Back in the late aughts, someone down the hall from my office shut a metal door, and in my head, it made more noise than it should have. Something was wrong with my ears, and after a month of bouncing between doctors, an audiologist told me I’d lost about half the hearing in my right ear and picked up a bit of tinnitus to boot.
Thanks to the nature of the destruction caused by the nerve-eating virus I had contracted, even a custom-fit hearing aid didn’t help. A lot of things I still hear just fine, and people often don’t pick up that I’m half deaf on one side. Thankfully, and kind of amazingly, when I have headphones on, the music still sounds like it’s coming straight down the pike—I don’t even notice anything is missing until some Pink Floyd-style stereo effects kick in.
Noisy spaces, however, especially where sound bounces around a lot, can be a challenge. I’ll ask to sit at one of the corners of a table to keep everyone I’m with in front of and to the left of me. To engage, I have to pay extra attention, staring right at each speaker. It’s usually fine, but in a loud enough space it can be exhausting.
As a result, I was excited to hear about the Conversation Boost feature built into Apple’s $250 AirPods Pro headphones, which uses computational smarts and a directional microphone to help you “hear more clearly by focusing the sound on the person directly in front of you,” as the company claims.
I called a pair in as soon as I heard about them, but thanks to the Omicron surge, there was a lot of waiting for good opportunities to be around other people to put them to the test. As a result, the AirPods Pro became my daily drivers for months, largely bumping out both my well-loved Jabra Elite Active 75t in-ears, which I used for running, walking, and phone calls, and my over-the-ear Bose QC 35 noise cancelers, which got the nod for in-house and long-flight listening.
Before launching into thoughts on Conversation Boost, I’ll take advantage of having had these longer than anticipated for some more general long-term testing notes. While they certainly have flaws, these are pretty outstanding headphones. Playing downloaded tunes on my iPhone’s Apple Music app, they sound crisp and clear, deep and layered, rewarding my full attention and occasionally revealing parts of my favorite songs that I’d never heard. As someone who always has music on and loves to pay attention to sound, I appreciate Apple’s focus on sound quality.
Contributing to this is their surprisingly comfortable fit, which includes a built-in test to make sure you’ve got them snugged in right. While my Jabras can get a little uncomfortable after an hour or two, it’s impressively easy to forget the Pros are in my ears. Their Bluetooth range is impressive, staying connected as I wandered through dead zones for other devices.