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Don't Try These At Home

I’d always said I’d consider purchasing a pair of AirPods if Apple came out with an in-ear variant, so when the AirPods Pro were released, I was keen on getting my hands on them. However, the $250 price tag was a bit steep. That’s more expensive than any pair of headphones I’ve ever bought, and I’ve read many reports of battery degradation on the original AirPods. I couldn’t justify spending $250 on an item that would last me 2-3 years.

But then, Costco decided to put them on sale for Black Friday, for a whopping…$15 off. No thanks. But, enough people jumped on the offer—it was out of stock in a day or so.

For the next two weeks, I continued to use my wired earbuds. But, I tend to use my phone a lot for calls, while doing a variety of things: commuting, cooking, driving, and lounging around the house. I was getting a little thirsty for the joys of not having to use speakerphone or a wired mic for this stuff. So, a week or two later, when Costco restocked, I ordered. And in the wake of the immediate monetary regret, I also bought a pair of Anker Soundcore Liberty Air 2 earbuds—CNET’s best AirPods Pro alternative—for $99, intending to return the AirPods Pro once they arrived.

I used the Liberty Air 2 earbuds for a week, and I was fairly happy with them. The battery life was excellent, the case was small enough, the call quality was pretty good, and connecting to an already paired device was quick enough.

But, there were a few downsides.

I didn’t like the fit. I couldn’t get a secure fit from any of the five eartip sizes. This was especially obvious when eating—chewing would slowly dislodge them, and eventually I’d have to push them back in. But, this was my first pair of wireless earbuds, so I figured it was normal, and I’d get used to it. I did, and most of the time I’m not eating, so most of the time I wasn’t worried about them falling out.

I also encountered small inconveniences in day-to-day use. If I received a call while listening to music, I sometimes lost connection when I answered the call. If I removed an earbud, music automatically paused, but didn’t resume playing when I put it back in.

I was willing to live with these inconveniences, and fully intended on returning the AirPods Pro once the package arrived from Costco. I didn’t even intend on trying the AirPods Pro—no purported “magic” could justify its $150 price difference. But, when the AirPods Pro arrived, I looked curiously at the package and thought, why not? I wasn’t going to get another chance anytime soon, so I gave them a shot.

The biggest thing I noticed was fit. The fit was too good. I could tilt my head to the side, shake it while chewing, and the earbuds stayed in. The earbuds were also convenient in just about every way. Transparency mode automatically kicked in when I removed one earbud. Music stopped and started right on cue. Using any single earbud for calls was seamless. Connecting to my phone and tablet was almost instant. Battery percentage was easy to see with a single swipe on my phone, but the battery lasted long enough that I never had to think about it. The noise cancelling actually worked pretty well.

The magic was too real. I ended up returning the Liberty Air 2.

The only concern I have is battery degradation. I don’t want to think about battery life in my day-to-day use, and if the batteries are at 50% capacity after two years, I’m probably going to end up having to think about it. So, I decided to buy AppleCare for $29. If the batteries go below 80% capacity within two years, Apple gives you a replacement. With this, I think I can eek out a lifespan of 4+ years.

Maybe there’s a cheaper pair of earbuds that’s as pleasant to use as the AirPods Pro, but I liked the AirPods Pro so much I’m not compelled to look for an alternative. Marco Pierre White espouses a philosophy that “perfection is lots of little things done well”, and the AirPods Pro are pretty much this: lots of little things done well.

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