One of my biggest regrets about the pandemic is how I used my AirPods Pro so much that one day I ended up stepping on them, fatally damaging the pair in the process. So when the new AirPods were announced I was excited to see how the world’s most popular earphones, and my favorite pair for work and leisure, fared.
The new AirPods may look a bit more like the AirPods Pro, but are actually an improvement over the regular model. So there’s an obvious design upgrade now with the stem now getting shorter and the earpieces more contoured to align with the shape of the ears. Unlike the Pro model, there are no silicone tips here. You can now see three black spots on the AirPods, and these are for the microphone and sensor.
The second major change is in the design of the charging case. It is now horizontal in orientation, although the size is the same as before. The case also comes with wireless charging so you can keep it on the charging surface for the night.
Like other Apple devices, there’s hardly any setup involved. As soon as you bring AirPods close for the first time, the phone recognizes them. But now there is an extra step, which adds announcement notification feature. AirPods can now announce everything from Twitter replies to Instagram messages and messages on your timeline. In fact, in the first few days, it became so much that I turned it off for most apps. But even when these are turned off, I could still hear notifications for every kilometer I completed on my morning walk. This was great and meant I didn’t have to keep checking the clock, although it did overlap music or podcasts for a few seconds.
The audio profile of AirPods has always been good. But with the latest version, Apple is switching to its spatial audio. Wandering under the clear blue sky along the beach in Kozhikode, music flowing from AirPods wrapped my head around like the calm morning breeze of the Arabian Sea. The Summa of the Attaka Quartet kept pace with the draft and stayed where it was, hanging in the air as I turned my head. But then the classical is probably a little more prevalent for these AirPods. It needs something like Colin Richard’s Street Lights to highlight the bass and highs all at once.
Tested, I relax while sipping black coffee on the old pier and listening to my all-time favorite Hotel California, which was recorded live for MTV in 1994. I am no longer near the Arabian Sea. I’m transported to where Don Felder is playing his 12-string riff. The new AirPods are a lot about the spaces, and where the music is.
And it’s not just about the music. Even listening to podcasts makes you feel like you’re in a room with speakers on. The conversation is no longer in your ears, but more around you. more natural. That’s a pretty unique feeling for a pair of EarPods this little.
Apple is also doing some neat things with the microphones on the AirPods, using them to reduce ambient noise when you’re on a call so the other party can hear you better. But sadly, the pair doesn’t come with noise canceling, as Apple has shown with AirPods Pro. This is a real disappointment, especially since there’s no silicone tip here to isolate the noise.
Controls are easy, with the small groove on the stem recognizing a single or double squeeze to stop and resume. Long press wakes up Siri. It all works as you’d expect from an Apple product. Battery life is also good and I didn’t have to charge the pair for the first week, as Zoom calls lasted for a few hours every day.
The new Apple AirPods have really gone up a notch on audio quality with spatial audio and convenience with announce notifications and wireless charging. But for the price of Rs 18,500, I have to say that the noise cancellation is definitely missed.
This is when most of the players in the market are offering noise cancellation with different levels of effectiveness at low price points. Buy it if noise cancellation doesn’t really matter to you. If you’re like me to think and work vacuums, the AirPods Pro may be a better bet, even at a higher price. Truly one of the best when it comes to audio quality, but at a cost.