If you’re constantly on planes and bemoaning the quality of the supplied headphones, the Twelve South AirFly Pro is a must-buy prospect.
|An easy way to upgrade your in-seat audio when flying||Initial pairing can be quirky|
|Good battery life||3.5mm plug cap is easily misplaced|
|Allows for dual Bluetooth pairing||Basic AirFly models might be enough for your needs|
|Buy The Twelve South AirFly Pro!||Buy On Amazon|
Anyone who’s ever flown in economy – and I think that’s likely to be most of us – will be aware of a number of compromises you put up with in return for cheaper airfares. The seats are cramped and tiny, the food’s borderline inedible at best… and the provided headphones are downright woeful.
When the $2 Bluetooth headphones I reviewed not that long ago are better, something’s badly wrong.
Mind you, even if I had those terrible buds in my pocket when boarding a plane, I’d still be screwed, because Bluetooth isn’t a supported protocol in any plane seat I’ve ever sat in.
Enter the Twelve South AirFly Pro, an intermediary dongle whose basic sole job is to make inflight audio a lot more bearable by allowing you to simply use your existing Bluetooth headset with any audio source that features a standard 3.5mm headphone jack.
Once you get past the initial setup phase, it’s ridiculously easy to use, and highly recommended (with one caveat) for those with the travel bug and no desire to put up with awful inflight audio ever again.
Twelve South’s AirFly range has been around for a few years now – and there are non-Pro models that I’ll address later in this respect – and the AirFly Pro model is pretty easy to describe.
It’s a small white or black lozenge with a USB-C input at one end and a 3.5mm headphone jack snaking from a ~2cm cable. The plug has a small cap with a loop to secure it to a keyring, and that’s a good thing. During my review period I’ve lost the cap on my desk more than once, and I fear over time it’s going to simply stay lost.
There’s a large button on the top of the AirFly Pro, a transmit/receive switch on the side and a small reset button on the side, and that’s your lot, save for the included travel bag, airline travel dual plug adaptor and a short USB-A to USB-C cable for charging.
The travel bag does fit all the bits you get in the box within it, but it’s a slender item with two sides; the idea here is that you’d slide the main body of the AirFly Pro in one side and all the accessories in the other.
My one problem here is that the fit is quite tight. That’s good in terms of items not sliding out, but I did find myself having to shake it loose more than once when it was in the bag. That could be interesting if you were doing so inflight, with the prospect of plugs or cables perhaps tumbling out into or under your seat.
Setting up the AirFly Pro is meant to be quite simple; power it up, put your Bluetooth headphones – Twelve South defaults to talking about AirPods but any pair of Bluetooth compliant buds should work – into pairing mode and the AirFly Pro will find them and connect up.
That’s the theory, but the practical was, at least in my experience just a little bit more involved. For a start, the AirFly Pro manual suggests that the adaptor will blink orange and white when in pairing mode.
That’s not quite what it does, at least for the pair that I’ve got, which instead blinks orange and off instead. No, I’m not being pedantic here; an off light is different to a white one and it had me flummoxed for a while as it seemed to suggest that it was actually going flat rather than simply being ready to pair.
The other challenge can be in ensuring that existing buds don’t try to pair anywhere else in the meantime. Twelve South suggests that you disable Bluetooth nearby to stop the AirFly Pro from pairing to the wrong buds or your buds pairing to the wrong device. It’s good advice, and it does make me wonder how easy the whole process would be if you bought a pair at an airport and tried pairing there amongst hundreds of other Bluetooth-ready devices.
The AirFly Pro supports pairing up to two devices with synchronous audio, which is a nice sharing feature as long as you both want to hear the same audio or watch the same display screen. That’s easy enough to do with a double tap of the on/off button, subject to the same orange on/off blinking light annoyance issue.
This works… but you don’t need it, because the Switch Lite supports Bluetooth headphones natively
So… admission time here at AlexReviewsTech.
The Twelve South AirFly Pro is designed primarily for in-flight use.
As of writing this review, I still haven’t taken them on an actual plane.
The realities of my work and life right now haven’t seen me travelling that much during the time I’ve had them in for review, so I can’t comment on how well they connected up to the plug in seat 23B or not.
Sorry about that.
Then again, for evaluating the AirFly Pro, I somewhat don’t need to. They will work with any 3.5mm jack, either for audio coming out – your classic inflight audio situation – or to transmit audio to devices like car stereos or speakers that don’t do Bluetooth but might have a 3.5mm line in.
That’s a scenario I can test, so I put the AirFly Pro to work plugged into variously a MacBook Air M2, A Nintendo Switch Lite and even the Pixel 8 Pro via a USB-C to 3.5mm adaptor.
Admittedly the latter two cases were somewhat overkill, because both support standard Bluetooth, though there is a tiny utility benefit there if you didn’t want to go through the bother of going into pairing menus for a short-term audio use scenario. Just plug in the AirFly Pro, power it up and you’re good to go.
This also works, and the Neo Geo Pocket has never even heard of Bluetooth
The AirFly Pro does a good job of audio transmission within the standard limitations of Bluetooth. Clearly you’re not really meant to get up and move all that far from seat 23B, and as a result the actual range of the AirFly Pro isn’t that large.
Using a paired set of Apple AirPods Pro, I get less range from the AirFly Pro than I do from a standard connection to a MacBook Pro; around 10 metres or so in my home where I can go maybe 12-15 with a regular connection.
The other catch there is that typically Bluetooth degrades with sketchy audio the further you get from the source. In the case of the AirFly Pro it cuts out entirely, and you’ve got to restart and re-pair to get the audio flowing again.
This… does not work, but I can’t fault the AirFly Pro for that. The Palm IIIc lacks a standard headphone jack.
Shared audio works, though I did notice pairing up a set of AirPods Pro and the Huawei FreeBuds 5i that there was a notable difference in transmission speed between the two pairs. That’s not the AirFly Pro’s fault per se, but having one bud from each in my ears was certainly quite discordant.
More practically, if you’re listening with someone else, or perhaps gaming, you might hit some lag depending on the connection quality of your chosen buds.
Twelve South rates the AirFly Pro as being good for up to 25 hours of battery life, which would match up well to the audio needs of most Australian travellers. As a reminder for any international readers, Australia is a long way from everywhere. 20+ hour flights to most places are the norm for Aussie travellers, basically.
The challenge here is much more around the battery life of your chosen Bluetooth headset. Bigger lads like the Apple AirPods Max can nearly pace the AirFly Pro for time, but smaller buds are far more limited.
Within the context of a flight that’s probably OK, as you may want to take a break from inflight movies or music and you can use that time to recharge your buds. But in most cases, you’re not likely to see the AirFly Pro go flat before your buds do.
The plug nature of the AirFly Pro and lack of any external app does mean that there’s no other battery indicator outside its orange flashing light to let you know it’s running low on juice.
Twelve South AirFly Pro: Alex’s Verdict
The Twelve South AirFly Pro is really nice and mostly feature complete solution to the problem of lousy inflight headphones – or anywhere else you might need a way to use your Bluetooth headphones where only 3.5mm audio sockets exist.
Mostly feature complete, I hear you say? Yeah, that’s because this is the Pro model, which scores you a few extras not found in the basic variants.
The entry level AirFly SE is a little cheaper. You don’t get the bag, the international adaptor, the receiver ability or quite the same battery life… but you do get a volume control on the dongle itself, which I’d really like to have seen on the Pro model.
Twelve South AirFly Pro: Pricing and availability
The Twelve South AirFly Pro retails in Australia with an RRP of $109.
|Buy The Twelve South AirFly Pro!||Buy On Amazon|