Apple AirPods Pro (2nd Gen) review: The best just gets better

Here’s the fastest AirPods Pro (2nd Gen) review on the internet: Yes, they’re a little better. OK, that’s it, thanks for reading! Sorry, my boss says I need to say more things. Plus, they’re on sale ($234). The AirPods Pro are Apple’s noise-canceling wireless headphones, by any measure one of the best products in their class. The new 2nd gen version builds on that with a few incremental improvements – nothing you can’t live without, but nice to have. So should you buy them? And if you already own the 1st generation AirPods Pro, should you upgrade?

AirPods Pro 2nd generation: what’s new?

It is difficult to distinguish the 2nd generation AirPods Pro from their predecessors. Except for a small new sensor on the top, they’re nearly identical. As before (to paraphrase Henry Ford), you can have them in any color, as long as it’s white.

Fit is extremely important for all headphones, which is why Apple has expanded the silicone ear tip options to include an extra-small size. I’ve always found the pre-installed medium bits to be fine for me, but my wife is happier with the smaller ones. The key is to make sure you get a really good seal when wiggling the headphones in your ears; be prepared to experiment with different nib sizes to find that optimal tightness. Luckily, a newly added “ear tip test” will help you do just that.

The charging case is the same size as before, but now has a small speaker built into the bottom. This is how you can hear beeps when activating Find My on your phone, which is useful if the case goes missing. You can charge it via a Lightning cable, a MagSafe or Qi charger, or (that’s new) an Apple Watch charger. Apple promises up to six hours of listening time on a charge, one hour longer than the 1st-gen AirPods Pro and up to 30 hours total through the case (a 6-hour improvement).

The new AirPods Pro shown here with their updated charging case.

The AirPods Pro charging case now has a speaker and lanyard holes. Cord not included. 🙁 (Photo: Rick Broida/Yahoo)

The headphones themselves have the same single control button built into each stem, but now they’re tactile: you can swipe up or down to increase or decrease the volume. It’s a welcome addition, if a little annoying: you can’t help but brush your ear at the same time, especially when swiping up. It looks like a part of your ear is bothering you.

The main new here is Apple’s “next-level” Active Noise Cancellation (ANC), which is not only “smarter” thanks to a new H2 chip, but also “up to twice as powerful”. Promises like these are hard to keep; I consider the 1st gen AirPods Pro to be virtually unmatched when it comes to ANC, so it’s hard to say the new ones are twice as good.

Likewise, it’s hard to test the Enhanced Adaptive Transparency mode, which lets you hear external sounds (an important safety feature for outdoor activities like jogging) but aims to minimize the intensity of things like sirens and machines. This might come in handy for someone who lives in a busy big city, but here in the suburbs it’s not much added value. For what it’s worth, I tried playing a loud siren sound on YouTube and didn’t notice any significant reduction. Your mileage may vary.

I like the improved in-ear detection, which fixes a problem with the original AirPods Pro: if you put them in your pocket, they’ll probably think they’re in your ears and resume playing. Here, a new sensor actually detects the skin (!), so false readings are much less likely.

AirPods Pro 2nd generation: how do they sound?

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

Of course, I felt that about the 1st-gen AirPods Pro; I’m not sure there’s an order of magnitude improvement here. Likewise, Apple’s spatial audio enhancements – which use the iPhone’s camera to scan your ears and adjust the sound accordingly – are a bit lost for me. Make no mistake, spatial audio was already a nice feature: when watching a Netflix video on your phone, for example, the sound stays “fixed” in front of you, even when you turn your head. It’s not essential, but really neat. Does the new “custom geometry” created by ear scanning noticeably improve spatial audio? Not that I noticed. And I couldn’t test the feature during a Group FaceTime call, which Apple says will now sound “like you’re in the same room with friends and family.” (Wait, are we Of course do we even want that?)

The AirPods are also some of the best headphones, 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 downside remains: the charging case’s status LED isn’t much good. It should turn on or off when charging is complete; it does neither. (Photo: Rick Broida/Yahoo)

I have some quirks. First, although the updated charging case has holes for adding a lanyard, Apple doesn’t include one. That’s pretty annoying, as it would probably only cost the company a few cents to throw one in the box. As it stands, you can pick up a pack of 10 multicolored lanyards for around $6.

Second, a mystifying problem remains: the front LED of the AirPods case glows amber when connected to power, but then turns off after a few seconds. Want to know the charging status? You need to press or open the case for the LED to light up again. It wouldn’t matter if, for example, the LED turned green when charging was complete, but it doesn’t. There is literally no indication that it is actively charging or has finished charging. It makes no sense to me.

AirPods Pro 2nd generation: Should you buy them?

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

My take: If you already own 1st-gen AirPods Pro, there’s no compelling reason to upgrade. You’ve lived without touch volume controls for so long; they are not worth $250 more.

However, if you’re trying to decide between AirPods Pro and another set of wireless headphones, I can definitely recommend the former, especially to iPhone owners. A big part of AirPods’ “secret sauce” is integration: Siri for hands-free voice commands, Find My for locating lost buds, iPhone lock screen for battery status, and Moreover. Just as the Apple Watch is the best smartwatch for iPhone users, the AirPods Pro are arguably the best headphones.

Read more: The best AirPods Pro alternatives for $100 and under

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