Ivan 17 October 2022
Apple Headphones Hands-on Featured
It’s exactly three years since Apple unveiled the AirPods Pro and looking at their successors, it’s obvious that Apple hasn’t grown tired of the design.
But don’t let that fool you – just about everything has gotten better on the inside and Apple will have yet another winner on its hands.
In comparison to 2019, 2022 has a far more saturated and stronger TWS market, and the AirPods Pro 2’s ability to actively suppress sound is no longer enough to stand out. Strong offerings from Apple’s well-known rivals in the smartphone world, as well as from audio staples mean the AirPods Pro 2 need to work hard to earn their place.
On the other hand, the many people deeply invested in the Apple ecosystem will only see three alternatives to the €299/$249/INR 26,900 AirPods Pro 2 – the €159/$129/INR 14,900 AirPods 2, the €209/$169/INR 19,900 AirPods 3, and the €629/$549/INR 59,900 AirPods Max. That makes the AirPods Pro 2 the cheapest Apple headphone with active noise cancellation, which is an immediate win.
Let’s open these up.
The AirPods Pro 2 arrive with a USB-C to Lightning cable, XS/S/M/L silicone ear tips, and the buds themselves, in their case.
The MagSafe Charging Case is new this year. It has gained a speaker to play Find My chimes, as well as a metal loop for a lanyard – eliminating one of the main reasons people bough AirPods cases.
But the loop isn’t just there to ruin third-party retailers’ bottom line. Cleverly, it serves double duty as an antenna for the Find My service.
You can charge the AirPods Pro 2 using a MagSafe charger, the Apple Watch charger, or any standard Qi charger. The out-of-date Lightning port is the wired option for charging on the new AirPods Pro 2.
The AirPods Pro 2 are nearly the same as the original, early rumors pointing to shorter stems never materializing. That’s not universally bad, as buyers of the original model will feel sure that these will fit just as well as the old ones.
The new AirPods Pro 2 introduce the smaller XS ear tip size, which will help those that find the S size too large. Since the ear tips fit the old models, that gives owners of those earbuds another size option.
An almost unchanged design
The only real change on the AirPods themselves is the new skin-detect sensor that’s replaced the old ear sensor. It can tell the difference between your ear and any other surface, so the earbuds will not automatically begin playing when placed on a table or in a pocket – a most welcome change.
The stems on the AirPods Pro 2 have a new slide functionality, in addition to the old press and hold. So now you can slide on the stem column to adjust volume – a single slide up or down toggles one step correction in the respective direction.
You can press with two fingers on the stem to play/pause, while a squeeze and hold will toggle between Active noise cancellation and Adaptive Transparency.
New AirPods Pro 2 on the left, AirPods Pro on the right
Find My has been improved with the AirPods Pro 2. The case supports Precision Finding, enabled by the U1 chip, and you can play a sound to help you locate the buds more easily. The case plays a chime too.
There’s also a detailed battery indicator, which will give you the battery reading of the case as well as each of the two buds.
Find my, battery indications
Okay, let’s get the biggest thing out of the way – the AirPods Pro 2 sound great and they are hugely improved over their predecessors.
The original AirPods Pro were a big step up from the open-fit AirPods. They had better sound isolation thanks to the in-ear design, which also lent them better bass characteristics. The original Pros had a wide soundstage with pronounced vocals and a keen reproduction of instruments. Yet their sound was muddled in the middle and became tinny and screechy at higher volumes. Their upper midrange lacked presence, while the sub-bass wasn’t very impressive.
The AirPods Pro 2 address each of those issues. For starters the soundstage is just as wide but clearer – the sound is more dynamic so it fills the gaps that left the old pair sounding muddled and mushy. The upper midrange has more presence and on the other side, there’s more sub-bass. And the AirPods Pro 2 can go louder without sacrificing sound quality.
So improvements across the board. If you’re daily using the AirPods Pro and are considering the Pro 2 for their sound, you’ll feel a noticeable improvement.
Ditto the Active noise cancellation and Adaptive Transparency mode. Starting off with ANC, the first thing you’ll notice is the lack of the white noise hum on quiet backgrounds. That’s the low-level noise floor, which on the original Pros can be heard and felt as a type of pressure in your ear when you’re not listening to anything. It’s not audible on the AirPods Pro 2 and the pressure isn’t there.
The new earbuds have better sound isolation. Apple claims a 2x improvement but we wouldn’t go as far. It is better – constant sounds with same-cadence frequency like an engine or a fan get filtered more effectively than before. However, there are better options out there like Sony’s WF-1000XM4 and, subjectively, the much-cheaper Samsung Galaxy Buds2.
Then there’s Adaptive Transparency mode. It allows outside noise but will tone down harsh sounds like car horns or construction on the street. In practice, it allows you to listen to music or a podcast/audiobook while being safe outside. You can even have a conversation with someone without the need to take the buds out.
However, don’t expect Adaptive Transparency to feel as if you’re walking about bud-less, it doesn’t.
Active noise cancellation
Spatial Audio is great. It’s peak Apple, simulating the surround sound you’ll get if you’re sat in the middle of an extensive high-end speaker setup. There are two settings – Fixed augments the sound quality without a tangible surround sound experience, while Head Tracked is properly magical. Best used while sat down, this mode simulates surround sound in accordance with your head’s movement. Turn left and the right “speaker” will gradually fade back. It feels real and adds a whole new level to your favorite music.
Samsung and others try to simulate that same feature but can’t match the proficiency of Apple’s implementation.
The AirPods Pro 2 have dual beamforming microphones as well as an inward-facing microphone, which combine to offer a good call experience. People at the other end of the line reported that we sounded almost as good as through a phone.
Battery life is excellent on the AirPods Pro 2. We got close to 6 hours and a half of phone calls and 6 hours and 20 minutes of music playback with ANC on, both at 50% volume. For context, the old AirPods Pros got 4 and a half hours of playback, while the AirPods 3 offer the same 6 hours of listening and 4 and a half hours of talk time rating as the Pros.
There you go, the AirPods Pro 2 are great. They sound much better than the previous Pros, have meaningfully better battery life, and superb Active noise cancellation. They’re also better in every way than the open-fit AirPods 3 – more sound isolation, ANC vs no ANC, better bass, wider soundstage, etc.
But really, what did you expect? It’s only natural that Apple made the new AirPod Pros superior to their three-year-old predecessors.
The question should you buy the new AirPods Pro 2 or not is easy enough to answer too – if you have the original Pros, then getting the new ones will bring a myriad of improvements. That’s further amplified if you have an AirPods 2 or 1. Get the AirPods Pro 2, you won’t regret it.
If you own the AirPods 3 then the question is harder. Switch over to the AirPods Pro 2 if you need Active noise cancellation, otherwise, keep your existing buds.
That’s addressing pretty much everyone in Apple’s ecosystem. On the other hand there little reason to go for Apple’s AirPods Pro 2 if you’re an Android user. You’ll be paying a premium over the majority of the TWS options on the market and would be losing the majority of the AirPods Pro 2’s benefits outside of iOS – no Spatial Audio, no Find My support, not even automatic ear detection (seriously, Apple!?).
These are the absolute best earbuds to get for the iPhone. They’re also very good on their own. But the reality is that the AirPods Pro 2 are far from the best buds out there. There are better-sounding options and certainly better deals out there.
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