I was listening to a new song by an artist named Zach Williams on the new Apple AirPods Pro recently. It's a Gospel-tinged country song that's ragged and worn like the artist himself (one of my all-time favorites). A back-up singer chimed in on the chorus and I thought to myself--whoa, she might have some potential.

The vocal trills, the syncopated harmony--it was quite stunning.

I checked the liner notes. What a dummy.

It's Dolly Parton, singing in such perfect unison that the entire song seems to float on a cloud of air. It was a curious discovery while reviewing one of the best products Apple has released in years, or perhaps ever in their long, luminous history--at least in terms of accessories. For those of us who work at a desk all day or with a laptop at Starbucks, these earbuds will make the day shorter and help you focus just a notch better.

I listened to multiple tracks I've obsessed over while reviewing other earbuds. I cranked up Angel Olsen to test the fidelity and, let me just say--you feel transported. Her latest album called All Mirrors has a sonic dissonance, especially on a track like New Love Cassette with a rich bass that wraps around your ears like a warm towel. 

Another favorite artist of mine named Bootsraps also released an album recently, and every song came alive on the AirPods Pro--so precise and distinct. On the opening track to the new album by Elbow, you hear a swirling synth followed by a guttural bass sound. Three-quarters in, the song makes a sudden shift into full-on prog rock and the drums are clear and distinct. I listened to the song C Sections and Railway Tresses by The Avett Brothers and the acoustic guitar on the left channel sounded like it was in the room with me. It's organic and bright, as though one of the Avetts was sitting right next to you.

In short: My favorite songs came alive. That's the best thing anyone can possibly say.

Of course, there are a lot of interesting new features to explore. The AirPods Pro use tiny microphones for noise cancellation, and with a long press on one earbud you can activate it or disable it. (One tap pauses, two taps skips, etc.) In what Apple calls transparency mode--a funny name possibly invented by and for Gen Z-ers--you can turn off noise cancellation so you can hear someone talking to you or an oncoming car.

I made a few phone calls and, mainly because the AirPods Pro don't totally plug up your ears (they are even vented to let air pass through), you don't feel like the outside world and the caller (or your voice) are all muffled. It felt natural and normal, like using the iPhone's speakerphone. My caller also understood me perfectly.

There's a unique feature hidden in the settings of the iPhone as well. Once connected, you can perform an earbud test and make sure the size is correct, since Apple includes earbuds in small, medium, and large. Strange to think about but apparently our ears are sometimes different sizes between left and right, although medium worked fine for me.

Not sure about you, but I don't buy products only for the features. I buy for quality. If the AirPods Pro only had quirky new features like noise cancellation and transparency mode, or the option to test earbud size, I would not be willing to pay $249. But I went back to that song by Zach Williams again. I've listened to countless Bluetooth speakers, earbuds, and headphones, some that cost far more than $249.

I kept thinking: This is a unique product.

If there is any ding it is simply this. Maybe you'd prefer earbuds or headphones from some other company, so that your laptops, tablet, phone, and earbuds are not all from Apple. (If you must know, I'm more of a Google Pixelbook person, so I'm not so Apple-centric.)

Someone asked me recently if the AirPods Pro are really worth it. I couldn't think of any negatives. As a journalist, you want to point out any flaws. I didn't think the price was outrageous--there are higher priced earbuds. I wondered about the battery life (about five hours), but with the case you can recharge them for 24 hours of use. Do I like white? Not so much, although that's really a personal preference (Apple, please make them in black).

This is usually where I mention some other caveat, just to make sure you know no product is perfect. I couldn't think of anything this time, quite honestly. All I can say is I'm looking forward to listening to more Zach Williams. And maybe some Dolly Parton to boot.

Published on: Nov 7, 2019
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