AirPods Pro: Best of AirPods Sound?

People choose AirPods over other headphone and earphone brands partly for their excellent integration with Apple’s ecosystem but also because they are known for superior sound quality. But with so many models and generations on the market, how can you tell which is best? Do the AirPods Pro necessarily have better sound quality than other AirPods? Let’s compare.

The AirPods Pro has better sound quality than regular AirPods due to active noise canceling, customizable silicon ear tips, Adaptive EQ, and Spatial Audio features. The only model that matches and exceeds the AirPods Pro’s quality is the AirPods Max due to its over-ear design and larger drivers.

There are various factors that affect sound quality, and not everything affects sound quality in the same way, and a lot of it depends on how you perceive the quality of the sound. Let’s compare the AirPods Pro with other AirPods and see how their sound quality differs.

Do the AirPods Pro have better sound quality?

AirPods Pro Sound Quality Vs. AirPods

We need to compare the AirPods Pro and regular AirPods based on four factors that play the most prominent role in sound quality.

Driver Quality

The driver is the actual speaker, the part of the earphones that generates the sound. So, higher-quality drivers directly translate into better sound quality. Unfortunately, Apple doesn’t publicize the details of its drivers, so there’s plenty of speculation about which drivers are the best. But, based on what little information Apple made available, we can estimate the best ones.

AirPods (1st Gen and 2nd Gen)

The 1st and 2nd Generation AirPods use custom-designed Apple drivers, similar to the ones in the wired EarPods. They deliver a decent audio experience, and the sound quality is adequate for most people, but there’s nothing exceptional about them.

AirPods Pro (1st Gen and 2nd Gen)

The AirPods Pro has custom-built high-excursion drivers. They deliver powerful bass and crisp highs without sacrificing the mid-range at all. Overall, the sound quality on the AirPods Pro is much higher due to the better quality of the drivers.

AirPods (3rd Gen)

3rd Gen AirPods use the same high-excursion drivers as the AirPods Pro, theoretically delivering the same quality output. However, that’s not the only factor we have to consider, so don’t count on saving a few dollars for the same quality yet.

In-Ear Design

A significant factor in how you perceive sound quality is the in-ear design of the earphones. Earphones that seal your ears better will impact how much of the sound you can hear, with less interference from external factors.

AirPods (1st, 2nd, and 3rd Gen)

All three generations of the regular AirPods range are in-ear earphones designed with a smooth surface to sit comfortably in most ears. However, none of them have replaceable ear tips; they are all shaped similarly to Apple’s wired EarPods. Though they can seal your ears quite well, producing adequate sound quality, the seal isn’t perfect.

AirPods Pro (1st and 2nd Gen)

On the other hand, all models of AirPods Pro have replaceable silicon ear tips, and three different shapes and sizes are included in the box. This makes it much easier to find a pair of tips that can adequately seal your ears to block out external noise and improve your perception of the sound quality. You can also buy different tips from other vendors and brands if none of these work.

Active Noise Cancellation (ANC)

Active noise canceling is a bit of a mixed bag. Technically, there’s no guarantee that they will improve sound quality. On the contrary, the fact that ANC filters sound and counteracts noise by generating negative frequencies, you may end up with worse sound quality if you’re moving around a lot or if there’s plenty of external noise.

However, most people will find the result to sound crisper and clearer because there’s less interference from outside, so the perceived sound quality is usually better.

AirPods (1st, 2nd, and 3rd Gen)

Regular AirPods have no active noise-canceling features, and they purely rely on sealing your inner ears from external noise to perform their function. So, even though their quality is technically excellent (especially the 3rd Gen with its better drivers), that’s not necessarily how you will perceive it.

AirPods Pro (1st Gen and 2nd Gen)

Both generations of AirPods Pro come with ANC, meaning you can experience much higher sound quality in the right environment.

Adaptive EQ

Adaptive EQ is a technology that improves sound quality by automatically adjusting the frequencies based on your ear type and the position of your head. This creates a personalized listening experience. Another feature of Adaptive EQ is Spatial Audio, which improves the soundstage of your AirPods and changes the sound based on your head’s position.

AirPods (1st and 2nd Gen)

The first two generations of the standard AirPods don’t support Adaptive EQ, so your sound won’t be customized to your ears. Your overall experience of the sound quality will be lower than if they had Adaptive EQ.

AirPods Pro (1st and 2nd Gen)

All models of AirPods Pro have Adaptive EQ and Spatial Audio, improving your perception of the sound quality exponentially.

AirPods (3rd Gen)

Apple included Adaptive EQ in the design of the 3rd Generation AirPods, improving their sound quality considerably and setting them far apart from the previous two generations. They are a significant upgrade over their predecessors.

What About The AirPods Max?

We’ve seen that, for all practical purposes, all models of AirPods Pro have better sound quality than regular AirPods, though the 3rd Generation AirPods is a close second. But it wouldn’t be fair not to include the AirPods Max in a sound quality comparison. So, how do they weigh up against the AirPods Pro?

AirPods Max has nearly identical specifications to AirPods Pro. It also has active noise canceling and Adaptive EQ. But they offer three significant advantages:

  1. Larger drivers. Because the AirPods Max is a set of over-ear headphones, they aren’t as limited in the size and power of their drivers as the AirPods Pro. The driver seems similar in most technical aspects, but they are much larger and more powerful, creating even clearer and crisper sound with much more pronounced bass.
  2. The larger over-ear form factor considerably improves the soundstage, making the Spatial Audio feature work even better, adding a dynamic experience to your listening.
  3. The cups over your ears can help to isolate external noise. The full impact of this differs from person to person, though. Some people find that in-ear earphones are better at sealing their inner ears, but others prefer how the cups of the AirPods Max isolate their ears from environmental noise.


The AirPods Pro’s sound quality is much better than that of the 1st and 2nd Generation AirPods, but the 3rd Generation has most of the same features as the Pro. The Pro is still better because of its replaceable silicon ear tips. Overall, the AirPods Max offers even better sound than the Pro, but it’s primarily a matter of preference, as many prefer in-ear models over larger headphones.