Apple Airpods Pro
First, a proper seal is critical for these earbuds. Make sure you pick out the right tips. Like Bose and Beats, Apple gets a lot of crap about the sound quality of their products. I want to give them a fair shake since the Airpods Pro has received so much attention.
Android: How to get Apple Airpod Pro’s three modes (ANC, Ambient, Off)
On Android, Instead of three modes (off, ANC, ambient), it seems to only come with the latter two modes (activated by holding the handle of the Airpods). ANC mode sounds warmer with less shine than ambient – but I enjoyed it more so I stayed in that mode for the review. I was curious as to how “off” sounded so I tried listening through an old iPad mini instead. Unfortunately, even on the iPad Mini, only the two modes exist.
Turns out you could enable the three modes if you have access to Apple devices that display the three options. I had a 2013 Macbook Pro laying around and was able to check all three boxes under the Airpod’s Bluetooth “Options.” Once checked and disconnected, I was able to reconnect to the Pixel 3 with all three modes. Admittedly, not a graceful solution since you’re forced to borrow an Apple device from your hipster homie first.
This is with all equalization off.
- Off (low beep): The most tonally accurate mode. It has warmth and better depth. Interestingly, the bass isn’t very punchy but detailed. Bass takes a bit of a backseat, which is unfortunate as this is the most natural-sounding mode.
- Ambient (double beep): There’s something “uncomfortable” about the sound quality in this mode. It sounds a little strained and grainy. Compared to the ANC mode, the sound is stretched very thin. The sound is wiry and terrible but for whatever reason, the bass is the punchiest in this mode.
- ANC (high beep): This mode is a slightly denser and more grounded version of the Ambient mode. In this mode, there’s more air and clarity, but the tonality is cold. Bass isn’t as punchy as Ambient mode but still OK.
The “Bass Boost” option on the Spotify app on Android is problematic. It removes too much clarity and air when increased but it also reduces volume – and thus dynamic range. Unfortunately, a manual boost at 60 Hz on the Spotify Android app and the bass has a sufficient amount of weight – but the sound gets a little cloudy and volume drops even more. This is a limitation of Android devices as it doesn’t really boost the signal but instead attenuates the other bands. Bummer.
So currently, it seems in order to maximize the sound quality of the Apple Airpods Pro, you need an Apple device. I’m sure there are Android apps that would alleviate the problem…but at this point, I’m losing my patience. I formed a lopsided U-shaped curve and it’s sounding much better. It went from one of the worse sounding earbuds I’ve ever heard to something actually listenable. It’s too bad I can’t save this damn preset! Oh well. With noise mode off and the equalizer in place, it’s time to do some listening. Finally!
Having seen many hipsters with these glued to their ears – I was curious to hear what they were hearing. Some have even mentioned they were better than the previous version (which I hadn’t heard).
This U-shape EQ does wonders for sub-bass response. So these Airpods Pro can get punchy. However, after endless amounts of comparisons, it became clear that even with this EQ, the Airpods Pro weren’t meant for sound quality. It’s very detailed, energetic, and had more textures than I’d expect, but soulless otherwise. On the flip side, I think these Airpods Pro are using larger drivers than some of the other TWS earphones – so sounds bigger, which isn’t a bad thing.
These were the themes:
- Neutral and colorless. It doesn’t sound like there’s blood flowing in the music. Everything has this greyish color. Like watching a black & white movie.
- Timbre is way off. Piano, voice, guitar – nothing sounds true. Although the highs are OK.
- Attacks fall flat.
- It doesn’t focus or delineate well.
- Not a ton of air.
- More piecewise than coherent.
- Imaging is confused – instruments and sounds are just “slapped” onto the 2D soundstage.
- Ultra-thin paper flat. There’s no shape to the music.
- Occasional harshness in the upper-mids.
Although one of the worse true wireless earphones on this list, I could see casual listeners being totally OK with the sound. It doesn’t have many “musical” qualities but is still a big resolving and exciting one. At the end of the day, it’s just anemic and uncolored. There’s no dimension, tangibility, or tactility whatsoever. Not to mention, every song sounds like they’re recorded in Antarctica (sounds cold). These were obviously made for something other than listening to music – and that’s fine. I actually like the look and feel of these earphones.
- HiFiMAN TWS600: The HiFiMAN sounds much more organic, dimensional, and natural in comparison. The Apple still has more air, treble shine, and bass, however. It also sounds much bigger than the HiFiMAN.
- Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless: The Apple has more detail and definitely a much more present treble, but sounds too one-dimensional to be engaging. The Sennheiser has far more bass, smoothness, and dimension.
- Soundcore Liberty 2 Pro: The Apple sounds much, much flatter. Delicacy, delineation, and nuance is definitely not its strong point. The differences are so vast it almost feels silly to articulate them. The Soundcore has better clarity, timbre, bass, depth, and everything else. One thing that the Apple does better is smoothness. The Soundcore has some grain in the mids.
- Samsung Galaxy Buds: This comparison makes the Apple sound tonally grayscale. There’s one color for the drums, voices, and string bass. The Buds is fuller, warmer, and molds out the music much better. There’s just more emotion and atmosphere. The Apple has a larger image (taller & wider) while the Samsung sits further back. Articulation does seem snappier on the Apple – while there is more bleed with the Samsung. Overall, the Samsung sounds much more natural but has more sibilance. Update (3/12/2020): With the updated EQ (pic above), the Airpods Pro is actually warmer sounding – but falls apart when the music gets busy.
- Not very Pixel 3 friendly? Connection problems and had to reboot the actual phone to get it to connect.
- Apple has the most portable charging case out of all the true wireless earphones.
- Randomly, the buds will get out of sync and will stagger the music. Just have to pause and play again.
- It can’t access all three modes without an Apple device.
Who should buy these?
If you have an Apple product. At the moment, Android devices “dumb down” the sound with the equalizer enabled. Most of the money probably went into the microphones and cool click control.
If you don’t use earbuds for music listening, these are perfect. They’re somewhat detailed but sound mostly soulless and marshmallowy. So, if you bought them for sound quality, you are getting ripped off. But if you’re buying it for ANC (which performs very well), utility, and portability – then, by all means, make it rain.
But hey, if you’re going to get these buds anyway, throw this dog a bone.