To Pro or Not to Pro? Which AirPods are right for you?

Jason Cipriani, CNN Underscored
Tue October 29, 2019

Apple just announced the AirPods Pro. Yes, there's now a Pro version of Apple's extremely popular wireless earbuds. That means you have three options, with each set of AirPods offering different features and capabilities (and, of course, different prices). All three are available for purchase right now.

  • AirPods with Charging Case ($144, originally $159.99; amazon.com)
  • AirPods with Wireless Charging Case ($164.99, originally $199; amazon.com)
  • AirPods Pro ($249; amazon.com)

Trying to decide which AirPods to buy for yourself or as a present for someone else can be confusing -— but it doesn't have to be. Here's a breakdown of Apple's AirPods.

AirPods with or without a wireless charging case

When you visit Apple's AirPods page, you're shown three options. First are the AirPods Pro (more on those in a minute) and then two regular AirPods.

The only difference between those two options is that one comes with a case that works with Qi-compatible wireless chargers. That's the same wireless charging technology that recent iPhones use, and it allows you to charge the AirPods case by placing it on a wireless charging pad.

The standard charging case uses Apple's Lightning port for charging.

Other than that, these two AirPods are identical. They have the latest H1 chip that provides seamless pairing, extended Bluetooth range, always-on "Hey Siri" functionality and five hours of listening time.

The AirPods with a wireless charging case are $199 (on sale for $165), while AirPods with standard charging case are $159 (on sale for $144).

If you don't use a wireless charger, you can choose the standard charging case, with the option of purchasing the wireless charging case for $79 down the road.

AirPods Pro

The AirPods Pro are priced at $249, $50 more than the standard AirPods with a wireless charging case. But for that extra cost, you get new functionality.

The core of the AirPods experience is the same with the AirPods Pro. That is, the same H1 chip is used, allowing for the same quick pairing, ease of switching between devices, "Hey Siri" functionality and extended range — all the stuff AirPods are known for.

However, AirPods Pro is the biggest upgrade we've seen to Apple's wireless earbuds. They feature a new design, active noise cancellation and improved sound quality, and they're water- and sweat-resistant.

Active noise cancellation will block out background noise in the office or on an airplane. There's also a new transparency mode that will let you choose to hear outside sounds, like airport announcements or a comment from a friend, without turning off your audio.

The sound quality is also improved, thanks to new hardware and an adaptive EQ feature to adjust the sound quality in real time. Additionally, AirPods Pro feature replaceable tips that should give you a more comfortable fit.

Battery life is still expected to be around five hours with active noise cancellation turned off, or 4½ hours with noise cancellation turned on.

Which AirPods are right for you?

At the end of the day, I think AirPods Pro are the way to go. The price is higher, sure, but for that extra $50 (assuming you're comparing them to the AirPods with a wireless charging case), you get a lot.

Active noise cancellation on its own, especially for someone who works in a noisy environment or travels a lot, is worth that extra cost. And if you use wireless earbuds while you're working out, you can't overlook the fact that these are sweat- and water-resistant, combined with replaceable tips.

However, $249 is a lot of money for small, wireless earbuds that can be easily lost. The standard AirPods sound good enough to most people and still have the core magical features that have made AirPods so appealing.

You can't really go wrong with either model, but the AirPods Pro seem like they'll be worth the cost. We plan to put them to the test as soon as we can get them in our ears.

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