Apple AirPods Pro vs Apple AirPods: Should you pony up for the pricey Pros?

Apple’s AirPods are easily the most popular true wireless earbuds in the world. With their tiny shape, easy-to-carry flip-top lid charging case, and dead-simple operation, it’s no wonder they’ve become the earbuds to which all others are compared. But now that Apple has released its follow-up to the AirPods — the $249 AirPods Pro — with some big upgrades, the question becomes, which AirPods should you buy: The AirPods or the AirPods Pro?

We break it down so you can see how each model stacks up in various categories. Ultimately you’ll want the true wireless earbuds that meet your needs without blowing your budget.

Price

Apple’s AirPods start at $149 — that’s the version that comes with a normal charging case that you power-up via a lightning cable. But there’s also a $199 version that comes with a wirelessly charging case. Finally, the new Apple AirPods Pro ring in at $249, the same price as Powerbeats Pro. Then there are the replacement costs should something break or go missing. A single new AirPod will cost $69 to replace, while the AirPods Pro run $89 each. Even the charging case is more expensive: $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 premium, 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.

Winner: AirPods

Water resistance

Ever since the original Apple AirPods debuted, 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 was that doing so was 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 workouts, and they’ll hold up under adverse weather conditions, but they’re still not waterproof. Swimming is definitely not a good idea with them in your ears, 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

We haven’t actually had a chance to listen to the AirPods Pro yet — look for our full review soon — but we think it’s safe to say that they will sound better than the AirPods. If we’re being honest, it doesn’t take much. While the AirPods are great for many reasons, they’ve never impressed us with their audio quality, which isn’t any better than a standard set of EarPods. The AirPods Pro are a whole new story. With a true in-ear, noise-isolating design, they’re going to sound better simply because they seal out the outside world better. When you add the better fit offered by their three sizes of silicone ear tips, 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 hard to believe that they would sound the same (never mind worse) than the AirPods.

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 has so far only shown up on true wireless earbuds from Sony. We can’t say for sure how well Apple’s version performs against Sony’s or even how well it does against the Bose Active Noise Reduction featured on the new Amazon Echo Buds, but we can tell you it will be better than what the AirPods have.

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 decent in 2018 but only average in 2019. Disappointingly, the AirPods Pro haven’t improved on this number at all. In fact, if you keep ANC turned on, it drops to 4.5 hours. We’d love to declare the AirPods Pro the winner here, but clearly Apple has not made battery life a priority for its latest and greatest AirPods.

Winner: Draw

Charging case

The charging case that comes with the AirPods has become almost as iconic as the earbuds themselves. Small, comfortable to hold and to keep in a pocket, and with a flip-top lid design that simply 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 it get better still with the AirPod Pros? Without actually trying it out, it’s hard to render a judgment, but we know that it’s got the same power capacity and wireless charging as the AirPods. So it really comes down to the new shape, which is shorter but wider. Is it as easy to use? Will it fit in people’s pockets as easily? We’re going to have to put it to the test before we pick the winner for this round.

Winner: TBD

Conclusion

We know — picking a winner without actually having tried both products is a sham, so we won’t. Yet.

However, it’s already very clear that Apple has priced the AirPods Pro to make them very attractive to those who had already mentally psyched themselves up to buy the AirPods with a wirelessly charging case. For just $50 more, Apple has provided a ton of value. From their active noise cancellation to their IPX4 rating, to the undoubtedly better sound quality they will be capable of thanks to their new design, the AirPods Pro look like a worthy upgrade.

We’ll circle back here to fill in the blanks as soon as we’ve put them to the test — stay tuned!