AirPods Pro, second generation – a review

You have no doubt seen plenty of Apple pundits and tech reviewers talking about how the AirPods, and the AirPods Pro in particular, is one of the best things that Apple’s done. I agree with them, to some extent, but to me, the AirPods are limited by being in-ear headphones. You see, I listen to a lot of music, and the sound quality is important to me. The fact that I have tinnitus might further add to this. The same goes for active noise cancellation, it needs to be good enough for my ears. That’s why I’ve spent a lot (and I do mean a lot) of money on headphones over the years.

I’m stepping into this review as a happy AirPods Pro (first generation) user. I think they’re good headphones with great noice cancellation and decent sounding microphones. They fit my ears just fine. But, all of this praise (it is praise, I promise) is with that big addendum: For being in-ear headphones. I mean, Apple proved this themselves with the excellent AirPods Max. You can’t compare the noise cancellation or audio quality of the AirPods Max, with the original AirPods Pro, it’s just not a fair fight.

Well, that sort of changes with AirPods Pro 2 (which I’m going to call them).

ℹ️ Apple, being a tech company, will tout the new H2 chip in its marketing. They’ll talk about adaptive transparency and U1 chips so that you can find your stuff. I’m not going to do that here. I’ll stick to how these things are to actually use, thank you very much.

Apple claims that the AirPods Pro 2 are twice as good as the predecessor in just about every aspect. I’m here to tell you, I can’t dispute that claim. They are, in fact, twice as good, judging from my usage the past week and change. I’ll revisit this in a few months, but I don’t expect to change my mind. The original AirPods Pro didn’t change over time, the initial wow-factor didn’t end up being a disappointment. This’ll be the same, no doubt.

Familiar shape, with small changes

AirPods Pro 2 offer superb noise cancellation. It’s still not as good as premier class headphones on the market, but it’s better than a lot of the noise cancellation cans people are buying for travel and work. I would definitely rely on the AirPods Pro 2 on a flight, even prefer them to some of the more popular Sony and Bose offerings. It’s not AirPods Max quality, but that’s to be expected. It is, however, excellent, eliminating the need for mid-tier noise cancellation cans altogether.

The sound quality is truly impressive as well. I must admit, I was surprised how well they sound, especially after setting up head-tracking for Dolby Atmos Spatial Audio. It’s a bit weird at first, and occasionally, it really doesn’t matter, but when the music is mixed for it, it adds to the experience. I don’t think that Spatial Audio is a killer feature, it’s a nice to have. I don’t actively hunt for music mixed for it, but I don’t mind it. It can be really cool, but this, obviously, has more merit when watching a movie or TV show.

That withstanding, forget about what you think you know about in-ear headphone sound quality, unless you’ve bought truly expensive ones in the past. This is a premium product, sound-wise, with a surprisingly present bass. I’m impressed. For most picking up the AirPods Pro 2, this will be the best sounding headphones (any category) they’ve ever owned. That’s serious praise for in-ears.

When it comes to voice calls, I can’t really say if the AirPods Pro 2 are twice as good as the first generation. There are too many things to consider when testing out voice calls, I find. Things like who you’re talking to, what connection you’ve gotten, what headphones (or lack thereof) they’re using – it’s just hard to say how much better the AirPods Pro have gotten. They are better, from my testing, and from talking to people using the AirPods Pro 2. It’s not as good as a proper headset with a microphone in front of your mouth, obviously, but who wants to walk the streets with one of those? Still good, better even, but is the voice call quality great? Maybe?

A bit short as a volume slider, as it were

Another new, and anticipated, feature is volume controls built into the AirPods Pro headphones. This takes a bit of getting used to, I must say, which is true for most swipe interfaces on small surfaces. You alter the volume by holding the AirPod’s little ”tail” between your thumb and index finger, and swipe up or down to change the volume. It’s not great, at first, but you do get used to it. I prefer buttons and knobs for things like this, but that’s not possible on such small devices, so it’s better than nothing. When I’m out and about, I tend to change the volume using my Apple Watch, and when I’m stationary, well, most keyboards have volume up/down. Volume controls on the AirPods is a nice to have, and frankly, something that should be there, but I haven’t used it particularly often. That says more about the feature itself than how it’s implemented, mind you.

There’s been a lot of talk about the new case. It plays a sound when you charge it! You can find it using the Find My app, making it chirp! I’m unimpressed by these things, and perhaps a bit surprised that people are losing their cases to such an extent that this is a lauded feature in reviews. Anyway, I do like that I can charge the case on an Apple Watch charger, and on a Magsafe charger. The latter is possible with the previous generation’s charging case too, by the way, but perhaps not particularly effective. Nice iterations, that’s about it when it comes to the case.

So, it’s all praise, then? Well, I do think and hope that a firmware update will arrive soon because I’ve had a couple of dropped connections. Granted, I often have three or more devices that the AirPods Pro 2 wants to connect to, but why it would decide to disconnect from the one I’m having a voice call on is baffling. There’s been a bit of a jumble between devices at times, something I haven’t experienced in similar settings with neither AirPods nor AirPods Pro. This sounds a lot like a software issue, though, so I’m confident that a firmware update (or OS update on the connecting devices) will take care of this.

However, this all points to the fact that I think products like the AirPods Pro 2 require a lot of use before a proper review can be written. I don’t think a week is enough, neither is a month, to be fair. I feel confident I won’t change my mind, though, but we’ll see. For now, I’d say that the second generation AirPods Pro are the best in-ear noise-canceling headphones you can buy at a reasonable price.

🎧🎧🎧🎧🎧 – Magnificent!

A pair of AirPods Pro, second generation, will set you back $249.