Apple sells three versions of its wildly popular wireless earbuds: the original AirPods, now in their second generation (aka AirPods 2), the third generation of AirPods (which we call AirPods 3), and the second generation AirPods Pro (or AirPods Pro 2 for more clarity). While there are many differences between these models, people invariably notice the physical differences, specifically the presence of silicone ear tips on the AirPods Pro 2 and their absence on the AirPods 2 and 3. And that eventually leads to the question, can you use them? Using AirPods Pro without those earbuds, and if so, what would happen?
Before I answer that, let’s quickly review why the AirPods Pro have earbuds in the first place. The main purpose of ear tips on any set of wireless earbuds is to seal the entrance of your ear canal. This has several advantages:
- It creates further frictional contact between the earbuds and your ears, which improves the security of the fit – earbuds with earbuds tend to move less than those without.
- It reduces the amount of outside noise that can enter your ear canal, which we call passive noise isolation. Less outside noise means your music, phone calls or other audio doesn’t have to compete with that sound to be heard, meaning you can listen at a lower volume and still get the same quality. In fact, you’re likely to get much better sound quality with earplugs, as they not only prevent sound from entering, but also prevent sound from escaping before you have a chance to hear it. This is particularly noticeable in the low bass frequencies.
- It allows features like active noise cancellation (ANC) and transparency modes to work effectively because these technologies rely on a strong sound barrier between your ears and the outside world. In fact, with just one or two exceptions, earbuds are a prerequisite for wireless earbuds to be able to offer ANC.
Now let’s move on to the bigger question. Yes, you can use the AirPods Pro without their earbuds. You’ll still hear your music, podcasts, or calls, and you’ll still be able to talk to Siri. And if you really don’t like the feeling of having silicone earplugs pressed against your ear canals, they might feel more comfortable if you wear them that way. The fit isn’t as secure, but they’re no more likely to fall out of your ears than when you’re wearing the AirPods 2.
But I strongly advise you not to do this. Here’s why.
The AirPods Pro are designed to be used with earbuds. Removing them will seriously undermine many of their best qualities. The sound quality is badly affected, especially in the low-end bass, for reasons I explained above.
The noise-cancellation that the AirPods Pro arguably do better than any other wireless earbuds is reduced catastrophically, to the point where you can barely tell it’s on.
If these weren’t reasons enough to leave the earbuds on, you may actually be shortening the lifespan of the earbuds by not using them. Each ground piece comes with its own fine mesh screen that prevents tiny particles of dirt, debris and earwax from entering the speaker opening on the earbuds. And while the earbuds themselves also have a screen or grille, why remove the extra layer of protection that the earbuds provide?
So if you find that silicone ear tips like the AirPods Pro are uncomfortable, don’t pull the tips off. That only undermines their performance. Instead, consider selling them (fortunately, there’s always a strong demand for used Apple products) and either buying them yourselfgold both of which are designed to work without earbuds.
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