Apple released the first generation of AirPods Pro in October 2019. At that point in time the original AirPods were the best selling wireless headphones in the world. They were ahead of the competition by a wide margin in terms of sound quality, software, and adoption by users. I remember being skeptical at the time because adding the word “Pro” to the end of a product implies a huge leap in quality. I didn’t know what was going to make them better than regular AirPods.
After demoing the first AirPods Pro, I was blown away. The active noise canceling gave me an immense feeling of silence, they fit snugly in my ears, and the transparency mode worked pretty well at allowing me to hear ambient sounds around me when I needed to be aware of my surroundings. The AirPods Pro were also tightly integrated with iOS in such a way that there were plenty of “magic” moments.
As the last three years have ticked by, I’ve dropped my AirPods more times than I could count. I’ve spent hours flipping through couch cushions looking for them, and I’ve even replaced a case because it fell out of my pocket during a run. While they are still terrific headphones, there are more options ranging from cheap discount store earbuds up to highly competent competitors, such as Samsung’s Galaxy Buds2 Pros. The AirPods Pro (Second Generation) have been highly anticipated, and now that they are finally here, do they live up to the hype? This will take you through the changes in the next generation of AirPods and tell you everything you need to know to decide if you need to cop or pass.
How Do They Sound?
AirPods Pro have always sounded good. Music sounds very accurate and very crisp. Comparing AirPods Pro to its bassy cousin, Beats, was more of an apples and oranges comparison. This is because both sets of headphones clearly had different use cases and musical genres in mind. Beats always felt they were built for music and sports. AirPods Pro have felt like they were engineered for a different range of activities, from conference calls, podcasts, music and everything else. AirPods Pro having a larger amount of uses seemed to come at the expense of bass response. But this new generation of AirPods doesn’t compromise the bass.
Slipping on the AirPods Pro 2 felt familiar at first. The sound is as crisp as I remembered, and I began to speculate that perhaps the speaker membrane needed some time to warm up in order to get to peak performance. This opinion changed when I tried out their Personal Spacial Audio.
How Do They look?
After unboxing a set of AirPods Pro 2, you’ll notice the case looks extremely similar to the previous generations. There is a tiny spot for a dongle, and if you look closely at the bottom you’ll notice speakers. If you purchase it through Apple’s website you can get a word, memoji, or emoji digitally engraved on your case. This is fun, but not essential.
The new pair of AirPods Pro are extremely similar to their predecessors. They look almost identical in size and shape to the previous generation. On close inspection, you can see slight variations on where the outside microphones are all placed, but there’s no real way to tell at a glance which AirPods they are. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I had no real complaints about the previous generation’s design, and if it isn’t broken why fix it? It would be nice to see different colors. Consumers love the ability to accessorize, but what it lacks in aesthetic change it makes up for inside.
Personal Spacial Audio
The process of setting up your Personal Spacial Audio profile is relatively easy. This process uses an iPhone much like FaceID. You start by scanning the front of your face, but then you turn your attention to scanning your left and right ear. Popping the AirPods in after that point creates a unique sound experience tailored to the shape of your ear. I was genuinely shocked by the bass response, it felt powerful, booming, and it slapped. I won’t make a claim that these give as much rattle and shake as their over the ear competitors, but I will say it is reminiscent of that experience, while also being its own unique thing. I get that bass I’m looking for, but at much lower sound levels, which is likely better overall for my ear health.
In my day-to-day life, I’m talking about tech products. The number one complaint I’ve heard when talking about AirPods Pro is that they don’t fit quite right. With this generation of AirPods Pro, Apple has expanded the sizes of the tips to include four sizes (XS, S, M, L). This expansion of tips will hopefully help those that want AirPods Pro find their own perfect glass slipper. This doesn’t change the fact that this is an inner ear headphone, if you didn’t like that type of earphone before, you may not like these. However, if you want to give them another try, there’s another option for you.
There is now additional functionality on the AirPod Pro’s stem. Sliding a finger up or down the stem, now allows the user to turn the volume up or down. This touch is a little tricky at first. There is an exact amount of pressure that works each time, but that can be aided by using your thumb on the back of the stem which allows for a little more pressure than may feel natural to swipe. Once you get it, it performs naturally. I like this feature, but it’d be cool if I could program this slider to do other things like swipe forward and back a song. The squeezing button press still exists and is programmable. By default, it is set to allow you to change between active noise canceling and transparency mode.
Active Noise Canceling
I’d say 20 percent of the time I’m wearing AirPods, I’m not listening to anything. I just want a moment to myself, and they stand out as a physical barrier that cautions the rest of the world that I’m busy. Inner ear headphones have always been pretty good at blocking out sound. The AirPods Pro in particular have always been ahead of the curve when it comes to active noise canceling (ANC). I have noticed a considerable performance increase in their ability to block out noise. When I’m on the subway, walking around New York, mowing my lawn, or just chilling, ANC has been working very well. When you add a song into that equation, it’s like you’re walking around the world to your own soundtrack. That’s not always the safest idea especially with NYC traffic, but that is what transparency mode is for. AirPods Pro have always been good at drowning out consistent noise like in an airplane, but I’ve noticed a performance increase in both ambient noise and varied noise, like a TV in the background.
Adaptive Transparency is the mode that allows your AirPods to pass through sound from the outside of your ear to the inside of your ear. This is good for allowing you to be aware while still listening to music. Apple’s adaptive transparency has always been industry leading, but the new version feels like it’s lapped its previous version. People’s voices come across almost as clear as if you aren’t wearing any earphones at all. This may seem like a silly feature to have at first, but sometimes you want to wear AirPods as a barrier to let people know you just don’t want to be bothered.
I do two things constantly with my AirPods Pro. I drop them, which causes the case to fly open and the AirPods to fly in polar opposite directions. I also just passively misplace them because they fall out of my pants every other time I sit down.
Fortunately for me, the Find My features have improved to the point that you can search for each individual AirPod or the case. The case “Find My” feature works like an AirTag. It tells you in what general direction they are and how many feet away they are. If you are in a building with multiple floors, it will tell you if it’s a floor above or below. The way the individual AirPods work is a little different. They work more like a game of hot and cold letting you know whether you are getting closer or further away from the AirPods without saying which direction you need to go. I’m grateful for the improved Find My features, I’ll now probably spend less time finding my AirPods.
The case itself can be charged with pretty much any non usb-c charger. I charged it with my Apple Watch charger, a MagSafe charger, a thunderbolt charger, and a Qi-certified charger. They all worked swimmingly well. For me that just adds justification as to why I’m bringing a watch charger when I travel. The battery on the AirPods lasts for about six hours, which is a 33 percent increase over the last model, and the charging case can allow for up to 30 hours of listening time, so less time overall spent charging your case.
Apple has taken their best earphones and made them better. The old AirPods Pro are no slouch, but if your AirPods aren’t holding a charge like they used to, or you want to upgrade you’d be justified in doing so. One thing of note though, if you are having trouble with your previous generation AirPods Pro, always consult an Apple Genius or chat with an Apple customer support representative, it’s possible you could get them repaired. One thing worth mentioning is AirPods work best in the Apple ecosystem. Will they work outside of it? Yes. Are some of the best features found within the Apple Ecosystem? Also, Yes. If you feel like treating yourself, or are opting for an early Christmas present, these come out on Sept. 23 and are $249.00