Apple’s theme for its 2022 line–up seems to be ‘refinement’. Be it the Watch S8, the iPhone 14 or these… the second generation AirPods Pro, the OG firestarter three years ago. Externally, it appears that nothing has changed, the earbuds themselves look similar and the case too is the same size and shape as before. Much to Apple’s stubbornness, even the lightning port still persists instead of a USB-C, but look closer (or under) and there are big changes.
Apple AirPods Pro (Gen 2) review
Let’s begin with the curious case. Inspect it and now you’ll find a lanyard hook on the side, so it’s easier to attach to a backpack or keychain. Around the bottom is a speaker that chimes when you’re trying to locate it through the Find My app or even during daily rituals like pairing or charging. And lastly, besides being compatible with wireless Qi chargers, the AirPods Pro case can now even be charged on an Apple Watch charging puck. If you’re an owner of both, that’s one less cable to travel with. Small mercies!
Back to the earbuds and the differences are even harder to decipher. There is a new inward-facing microphone but the pressure-releasing vent remains on the outside, making this unmistakably an AirPods Pro. Oh, you also get touch controls on the stalks for volume control, finally! It works well with audio cues that feel like haptics in your ears. Compared to many of the new earbuds that take practice in getting the right ear fit, the AirPods Pro feel intuitive, sliding into your ears naturally. The heart of it though is the new H2 processor that does all the heavy lifting. Heavier than the previous gen by a big margin! Apple claims the active noise cancellation is up to twice as powerful and that’s down to more computational power. Incoming sound is monitored 48,000 times every second to aid ANC, and even enable Adaptive Transparency mode, which lets in everyday sounds without attenuation but instantly reduces the amplitude of sudden loud bursts like sirens, drilling etc. In real-time! It works well in practice too, essentially allowing you to have the AirPods Pro on all the time, kind of like the Sony Linkbuds concept.
One of the areas the first-gen AirPods Pro was quickly beaten at was sound quality. While it managed to surprise with its ANC abilities even back then, it lacked the punch and heft that add gravitas to George Ezra. Put the new AirPods Pro on and instantly, the difference is palpable. The electronic bass on Crosswalk by Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs comes across as full-bodied, well-defined with punch and depth. Not the heavy-handed bloatedness that many over-EQ’d earbuds suffer from. Like all TWS in-ears, getting the right fit and seal is absolutely critical in determining your personal experience and Apple now has a dedicated settings menu for the AirPods on iPhones. The built-in fit test allows you to experiment with the four included ear tip sizes and choose the best one for your ears. Even Spatial Audio can be personalized by taking a depth map of your face and ears by scanning your left/right ears and head with the front-facing True-depth camera on recent model iPhones. The H2 chip is powerful enough to tailor the sound a gazillion times every second to changing ambient sounds and how your ears perceive sound. A cool feature unlocked by the new hardware is the ability to check how aggressively the ANC cuts out the noise inside your ears vis-a-vis outside when you toggle between Transparency mode and ANC. Just use the noise level meter (SPL meter) complication on your Apple Watch and prepare to be amazed! The difference is best described with the sound of the rain being completely blocked out while listening to music in an outdoor cafe, and that level of ANC performance from something this tiny is truly a marvel of engineering.
Back to the sound quality and with the right fit, the perception of depth is a lot more satisfying on these AirPods Pro and the highs are well judged too, keeping in line with Apple’s philosophy of a balanced sound signature. Even if you’ve grown up on a diet of Beats by Dre or V-Moda, you will appreciate the sonic signature of the AirPods Pro. They manage to sound entertaining without resorting to the typical ‘V’ curve, letting the sound breathe with enough air and resolution around low-level details. Although the driver size remains the same as before, 11mm, they are of a newer design/material and along with the H2 chip and a new amplifier, is capable of more excursion and hence, much deeper bass than before. The only time they tend to lose composure is when you drive them hard towards max volume, upsetting the delicate balance that is so well maintained at low to medium levels.
Perhaps even more impressive than the level of ANC and exponentially improved sound quality is the naturalness of the Transparency mode. In a room full of boisterous people, you won’t miss a beat and more importantly, the timbre of your voice won’t sound synthesized, as it does on almost every other TWS in-ears!
Spatial audio still remains a gimmick that may or may not bode well with you on any headphones and on the AirPods Pro, things aren’t much different. You can toggle between Fixed or Head-tracking modes, which is more useful for video content than music and the intended “surround” effect is largely dependent on the mix. Usually, it just sounds like a phase-shifted signal that in simple terms, sounds a bit “different” from the regular stereo mix. But, in a video context, it really is a game changer and makes you feel as if you aren’t wearing anything in your ears at all, creating genuine space between you and the on-screen characters. The personalized map of my ear/face didn’t yield any perceptible different sound for me but feel free to scan your mug.
Apple also claims better wind suppression on voice calls and in my time with the AirPods Pro, no one complained about me pacing up and down a windswept balcony, nor did I have any trouble hearing them. So, the short answer is yes, it’s a decent enough microphone and will get the job done. Similarly, battery life while improved isn’t going to be one of the USPs since competition has long caught up in this area. Still, managing between 5-6 hrs of listening time on a single charge isn’t tardy at all and with the case that holds four top-ups, you can manage a transcontinental flight without seeking out a wall socket!
There’s no dearth of great TWS ANC earbuds and frankly, as great as the new AirPods Pro are, they may not be the best value for money for most. But, everything changes if you have more than one Apple product (as always) and then the AirPods Pro really come into their own. The way they pair, switch seamlessly between your iPhone and Mac or iPad or let you unlock the full potential of Spatial Audio and monitor the ambient decibel level on your Apple Watch… it just makes sense for an Apple user to consider them as their first choice. And now thankfully, they rank right up there with the best in terms of sound quality too, making them a no-brainer if you’re willing to pay the premium.
Still the easiest to wear, pair and live with the whole day, the new AirPods Pro is the gold standard for ANC TWS.
|Apple H2 and U1
|6hrs + 24 hrs (case)
|5 mins quick charge=1hr listening
|IPX4 sweat and dust resistance