Here’s the web’s fastest AirPods Pro (2nd gen) review: Yes, they’re a little bit better. OK, that’s it, thanks for reading! I’m sorry, my boss says I need to say more. Plus, they’re on sale ($234). AirPods Pro are Apple’s noise-cancelling wireless earbuds that are one of the best in their class by every measure. The new Gen 2 version builds on that with some incremental improvements – nothing you can’t live without, but nice to have. So should you buy them? And if you already have the 1st gen AirPods Pro, should you upgrade?
AirPods Pro 2nd Gen: What’s new?
It’s hard to tell the 2nd gen AirPods Pro apart from their predecessors. Aside from a tiny new sensor at the top, they’re nearly identical. As before (to paraphrase Henry Ford) you can have them any color you want as long as it’s white.
Fit is extremely important for all earbuds, so Apple has added an extra small size to the silicone earbud options. I’ve always found the pre-installed medium tips to be the right choice for me, but my wife is happier with the small ones. The key is to make sure you get a really good seal when you wiggle the earbuds in your ears; Be prepared to experiment with the different tip sizes to find the optimal seal. Luckily, a newly added “Earplug Test” helps you do just that.
The charging case is the same size as before, but now has a small speaker embedded in the bottom. This allows you to hear beeps when you activate the Find My feature on your phone, which is helpful if the case is lost. You can charge it via a Lightning cable, a MagSafe or Qi charging pad, or (this is new) an Apple Watch charger. Apple promises up to six hours of listening time on one charge, an hour longer than 1st-gen AirPods Pro and up to 30 hours total through the case (a 6-hour improvement).
The earbuds themselves have the same single control button embedded along each stem, but now they’re touch-sensitive: you can swipe up or down to increase or decrease the volume. That’s a welcome addition, although it’s a little awkward: you can’t help but flick your ear at the same time, especially if you swipe up. It feels like part of your ear is in the way.
The key news here is Apple’s “next-level” active noise-cancellation (ANC), which is not only “smarter” but also “up to 2x more powerful” thanks to a new H2 chip. Promises like these are hard to keep; I think the 1st gen AirPods Pro have virtually no competition when it comes to ANC, so it’s hard to say the new ones are twice as good.
Likewise, it’s difficult to test the improved adaptive transparency mode, which allows you to hear external noise (an important safety feature for outdoor activities like jogging) but aims to minimize the intensity of things like sirens and machines. That might prove valuable for someone living in a busy big city, but it’s not much value here in the suburbs. For what it’s worth, I tried playing a loud siren sound on YouTube and didn’t see any significant reduction. Your mileage may vary.
I like the improved in-ear detection, which solves a problem with the original AirPods Pro: if you put them in your pocket, they’d probably think they were in your ears and continue playing. Here, a new sensor actually detects skin (!), so false readings are much less likely.
AirPods Pro 2nd Gen: how do they sound?
In a word: outstanding. I’ve tested many wireless earbuds, and the new AirPods Pro are not only some of the most comfortable for long-term wear, but also some of the best sounding. I’m not a loyalty snob; I’m pretty happy even when listening to budget earbuds like the EarFun Air Pro 2. But with the AirPods Pro, music sounds rich, detailed and perfectly balanced. Score it with Apple’s Adaptive EQ or any number of other factors; my deadened ears are impressed.
Of course I felt that way with the 1st generation AirPods Pro; I’m not sure there’s an order-of-magnitude improvement here. So are Apple’s spatial audio enhancements – which use the iPhone’s camera Scan your ears and adjust the sound accordingly – I lose something. Make no mistake, spatial audio was already a cool feature: if you’re watching a Netflix video on your phone, for example, the audio stays “fixed” in front of you, even if you turn your head. It’s hardly necessary, but certainly neat. Does the new “custom geometry” created by Ear Scan make spatial audio noticeably better? Not that I noticed. And I wasn’t able to test the feature on a group FaceTime call, which Apple says will now sound “like you’re in the same room with friends and family.” (Wait, we are secure do we even want that?)
AirPods are also some of the best earbuds, period, for phone calls, something to consider if you enjoy walking and talking or spending a lot of time in Zoom meetings.
AirPods Pro 2nd Gen: Not quite perfect
I have a few nitpicks. First, although the updated charging case has holes for attaching a lanyard, Apple doesn’t include one. That’s pretty annoying as it would probably only cost the company pennies to box one up. From the looks of it, you can pick up a 10-pack of multicolored lanyards for about $6.
Second, a puzzling issue remains: the AirPods case’s front LED glows orange when connected to power, but then turns off after a few seconds. Do you want to know the charging status? You must tap or open the case for the LED to light up again. This wouldn’t be a big deal if, for example, the LED turned green once charging was complete, but it doesn’t. There is literally no indication that charging is active or complete. That makes zero sense to me.
AirPods Pro 2nd Gen: Should You Buy Them?
Like so many Apple products these days, the new AirPods Pro only bring incremental improvements to the table. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, not if the previous version was already a winner. The updated earbuds offer slightly longer battery life, slightly improved noise management features, and a few tweaks to the charging case. It’s not so much the icing as it is sprinkles on the icing.
My Opinion: If you already own 1st Gen AirPods Pro, there is no compelling reason to upgrade. You’ve lived without a volume control for so long.
However, if you’re trying to decide between AirPods Pro and another set of wireless earbuds, I’d definitely recommend the former – especially iPhone owners. A lot of AirPods’ “secret ingredients” lie in the integration: Siri for hands-free voice commands, Find My to locate lost buds, the iPhone lock screen for battery status, and more. Just like the Apple Watch is the best smartwatch for iPhone users, the AirPods Pro are arguably the best earbuds.
Continue reading: The Best AirPods Pro Alternatives for $100 and Under
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