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Apple AirPods Pro (2nd-generation) review: Of course they're great. But should you upgrade?

The already excellent noise-canceling earbuds are now slightly excellent-er.

Here's the quickest AirPods Pro (2nd generation) review on the internet: Yep, they're a little bit better than Apple's first-generation Pro earbuds. Thanks for reading, see ya!

Hang on, my boss says I have to say more things. OK: AirPods Pro are Apple's noise-canceling wireless earbuds, by all accounts one of the best products in their class (and I've tried a ton of AirPods Pro alternatives). The newer, second-generation version, released in 2022, builds on that with a few incremental improvements — nothing you can't live without, but nice to have.

Apple may be releasing a third generation of the AirPods Pro soon, but in the meantime: Should you buy the AirPods Pro 2? And, if you already have the first-generation AirPods Pro, should you upgrade?

VERDICT: Apple made only incremental improvements to its latest noise-canceling earbuds, but that's OK: They were already great. There's not an urgent need to upgrade, but if you don't yet own a pair, they're worth the splurge.

Pros
  • Excellent sound quality and noise-canceling
  • Great for phone calls
  • Improved battery life
Cons
  • Expensive
  • Dumb charging-LED design
$249 at Amazon

AirPods Pro, 2nd generation: What's new?

It's hard to tell the 2nd-gen AirPods Pro apart from their predecessors. Save for a tiny new sensor on top, they're nearly identical. As before — to paraphrase Henry Ford — you can have them in any color you want, as long as it's white.

Fit is super important for any earbuds, so Apple expanded the silicone ear-tip options to include an extra-small size. I've always found the pre-installed medium tips to be the right fit for me, but my wife is happier with the small ones. The key is to make sure you get a really good seal when you wiggle the earbuds into your ears; be prepared to experiment with the different tip sizes to find that optimal seal. Thankfully, a newly added "ear-tip test" will help you do exactly that.

The charging case is the same size as before, but now has a small speaker embedded in the bottom. That's so you can hear beeps when activating the Find My feature on your iPhone, which is helpful if the case goes missing. You can charge it via a Lightning cable, a MagSafe or Qi charging pad, or (this is new) an Apple Watch charger. Apple promises up to six hours of listening time on a charge, an hour longer than 1st-gen AirPods Pro, and up to 30 hours total via the case (a six-hour improvement).

The new AirPods Pro shown here alongside their updated charging case.
The AirPods Pro charging case now has a speaker and lanyard holes (lanyard not included). (Rick Broida/Yahoo)

The earbuds themselves have the same single-control button embedded along each stem, but now it's touch-sensitive — you can swipe up or down to raise or lower volume. That's a welcome addition, though it's a little awkward: You can't help but graze your ear at the same time, especially when you swipe up. It feels like part of your ear is in the way.

The major news here is Apple's "next-level" active noise canceling (ANC), which is not only "smarter," thanks to a new H2 chip, but also "up to two times more powerful." Promises like these are challenging to bear out; I consider the 1st-gen AirPods Pro virtually unrivaled when it comes to ANC, so it's hard to say the new ones are twice as good.

Similarly, it's tough to test the upgraded Adaptive Transparency mode, which allows you to hear external sounds (an important safety feature for outdoor activities like jogging) but aims to minimize the intensity of things like sirens and machinery. This might prove valuable for someone who lives in a bustling big city, but here in the suburbs, it's not much of a value-add. For what it's worth, I tried playing a loud siren sound on YouTube and noticed no meaningful reduction. Your mileage may vary.

I do like the upgraded in-ear detection, which solves a problem with the original AirPods Pro: If you stuck them in your pocket, they'd probably think they were in your ears and resume playback. Here, a new sensor actually detects skin (!), so false readings are much less likely.

AirPods Pro, 2nd generation: How do they sound?

In a word: superb. I've tested a lot of wireless earbuds, and the new AirPods Pro are not only among the most comfortable for long-term wear, but also some of the best-sounding. I'm no fidelity snob; I tend to be pretty satisfied even when listening to budget earbuds like the EarFun Air Pro 2. But with the AirPods Pro, music sounds rich, detailed and perfectly balanced. Chalk it up to Apple's Adaptive EQ or any number of other factors; my jaded ears are impressed.

Of course, I felt that way about the 1st-gen AirPods Pro; I'm not sure there's an order-of-magnitude improvement here. Similarly, Apple's spatial-audio improvements — which employ the iPhone's camera to scan your ears and adjust the sound accordingly — are a bit lost on me. Make no mistake, spatial audio was already a cool feature: When you're watching, say, a Netflix video on your phone, it keeps the sound "fixed" in front of you, even when you turn your head. It's hardly essential, but definitely neat. Does the new "custom geometry" created by the ear scan make spatial audio noticeably better? Not that I've noticed. I wasn't able to test the feature on a group FaceTime call, which Apple says will now sound "like you're in the same room with friends and family." (Wait, are we sure we even want that?)

AirPods are also some of the best earbuds, period, for phone calls, something to consider if you like to walk and talk or spend a lot of time in Zoom meetings.

AirPods Pro, 2nd generation: Not quite perfect

The new AirPods Pro shown inside their charging case.
One annoyance remains: The charging case status LED isn't good for much. It should either light up or go dark when charging is complete; it does neither. (Rick Broida/Yahoo)

I do have a few nitpicks. First, although the updated charging case has holes for adding a wrist-strap lanyard, Apple doesn't include one. That's pretty annoying, since it would probably cost the company pennies to toss one in the box. As it stands, you can buy a multicolor lanyard 10-pack for around $6.

Second, one mystifying issue remains: The case's front LED lights up orange when connected to power, but then it goes dark after a few seconds. Want to know the charging status? You have to tap or open the case to make the LED come on again. This wouldn't be a big deal if, say, the LED turned green when charging was complete, but it doesn't. There's literally no indication that it's actively charging or finished charging. This makes zero sense to me.

AirPods Pro, 2nd generation: Should you buy them?

Like so many Apple products these days, the new AirPods Pro bring only incremental improvements to the table. That's not necessarily a bad thing, not when the previous version was already a winner. The updated earbuds offer slightly better battery life, slightly improved noise-management capabilities and a couple of charging-case tweaks. It's not so much icing on the cake as sprinkles on the icing.

My take: If you already own 1st-generation AirPods Pro, there's no compelling reason to upgrade. You've lived without volume touch-controls this long.

However, if you're trying to decide between AirPods Pro and another set of wireless earbuds, I can definitely recommend the former — especially to iPhone owners. Much of the AirPods' "secret sauce" lies in integration: Siri for hands-free voice commands, Find My to locate lost 'buds, the iPhone lock screen for battery status and more. Just as the Apple Watch is the best smartwatch for iPhone users, AirPods Pro are arguably the best earbuds.