Although launched back in 2019, the Apple AirPods Pro is still immensely relevant and entirely holds its own against newer competition in the premium true wireless segment. However, three years is a long time in the world of consumer technology, and many would argue that the AirPods Pro has been long overdue for an update. That update is now here, with the Apple AirPods Pro (2nd Gen) launching alongside the new Apple iPhone 14 series, and bringing some interesting changes.
Priced at Rs. 26,900 in India, the AirPods Pro (2nd Gen) may not appear to be significantly different to the original AirPods Pro at first glance. However, there are a number of changes on the inside, including a ‘smart' charging case, better controls, and a promise of better active noise cancellation and sound quality. Is this the best pair of true wireless earphones you can buy right now? Find out in this review.
Apple AirPods Pro (2nd Gen) design and features
Even after all these years, one thing about the Apple AirPods (TWS) remains constant; you only get one colour option, and that is white. Furthermore, the AirPods Pro (2nd Gen) doesn't even see much of a change in the design, as compared to the original AirPods Pro. It's the same familiar look and feel, complete with a proper in-canal fit to ensure good noise isolation, which aids the effectiveness of the active noise cancellation.
The controls are familiar as well, with a force-touch button on each earpiece of the Apple AirPods Pro (2nd Gen) which largely works the same way as before. Pressing down on the button for specific gestures controls playback and answering calls, while a long-press cycles between the ANC and transparency modes by default, but can be set to invoke Siri if you prefer.
I preferred using the former function, since Siri could be invoked hands-free by saying ‘Hey Siri' while wearing the earphones, and this worked reliably for me both indoors and outdoors. The headset-specific functions of Siri worked well, letting me adjust volume, control playback, and place calls to contacts easily using voice commands.
A big change on the second-generation AirPods Pro is volume control on the earpieces; you can now adjust the volume by sliding a finger up or down along the force-touch area. This is a particularly useful feature, and makes things a lot quicker and easier to use by reducing the number of times you need to pick up your iPhone.
The charging case of the Apple AirPods Pro (2nd Gen) sees small changes, with the notable addition of a speaker at the bottom
While the earpieces look similar to the previous generation, the charging case of the Apple AirPods Pro (2nd Gen) sees some big changes. The shape and size are fairly similar to the charging case of the original AirPods Pro, but the new charging case has a small looped hook on the right side to attach a lanyard. You also get MagSafe compatibility for wireless charging and a small speaker at the bottom alongside the Lightning charging port.
It might seem odd for the charging case to have a speaker, but this enables some fairly useful functionality on the AirPods Pro (2nd Gen). The charging case has Apple's U1 chip, which enables enhanced information and Find My functionality for the earphones and case, which is quite unique and different from what you typically get on true wireless earphones.
Even when the earpieces are inside the case with the lid shut, it's possible to see the battery level of the earpieces and case on your iOS device, as long as you're within a short range of the charging case. You can also ‘ping' the charging case using the Find My app, which will cause it to emit a loud sound to help you find it. The speaker on the case also emits soft chimes in certain situations, such as when it's put to charge.
Other features on the Apple AirPods Pro (2nd Gen) include a promise of better active noise cancellation, quick pairing, seamless switching between all of your Apple devices, and personalised Spatial Audio, which uses your iPhone camera to create a specific profile for you, to enable better sound with Spatial Audio.
Both the earpieces and charging case are IPX4 rated for water resistance. The sales package includes a charging cable (USB Type-C to Lightning) and four pairs of ear tips of different sizes.
Apple AirPods Pro (2nd Gen) specifications and controls
As before, the Apple AirPods Pro (2nd Gen) can be used with any compatible smartphone, tablet, or PC thanks to the universality of Bluetooth connectivity. However, certain functionality and customisation-based features only work if you pair the AirPods Pro to an iOS device. There is no app for the AirPods Pro (2nd Gen), but detailed functionality can be accessed through the system's Bluetooth settings for the headset on iOS.
The first thing you'll see is a graphical display of the battery, both on the earpieces and charging case. As mentioned earlier, the U1 chip usefully now lets you view the battery level of the charging case even if the earpieces aren't inside. The key functions near the top let you cycle between ANC and transparency modes, customise the press-and-hold gesture's function, and conduct an ear tip fit test.
As with other AirPods headsets, detailed settings for the AirPods Pro (2nd Gen) are accessible only on iOS through the Bluetooth menu
Other functions include enabling the Adaptive Transparency mode (which reduces some loud sounds even if Transparency mode is active), automatic ear detection (which now uses a Skin Detect sensor for better accuracy) and connection with the selected iOS device, optimised battery charging, enabling Find My functionality, and charging chimes from the case. On iOS 16, the AirPods Pro (2nd Gen) settings appear as a dedicated selection in the settings, and you can also control certain functions such as volume and Spatial Audio from the iOS Control Centre.
The Apple AirPods Pro (2nd Gen) earpieces have Apple's new H2 chip, which promises better ANC, audio performance, and battery life. There is also Adaptive EQ, and Bluetooth 5.3 for connectivity.
Apple AirPods Pro (2nd Gen) performance and battery life
Apple's ecosystem benefits are a big reason why the AirPods Pro (2nd Gen) make a good choice for iPhone users, and at the same time make the earphones an impractical and wasteful pick if you don't have an iPhone to use them with. This naturally means that the earphones are built to work optimally with an iOS device, and have the codec support to match.
This is largely what holds the headset back in terms of sound quality as compared to the much more analytical and detailed Sony WF-1000XM4 and Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 3, although both of those headsets need to be used with an Android smartphone to truly unlock their full potential. Interestingly, this makes the original Apple AirPods Pro the closest competition to the AirPods Pro (2nd Gen), in my opinion.
When it comes to sound, the Apple AirPods Pro (2nd Gen) seems to recognise its weaknesses, but covers up for them beautifully with other abilities and features such as careful and calculated tuning, Adaptive EQ, and Personalised Spatial Audio. The latter two account for the fit and ear shape to tailor the sound for the listener, and this seemed to make all the difference in adding a bit of nuance and spaciousness to the sound.
The Apple AirPods Pro (2nd Gen) features improved active noise cancellation and sound quality
Listening to Levels by Avicii, the AirPods Pro (2nd Gen), sounded wholesome, head-filling and spacious, audibly outperforming the original AirPods Pro in every way. There is a sense of aggression and eagerness in the sound that felt almost infectious, with the positive energy of this legendary house track flowing naturally through the spacious soundstage.
The Adaptive EQ intuitively adjusted the sound for various tracks, and seemed to give the bass and treble a slight but important bump. This was also audible on similarly energetic tracks such as Dirty Sexy Money by David Guetta, with the earphones seemingly adapting to the changing tempo and vocals of the track on the fly. With the more melodic Boogie Wonderland by Earth, Wind & Fire, the sound adapted to allow the catchy beat and vocals to shine through.
Like Adaptive EQ, Spatial Audio isn't new, but sees some impressive improvements on the new true wireless earphones. Dolby Atmos tracks on Apple Music sounded a lot less canned, with surround sound virtualisation sounding considerably better on the AirPods Pro (2nd Gen). This also helped the head-tracking feature, which felt a lot less gimmicky and a lot more natural as a result of the generally better separation and imaging.
Apple claims that the AirPods Pro (2nd Gen) has better active noise cancellation than the previous generation thanks to the H2 chip, and I have to agree. Even with no music playing, there was a significant reduction in noise, both indoors and outdoors, with even non-uniform sounds such as commuter train horns and loudspeaker music sounding a fair bit softer than without the earphones on.
With music playing even at around the 50 percent volume level, it was practically impossible to hear anything else, even in noisy outdoor areas. There is no adjustability to the ANC on the AirPods Pro (2nd Gen), but I didn't really miss this much given the overall competency of the feature.
Transparency mode on the AirPods Pro (2nd Gen) is among the most natural I've heard on true wireless earphones, sounding almost as if I didn't have earphones on at all. In relatively quiet environments, this didn't even hamper the listening experience, while letting me remain attentive to my surroundings. Call quality was very good even on long calls, and connection stability was problem-free at distances of up to 4m.
Although expensive, Apple iPhone users will find the connectivity benefits and features on offer on the AirPods Pro (2nd Gen) to be well worth it
Battery life on the Apple AirPods Pro (2nd Gen) is pretty good, with the earphones running for a bit over five hours with mixed usage consisting of music at moderate volumes, the occasional video, and a few short calls. The charging case added four full charges to the earpieces, for a total run time of around 25 hours per charge cycle.
Wired charging for the case still uses the Lightning charging port, but this shouldn't be too much of a bother if you have an iPhone and its charger already hooked up. Usefully, there is also Qi wireless charging, with support for Apple's MagSafe standard, and you can also interestingly use an Apple Watch charger to wirelessly charge the AirPods Pro (2nd Gen) charging case.
The Apple AirPods Pro (2nd Gen) may not look dramatically different to the original AirPods Pro, but the changes under the hood are significant. With improvements across sound quality and active noise cancellation, along with a state-of-the-art charging case and impressive features, this is among the most impressive true wireless earphones you can buy right now. Apple users will also continue to enjoy the seamless connectivity and device switching that makes the AirPods so great to use with an iOS device.
It is, of course, worth noting that the AirPods Pro (2nd Gen) remain tied to the Apple ecosystem for the most part; many features on the headset won't work if you don't have an iOS device, and wired charging continues to rely on the Lightning charging standard. It is therefore not recommended to buy the AirPods Pro (2nd Gen) if your primary use-case involves an Android smartphone. Headsets such as the Sony WF-1000XM4 offer far more detailed sound, assuming you have an Android device to use it with.
If you're an iPhone user with a high enough budget for new true wireless earphones, this should be your default pick. Additionally, if your original AirPods Pro are close to retirement, the AirPods Pro (2nd Gen) is what you should replace them with. On the other hand, if you want to save a bit, then the first-generation AirPods Pro is still relevant and worth buying even today.
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