. Most of their other ‘pro’ hardware has done this, so it would be a lot more convenient if the AirPods Pro also charged via the now-standardized port. Thankfully, they do come with wireless Qi standard charging, so any wireless charger or phone with reverse wireless charging will top them off pretty quickly.
Finally, the Airpods Pro don’t work with other assistants like Google Assistant or Alexa. For me, this isn’t a huge deal and I’ve already found a way around it. There’s an app in the Play Store called Assistant Trigger that you can use to monitor your AirPods Pro battery and create a slightly-janky Google Assistant button right on the earbuds. I’ll be honest, if hitting up the Google Assistant from your earbuds is your top priority, I’d pass on anything other than the Pixel Buds. For me, Google Assistant integration is quite low on my list of must-have features, so I don’t mind this one bit.
When it comes down to it, my choice to opt for the AirPods Pro after all this time simply comes down to the fact that they are the only option currently available that offers all the things I really want in wireless earbuds. Yes, they are expensive, but they deliver the goods. If you are looking for earbuds that sound great, feel great, stay connected, are thoughtfully made, minimize lag, and fit easily in your pocket, then you may just have to shell out the money to get the only ones that deliver all of this in a single package. Others may come – I hope they do – but it could be quite some time before anyone else puts all the pieces together the way Apple has. For me, at least, this has been money well spent.