Wherein I marvel at technology.
Apple AirPods Pro
My first Apple product was a 4th generation iPod. I loved it. I didn’t love the earbuds that came with it. I used some Sony ones I had been using with my portable CD player.
I never touched another pair of Apple ear buds until I went to sell one of my iPhones and I thought I should probably test the unused ones that originally came with it. I popped them in my ears and started playing a song I knew. Or thought I knew. I began to worry something was wrong with the track. No, it sounded fine on my Sennheiser in-ear earbuds. The Apple buds were just really bad.
When first bought an iPhone that came with EarPods, I thought I’d give them a go. They certainly sounded way better than what they replaced. Well… until I went out into the world. The very loose fit and lack of any seal made that crisp audio disappear against the noise of the world. Back to the Sennheisers.
I bought some BeatsX and used them daily for a long time and they were great. Mostly. They were perfect most days but not in very strong wind and not for running. The seal and the sound, however, were excellent.
Then PowerBeats Pro came on the scene. I bought these, too, and they solved the wind problem — they do not move under any circumstances. Same when running. However, I think due to their means of support, they do not seal as well as the BeatsX, meaning a higher volume is required. The convenience of a whole week’s listening, lack of any cords, and 100% stability in my ears outweighed the slightly inferior seal.
Meanwhile, prior to my trip to Singapore last year I bought a pair of Sony WH-1000XM3 over ear noise cancelling headphones. They’re amazing. Even just by putting the inert headphones over my ears a lot of sound is blocked, and when noise cancellation is on they are very relaxing. But… they really aren’t suitable for my commute. I do see quite a few people commuting with these but they’re not weatherproof and I tend to sweat a bit with my fast walking, making them uncomfortable and hot.
Enter AirPods Pro. AirPods bad, right? Yes, but their chief problem as far as I was concerned — insufficient noise isolation — appeared to be addressed. Surely it can’t be that good in such a tiny package?
This week I bought a pair (no easy feat with constrained supply). After a couple of failed starts with the medium and small ear tips, I was suddenly greeted with a very effective drop in background noise. I wouldn’t say they’re as good at blocking noise as the Sony headphones, but they’re maybe 85% of the way there, and better for my commute.
I tested them out with a walk down a busy Wellington street to my favourite hot chocolate vendor. I could hear people talking. I could hear vehicles passing, I could hear noisy buses. I was beginning to think they weren’t so great. However, I turned off noise cancelling when I arrived at my destination in order to hear properly and when I then departed back to the street it was suddenly very obvious how loud the environment really was. A quick squeeze turned the noise cancelling back on and while I could still hear the street around me, it was clearly muted.
I don’t see any use for the “transparency” mode, which makes things sound tinny to me, because the full mode is achieving the level of awareness I need for walking through the city. With more perfectly sized or shaped tips, they may well approach the same level of noise cancellation as the Sonys, but as I have them now they are just great.
The 4.5 hours of listening time is quite a step down from the 8 hours of the PowerBeats Pro, but it’s plenty long enough to cover a full commute to work and home again. However, as with the PowerBeats Pro, it is natural to place them in their charging case when removing them from my ears so they will always be fully charged. The charging case is substantially smaller than that of the PowerBeats Pro, too, so I can happily carry it in the same pocket as my phone — a huge leap in convenience over the bulky PowerBeats Pro case. Amazingly, the AirPods Pro case yields the same total 24 hours of listening as the PowerBeats Pro case.
In summary, I’ve spent far too much money on listening devices in the last couple of years, but I now have a good understanding of what works for me in what situations. I will consider selling the BeatsX which I really don’t use any more. I’m tossing up whether to sell the PowerBeats Pro because I suspect they would be better for a gym workout (I tell myself that will happen, soon). I will be keeping the Sonys because they are really in a class of their own — unbeaten for at-home (or occasional at-work) chilled out listening with the best quality.
That concludes this edition of Echoes. The comments are open, but will be moderated for civility. Alternatively you can hit me up on Twitter, where I go by @zkarj.
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