Apple AirPods vs AirPods Pro (2019): which wireless earbuds are better?

The Apple AirPods Pro next to the original Apple AirPods 2019
(Image credit: Apple)
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Are you struggling to choose between the Apple AirPods vs AirPods Pro (2019)? We understand why you’re drawn to these two pairs of the best Apple headphones, but there are some differences you need to know about.

The original Apple AirPods are instantly recognizable and very popular. Still, the AirPods Pro (2019) represent a culmination of years’ worth of work on true wireless tech, which means they’re a higher-end version of the Apple earbuds – and they have a higher price tag to match. 

The AirPods Pro (201) are far more comfortable and come with a range of superb features, including adaptive EQ, active noise cancellation, and support for Spatial Audio. That’s why they made our round-up of the best true wireless earbuds of 2022. It's worth mentioning there's now a newer version of the Pro buds, the AirPods Pro 2, which deliver some big upgrades in terms of both functionality and audio performance. 

In this comparison, it might seem like we’re suggesting the AirPods Pro (2019) are always the better choice than the regular AirPods. But there’s more to consider. They’re way more expensive than the standard AirPods, which led many people to wonder if it’s worth upgrading to the AirPods Pro (2019) or if they should stick to the cheaper AirPods that Apple updated in 2019.

To learn more about both pairs of buds, look at our Apple AirPods (2019) review and our Apple AirPods Pro review. But if you’re short on time, read on for the key differences between the two to help you find out which AirPods model is right for you.

The Apple AirPods Pro in their charging case, next to the Apple AirPods in their charging case.

The AirPods Pro (on left) have a wider case than the AirPods (on right). (Image credit: Future)

Difference #1: The AirPods Pro (2019) have noise cancellation 

The most noticeable difference between the two earbuds is that the AirPods Pro use active noise cancellation rather than relying only on passive noise reduction.

The level of noise cancellation with the Pro buds can be customized and even set to 'Transparency Mode', which allows you to hear what's happening around you without taking the headphones out of your ears. 

Unfortunately, the regular AirPods don't offer any level of active noise cancellation. Instead, there's a noise reduction effect thanks to the seal they create within your ear canal. However, this effect is negligible because they don't have silicone or memory foam ear tips.

Difference #2: The AirPods Pro (2019) are water-resistant 

If you want to take your Apple earbuds to the gym, go with the more expensive AirPods Pro. They have an IPX4 rating, which means they're 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 for too long, they'll get ruined. If you're looking for something you can take into the pool, you'll need a pair of the best swimming headphones instead. 

A person holding one of the AirPods Pro buds in their fingers.

Here you can see the touch-capacitive control panel on the AirPods Pro. (Image credit: TechRadar)

Difference #3: The AirPods Pro (2019) have custom eartips 

For the perfect fit, the AirPods Pro will offer more customization than the one-size-fits-all Apple AirPods. Inside the box, you’ll find several ear tips, and if you’re not sure which to use, Apple will even help you find the correct fit with a quick audio test and tailor the sound to suit your ear structure.

Because the ear tips on the AirPods are plastic, you’re stuck with them – although some people find them more comfortable than silicone ear tips, which you need to push into your ear.

Difference #4: AirPods Pro (2019) have a pressure valve inside 

If you’ve ever felt uncomfortable when wearing a pair of in-ear headphones, it might be because there’s a small, annoying-but-not-life-threatening pressure build-up inside your ear. To combat that, the AirPods Pro uses a tiny 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.

A person holding an iPhone and controlling the AirPods Pro, you can see a volume slider on the screen.

Both the AirPods and AirPods Pro work great with iOS devices. (Image credit: Future)

Difference #5: The AirPods Pro (2019) have Adaptive EQ 

Inside the earbuds themselves, there are internal microphones that can measure volume. These are crucial for effective noise cancellation but, as a 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” 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 buds have a slightly larger frequency range and a somewhat larger chamber that allows the sound to expand more. 

The Apple AirPods Pro in the ears of TechRadar EIC, Gareth Beavis.

(Image credit: TechRadar)

Difference #7: The AirPods Pro (2019) are shorter and stouter than the AirPods 

This is 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 as the Pro, but they will cover up more of your ear due to their larger housing. 

However, both have a somewhat futuristic look to them, which some find unappealing – and plenty of others love. Either way, both models are unmistakably ‘Apple’.

Difference #8: The AirPods Pro (2019) 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. 

Since the AirPods 3 launched, the second generation of the Apple AirPods have had a permanent price drop and now cost $129 / £119 / AU$219.

They previously cost $159 / £159 / AU$249 with the standard charging case and $199 / £199 / AU$319 with the Wireless Charging Case bundled in. You can still buy the Wireless Charging Case separately for $79 / £79 / AU$129.

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:

Difference #9: The AirPods Pro (2019) support Spatial Audio

The noise-cancelling AirPods Pro got an upgrade with iOS 14, which allowed for Spatial Audio.

The feature works in 5.1, 7.1, and Dolby Atmos, which positions sound all around you within a virtual sphere – that means that if you're watching a Dolby Atmos film that shows a plane flying overhead, it will sound as though the plane is passing above you. 

As well as allowing for clever virtual Dolby Atmos, the AirPods Pro can track the motion of your head and your device to ensure that the audio always appears to originate from the correct position.

Read our Spatial Audio guide and Dolby Atmos guide to find out more about these advances in audio tech. 

Difference #10: The AirPods Pro (2019) come with Conversation Boost

Conversation Boost is designed to help you hear conversations more clearly when speaking to people face-to-face. 

When the feature is enabled, the microphones on the AirPods Pro work to isolate voices above other environmental sounds. You can adjust the levels of amplification, transparency, and tone of what you hear.

Apple introduced the feature alongside iOS 15, and your device will need to be running this firmware for it to work. To turn Conversation Boost on, open Settings > Accessibility and tap Audio/Visual under the Hearing section. Then turn Headphones Accommodations on and turn Transparency Mode on. Finally, scroll down to Conversation Boost and turn it on.

The Apple Airpods 2019 buds laid out in front of their charging case.

(Image credit: TechRadar)

Apple AirPods vs AirPods Pro (2019): Are there any similarities? 

We’ve focused on the differences so far, but the two true wireless earbuds have tons in common. 

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. 

They also have a reasonably similar sound quality with only minor differences in the soundstage/clarity – until you turn on Spatial Audio. They both use the new Apple H1 Wireless chip that enables hands-free “Hey Siri” functionality, work seamlessly with iOS, and are integrated with Apple’s Find My network.

Apple AirPods vs AirPods Pro (2019): Which AirPods should you buy? 

If you’re bothered by outside noises while at work or while 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. 

If you’re looking for a happy medium between the two models, read our Apple AirPods 3 review. Or, if you're convinced you want the best of the best sound, take a look at the recently launched Apple AirPods Pro 2 instead. 

Nick Pino is Managing Editor, TV and AV for TechRadar's sister site, Tom's Guide. Previously, he was the Senior Editor of Home Entertainment at TechRadar, covering TVs, headphones, speakers, video games, VR and streaming devices. He's also written for GamesRadar+, Official Xbox Magazine, PC Gamer and other outlets over the last decade, and he has a degree in computer science he's not using if anyone wants it.

With contributions from