Apple AirPods Pro (2nd Gen) Review: Must-Have Headphones – SI Showcase
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I’ve already reviewed the iPhone 14, 14 Pro and 14 Pro Max, and it would be remiss not to review the new second-generation AirPods Pro model. We tested the headphones hard for two weeks, checking sound quality, noise cancellation and battery life.
I have used and tested so many brands of headphones and regularly choose the first generation AirPods Pro or Beats Fit Pro as my preference for everyday use. There’s no doubt, however, that these latest generation AirPods Pro are ahead of the competition.
Apple hasn’t changed the design drastically, but they’ve improved it where it matters. From better audio, improved noise cancellation, and optimized transparency mode, the functionality of these AirPods without a significant price increase makes them best-in-class headphones. Let’s unpack everything and turn the volume up to 11.
Pros and cons: Apple AirPods Pro (second generation)
Sound quality: A new driver and amplifier allow them to deliver crisp, clear sound for almost any genre
No design change: Although a volume control was added to the device, there is no real design change this year
Active noise cancellation: ANC has been improved and still allows you to easily block out the world around you
No USB-C: The charging case still has a Lightning port
Adaptive Transparency: Transparency mode is still best in class and now reduces sound above 85 decibels to a safer volume
Battery life: Generation after generation, the new AirPods Pro last longer with or without listening mode on
Comfort: AirPods Pro are still comfortable in the ear, and it’s easy to forget they’re in after a few minutes
A similar build with some slight changes
Apple hasn’t changed the design in any major way, and the headphones are still only available in one color (white).
In terms of some minor differences, the optical sensor, which was a small black oval used to detect when the headphones are in your ears, is gone. Instead, there’s a skin-detecting sensor inside that first appeared on the third-generation AirPods. At the top of each AirPods Pro there is new vent as well. But that’s it for any physical design changes.
More ear tips
The silicone ear tips are designed to slide into your ears for a more comfortable fit and better sound. With the new second-generation AirPods Pro set, Apple has expanded the eartip offerings in the box. Ann extremely small size joins small, medium (pre-installed out of the box) and large. You can also complete an eartip fit test, during which the headphones will play different tones to test the seal – if it’s not quite right, it’ll recommend another size.
In my testing, I had no problems keeping them in my ears during various activities. Even while wearing them for nearly eight hours during the workday, I didn’t feel any pain or discomfort in my ears. AirPods Pro don’t have a wingtip like the Beats Fit Pro or other buds, which can sometimes cause extra pressure in the ear.
Headphone volume control is finally here
Although not obvious in terms of product design, there is new, very useful functionality in the earpiece grip. With the original AirPods Pro (first generation model), you can squeeze the grip to play, pause, or answer a call, and long hold to ask Siri or turn on listening mode (aka mute or transparency) . You can also customize them in Settings on your connected iPhone.
But now Apple has added a capacitive touch sensor that you can use to adjust the volume on the fly. Just swipe up or down to decrease or increase the volume by one, and you’ll hear a faint beep to let you know the request has been accepted.
Updates to the carrying and charging case
While the left and right AirPods Pro themselves have minimal design changes, the accompanying carrying and charging case received four major updates.
- New strap attachment point
- FindMy app support
- A new charging method via Apple Watch charger
Apple has added a place to attach a strap on the right side, which means you don’t need to buy a separate case. You can get really any strap, or this $12.95 one from Incase that’s specifically designed for AirPods Pro. It’s a handy travel item that you can hang on your wrist or attach to a bag.
The charging case is the same size as the previous generation.
A speaker makes finding a lost suitcase easy
Beside the lightning port at the bottom there is an acoustic vent on the left and three holes on the right for a speaker. Why a spokesperson in this case? It will make noise when paired with your phone, but more importantly, its main purpose is to work with the FindMy app.
This speaker (paired with a U1 chip inside) allows you to find the AirPods Pro case on a map through Precise finding, or send it to play a tone using the FindMy app. That’s basically all the technology from AirTag now in the AirPods Pro charging case, and it’ll make finding those $250 earbuds a lot easier if you lose them.
Charge via Lightning, MagSafe or an Apple Watch charger
In terms of recharging, you can still plug in via a physical Lightning cable, run them on a MagSafe charger, or put them on a Qi wireless charger. You can now also charge them with an Apple Watch charger, which is a welcome addition. For iPhone and Apple Watch users, that’s one less charger you’ll need to carry around.
Long battery life regardless of mode
You won’t have to recharge AirPods Pro as often. Apple did provide a big improvement in battery life, but not by putting in bigger batteries.
Much of the battery life extension is due to the new Apple-made H2 chip found in each of the AirPods Pro. It boasts over one billion transistors, giving it enough headroom to be efficient at tasks and mixing audio in real time.
On paper, Apple promises six hours of playback with noise canceling or transparency on, but I’ve averaged over seven hours with either of them on. In fact, most days I’ve tested the AirPods Pro with transparency on and playback between 50% to 70%.
With none of these modes I have achieved eight hours, which is a full hour above Apple’s estimate. With the case, you can expect 30 hours with listening mode on or 34 with it off, and that’s in line with my experience. I had to fully recharge two or three times throughout my testing period.
Transparency mode is still the best
AirPods Pro have long offered the best transparency mode of any pair of headphones I’ve tested. Whether you’re working in an office or taking them for a walk, they seamlessly and naturally allow you to hear what’s going on around you. There is no weird humming, thin effect or robotic nature of the voices.
Adaptive gameplay changes
For the second generation AirPods Pro, Apple is not changing anything in its secret sauce. Transparency mode can now tune in to the different sounds around you.
So if you’re walking past a noisy construction site that’s super loud, AirPods Pro will identify the sound and turn the volume down. But here’s the key…should be 85 decibels or more, and Apple will only reduce the volume, not change it. So you can still hear the construction machinery, it just won’t blow out your eardrum.
It’s a convenient upgrade that we think speaks to hearing health and general safety awareness. In my tests around New Jersey and New York, it effectively turned down the volume of sirens and some extremely loud cars revving, but still allowed me to be aware of my surroundings.
And although I haven’t tested this yet, you could theoretically use it in concert to make the sound a little more tolerable without sacrificing the melody of the sound.
Noise cancellation is even better
When you want to block out all sound, you can turn on active noise cancellation.
Noise cancellation just got even better with this newer generation of AirPods Pro. For example, I was flying back on a Boeing 777 and I was seated close to the engine – with music set to 40% and noise canceling on, it blocked out almost all of the engine’s roar.
Likewise, while operating from an apartment with the hallway carpet ripped out and replaced and a heavy HVAC system running, AirPods Pro reduced sounds to a hum. It’s just as good at handling heavier, low-mid sounds (as the first generation), but this new version does a better job of blocking out the full range of sounds.
Live audio for every genre
In addition to the H2 chip working to provide both listening modes – transparency and noise reduction – it also improves sound quality. The result is a vibrant mix that clearly focuses on a wide soundstage with a high level of clarity. You won’t hear any distortion, cracks or pops, and that’s thanks to the new amp and driver in each bud.
After extensive testing, I found this to be a really good listening experience and one of the best headphones available. AirPods Pro also work with Surround audio via Apple Music, which dynamically arranges audio elements around you for a more immersive listening experience.
Still seamless setup and switching
Last but not least, AirPods Pro still provides a high level of convenience with quick pairing. For pairing and first setup, you simply open the case next to your iPhone and follow the home screen that appears. You’ll be ready in less than a minute, and AirPods Pro will sync with your iCloud account so you can quickly switch which Apple device they’re connected to.
So if you’re listening to music at your desk but need to join a Zoom call on your Mac, you can easily switch between the two. It worked flawlessly in my testing, delivering noticeably faster transfer speeds than the first generation AirPods Pro.
Are second-generation AirPods Pro worth it?
Whether you’re using the original AirPods or the first generation AirPods Pro, you’re getting a lot with the upgrade here. For $249, it’s a cozy design that’s very functional, class-leading transparency and noise canceling modes, great sound, and a long run time on a single charge.
Apple AirPods Pro (second generation) are the best headphones to use with iPhoneand some of the best headphones on the market. This is a significant upgrade over the first generation AirPods Pro that some of you may have had since October 2019 when they were first released.
You can also grab the second-generation AirPods Pro for $10 off at Amazon, which isn’t the craziest discount, but it’s currently the lowest it’s ever been for these brand new headphones.
- Apple AirPods Pro second generation ($239.99, originally $249.99; amazon.com)
Prices are accurate and items are available at time of posting.