Apple’s AirPods Pro (2nd Gen) are a solid improvement over their predecessors. They produce a clearer and more-precise sound and the active noise cancellation (ANC) has also been improved. Apple has also added volume control to the earbuds and increased the battery life a bit too. All-in they’re a slick pair of buds that work seamlessly with Apple’s ecosystem – but for audiophiles looking for the best possible sound, these aren’t the best earbuds on the market.
When the original AirPods Pro came out, they were innovative, introducing fresh new ideas that forced the competition to catch up. This year’s iteration feels more Apple catching up to the competition.
These days, the premium-earbuds market is a very competitive market. Competitors like Sony and Bose have released earbuds that have, in some areas, produced a more high-end product than Apple. For audio quality there are better earbuds out there, like Sony’s WF-1000XM4. The same for ANC, Bose’s QuietComfort Earbuds. And while Apple’s H2 chip inside the AirPods Pro (2nd Gen) has closed the gap, it hasn’t done enough to give them the top spot outright.
Where the AirPods Pro truly stand out is when used within the Apple ecosystem. The compatibility between Apple devices is second-to-none and is yet to be matched by a competitor. Quick device switching, the case now being compatible with the same U1 chip as Apple AirTags, audio sharing and hands-free Siri are all features that make these an attractive option.
And lets face it, the majority of people looking to buy these earbuds are going to be Apple users, and if that’s you, the features the AirPods Pro provide makes them an attractive option. But, if you’re looking for the best sound quality, or ANC, there are better earbuds out there.
- Apple ecosystem integration
- Improved ANC
- Volume touch controls
- U1 chip in case
- No Hi-Res codec support
- Lacks bass capabilities
The AirPods Pro cost $479. That’s at the top of the price range for earbuds, but it’s in line with the competition. Bose’s newest earbuds, the QuietComfort Earbuds 2, cost $469.
Interestingly, Sony’s excellent WF-1000XM4 earbuds cost only $359. These are earbuds from the previous generation, though.
Very little has changed regarding the AirPods Pro’s look. Besides an added vent on top of the buds, they’re identical to their predecessors.
Some may be frustrated by the absence of new design features; however, I had no problem with it. Why change a winning formula? The in-ear design is tried and true, and the second-generation earbuds are just as light and comfortable as always.
While the overall aesthetic is identical to its predecessor, some improvements have been introduced. You can now adjust the volume by sliding your finger on the inside of either earbud. It’s a must-have feature for a premium pair of earbuds – that all the competition already has – and it works well here.
The touch controls are the most responsive and accurate controls I’ve tested in a pair of earbuds. For most controls, the earbuds require “squeeze” controls rather than “touch” controls. Squeezing the stem once will pause audio, twice skips tracks, and you can answer calls and initiate Siri. It works well, as did the previous generation, and is significantly more responsive than other earbuds with similar control schemes like Oppo’s Enco X2.
Inside the box are four tip sizes: extra small, small, medium and large. The extra small tip is a new addition, ensuring the AirPods will fit most ears comfortably.
The earbuds and the case boast an IPX4 resistance rating meaning they’ll resist water splashes from any direction. This means they’ll survive sweat and rain, but I wouldn’t advise submerging them underwater.
The case looks the same as the original; however, it now has a speaker that chimes when looking for it using Find My, indicates low battery and informs you when you start charging the earbuds. The case also sports a U1 chip which is the same chip used in Apple’s AirTags. You can use it to find lost AirPods in the same way. This is a great new addition, especially for those prone to misplacing their earbuds.
The case is also now compatible with MagSafe and Apple Watch chargers and has a spot to attach a lanyard. Unfortunately, though, the lanyard doesn’t come in the box and costs an extra $23.
The AirPods Pro (2nd Gen) boast 11mm audio drivers that produce a clear and concise sound. Audio quality is consistent across all genres, with every song I tested sounding clear and balanced. This is mainly thanks to the AirPods Pro’s adaptive EQ, in which the earbuds tune music to your ears in real time using the inward-facing microphones.
However, Apple’s intentional decision to prioritise consistency throughout genres has its drawbacks. While everything sounds really good, nothing sounds great.
These are undoubtedly the best-sounding Apple earbuds, but they aren’t the best-sounding earbuds on the market. Bass is an area where competitors are more capable. Bass-heavy genres like hip-hop and EDM sounded punchier on the other earbuds. Sony’s previous generation WF-1000XM4s and Bose’s QuietComfort range are better with lower frequency sounds.
That said, these are still more than capable at delivering an enjoyable sound. Tracks like Electrify My Love by Mondo Cozmo and Animal Spirits by Vulfpeck were well balanced, with each instrument easy to pinpoint in the mix. But I expected a bit more from some of the most-expensive earbuds on the market.
Unfortunately, there’s no support for Hi-Res codecs. Apple has stuck with AAC only, which feels like a missed opportunity. Competitors are now compatible with large numbers of different codecs, and while the debate rages on about whether the human ear can even hear the difference between Hi-Res audio and normal audio, it would’ve been nice to have the choice.
Spatial Audio is here, and it’s just as good as ever. Watching a video that supports Spatial Audio is an immersive experience with Apple’s software doing a great job of creating a surround sound profile. Netflix, Apple TV, YouTube and Disney+ all support spatial audio, but it pays to remember the content needs to be compatible with Dolby Atmos to utilise the software.
You can also use it with audio streaming services like Spotify and Apple Music. I’m a Spotify user, and songs like Reckoner by Radiohead and Tom Sawyer by Rush sounded wide and crisp, with instruments being more dominant from certain directions. Unfortunately, I did have to search for “spatial audio” on Spotify to test this, as the majority of the songs I listen to don’t support Dolby Atmos.
The AirPods Pro now utilise what Apple calls “Personalised Spatial Audio,” in which you scan your ears with your phone’s camera, and the software creates a customised profile for your head geometry. I’m not sure what I make of this feature. If anything at all.
The ANC does a good job of blocking out background noise. It’s a definite improvement on the original Apple AirPods Pro. Sitting in my office, I couldn’t hear the sound of my whirring fan or my loud PC.
The ANC isn’t quite as good as the best in the business, Bose’s QuietComfort range, people’s voices and chatter did seep through, but it’s a significant and welcome improvement.
Transparency mode, in which the earbuds mics pick up outside noise and play it into your ear, is as good as ever; however, it now includes hearing protection in which loud noises like car motors or sirens will automatically have the volume turned down to save your ears the trouble. It’s fine.
Features are where Apple’s AirPods Pro are the best in the business. If you’re a subscriber to the Apple ecosystem, these are the best earbuds on the market.
The AirPods Pro (2nd Gen) are compatible with audio sharing in which you can share what you’re listening to with someone else who has Beats or AirPods. Skin detection has been improved so that auto-pause is more accurate when you take an earbud out. Audio device switching allows you to quickly and easily change to another Apple device, and hands-free Siri persists.
It all works seamlessly and is a significant benefit to the AirPods Pro. These are features that other earbuds cannot compete with.
The battery has been improved, boasting 6 hours of continuous playback with ANC on. This is standard for the industry. It’s a little behind the market-leading Sony WF-1000XM4’s 8 hours, but it’s enough.
With the charges inside the case, the battery lasts 30 hours.
You can charge the case, via MagSafe, Apple Watch and Qi-certified chargers, or alternatively you can use the Lightning connector. It’s a solid range of options.
The first objective of a second generation product is to be better than its predecessor. With its AirPods Pro (2nd Gen), Apple has achieved that. Everything here is better than the original, thanks to the H2 chip.
Audio quality sounds clearer and more consistent throughout the mix, ANC does a good job of cancelling background noise like fans and air conditioners, design improvements have been introduced like being able to change volume with the touch controls, the U1 tracking chip inside the case makes it easy to track down misplaced earbuds and the battery life has increased.
Combine these improvements with the familiar features exclusive to the Apple ecosystem like quick device switching, audio sharing and hands-free Siri and these are easily the best Apple earbuds on the market.
They aren’t the best earbuds out there though. If you’re looking for the best audio quality and ANC in your earbuds though, these don’t take the top spot. The AirPods Pro are still not compatible with Hi-Res codecs, the audio quality is good across genres, but not great, the ANC struggles with background voices and chatter and the battery, while improved, doesn’t meet the 8-hours of the best in the business.
For $479 the AirPods Pro (2nd Gen) are the most expensive earbuds on the market and I was hoping for a bit more, especially in audio quality. With that said, if you’re an Apple user, these are the best earbuds for you, simply because of their compatibility within the ecosystem.