Next-gen noise canceling
Adaptive Transparency mode
Sound and battery boost
No EQ or ANC adjustment
No separate app for Android
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After three years, you might expect an all-new AirPods Pro design, but it seems Apple believes it’s already reached perfection on that front. Apart from a smarter case, the majority of the upgrades are under the hood, including new precision drivers, a new microphone venting system, a battery boost, and the all-important H2 chip, which drives how the earbuds connect, perform, and analyze the audio around you with increased efficiency.
By improving upon multiple performance aspects while keeping the basics the same, Apple ensures that those who loved the AirPods Pro before will love the new pair even more. While there’s aesthetic déjà vu, the ways in which the new buds handle what you hear (and don’t hear) are far from subtle. Those improvements alone make the latest AirPods Pro worth the upgrade.
About the AirPods Pro (2nd generation)
Here are the updated AirPods Pro’s main specs:
- Price: $249
- Battery life: Up to 6 hours with noise canceling (7 without), up to 30 hours with case
- Fast charging: 5 mins for an hour of playback; MagSafe, Qi, Lightning compatible
- Colors: White
- Ambient sound modes: Active Noise Canceling, Adaptive Transparency Mode
- Speakers: Proprietary “low distortion” drivers
- Calling: Beam-forming microphone with targeted voice uplink and wind-noise mitigation
- Connectivity: Bluetooth 5.3, Apple H2 chip
- Audio codecs: AAC, SBC
- Dust/water resistance: IPX4 (case and buds)
- Fit: Four ear tip sizes (new XS size)
- Weight: 5.4 grams per earbud, 45.6-gram charging case
- Apple features: iCloud Sharing, Automatic Switching, Audio Sharing, Personalized Spatial Audio w/ Dynamic Head Tracking, Hands-free Siri, Find My (buds and case), “Hey Siri” support
As touched on above, the updated AirPods Pro’s exterior is nearly identical to the original, including the same weight and size, with only modest changes along the housings. The case is also nearly identical, but adds a few new tricks, including a speaker for alerts when lost, as well as the ability to track it separately with Apple’s Find My app. There’s also a new lanyard loop.
The biggest new addition is the H2 chip for faster computation, as well as new drivers inside. There’s also now an extra-small size of magnetic ear tips to try. Everything else that’s new here is internal or software-based, accounting for their biggest advancements over the previous pair.
What we like
Adaptive Transparency mode is a game changer
Apple’s transparency mode has been universally praised for its natural, clear performance that lets you keep the buds in for a variety of situations. While it’s subtle, the new version is even more natural sounding, particularly when it comes to the sound of your own voice. The buds reduce the plugged-up resonance so you sound almost like you’re not wearing earbuds.
There’s still an artificial sheen over your environment—transparency mode doesn’t sound exactly like the real world sans earbuds as some Apple PR reps claimed, but it’s strikingly clear in multiple scenarios, including biking, moving through a crowd, and moderate wind. It’s less obtrusive than any transparency mode I’ve tested, buoying the “wear them anywhere” usability.
But that’s just the tip of the upgrades. One of the most highly touted new features at Apple’s event was Adaptive Transparency mode. It’s designed to let you hear the world around you without being overloaded, even in extreme environments, by limiting incoming sounds to 85dB. While neither Apple nor Reviewed can tell you it'll keep your ears safe, having had a unique chance to test this feature in multiple scenarios over two weeks, let me assure you: it’s legit.
My test period happened to correspond with my tickets to the Broncos/Seahawks game at Lumen Field, one of the loudest stadiums in the NFL. The crowd noise was shockingly loud, which is why I brought my $200 fitted earplugs. But, to my surprise, the AirPods Pro worked nearly as well at blocking out the worst of the voracious crowd noise, taking it from excruciatingly loud to just pretty loud. In fact, I wore them for the entire, raucous fourth quarter.
A few days later, my wife and I got some tickets to the Gorillaz show at our local venue. While the AirPods Pro definitely distorted some of the loudest moments, particularly the band’s energetic “M1 A1,” they did a good job keeping the show in check, again keeping pace with my tailored earplugs. It’s a brighter, tinnier sound. But the fact that the buds are even in the same class as $200 plugs shows just how useful (and valuable) Adaptive Transparency can be.
Vastly improved noise canceling
Continuing the theme, Apple’s new noise canceling technology provides some of the best performance you can get in a pair of wireless earbuds, full stop. In fact, it’s among the best noise canceling in any headphones I’ve tested—earbuds or otherwise.
Through multiple real-world tests, as well as controlled lab testing of airplane drone and vocal chatter videos through studio monitors, the AirPods Pro matched or beat every pair I referenced, even holding their own with our current top noise-canceling over-ear headphones, Sony’s WH-1000XM5. (While I haven’t had a chance to test, Reviewed’s A/V editor, John Higgins, says Bose’s new QuietComfort Earbuds 2 surpass the AirPods in overall noise canceling.)
When it comes to drone sounds, the AirPods Pro outperformed both the original Bose QuietComfort Earbuds and Sony’s WF-1000XM4 buds (two of the top noise-canceling models), handily outdueling the Sony pair. Things were closer in higher frequencies like keystrokes (Bose did better there) and vocal chatter, but the AirPods did well in the latter test, shaving off a good bit of the voices in our test recording of a loud party.
Those results are all the more impressive considering that the AirPods Pro weigh two grams less per bud than Sony’s pair, and three grams less than Bose’s older model. Both rivals also offer specially molded ear tips designed to passively block out noise, making them more obtrusive and harder to swap in and out.
Taking the new Pro for a walk evoked a striking blanket of solitude. Cars driving by went from semi-dampened wooshes in the original AirPods Pro to vanishing whispers in the new model, barely noticeable from a few feet away. In fact, Apple’s new noise canceling may even be a bit too good in some scenarios.
When I tested the Pro against the XM5 on my plane ride home from Cupertino, while they stood up very well, I noticed a sucking feeling and my ears kept popping. On my next trip a few months later, a five-hour vacation flight, I felt no such effect until landing on the trip home when the air pressure got intense—the kind where babies cry and your head feels like it's being squashed. I’m confident this won’t affect most users unless they have sinus issues, and even then, only on occasion.
Audio performance upgrade
Apple’s new drivers, amplifiers, and “advanced computation audio” improve the performance of the new AirPods Pro. While I thought it was relatively subtle at first, over time I've increasingly enjoyed the new sound signature's better fidelity. I still wouldn’t place the audio performance in the same league as some of my favorite performers on the market like Sony’s WF-1000XM4 and Sennheiser’s Momentum True Wireless, but sound is clear, accessible, and offers improved stereo spacing and bass response.
The bass is probably what users will appreciate most. It’s richer, fuller, and more powerful without masking or bloating the upper register. Songs like The Weeknd’s “Starboy” showcase firm, foundational thump in the bass and sub-bass regions that outdoes what you’ll hear in all other AirPods models, as well as the Beats Fit Pro.
The better stereo spacing, too, makes for a more enjoyable ride, letting you easily follow instruments across the stereo field with increased precision. I still find the upper register gets a little too tinkly for my ears in some moments, but not often, and I've found myself reveling in some of the instrumental timbres in a way I never did with the original AirPods Pro. These are easily my favorite Apple earbuds to listen to, and I had very few complaints.
Apple also highly touted the new Personalized Spatial Audio feature, but if there’s a difference between the personalized version and regular Spatial Audio, it wasn’t notable to my ears. After taking the test (requiring snapshots of your ears with a phone running iOS 16), I thought maybe the soundstage opened a bit more, but it was subtle enough to question whether it was observational bias. I’ve never found Spatial Audio effects particularly useful shy of VR applications, and that remains the case, but if you use them often this may be of interest.
Exceptional call quality (as usual)
One thing that hasn’t changed is the AirPods Pro’s excellent call quality, placing them once again atop the very best wireless earbuds on the market. I used the AirPods on many a call, including using one bud on a windy day and both buds next to a very noisy Seattle construction site, and my recipients heard me clearly and consistently with few complaints. I did get one comment that I sounded tinny over a Slack huddle, but that’s the case with most any earbuds I’ve used.
A much-needed battery boost
After nearly three years, Apple’s battery boost to 6 hours per charge (7 if you disable ambient sound modes) may not seem incredible, and it’s not. Compared to rivals like the Sony WF-1000XM4 (which packs up to 12 hours per charge) or even cheap pairs that trade performance for battery, 6 hours is still middling.
That said, apart from the fact that the AirPods Pro are comfy enough to use for multiple hours at a time, you’re unlikely to use any earbuds for more than a few hours at once. Since they charge in mere minutes, 6 hours should do you well for most use cases (I got a bit more than that in testing), and it’s a solid step up from the 4.5 hours with ANC the previous pair offered.
The only caveat is that less battery may shorten the earbuds’ overall lifespan. But it’s enough for almost any daily scenario.
Comprehensive controls (finally)
One of the biggest knocks I’ve raised about the original AirPods Pro was a lack of onboard volume controls. I’ve long argued (alongside others) that it’s a feature any great pair of earbuds should include, without the need for swapping out other controls. Luckily, Apple listened.
While you can still use “Hey, Siri” for volume control, it’s now available by default with a swipe along the base of the stem’s squeeze control notch. It took me a while to get used to it, but once Apple reps told me to go as if to squeeze the buds and then slide my finger up or down, I found it intuitive and accurate. It is matched with your phone for granular progression so you don’t get adjustments that are too loud or soft. It’s also on by default, meaning even Android users can take advantage.
Other controls remain the same, letting you squeeze your way through calling and playback, as well as holding to activate noise canceling and Adaptive Transparency. You can also customize the long-press to call up Siri, but only within your iPhone settings. With the same controls on both sides, it’s a simple yet fully comprehensive system.
Same comfy design and some new iOS goodies
If you had trouble keeping the old AirPods Pro in your ears, the only change is an extra ear tip size. I was able to find the perfect match. Apart from a minor slip or two, including one on my roof when I was cleaning the gutters, I rarely worried about the buds falling out—in fact, I rarely worried about them at all. They’re, in my opinion, the comfiest and least obtrusive earbuds available, which is another reason you can wear them virtually all day.
As with the design, Apple didn’t change any of the staple iOS features that make the AirPods so useful for iPhone folks. You’ll be getting Audio Sharing, Hands-free Siri, and Automatic Switching (which mostly works well with my MacBook and iPhone).
Other features, like Find My, have improved, allowing you to locate the case separately, including Precision Finding and an onboard speaker to easier track it in your messy home.
What we don’t like
Still no EQ or other ANC controls
I definitely dig what Apple has done with the sound signature in the new AirPods Pro, but there’s always room for improvement—or, at least, customization. Apple’s latest settings pane for the AirPods offers some ways to tinker, including an Ear Tip Fit test, stereo balance, and Personalized Spatial Audio. But there’s still no EQ available to adjust default sound like most earbuds we test. Even Bose has added this option in its latest buds.
Most notable for my purposes is a lack of adjustable active noise canceling. With noise canceling this powerful, there may well be times when you want to back it down a bit. On the bright side, it’s easy to turn head tracking on or off for spatial audio, right in the main iPhone control center.
Automatic audio switching is good, multipoint is better
Apple’s Auto Switching between iOS devices connected to your iCloud account makes it relatively easy to use the buds seamlessly between them. It works pretty well, if not always instantly.
But I do wish the new AirPods Pro added multipoint audio like Jabra and other top brands offer, letting you connect to any two Bluetooth devices at once. This is particularly useful for those with non-Apple devices, like an Android phone or Windows PC.
No separate app for Android
Apple’s advanced iPhone settings menu (accessible by clicking on the “i” next to the buds in your Bluetooth settings or within General Settings) means the AirPods Pro are catching up to the loaded apps many competitors offer—as long as you own an iPhone. If Apple were to make a separate AirPods app, as it does for its Beats headphones, the AirPods Pro would be much more useful for those without an iPhone.
That said, seeing as brands like Samsung and Google have increasingly siloed their earbuds in their respective ecosystems, I don’t expect Apple to change this anytime soon. The good news is that, with improved onboard controls, the AirPods Pro now work better than ever with phones not made by Apple.
Should you buy the AirPods Pro (2nd generation)?
Yes, especially if you have an iPhone, they’re the best earbuds around
Apple’s strategy to keep the AirPods Pro mostly intact from the outside, and completely reinvent features like Adaptive Transparency mode and active noise canceling makes the latest version a brilliant double-down on the world’s most popular earbuds. If you own an iPhone, these are easily the best earbuds for overall usability on multiple fronts, and considering the performance, they’re worth consideration even for some without an iPhone.
If you’re a diehard Android user, you’ll want to consider Samsung’s excellent new Galaxy Buds 2 Pro as an alternative. They offer solid noise canceling, a great fit, and great sound, but they can’t match Apple’s impressive Adaptive Transparency, and I’d argue they also come up short in overall usability. Other solid alternatives include the Sony WF-1000XM4, which beat the AirPods in sound quality, and Bose’s new QuietComfort Earbuds II, which offer their own impressive noise canceling advancements that (I’m told) exceed Apple’s.
For a sportier option, Apple folks will want to consider Apple’s own Beats Fit Pro, though I don’t find them as comfortable, and they don’t match the Pro’s sound quality, noise canceling, or Adaptive Transparency mode.
It took three years, but the new AirPods Pro got the upgrade we’ve been waiting for. While the design may seem stagnant, Apple has created both a familiar face and a notable reinvention of the original “best” earbuds. If there’s a better pair of earbuds for overall usability and value out there, I haven’t found them. If you have an iPhone, these are the buds to buy.
Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.
Meet the tester
Managing Editor - Electronics@ryanwaniata
Hailing originally from Montana, Ryan parlayed his time working as a musician and audio engineer into a career in digital media in 2012. Since then he's had extensive experience as a writer and editor, including everything from op-eds and features to reviews on TVs, audio gear, smart home devices, and more.
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