AirPods ProSource: Apple

What you need to know

  • AirPods Pro feature improved Bluetooth latency.
  • The feature isn't one that's received a lot of attention.
  • Improved latency is a big deal for interacting with menus and playing games.

The big feature AirPods Pro brought to the table was noise cancelation but there's one improvement that has flown under the radar somewhat. According to Stephen Coyle (via 9to5Mac) who is a musician and software developer, the new earbuds sport improved latency compared to standard AirPods.

One interesting thing Coyle notes is that latency isn't necessarily an issue when playing back video because that can often be configured to take latency into account when transmitting audio. But there are cases where that isn't possible, specifically when sounds are less predictable. That could be when playing a game or moving around menus in an app.

Coyle decided to measure the latency of AirPods Pro, with two tests used.

I use two pieces of software to play the audio I'm measuring. First, the default iOS Keyboard as it's probably the most common place people encounter this issue. Second, a game I developed called Tapt. This is a good benchmark because I've written the game with a specific need for low audio latency, and I'm familiar with its technical underpinnings.

And then it's a case of actually running the tests.

With each combination of device and software, I trigger 10 sounds in a row, using a metronome set to 90 bpm to keep things consistent. For the keyboard run, I discard the first tap for the reasons given above (in a context where latency really matters, developers can easily do what I've done with Tapt). Finally, averaging these 19 measurements gives the latency figures, which I quote below.

Following those tests, we have our results. According to Coyle, the first-generation AirPods have a latency of 274ms. The newer AirPods with the Apple H1 chip improve that to 178ms. But it's the score of 144ms from AirPods Pro that takes the win. And Coyle notes that the improvement from first-generation AirPods to AirPods Pro is a larger one than those numbers suggest. In fact, the latency is so impressive that "the perceptual difference from this makes the AirPods Pro tantalizingly close to seamless."

Anyone who has struggled using wireless headphones due to latency could do worse than check out AirPods Pro based on this information.