Apple's new AirPods Pro earbuds: Buyer's guide

Jacob Krol, CNN Underscored
Updated Tue October 29, 2019

Apple dropped second-generation AirPods this spring, but today announced yet another addition to its true wireless family: AirPods Pro. These $249 true wireless buds will feature active noise cancellation, improved audio and an all-new design. They land on Wednesday, Oct. 30.

Preorders are open on Amazon.com. For now, here's what we know about the AirPods Pro.

New design

Aside from the familiar white color, AirPods Pro feature a completely refreshed design. For starters, we get silicone ear tips that aim for a more comfortable fit that seals the ear. This should help keep the AirPods Pro in the ear canal and also improve the sound experience. Like Powerbeats Pro, there's a built-in vent system to help relieve pressure, and you can see it clearly on the outside of the AirPods Pro as a long, stretched out black oval.

Three tip sizes are included, and AirPods Pro will automatically complete an "Ear Tip Fit Test" to help you get the size just right. Akin to the Goldilocks principle, the test will measure the sound level and the overall seal, and let you know if the which tip size is correct. This is pretty major and can likely solve a big pain point.

The overall size of the buds has shrunk, so these should stick out less.

Noise cancellation and better sound

Active Noise Cancellation is powered by two microphones and software that works on an individual ear basis. That means that the left and ride sides will first work separately, and then come together, a process that in theory could provide even more effective noise cancellation.

One microphone is used to detect environmental noise and cancel out the brunt of it. A second microphone faces the inside of the ear and aims to cancel out the rest. The system listens and tweaks the sound signal at up to 200 times per second, according to Apple. That certainly sounds impressive, so I'm eager to put this to the test.

Similar to the Beats Solo Pro and the 700s from Bose, there is a transparency mode built into AirPods Pro. This basically lowers the level of noise cancellation, so you can hear the world around you without having to remove the buds, and it is perfect when using them in a busy, outdoor environment where you want to stay aware of your surroundings, like walking through the bustling streets of NYC, for instance.

Apple also goes the extra mile to make sure that your voice sounds natural and not like it's in an echo chamber.

The sound is improved with AirPods Pro and is customized to the individual ear, which seems to be a trend with new earphones. Using Adaptive EQ, the earbuds will measure the low and mid tones, and adapt to the shape of your ear, which should deliver a richer and crisper audio experience. Apple is using a custom high dynamic range amplifier to improve the sound, and it should be able to produce bass with more finesse. There's a lot packed into a relatively small earbud.

AirPods Pro are still using the custom H1 chip to power almost everything. That means fast pairing with iOS and macOS devices is still available, which should deliver long battery life.

You can also say "Hey Siri" to activate the virtual assistant, and you can even have Siri read your messages as they come through. Audio Sharing is also supported with AirPods Pro. This is basically the 2019 solution to sharing a pair of earbuds.

Apple says AirPods Pro deliver up to 4 1/2 hours of listening time with noise cancellation, and 3 1/2 hours of talk time with a single charge. With noise cancellation turned off, you get up to five hours — so about 30 minutes more. Like with second-generation AirPods, the carrying case delivers up to 24 hours of total listening time with recharges on the go. And yes, Apple is finally making this Qi-enabled for wireless charging at no extra cost. There's also a Lightning port for hardwired charging.

This is a huge upgrade, but it comes at a price. At $249, AirPods Pro are the most expensive true wireless earbuds from Apple and are on par with the price of Powerbeats Pro. In reality, that's just $50 more than full retail price of AirPods 2 with wireless charging, (although they're on sale at Amazon for just $164.99).

I'm eager to put these through the paces, but via the spec sheet, it seems like Apple has a clear winner. The attention to customization and delivering a sound experience for all ear types is also big.

Here's what the AirPods lineup looks like:

Note: The prices above reflect the retailer's listed price at the time of publication.