You can still buy better sounding wireless earphones
No LE Audio, lossless or hi-res audio
Checking on the stems is still a bad idea
On the outside, not much has changed with these second-generation AirPods Pro. But the sound quality has improved a lot, noise reduction is much better, transparency mode is top notch, and battery life is finally up to par. There’s not much here that you can’t find on other models, but Apple makes it easy and has caught up with its tough competition.
Price upon review
Best prices today: Apple AirPods Pro (2nd generation)
The original AirPods Pro were the right product at the right time. AirPods weren’t the first true wireless earphones, but they were certainly the ones that popularized the category, and in 2019 it was time for a beefed-up version. Combining active noise cancellation, decent sound quality and Apple’s signature ease of use into a relatively affordable pair of ‘buds was a slam dunk.
But times have changed. Three years later, the competition from Sony, Bose, Samsung and Google is tougher than ever. Everyone has small, comfortable earphones, and most offer better sound quality, noise reduction or battery life. Even Apple’s instant pairing and other user-friendly features aren’t that special anymore.
The second generation of AirPods Pro might not look like much of a change, but Apple has redone almost everything about them Other things than their design. The improved AirPods Pro are entering a much more mature and competitive market, but Apple has done everything necessary to make these easy to recommend to those invested in the Apple ecosystem.
Almost identical at a glance
You’ll never be able to tell if someone is wearing the first or second generation AirPods Pro by looking. Not unless you get uncomfortably close.
The new model has the exact same shape as the old model, including the small touch-sensitive flat area on the front of the short stems. The small black ports for external microphones and pressure equalization are a different size and have been moved, but the glossy white bulbs and stems have not changed.
If you could never get a good fit with AirPods Pro, this new version probably won’t help — with one possible exception. The new model comes with four sets of ear tips, adding extra small (XS) to the mix. If you have really small ears, this might be the modification you need to get a good seal.
I happen to have a small head and ears, and while I always got a good seal with the first generation small ear tips, I find the XS tips to be a bit more comfortable. The old AirPods Pro earbuds will fit the new model, and while Apple sells replacements for each model separately and says they have a different mesh inside, any third-party tips you may have purchased will fit the new model.
The charging case is also the same size and shape as the first generation AirPods Pro, but with a few notable exceptions. On the center right side is a small metal lanyard loop (Apple doesn’t include a lanyard or sell one, unfortunately), and the Lightning port at the bottom is connected by speaker holes that emit a tone when charging begins, or a loud ring , when you activate Find My to find it.
A host of new and improved features
Despite the almost identical external appearance, the new AirPods Pro have a host of new features.
The charging case holds the same amount of battery as before, but now supports Precision Finding in Find My (in addition to being able to play a tone). It charges via Lightning, Qi wireless chargers and MagSafe as before, but you can now also use your Apple Watch charger. And the magnetic pull is strong enough to hold the case in place, meaning you can easily snap them onto an Apple Watch charging stand.
The battery life in the earphones themselves is much longer – Apple rated the first generation at 4.5 hours and the new one at 6 hours. That’s right with the duration I got in my test with noise reduction enabled. That’s a big improvement, but about average for this product category.
You’ll find Bluetooth 5.3 in the new model, making it among the first Apple products to support the newer standard (along with the latest Apple Watches and iPhones), but it doesn’t look like it’s being used for anything special right now . LE Audio is nowhere to be found. Consider it future proof; the first-generation AirPods Pro got several new features in software updates over time, and the second-generation model likely will too.
I’ve never enjoyed the little pressure-sensitive touch sensor on the stem of the AirPods Pro. It is difficult to squeeze without loosening the earpiece, and not always easy to find the small flat area that you need to press. The second generation model has the same controls, but has added the ability to detect up and down strokes on the small flat area of the stem. Adding volume control solves a major shortcoming of the original AirPods Pro, and it works pretty well – a swipe up or down changes the volume in discrete increments, and while I still think it’s poor design to put controls on a small portion of the small stalks , at least it’s a bit easier to manage than before.
While AirPods Pro have always had Transparency mode (where outside sounds come in so you can hear your surroundings), the H2 chip in the new model enables what Apple calls Adaptive Transparency. This transfers sounds from outside and automatically limits any sound above 85dB. That’s pretty impressive, and over the course of a few days of testing it drowned out the sound of hand dryers, passing motorcycles and outdoor power lawn equipment without completely drowning out all other outside noise.
All the other features of the first generation AirPods Pro are still here. Spatial sound with head tracking. Speech Boost to amplify speech in the direction you are facing. Pairing with one touch. Sound sharing with another pair of AirPods (or Beats). Quickly switch to other Apple devices, your Apple ID is signed in. Hands-free Siri. These things aren’t as unique as they used to be, as Apple’s biggest competitors have their own versions of most of them.
A bigger leap than expected in sound quality
When I tested the other AirPods and went back to the first generation model to compare, I was constantly impressed by how much better the new model is. I’ve used the Beats Fit Pro as my earphones of choice because they sound much better, are more comfortable for me, and have all the AirPods Pro features I love the most.
I’m happy to find the new AirPods Pro now sound just as good. The bass response is significantly improved. The bridge to Beastie Boys’ “Intergalactic” at 2:30 is just too much for the old AirPods Pro to handle, but the new model has no problem keeping up. Overall clarity and sharpness are enhanced across the tonal range, bringing a new sense of crispness to Sade’s “Smooth Operator” or Stevie Ray Vaughan’s “Tin Pan Alley”. The subtle breath and guitar inflammation of Jeff Buckley’s “Hallelujah” comes through in a way that the old AirPods Pro could never reproduce.
Apple says its noise canceling quality is now twice as good, but I’m not sure how that’s really quantified. All I know is that the noise-canceling quality of the original AirPods Pro has long since been surpassed by the competition, and Apple has more or less caught up. It blocks out noticeably more outside sound than before.
The park down the street from my house is close to a major highway, and the constant drone of 80+ MPH traffic was only partially mitigated by the first generation of AirPods Pro. The new model brings it down to a barely audible whisper you have to concentrate to hear.
Transparency mode has always been a strength of Apple’s earphones, with a more natural sound than most competitors, but the second-generation AirPods Pro take it to a new level. All premium earphones have a transparency mode now, but I’ve never heard one that sounds as good, transparent like these. The new Adaptive Transparency mode, which also comes to the first-get model in iOS 16.1, is just the icing on the cake.
Should you buy the second generation of AirPods Pro?
If you just bought a pair of AirPods Pro and are happy with them, there’s no reason to ditch them for this new second-generation model. But those whose AirPods Pro are showing signs of age, with battery life dwindling after a few years of constant use, may be tempted to upgrade.
And anyone who’s been on the fence about getting their first pair of AirPods Pro has more reasons than ever to buy. The speaker, lanyard loop and improved Find My features in the charging case are welcome, and I even find myself making more use of the ability to use an Apple Watch charger than I thought I would. I prefer USB-C over lighting for wired charging, but with persistent rumors saying the change is coming next year, we shouldn’t have too much longer to wait.
The earphones themselves are not my favorite design, especially the control buttons on the stem. But the addition of volume controls addressed a real shortcoming, as did the included extra-small eartips.
The sound quality has improved much more than I expected. These aren’t the best sounding in-ears you can buy, but again, they’re competitive in the premium wireless earbud segment. Noise reduction is much better, among the best in this category, and transparency mode is the best I’ve ever heard. Adaptive transparency makes it even better.
If I’m disappointed at all, it’s the new AirPods Pro only do everything the first generation models did, only better. There is no major overall new software feature. There’s no lossless or hi-res audio (not that sub-$300 wireless earbuds have the audio reproduction capabilities to make such luxury worth it, but still). LE Audio, with its new codecs and options, does not appear. I’m willing to bet that with Bluetooth 5.3 and the new H2 processor, Apple has a few more tricks up its sleeve in the way of software updates over the next few years.
But even without them, Apple’s improvements to AirPods Pro make them competitive again and the best choice for those who use Apple products and can make use of features like personal spatial audio and instant device switching.