The original Apple AirPods may be among the most recognizable wireless earbuds in the world, and were lightly upgraded in 2019, three years after their initial launch in 2016.
The AirPods Pro, however, represent a culmination of years’ worth of work in the true wireless earbuds space, as a higher-end version of the Apple earbuds.
Not only are the AirPods Pro exceptionally easy to setup, they’re also far more comfortable and come with tons of new features like noise cancellation and adaptive EQ. That’s why they made our round up of the best true wireless earbuds of 2020.
That being said, they’re also way more expensive than the standard AirPods, and that’s led a lot of people to wonder if it’s worth upgrading to the AirPods Pro, or if they should simply stick to the cheaper AirPods that were updated in 2019.
It’s also worth considering that we may be in store for new versions of both true wireless earbud models in the near future; we’ve heard rumors of the AirPods 3 and the AirPods Pro Lite, both of which are said to be launching in 2020.
The answer will be different for everyone, but to help you understand which AirPods model is right for you we’ve broken down the eight main differences below.
Difference #1: The AirPods Pro have noise-cancelation
Probably the most noticeable difference is that the AirPods Pro actually use active noise cancellation rather than relying only on passive noise reduction from the eartips.
The level of noise cancellation on the Pro can be customized, and can even be set to Transparency Mode to allow you to hear what’s happening around you without taking off the headphones. There’s basically no drawbacks to having it.
The regular AirPods, unfortunately, don’t offer any level of active noise cancelation, and only offer a noise reduction effect by their tight seal.
Difference #2: The AirPods Pro are water-resistant
If you’re planning on taking your Apple earbuds to the gym, you should probably pick up the more expensive AirPods Pro as they’re water-resistant IPX4 – i.e. sweat- and water-resistant – compared to the non-water-resistant AirPods.
Now, that doesn’t mean you should take your new high-end AirPods Pro in the pool with you – if they fall out or stay submerged too long they’ll get ruined. If you’re looking for something you can take into the pool with you, you’ll need a pair of waterproof earbuds.
Difference #3: The AirPods Pro have custom eartips
In terms of finding the right fit, the AirPods Pro will offer more customization than the one-size-fits-all Apple AirPods: inside the box you’ll find a number of eartips and if you’re not sure which to use, Apple will even help you find the correct fit with a quick audio test and can tailor the sound to suit your ear structure.
Because the eartips on the AirPods are plastic, you’re stuck with them – although some people do find them more comfortable than silicone eartips, which have to be pushed into your ear.
Difference #4: AirPods Pro have a pressure valve inside
If you’ve ever felt uncomfortable when wearing a pair of in-ear headphones, it’s because there’s a small, annoying-but-not-life-threatening pressure build-up inside your ear. To combat that, the AirPods Pro uses a very small pressure valve to reduce the pressure inside your ear – a feature Apple borrowed from the Powerbeats Pro.
It’s a small perk of the Pro series of headphones, but one worth considering, especially if you’re sensitive to pressure build-up.
Difference #5: The AirPods Pro have Adaptive EQ
Also inside the earbuds themselves are internal microphones that can measure volume. These are absolutely crucial for effective noise cancellation but, as an added bonus, can also be used for features like Adaptive EQ that optimizes sound quality for your physiology.
How does it work? According to Apple, the AirPods Pro “automatically tunes the low- and mid-frequencies” by using a custom high dynamic range amplifier that “produces pure, incredibly clear sound while also extending battery life.” Nifty!
Difference #6: …and offer wider soundstage and a slight uptick in clarity
While you won’t find a massive difference in audio performance between the two AirPods, many folks have noticed a slightly wider soundstage (how clearly you can hear individual instruments) and a slight uptick in overall clarity when using the AirPods Pro. That’s likely because the AirPods Pro have a slightly larger frequency range and a slightly larger chamber that allows for the sound to expand more.
Difference #7: The AirPods Pro are shorter and stouter than the AirPods
OK, so this is really more of an aesthetic difference than a functional one, but the AirPods Pro are a bit shorter and stouter than the regular AirPods. The iconic tips of the headphones don’t reach as far down your ear with the Pro, but they will cover up more of your ear due to their larger housing.
Both have a somewhat futuristic look to them, however, which some find unappealing – and some love. Either way, both models are unmistakably ‘Apple’.
Difference #8: The AirPods Pro are way, way more expensive
Finally, a category where the regular AirPods stand a chance: At $249 / £249 / AU$399, the AirPods Pro are significantly more expensive than the regular AirPods ($159 / £159 / AU$249) that come with a standard case.
If you want to swap out the regular case for the wireless charging case, the price of the regular AirPods jumps to $199 / £199 / AU$319, putting it within arm’s reach of the AirPods Pro.
These prices regularly dip, however – particularly for the regular AirPods. You can check out the best AirPods and AirPods Pro deals we’ve found in your region below:
Are there any similarities?
We’ve focused on the differences so far, but really the two true wireless earbuds have tons in common, too.
For one, they’re both true wireless earbuds with similarly sized cases and a battery life of around 3.5 hours per charge, and over 24 hours with the battery case. T
hey also have a fairly similar sound quality with only minor differences in the soundstage / clarity. They both use the new Apple H1 Wireless chip that enables hands-free “Hey Siri” functionality, and work seamlessly with iOS.
Which ones should you buy?
If you’re bothered by outside noises while at work or while you’re commuting, need water-resistance for the gym or are sensitive to pressure build-up in your ears, it’s probably worth paying a bit more for the Apple AirPods Pro.
But if your chief concerns are sound quality or battery life, you can save yourself a ton of money by sticking with the basic AirPods.
Of course, we suggest you read both our Apple AirPods Pro review and our Apple AirPods (2019) review to learn even more about them, but hopefully you know a bit more now than you did five minutes ago.