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AirPods Pro tricks you should be using every day

Spatial audio, transparency mode and active noise cancellation -- here's what you need to know about the AirPods Pro.

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The AirPods Pro are small, but powerful. 

Angela Lang/CNET

Despite the newer AirPods 3, Apple's AirPods Pro remain among the best headphones Apple has to offer (here's a deep-dive into how the AirPods 3 and Pro compare). The AirPods Pro boast several unique features that may make them a preferable choice, including active noise cancellation for an improved listening experience and interchangeable silicone tips to get a more comfortable fit.

And with Black Friday and the holiday season fast approaching, you might be gifting or even receiving the AirPods Pro, which is why you should know everything about them, from how to pair the headphones correctly to your smartphone, take advantage of spatial audio or simply navigate to music. 

In the guide below, we'll show you what you need to know about the AirPods Pro.

Pairing only takes a couple of seconds. 

Jason Cipriani/CNET

Pairing the AirPods Pro takes just a few seconds

After unboxing your AirPods Pro, unlock your iPhone or iPad ($289 at Amazon), and open the charging case to your earbuds. A second or two later, a prompt will appear on your device asking if you want to pair the earbuds. 

Tap Connect to initiate the pairing, and you're done. Not only will the AirPods Pro work with your iPhone, but they'll also be paired with all the Apple devices you've signed in to your iCloud account. 

Both AirPods Pro buds have a button that's not really a button. 

Jason Cipriani/CNET

Don't tap, press on your AirPods Pro

Instead of tapping one of the AirPods, you'll be using the stems of the AirPods Pro as buttons. There isn't actually a button there; instead, it's a pressure-sensitive section that can replicate how you'd use a button. You might find it weird and confusing, and yet something you'd expect Apple to do. 

Using two fingers, squeeze the flat indention on each AirPod. You'll hear a click in your ear with each press. Here's what each press of the button does:

  • Single-press: Pause/Play
  • Double-press: Skip forward
  • Triple-press: Skip backward
  • Long-press: Switch between noise cancellation and transparency mode.
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Battery life is officially 5 hours. 

Jason Cipriani/CNET

How to monitor battery life

Whenever you want to check the charge level of your AirPods Pro and the charging case, unlock your iPhone or iPad and open the case next to your device with the AirPods inside it. An animation will appear, showing the charge level of each AirPod and the case. 

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The control center makes it easy to switch between modes. 

Screenshots by Jason Cipriani/CNET

How to use active noise cancellation

Perhaps the headline feature of the AirPods Pro is active noise cancellation. When it's turned on, noise cancellation blocks nearly all background noise that you'd normally hear with regular earbuds or the standard AirPods. If you work in a noisy office, for example, or a home office shared with a partner and kids who are remote-learning, it should help block out the chatter and distractions. 

You can turn off noise cancellation with a long press on one of the AirPods' buttons, or use the Control Center on your iPhone or iPad. Swipe down from the top right corner of your device's screen; then, when the Control Center appears, long-press on the volume slider. At the bottom of the screen, you'll have three options: Noise cancellation, Off and Transparency. Tap the setting you want to use.

Read more: AirPods 3 vs. AirPods Pro: Every big difference between Apple's wireless earbuds

When you switch to Transparency mode, you'll be able to hear some of the sounds in your environment, but also still hear the audio playing in your AirPods Pro, which is something you'd use when walking along busy streets so you can hear the traffic, or in an airport when you need to listen for gate changes, for example. 

You can switch to Transparency mode with a long press on the AirPods' buttons or by using the toggle in Control Center. 

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You can toggle Spatial Audio in the same spot you control ANC. 

David Carnoy/CNET

Spatial Audio is an impressive experience

Spatial audio provides an immersive surround sound experience, delivering 360-degree soundscape that adjusts to your movement. The experience is relatively new, and is available on the AirPods Pro (along the recent addition of Dolby Atmos for Apple Music) -- it's just a matter of enabling the feature in your settings.

Turn on Spatial Audio by going to Settings > Bluetooth > tap the "i" next to your AirPods Pro and then slide the switch next to Spatial Audio to the On position. You can then listen to a demo to see how the feature works by selecting See & Hear How It Works.

Now, whenever you are watching a video in an app like Apple TV and using your AirPods Pro, you should hear the audio in surround sound, moving around you as things happen on screen or as you move your head. 

If you're not having luck using Spatial Audio, you might also need to update the firmware on your AirPods Pro, but that's something that your iPhone handles on its own. My advice? If you don't see the spatial audio feature in the settings, put your earbuds in the charging case, but leave it open and place it next to your iPhone. I had to do this exact thing for about an hour before my AirPods Pro updated. 

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Even your Apple Watch can help you change modes. 

Screenshots by Jason Cipriani/CNET

Use your Apple Watch to control AirPods Pro

If you have an Apple Watch, you can tap on the AirPlay icon in the Now Playing app to switch between noise cancellation and transparency modes whenever your AirPods Pro are in use. 

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MacOS Big Sur added a dedicated AirPods control that appears when your wireless earbuds are connected to your Mac. 

Screenshot by Jason Cipriani/CNET

Use your Mac to control AirPods Pro

When using your AirPods Pro with your Mac, you can switch between noise cancellation and transparency mode without having to squeeze your AirPods Pro. On your Mac, you'll see an AirPods icon when your earbuds are successfully connected to your computer. Click on it, then change the mode.

Get the right fit by switching tips

Included in the box with your AirPods Pro are two additional sizes of ear tips -- the medium size already comes installed. Try those out first, and if they feel uncomfortable, you can swap out for a different size. There's no trick to getting the tip off of each AirPod, just pull to slide it off and push to fit another pair on. It may feel like you're going to rip it, but from the few swaps I've done, they eventually come off. 

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The Ear Tip Fit Test will tell you if you're using the right size ear tips. 

Screenshots by Jason Cipriani/CNET

Do the Ear Tip Fit Test to find the best fit

If you dive into the AirPods Pro settings, you can do the Ear Tip Fit Test (try saying that out loud a few times). The test will play some sounds using the AirPods' microphones and then tell you if the ear tips you have installed are the right size for your ears. 

To run the test, open the Settings app on your iPhone, select Bluetooth and tap on the "i" next to the name of your AirPods Pro. Select Ear Tip Fit Test, and then follow the prompts. 

I've run the test with both medium and small ear tips, and both passed. So don't feel locked into the first ear tips you test with; there may be another size that works and feels more comfortable. 

Read more:

See charge status when wirelessly charging the case

The case that comes with the AirPods Pro will wirelessly charge on the same wireless charging pads that work with the iPhone. Place the case on the pad with the small light facing up to start charging it. The case's light will light up when it's first placed on the pad, letting you know it's charging. However, it will eventually time out and turn off. Tap on the case to check the charge status of the case (green means it's fully charged).

There's plenty more to the AirPods Pro; these other tips and tricks apply to all AirPods, and should help you completely master your new wireless earbuds. If you have a new iPhone, make sure to check out these settings. Then learn how iOS 15 impacts the way you use your headphones.