I just got a pair of the new AirPods Pro and wanted to compare the noise cancellation to some full fledged over ears like the Sony WH-1000XM2. As the noise cancellation for most higher end headphones (Bose Quietcomfort / 700, WH-1000XM3) is pretty much on the same level you could probably compare my experience to those as well.
First of all: I think the Sony headphones are awesome and one of the best NC headphones out there. I have owned them for quite a bit now but haven’t used them as often. I ended up using my 2nd gen AirPods most of the time simply out of convenience (no bluetooth pairing) and portability.
So when Apple announced the AirPods Pro it was a nobrainer for me in the hope of getting the best of both worlds – portability and silence!
So, how are the AirPods Pro?
TL;DR: They are good. Noise cancellation works well enough considering the size but physically can’t be as good as Sony’s in the WH-1000XM2. At least I didn’t get the same “Wow” effect I got the first time I put the Sony on in a louder environment. Oh and transparency mode is awesome while listening to music.
If you want to know more, here you go.
The AirPods Pro sound great, a lot better than the non-Pro ones. They are louder with richer sound and the bass is nice without being overtuned. I am no audiophile so this is my take on that in simple words. I didn’t think the old AirPods where bad by any means and enjoyed using them a lot. They sounded good but realistically nobody should expect any miracles from in-ear headphones. The AirPods Pro are by far the best sounding in-ears I ever used – but they better be considering the price…
I think the new silicone eartips with their tight fit support a better sound quality compared to the loose fit of the old ones.
I guess everybody owning headphones with H1 chip knows how awesome it to use those with Apple products. Same goes for the AirPods Pro. The biggest surprise for me was the transparency mode.
It’s working really well for me. The Sony WH-1000XM2 have a similar feature where you touch the side of the headphones and you start hearing your surroundings – and primarily your own voice as soon as you start talking. I never used it because it’s just annoying. Everything just gets boosted and sounds like coming out of some speakers at a railway station.
With the AirPods Pro it’s a totally different story. I tried listening to music with transparency mode on and you can actually talk to people while doing so and without getting your own voice boosted. It just sounds like you have music playing in the background (as long as you don’t crank it up). It’s hard to describe the effect but as I said it’s working really well for me. I think I will end using it quite a lot because it’s quickly activated and you don’t have to take the AirPods Pro out for a quick chat or to listen to something on a PA. As I am working in a coworking space this is a really nice surprise as you can quickly hear what’s going on around you without having to unplug or stop the music.
AirPods Pro noise cancellation compared to Sony WH-1000XM2
Well and now to the elephant in the room: The noise cancellation. NC on the Sony is one of the best on the market and when on a train or plane they block out virtually everything going on around you as well as most high pitched sounds and louder conversations as well.
The NC on the AirPods Pro is pretty similar but struggles with the sounds on the higher end of the spectrum (like all NC headphones). I just compared it on the train where the rolling sounds of the train got cancelled out pretty well. Most of the conversations by people around me got at least toned down by a good amount. I was still able to hear higher pitched noises like the door alarm clearly but not as loud as usual of course.
The Sony work a lot better for those high pitched sounds but that isn’t much of a surprise after all if you think about it. Well built over ears have to do a better job as they have some natural advantages. They block out quite a lot of sound with their thick cushions and the closed construction alone.
Directly comparing the NC of the over ears to in-ears seems a bit ridiculous. I mean you can literally put the case of the AirPods Pro into one of the Sony’s cushions 🙂
If you just put them on and compare the sound that gets through if both are switched off completely you will see why. Both do have their strengths with deep and steady sounds but the overall NC effect is way stronger and potent on the Sony. Especially if you just turn the headphones on and don’t play any music. That is something I did quite often on a plane or train and it won’t get you far with the AirPods. If you turn the music on, the AirPods NC effect is way more effective and I think for me it’s good enough.
I am positively surprised by the overall performance given the size but and I’m excited to test the NC some more in the wild.
For now I think you should get what you need. If you prefer total silence you get over ears like the Sony or Bose. If somewhat silent is enough and you value portability get the AirPods Pro. For me the added convenience and being able to have them with me all the time trumps the better noise cancelling.
Oh one more thing I nearly forgot: With the AirPods Pro I don’t get the weird pressure on my ears with NC activated. This annoyed me quite a bit with every other NC headphones I used (Bose and Sony).