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It’s clear when Apple announced the second generation of the AirPods Pro during their September event this year that they weren’t exactly looking to reinvent the wheel. But at this point, do they even need to? They had already redefined the true wireless earbud industry years ago when they released the original AirPods, so why fix what isn’t broken?
However, in the three years since the AirPods Pro’s release, anyone could tell you that Apple very much needed to make a few key updates if they wanted to stay competitive in the personal audio market. There are similarly-priced true wireless buds that support lossless audio now, and with beefier active noise cancellation. But the AirPods Pro (2nd Gen) are a worthy contender that answer several of the complaints of the original while also delivering massive upgrades.
But you may not think that at first glance. After all, not much has changed design-wise from the first generation of AirPods Pro. They still have smaller stems and downward-slopping buds, but subtly worked towards a more improved fit across the board — more on that later. This gen, it’s all about what’s under the hood, with much-improved audio performance and functionality that makes these both a joy to listen with and much easier to use.
Apple is making bold moves in other ways outside of design, too. The 2nd Gen AirPods Pro are keeping almost the same official price of $239.99 as the original AirPods Pro, despite all the updates. This is big in the audio world, where most other brands raise the price on new editions of flagship earbuds, no matter how small the changes.
You might be asking yourself then: if both version of the AirPods Pro are now available, are the AirPods Pro (2nd Gen) worth the upgrade? Whether it’s for the new features (personalized spatial audio, speakers for finding a missing charging case) or massively-improved ones (active noise cancellation, a richer soundscape), we think there are plenty of reasons the 2nd Gen AirPods Pro should be your next pair of earbuds.
This is, of course, with a few caveats. Here’s what we really think of the new AirPods Pro.
AirPods Pro vs. AirPods Pro (2nd Gen): What’s the Difference?
The design changes from one generation of the AirPods Pro to another are surprisingly (and a little disappointingly) subtle. One aspect of the 2nd Gen AirPods Pro design that Apple didn’t change is their gummy-tipped earbuds, which create a tight seal around your eardrum like the original. The famous “stalks” also remain (despite previous rumors that Apple might convert them into “pill”-style buds, like their companion company, Beats).
What we do like is that the AirPods Pro now comes with four eartip sizes instead of three, featuring a new XS ear tip, specifically suited for smaller ears. I have irregularly-shaped ears, and keeping one bud with a medium eartip, and switching the other to an XS tip definitely helped the second-generation AirPods Pro stay in my ears while moving around and create a much immersive listening experience. Regardless, if you enjoyed the fit of the first pair, you won’t be disappointed with the new AirPods Pro 2 (or rather, you won’t notice much of a difference).
One of our favorite improvements is that these new AirPods Pro finally, finally let you control the volume of your music from the stem of the earbud itself, instead of only from your phone — just slide your finger up and down the new ridge on the pressure-sensitive stalk (you can still tap to invoke Siri, pause, play, or skip tracks). This was one of the most anticipated features of the new AirPods Pro, but I found myself not using it as often as I thought I would. The volume moves in increments so small, and so slow, I found myself having to swipe multiple times to get the sound level right.
This isn’t necessarily a deal breaker, but does mean that you should opt for the AirPods Pro 2 upgrade if you want a more solid fit for working out, or like the convenience of having all the buds’ functionality at your fingertips. The price difference between the first-generation AirPods Pro and AirPods Pro (2nd Gen) is $60 on Amazon right now.
Rich, Fuller Sound When You Want It, Beefy Noise Cancellation When You Don’t
The new AirPods Pro’s change in appearance might be minimal (maybe a little too minimal), but Apple worked hard to re-engineer these earbuds with a new H2 performance chip that not only gives them a more immersive audio quality, but much better noise cancellation than before. In our tests, the second-generation AirPods Pro really do sound like a step up from their predecessors.
Bass heads rejoice, as a new low-distortion driver massively bulks up the lower end. We found this really benefits genres like electronic dance music, rock, and hip-hop. The earbuds also have Adaptive EQ that gives better definition across a wider range (especially the midrange and treble response) so everything sounds simultaneously more crisp, and more ‘rich’.
We listened to everything from funk albums of the 1980s to pop records from 2022, and found the second-generation AirPods Pro could handle any genre we threw at them with no trouble. Distinguishing different instruments was easier than the original AirPods Pro for orchestral (or instrumentally-busy) tracks like Calvin Harris’ “New to You (with Normani, Tinashe & Offset)”, as well as hearing effects like reverb and echo clearly on tracks like Led Zeppelin’s “When The Levee Breaks”.
The sound improvements Apple made to the second-generation AirPods Pro were welcomed, but one of the earbuds’ biggest feature is the updated noise cancellation and “Adaptive Transparency” modes.
The original AirPods Pro had serviceable noise cancellation, but when out on the streets with heavy traffic, I would struggle to tell if my ANC was even turned on. There’s a stark different to the noise-cancelling effect now — we tested these out on the subway and the rumble of the car was practically inaudible. While listening to music it’s even better, and conversations people were having next to us are near impossible to hear (they’re still not as silencing as the Sony WF-1000XM4, though). We haven’t traveled on an airplane with them yet, but we were able to test them in a room with simulated airplane noise, and it brought the sound down an impressive 30-40 decibels.
Improvements to the Transparency mode (mainly the H2 chip’s voice processing) makes it feel much easier to hear ambient sound and have a conversation without feeling like you’ve got earplugs in. Apple also says that “Adaptive Transparency” will kick in if there’s an abrupt, loud noise (like an ambulance’s siren passing, or something breaking). It automatically tunes down the decibels without totally filtering out the sound. Only problem is, in our experience there isn’t exactly a noticeable difference (but I’m sure your eardrums will thank you in the long run).
Personalized spatial audio is a new addition that also feels unexpected, but makes sense given the growing popularity of earbuds that offer custom EQ profiles. With the idea in mind that we all perceive sounds differently based on the size and shape of our head, Apple uses a “TrueDepth” camera on the iPhone to create a personal profile for its spatial audio by taking pictures of your head shape and the outside of your ears. It’s a process similar to setting up Face ID, and only takes about 20 seconds.
It feels a bit silly that it doesn’t allow you to toggle back and forth so you can actually hear the different between your personalized sound versus the standard, but you can turn it off in the Control Center. You’ll get the same “surround sound”-like experience as the first-gen AirPods Pro, but the sound is now, in theory, precisely tuned just for you. Which is nice, although this feature is only offered for iPhone users (unsurprising given Apple’s commitment to creative a cohesive ecosystem).
Minimal Design Changes, Maximized Convenience Features
Active noise cancellation is the second-generation AirPods Pro’s standout technical achievement, but there are two additional features of the AirPods Pro you’ll appreciate regardless: increased battery life and “Find My” support for the battery case.
Apple says the second-generation AirPods Pro offer up to six hours of music playback per charge with the ANC on, an hour and a half improvement over the previous model. This change didn’t make a huge difference in our experience, and they’re still not as long-lasting as other comparatively-priced earbuds (Master & Dynamic’s MW08 set the bar at 12 for wireless buds). But it’s still a big bump from the original Pro’s 24-hour total battery life.
The earbuds’ battery case does provide a whopping 24 hours of additional music playback, but it’s now compatible with “Find My” app, making it easier to keep track of. There’s now a speaker in the case, so they emit a sound when you activate a “Find My” request on your phone. We’ve found it’s petty loud and easy to find in an apartment, which is a grateful addition for someone like me with ADHD.
There are also new tones for when battery is low, charging has started, or pairing is complete. The charging case has also been refreshed to be IPX4 sweat and water-resistant, which is a plus. A lanyard loop on the side of the case also allows you to attach it to a backpack or handbag. These are all relatively minor additions, but add some extra convenience.
Final Verdict: Are the AirPods Pro (2nd Gen) Worth It?
The second-generation AirPods may not seem like a massive update at first glance, but Apple’s recent improvements, especially regarding noise cancellation and sound quality, make them an easy recommendation if you were already a fan of the first-gen pair.
While it’s a shame they don’t support lossless Hi-Fi audio at this point, there’s a marked improvement in overall sound quality from the previous model, especially if you’ve been craving more bass. But that all comes down to personal preference, and we’re more inclined to recommend the new AirPods Pro based on beefed up active noise cancellation alone.
You should have no reservations about upgrading your AirPods Pro if ease-of-use is a big factor for you either, since small, convenient upgrades (like volume touch controls) add up to a better overall listening experience. Overall, these are set to be the best pair of AirPods Apple has released to date.