How Do AirPods Pro Work?

What sets them apart from regular AirPods

The AirPods Pro introduce many upgrades over Apple’s original wireless earbuds, including Active Noise Cancellation, adjustable ear tips, and Spatial Audio technology. In other words, they’re a high-end version of Apple’s signature AirPods—with a higher price tag to match.

Whether you’re on the market for a new pair of wireless headphones or want to get the most out of your existing pair, here’s what you need to know about how AirPods Pro work.

How Does the AirPods Pro Noise Cancellation Work?

The most significant upgrade the AirPods Pro deliver is Active Noise Cancellation. Using a combination of external microphones and software, AirPods Pro automatically adapt to outside noise (at a rate of 200 times per second!). An anti-noise wave is mixed into the user’s audio to filter out environmental noise, while an inward-facing microphone filters out any remaining noise it detects.

Transparency Mode

Blocking out environmental noise can be helpful when you need to focus on a task or hear your music better in a noisy environment. Still, there will probably be times when you’ll want to listen to the world around you. This scenario is where Transparency mode comes in. Rather than turn off Active Noise Cancellation altogether, Transparency mode adjusts the AirPods Pro’s external microphones to let in some sound. In addition to being a safety feature, this also means you won’t need to take your AirPods out to strike up a conversation with someone.

To switch between Active Noise Cancellation and Transparency mode, press and hold the force sensor on the stem of either the left or right AirPod until you hear a chime.

If your AirPods Pro are connected to an iPhone or iPad, you can manually control noise cancellation settings with your iOS device. Go to Settings > Bluetooth > AirPods Pro > Noise Control. Here, you’ll be able to swap between Noise Cancellation and Transparency mode or even turn off Active Noise Cancellation altogether.

You can also use Siri to toggle noise cancellation. Say “Hey Siri,” then “Noise Cancellation” or “Transparency” to swap between these settings.

Swappable Ear Tips

While this noise canceling is largely technology-based, its effectiveness is also dependent on the fit of the headphones. It's why AirPods Pro come with three sets of swappable ear tips (the medium size are installed by default). You can manually swap between ear tips until you find the right fit, but Apple also has the Ear Tip Fit Test tool to help you out.

  1. With your AirPods Pro in your ears, open Settings > Bluetooth on your iPhone or iPad.

  2. Tap the info button next to your AirPods in the device list.

  3. Tap Ear Tip Fit Test (you must have iOS/iPadOS version 13.2 or later installed).

    The Ear Tip Fit test on the AirPods Pro menu on an iPhone.
  4. Tap Continue.

  5. Tap the Play button (you may need to scroll down to see it). The test will play audio to determine whether or not the ear tips are fitted properly.

    The Ear Tip Fit Test for the AirPods Pro on an iPhone.

How Do I Control My AirPods Pro?

For the AirPods Pro, Apple ditched the touch controls on the AirPods in favor of “force sensors.” Located on the AirPods Pro stems, these force sensors act as virtual buttons. Instead of tapping your AirPods, you control them by squeezing the flat indention on either stem (you’ll hear a click after each press). If you’ve used a pair of regular AirPods before, the force sensors may take some getting used to but should help you avoid accidental song skips and pauses.

Here’s what each press of the stem does:

  • Single-press: Play/Pause.
  • Double-press: Skip forward.
  • Triple-press: Skip backward.
  • Long-press: Switch between Noise Cancellation and Transparency Mode.

What Else Can AirPods Pro Do?

In addition to noise-canceling and new controls, AirPods Pro offer many of the same features as regular Apple AirPods. These features include things like microphones for phone calls and using Siri and a wireless charging case. But they also have some overall design improvements and additional audio features.

Model wearing Apple AirPods Pro at Paris photo shoot - February 2021.

Edward Berthelot/Getty

The most noticeable changes are physical. The AirPods Pro have silicone ear tips and shorter stems than the original AirPods. Even if you prefer the aesthetics of the classic AirPods, it’s hard to deny the Pros sound better. Thanks in part to the silicone ear tips creating a seal in your ears, the AirPods Pro have improved low-end sound and more natural noise canceling. 

AirPods Pro are water-resistant, not waterproof. While they have an IP rating of IPX4, which means they’re sweat- and water-resistant, they likely won’t hold up to full submersion. In other words, don’t bring them to the pool with you!

Adaptive EQ

Additionally, the internal microphones use Adaptive EQ, a feature that optimizes sound quality based on your physiology. According to Apple, the AirPods Pro “automatically tunes the low- and mid-frequencies” by using a custom high dynamic range amplifier to “produce pure, incredibly clear sound while also extending battery life.” 

Battery Life

Speaking of battery life, the AirPods Pro are comparable to what you’ll get from the second-generation AirPods. A full charge will give you up to five hours of listening time with noise-canceling or Transparency off, dropping to about four and a half hours with these settings turned on. The included wireless charging case provides over 24 hours of listening time on a full charge.

Spatial Audio

The final audio feature worth mentioning is Spatial Audio. Introduced in a firmware update, this feature brings Dolby Atmos immersive audio to AirPods Pro. This means you’ll be able to experience surround sound when watching Apple TV or other streaming services with your AirPods Pro. To take advantage of Spatial Audio, you’ll need an Apple device with iOS 14 or iPadOS 14, as well as a streaming service that supports 5.1, 7.1, or Dolby Atmos.

The AirPods Pro retail for $249 USD and come standard with a wireless charging case.  

  • How does the AirPods Pro charging case work?

    The AirPods Pro charging case charges using the provided Lightning cable or a Qi wireless charging mat with the AirPods in or out of it. If you use a mat, you can tap the case to see if the case is charging or fully charged, indicated by amber and green lights, respectively. Apple recommends wired charging for the fastest results.

  • Which phones and tablets will AirPods Pro work with?

    AirPods Pro earbuds work best with iPhones and iPads with the most recent version of iOS or iPadOS. You can pair AirPods Pro with Android devices using Bluetooth, but you won't have access to all the features, such as the fit test or battery charge status.

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