Here’s How Active Noise Cancellation on AirPods Pro Compares to the Competition

Airpods Pro Noise Cancellation Credit: Djomas / Shutterstock
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The addition of Active Noise Cancellation (ANC) is easily the most impressive thing about Apple’s new AirPods Pro — a feature that’s very rarely been done properly on “true wireless” earbuds, and one that’s made all the more revolutionary in the way that Apple has managed to implement it.

In fact, while active noise cancellation is commonplace among full on-ear and over-hear headphones — Apple’s own Beats Studio headphones have had it for years, and it’s recently come to Beats’ new Solo Pro — Apple’s AirPods Pro now only really have one direct competitor: Sony’s WF-1000XM3 earbuds, which launched earlier this year to much fanfare and beating Apple to the punch in bringing solid ANC to the true wireless form factor.

While ANC isn’t technically new to earbuds, it’s traditionally been done so poorly that it might as well not be there at all.

Sony actually made its first attempt at the technology back in 2017 when it released its WF-1000X, but it was actually a massive disappointment, especially considering the typically high standards for Sony’s headphones.

Other manufacturers that have tried to deliver ANC in true wireless earbuds have generally fared considerably worse at delivering the feature.

By all reports, however, Sony actually got it right with the WF-1000XM3, setting the standard for Apple to beat. So how do Apple’s newest AirPods Pro actually measure up to Sony’s?

Lows and Highs

According to a test performed by French website Clubic and shared on Reddit, the ANC on Apple’s AirPods Pro actually varied more widely by frequency than Sony’s, beating out the WF-1000XM3’s and holding their own even against Sony’s WH-1000XM3 over-ear headphones at lower frequencies.

However, as the frequencies moved into the middle ranges, they landed on par with Sony’s earbuds, and performed noticeably worse in the higher frequencies.

The comparisons can be seen in the chart above, which maps out sound level in decibels on the vertical axis and frequencies along the horizontal, showing the comparison between AirPods Pro (dark green), WF-1000XM3 (blue), and WH-1000XM3 headphones (orange). The red reference line shows what should be expected with no ANC at all, so the further down the other lines are from the red line, the better the noise cancellation.

Since active noise cancellation works primarily at lower frequencies (below 200Hz), the results actually show that Apple has done an outstanding job with the ANC technology.

Where the AirPods Pro fall down against Sony’s competing earbuds in the higher frequencies (above 1.5 KHz) is mostly as a result of poorer passive noise isolation, since although they seal in considerably better than the standard AirPods, they still don’t go in quite as deep or have as thick of a seal as Sony’s, which offer a more standard eartip design.

This is also the reason why no earbuds will ever quite be able to match full over-ear or even on-ear ANC headphones, although of course Apple’s got you covered here too with the Beats Solo Pro.

That said, though, we think there’s a definite positive trade-off here in Apple’s choice to go with a more flexible eartip design that provides a more comfortable fit and less ear fatigue — a difference that’s readily apparent to those of us who have tested hundreds of different in-ear headphones over the years.

The report also makes no comparisons about the “Transparency” modes between the two earphones, however most reviews — and our own experience — has suggested that Apple has done a really great job here as well.

Of course, Apple’s AirPods also offer way more advantages for Apple users, including quick and easy connectivity to every device that’s signed into the same iCloud account, support for hands free “Hey Siri” commands and announcing incoming messages with Siri, audio sharing, and much better wireless connectivity thanks to Apple’s H1 chip. This means they’re easily the better choice for anybody who is invested in the Apple ecosystem, so those who are concerned with ANC will be happy to know that Apple has done a really good job here too, making the AirPods Pro among the best on the market right now.

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