AirPods Pro and the Sound of Silence

Apple doing what Apple does best…

And in the naked light I saw

Ten thousand people, maybe more

People talking without speaking

People hearing without listening

People writing songs that voices never share

And no one dared

Disturb the sound of silence

It’s both obvious and a cliche, but this is the song that pops into my head each time I pop in the AirPods Pro. Simply put, they’re amazing.

More specifically, to anyone who has used noise-cancelling earphones like the popular Bose QC 35, this will seem like nothing new. What’s new is this level of noise cancellation in a pair of tiny in-ear headphones. You put them in and you’re sucked into the sound of silence.

And while I’ve long had a pair of the aforementioned Bose headphones,¹ because they’re the bulky, over-the-ear variety, I only ever really use them on planes. And these days, it’s even more narrow: only on planes when I’m not traveling with my one-year old daughter, because I simply don’t have space to pack such niceties. The AirPods Pro will change that equation.

More importantly, they change the day-to-day equation. In the two weeks I’ve had these, I’ve used them daily, multiple times per day. And while Tim Cook may say the AirPods Pro can complement the regular “old” AirPods, the reality is that these are now already my de facto AirPods. Because once you go silent, you can’t go back.

Walking around the streets of San Francisco with these things is really something to behold. I’ve long thought about the issue of noise pollution in cities, largely because I’ve long been the guy walking around the city with AirPods always in. And I can’t begin to tell you how many places there are in a city that render those sticks of joy almost entirely useless. A jackhammer here, a dump truck there, even just a delivery truck backing up. When you are constantly listening to something as you walk — as I have for years — you become acutely aware of just how noisey the world around you is.

The AirPods Pro effectively negate this. I’ve been using them on the transit lines here in SF, MUNI and BART, both of which are often far too loud for regular AirPods. The AirPods Pro cut through the insanely loud rattling of cars that are about 20 years behind their maintenance schedules like knives through hot butter. Earlier today, I was walking down the street and an ambulance went whirring by. Normally, this is an almost painful audible experience. With the AirPods Pro it was just a normal, loud experience.²

That’s the thing, it’s not like they shut off outside noise entirely. But they cancel it out enough to make anything you happen to be listening to audible, no matter the situation. I haven’t tried them on a plane yet, but given how closely they seem to mirror the Bose noise-cancellation, I suspect they’re going to be quite good in that environment as well.

To reiterate, the key here is how portable these things are. If you buy them, you’re going to have them with you at all times. And so you’re going to wear them at all times. That’s what matters. It’s noise-cancellation at scale.

On the flip side, the “Transparency” feature is also very cool. This not only shuts off noise cancellation, it actually augments the environment around you, boosting some sounds you may want to hear. It’s something that’s kind of hard to describe, to be honest. But it’s almost like bionic hearing. You have to experience it.³

And it’s a great feature because it not only allows you to keep the AirPods Pro in for more times during a day, it almost invites you to do so. I know to some — maybe even to many, this will sound dystopian. I get it. But there are real benefits here, as I’m sure people with hearing loss will attest.

And as you’ve undoubtedly seen by now if you’ve walked around any big city in the past couple of years, increasingly, everyone is wearing AirPods all over the place, all the time. A few years ago, this prospect not only seemed dystopian, it seemed satirical. Everyone was so fixated with how they looked that they didn’t stop to think about the inevitability of this reality. The first AirPods were just so damn convenient that they bordered on magic. Yes, wireless headphones were nothing new. But the AirPods made them a truly profound experience.⁴

And the AirPods Pro extend that experience.

I’ve taken a whole bunch of other notes about the AirPods Pro, but the above is the essence of using them. They’re not exactly perfect — for one thing, I actually find them to be less iconic looking in you ears and more hook-like. Something about them reminds me of crab claws. Weird, I know. They’re also decidedly harder to get into and out of the case. And it was already fairly hard to get the original AirPods out of the case! But the angles here are just odd. And the case itself is bigger, so it’s a bit harder to handle. It sort of reminds me of a giant clam. Weird, I know.⁵

My biggest nit is that you still can’t pair them to two devices at once. Apple makes switching devices fairly easy thanks to their own chips and built-in iOS controls. But the Bose headphones can hang on to two connections at once. I’m not clear why the AirPods can’t (battery issues, I assume?) — especially the “Pro” models…

But those are all just that, nits. The AirPods Pro are great. Just like the AirPods, but better — something for which you’ll pay more money, of course. Such is the price of silence, it seems.

¹ Technically, I have the Bose QC 25’s — which seem the same as the newer generation just minus the voice assistant capability.

² Which is important, as you need to hear such alerts at times, obviously.

³ One interesting example I’ve encountered: being at a noisy sports bar (by myself) and being able to hear the game being played on TV above the bar crowd.

⁴ Apple’s playbook to a T, of course.

All Rights Reserved for M.G. Siegler

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