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Kris Wouk is a freelance tech writer and musician with over 10 years of experience as a writer and a lifetime of experience as a gadget fan. He has also written for Digital Trends, MakeUseOf, Android Authority, and Sound Guys. At MakeUseOf, he was Section Editor in charge of the site’s Mac coverage. Read more…
Justin Duino is the Reviews Director at How-To Geek (and LifeSavvy Media as a whole). He has spent the last decade writing about Android, smartphones, and other mobile technology. In addition to his written work, he has also been a regular guest commentator on CBS News and BBC World News and Radio to discuss current events in the technology industry. Read more…
Apple released the original AirPods Pro in 2019, and while they’ve stayed popular, we’ve spent the three years since imagining what the follow-up would look like. Now the new model is here, and while the second-generation Apple AirPods Pro may look the same, inside everything has changed.
The new AirPods Pro sound better than the originals, and noise cancellation has seen a massive upgrade. They’re easier to charge, easier to use, and if you lose them, they’re easier to find than ever before.
While these are quite obviously a step forward from their predecessors, plenty of competition has come to the field since the release of the original AirPods Pro. These might be a worthy successor to the original, but are they better than the competition?
How-To Geek’s expert reviewers go hands-on with each product we review. We put every piece of hardware through hours of testing in the real world and run them through benchmarks in our lab. We never accept payment to endorse or review a product and never aggregate other people’s reviews. Read more >>
Build and Design
Fit and Comfort
Software and Controls
Noise Cancellation and Voice
Microphone Audio Sample: Inside, Quiet Room
Microphone Audio Sample: Outside, Windy Day
Battery and Charging Case
Should You Buy the AirPods Pro 2?
As we’ve already mentioned, it’s nearly impossible to distinguish the newest AirPods Pro from the original. Unlike other companies, Apple hasn’t opted for a radical redesign of the AirPods Pro. The company hasn’t even added another color, as it often does with iPhones.
There are some minor changes that you’ll spot if you compare the two, but if they’re in your ear, nobody will see the difference. That said, place them in the case, and it’s far easier to notice that this is a new model.
The case isn’t radically different, but it does now have a speaker on the bottom and support for charging using the included USB-C to Lightning cable, a Qi wireless charger, a MagSafe charger, and (new this year) with a Apple Watch charger. A more substantive change is that the case is now IPX4 water-resistant, the same as the AirPods themselves.
The Apple Watch charging point also doubles as a lanyard loop, though the AirPods Pro don’t come with a lanyard. Apple doesn’t even make a lanyard for the AirPods Pro case, though plenty of third-party lanyards are already available.
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Regardless of the minor design changes, the feel of the second-gen AirPods Pro in your ear is exactly like the first model. This is nice if you know you liked the feel of the original AirPods Pro, though it means if you didn’t like the feel of the originals, you probably won’t like the new ones either.
There is one exception, however. If you didn’t like the fit of the original AirPods because the ear tips were too large, the updated model may work better for you. Apple now includes an extra set of tips in an extra-small size, adding another option for a better fit.
Fit is important for sound quality and effective active noise cancellation (ANC), but it also affects your overall comfort. I found the medium tips worked perfectly for me, exactly the same as the original model. The new AirPods Pro seem to stay in my ears about the same as the originals, which is both a good thing and a bad thing.
My original AirPods Pro had no problem staying in my ears on long mountain bike rides over fairly rugged terrain. At the same time, they’d occasionally fall out of my ears while I was walking around inside the house. This isn’t something you can easily test, but so far, I haven’t had the new AirPods Pro come loose once.
The new AirPods Pro come with Bluetooth version 5.3, up from Bluetooth 5.0 in the original AirPods Pro, and a new Apple-made H2 processor. The main codec used is Apple’s AAC, which means great sound for iPhones, iPads, and other Apple devices.
SBC is the fallback codec for Android and other devices. It’s possible for SBC to sound great, but it’s clear that working with Apple’s own devices is the priority here.
This focus on Apple devices has its advantages. Pairing is incredibly simple: just open the case near your iPhone and a prompt to pair appears on your phone. Follow the prompts, and you’re successfully paired in a matter of seconds.
Apple also takes a different approach to bouncing back and forth between its own devices. Instead of multipoint Bluetooth, Apple uses iCloud to switch your AirPods from device to device. This means all you need to do is start watching a video on your iPad to switch over from music on your iPhone, for example.
This iCloud-based switching feels slightly more seamless with the newer AirPods, but this is likely due more to software updates than anything new with the AirPods Pro.
While the earbuds look the same and feel the same in your ears, reach for the stem, and you’ll notice it feels different, with a flat strip on each stem. This is a capacitive touch strip that functions as the volume control. Slide up or down on either earbud, and you’ll adjust the volume, with an audible “tick” notification letting you know you made the change.
The other controls for pausing and resuming playback, as well as skipping songs, are all the same as they were on the previous-generation AirPods Pro. You might worry that adding the capacitive touch element would make for accidental volume changes, but I haven’t had that happen once in my time with the second-gen AirPods Pro.
Another way it’s clear that Apple is focusing on providing the perfect earbuds for its own devices is the software. There is no AirPods App to download, as you would find with most true wireless earbuds. Instead, the software to control and customize the AirPods Pro is built directly into iOS and iPadOS.
In iOS 16, the AirPods now get their own section in Settings, assuming they’re connected. You no longer need to dive into the Bluetooth menu to find the earbuds, though the same quick adjustments are found in the iOS Control Center. In the Settings apps, you can enable ANC or Transparency mode, plus you can try the built-in fit test to make sure noise cancellation works effectively.
This is also where you can set up Personalized Spatial Audio. The app asks you to remove the AirPods Pro so that it can take photos of both your ears to customize your sound profile. Going through this process is similar to setting up Face ID or customizing 360 Reality Audio on the Sony WH-1000XM5 headphones.
Once you’ve got your Personalized Spatial Audio set, you can’t easily toggle it on or off. If you disable the feature, you’ll need to run through the entire fit test to re-enable the feature.
Like the original AirPods Pro, the second generation uses Apple’s Adaptive EQ. The earbuds also support up to 48 kHz “cinema quality” audio using Apple’s SharePlay feature, which lets you watch videos with friends.
While the AirPods look the same on the outside, the internals have been redesigned for better audio quality. Apple says both the amplifier and driver inside the headphones have been redesigned, and while the driver is 11mm—the same as the third-gen AirPods—it is an entirely different driver.
Listening to the second-generation AirPods Pro, it was immediately apparent that they’ve taken a major step forward in sound quality. The sound is more clear overall than the previous model, and the soundstage is noticeably wider, even when you’re not listening with Spatial Audio enabled.
Speaking of Spatial Audio, I turned to Apple Music when it came time to test the sonic quality of the AirPods Pro. While I listened to my own high-res music library, I also streamed via Apple Music to test its catalog of music mixed in Dolby Atmos for Spatial Audio.
I started with Outkast’s “Hey Ya!” in normal stereo mode. The acoustic guitar that carries the song sounds as wide as it would on over-ear headphones. The bass sounds low, in more ways than one. It’s weighty and as present as it should be, but it also sounds placed physically closer to the floor in the mix, a product of the latest AirPods Pro’s improved soundstage.
Next up, I turned to The Bronx’s latest single, “Blowtorch.” The song sounds as aggressive with the AirPods Pro as it does on other headphones. Interestingly enough, it never sounded fatiguing, even as I cranked the volume.
I listened to a lot of Apple’s Spatial Audio stations, but the song I want to talk about is “All Right Now” by Free. This is a fine song, but I wouldn’t call the original mix thrilling. Turning on Spatial Audio, the song instantly sounded wider. The bass felt like it had a more concrete position in the stereo field.
Overall, with Spatial Audio enabled, the song sounded slightly brighter, but not harsher. This isn’t specific to one song. Instead, Spatial Audio in general sounds better than the original AirPods Pro.
Whether to enable head tracking is a matter of personal preference. Listening to music on my iPhone, it doesn’t make sense, as I’m not constantly looking at my phone. On the other hand, Spatial Audio and head tracking make perfect sense for watching a movie on your iPad.
For music and movies that don’t have Dolby Atmos sound mixes, Apple offers the Spatialize Stereo option. I was far less of a fan of this, and wouldn’t recommend it to most people. Fortunately, this is entirely separate, so you can have Spatial Audio enabled for Atmos and stick to plain old stereo for stereo mixes.
On the original AirPods Pro, noise cancellation was fine, but I seldom used it. It wasn’t functional enough to block out truly intrusive sound, so I basically always stuck to Transparency mode. On the second-generation AirPods Pro, noise cancellation has taken a massive leap forward.
Perhaps the ultimate test came on a sunny day when my neighbor was mowing their lawn. I opened my back door to let the sound in, then turned the TV on and turned it up until, along with the lawnmower, the room wasn’t a pleasant place to be.
Turning on the noise cancellation, both the lawnmower and the voices from the TV nearly disappeared. I could hear them ever-so-slightly, but I also didn’t have music playing. Playing music at even a moderate volume meant I couldn’t hear anything else in the world.
It isn’t just noise cancellation that has improved here, either. While it was already great, the Transparency mode is better than ever. I’m not quite sure why Apple seems so much better than much of the competition when it comes to this mode, but the Transparency mode is as close to not wearing earbuds as I’ve ever found.
Apple has also added a new feature to this mode in the form of Adaptive Transparency. This simply monitors the volume of sound around you and quickly lowers the volume on loud sounds that could damage your hearing, like a jackhammer on the street. This information is available to Apple Watch and Apple Health, so you can see how loud the sounds you’re exposed to are.
When it comes to call quality, Apple doesn’t have much to say about the AirPods Pro, and it’s easy to see why. Calls sounded fine, and when I took a few calls on the latest AirPods Pro, nobody mentioned anything about my voice one way or the other.
That said, the quality of audio on a phone call isn’t great in the first place. The second-generation AirPods Pro do better with FaceTime. Even better, the Personalized Spatial Audio feature and Spatial Audio in general are fully supported for FaceTime, and this feature actually makes sense here.
It’s particularly windy this time of year where I live, so I had the opportunity to test the voice quality on a blustery day. It held up well enough, but nowhere as impressively as we’ve seen on headphones like the Sony WH-1000XM5.
Apple claims six hours of playback time for the second-generation AirPods Pro, but that’s if you’re using noise cancellation or transparency mode. If you turn these features off, you can get closer to seven hours, but this isn’t a tradeoff most people will want to make.
When you add the extra charges from the case, you get up to 30 hours of playback time or 24 hours using one of the audio modes. Neither this nor the per-earbud battery life are particularly impressive, but they’re well within the zone where I tend to forget about battery life.
With the original AirPods Pro, I rarely ran out of battery life, but it did happen, mainly because the Transparency mode was so good I’d forget I was still wearing them. On the latest generation of the AirPods Pro, that extra battery life is enough that I haven’t run out so far.
There are a few major upgrades to the charging case, with one of the most important being the addition of Apple’s U1 chip. This is the same chip used in everything from iPhones to AirTags to help pinpoint their location in the Find My app. Now, with the addition of a speaker in the case itself, it’s easier than ever to find your earbuds if you lose them.
That speaker isn’t just for locating a lost case. It also plays sounds when it begins charging, including wireless Qi charging. If you’ve ever struggled to place the older AirPods or AirPods Pro cases in the right location on a charging mat, you’ll appreciate the little audible notification to let you know when they’re charging.
We mentioned this at the top of the review, but while the look of the second-generation Apple AirPods Pro hasn’t changed much, everything else has, making these a far better choice than the originals. The quality of the Transparency mode is nearly enough to recommend these over other offerings, but the improved sound quality and active noise cancellation factor in quite heavily.
The real deciding factor is the Apple ecosystem. You may get better noise cancellation from the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II or the Sony WF-1000XM4, but this doesn’t tell the entire story. If you use more than one Apple device, the AirPods Pro Gen 2 are the best choice, simply because of how easily they integrate with your other devices.
If you’re an Android fan with a Windows PC, these may not be the best choice for you. That said, if you’re an Apple fan or simply looking to upgrade from earlier AirPods, you can’t go wrong with the new AirPods Pro.
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