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Saturday, September 18, 2021

The AirPods Pro Revisited

The AirPods Pro had a great start but a rocky middle for an exceptional product. The last part of the product cycle brought it back to life.

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The AirPods Pro is an expensive but excellent in-ear headset that has so many features built for the Apple ecosystem. We revisit the AirPods Pro with a short review and take a look at the lifecycle of firmware updates that degraded audio quality of the AirPods Pro which until today remains a mystery.

A Rocky Lifecycle

The launch of the AirPods Pro on October 30, 2019 was out of this world. Immediately, positive reviews came pouring in. The Guardian called them “a touch of Apple’s magic” and gave them a 5 star rating. I was very excited to get my first pair of AirPods Pro standing in line outside the Apple Store.

Apple Store HongKong
Apple Store HongKong where I got my first AirPods Pro last 2019.

After two weeks of great use, Apple automatically updated its AirPods Pro firmware to version 2B588 across the world which weakened Noise Cancellation. There were tons of support threads created by frustrated customers noticing that there was almost no difference from Off mode and Noise Cancellation mode.

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After a month, Apple released firmware version 2C54 which did nothing to fix the noise cancellation issue. It was during this time that a lot of users were complaining about the hissing sound originating from their AirPods Pro. The static problems only continued to get worse with some blaming it on poor manufacturing issues. There is no way you can control the Automatic Firmware updates for this device as it all happens over-the-air whenever you’re charging the device.

Apple pulled 2C54 before January 2020 and the latest firmware returned to being 2B588. AirPods Pro models would no longer update to 2C54 but those that already updated could not go back.

The best noice cancellation I’ve seen since the launch of 2B584 firmware was Apple itself. They haven’t said anything about the issue. Even after several months. We would have hoped with the tons of complaints that Apple will at least respond to media reports but they didn’t.

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During the release of iOS 14 last September, Apple released firmware version 3A283 that brought the AirPods Pro to launch day quality. It even added support for Spatial Audio and Automatic Device Switching which are fantastic features to an already great device.The rocky software updates has made the AirPods Pro on an up, down, and up trajectory during its product cycle. There are rumors of a new AirPods Pro this year and we hope that nothing of this sort happens again. Apple should not be degrading the quality of its products via software updates.

Features and Design

The $249 AirPods Pro features Normal, Active Noise Cancellation, and Transparency Mode that has great implementation. You can switch between those modes seamlessly or press on the stem of the AirPods when you set it on that mode.

Inside the AirPods Pro.
Inside the AirPods Pro. Photo courtesy of Apple.

Active Noise Cancellation is useful when you’re in the gym or in any other setting where you want to immerse yourself on the audio you’re listening to. The technology they use is not just about sealing your ears with its ear tips. They don’t just shut off outside noise entirely, they cancel out external sounds before you hear them. AirPods Pro uses outward-facing microphones which detect external sounds that your device counters with anti-noise.

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Transparency mode on the other hand lets outside sound in and is great when you are in the office or walking in a street where it is important to hear the environment around you. It not only shuts off noise cancellation but actually augments the noise around the environment boosting external sounds. Sort of like having bionic hearing.

The tips features an active seal and compliments the features of the AirPods. You can choose from three different buds to make sure it seals your ears completely. Apple provides an Ear Tip Test during setup to make sure that any untoward noise don’t get pass your ears. These tips may wear off over time but it is removable and Apple sells additional tips on the Apple Store.

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REVIEW OVERVIEW

AirPods Pro Overall

SUMMARY

Overall, we love our AirPods Pro. Active Noise Cancellation and Transparency Mode are exceptional. The design looks futuristic and people were quick to embrace the odd design when it launched the AirPods few years back. Many other competing brands have now offered similar design factor copying from its success. Aside from the rocky quality you'd experience over the lifecycle of owning one, the AirPods Pro now feels stable and matured and ready to be updated to a 2nd generation Pro device.

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