Apple AirPods Pro Second-Gen Review

Read on to see how the second-generation AirPods Pro stack up after two weeks of testing.

When Apple’s AirPods Pro first hit the scene in Oct. 2019, they very quickly took the market by storm. So much so that even with a bunch of competing true wireless earbuds hitting the market, the Cupertino-based tech giant didn’t have to massively update them for three years. That’s where the all-new second generation AirPods Pro come in.

I’ve been using them day-in and day-out for a full two weeks. Apple  (AAPL) – Get Apple Inc. Report made some big promises like longer battery life, better noise cancellation, and a transparency mode that adapts to lower jarring and loud sounds around you. All really cool on paper and, even better, they keep the same $249 MSRP. Amazon is even discounting them to just $239 already.

I’m going to unpack the AirPods Pro thoroughly ahead, and Apple really delivered on the optimizations of an already quality pair of true wireless earbuds. The design hasn’t changed, but the new Apple-made chip inside improves the experience and still offers the main convenience traits that make AirPods so popular.

Apple AirPods Pro second-generation ($239.99, originally $249.99 at Amazon)

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Comfortable Earbuds With a Classic Build

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Those coming from standard AirPods or the first-gen AirPods Pro will be right at home. Asides from an upgraded stem and a newly placed vent at the top, AirPods Pro second-gen look just like the first. And that’s not a bad thing at all.

These sit very comfortably in my ears and since they don’t have a wingtip, they don’t apply extra pressure or pain inside the ear. The stems are also still quite compact and offer some sort of balance to ensure these don’t fall out. To aid in comfortability, Apple is now including four ear tips in the box.

New ear tip size

The ear tips are made from silicone and are easy to snap on or off. There is now a new size — an extra-small ear tip along with the medium, large, and extra large. Once the AirPods Pro are paired with your iPhone, you can complete the ear tip fit test to ensure you’re using the right tip. If you tried the original AirPods Pro and found that they were frequently falling out, the extra-small tip might be a real game changer here also.

I’ll also call out that I rocked these with medium sized ear tips for a long-haul five hour flight from California back to New Jersey. I not only didn’t have them fall out with some light tossing and turning in my seat, but also didn’t feel the need to remove them from my ears because of any discomfort.

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Small design changes

The only physical changes that you might notice on AirPods Pro is a new vent on the top of the left and right earbuds, and the optical sensor has been removed. 

The optical sensor was previously used to detect when the AirPods were in your ear, but now these have an Apple-designed skin detect sensor. This first premiered on the third-generation AirPods and they function a bit quicker with this detection process.

The force sensor in the stem is visibly the same. You can press and hold to use Siri, and tap it once to play, pause and accept a call. You can double tap to skip a track, and triple tap to go back. 

You can now swipe up or down on the earbud stem to raise or lower the volume. A single swipe in each direction adjusts it by one, and there’s a tone that chimes to confirm the sound adjustment. It’s a small upgrade, but it allows you the freedom to do more hands-on adjusting through the device instead of reaching for your phone.

There is a new custom-built by Apple chip powering the AirPods, the same battery cells as the original, and the buds each weigh just 5.3-grams. 

It’s Hard to Lose the Charging Case

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AirPods have been findable in the FindMy app (you could ping the left and right earbuds). But if you ended up misplacing the case, you were out of luck. In a series of updates to the charging case in its second-generation AirPods Pro, Apple’s making it really hard to lose it.

For starters, it now has the U1 Chip inside — this means it can be tracked easily within the FindMy app. So when you open the app on your iPhone, you’ll see the location of the case as well as the left and right AirPods. We found this feature pretty handy; it also gives you the ability to ping the case, and thanks to an onboard speaker and acoustic vent, it will play a chime to help you find it.

And when you’ve really misplaced it, you can have the iPhone give you turn-by-turn directions to find it through Precision Finding. It’s basically the experience of an AirTag now for your AirPods Pro case.

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The other enhancement is a new way to charge the case, and no—not to burst your bubble— it’s not USB-C. You can still charge AirPods Pro via a Lightning cable, a MagSafe charger, or with a Qi-enabled wireless charger. But new is the ability to place it on an Apple Watch Charger.

This is made possible thanks to an extra set of magnets in the case, a new inner circle to connect and align properly with the smaller Apple Watch puck, inside the larger outer ring for proper charging with MagSafe. And this is a pretty convenience focused upgrade. You’ll also see a charging light on the front of the case, which can glow green and orange.

Lastly, Apple’s added a spot on the right hand side of the case for attaching a lanyard. So if you have one laying around or if you opt for the Incase Lanyard (specifically designed for AirPods Pro 2), you can easily attach it and then hang it from your wrist, a bag, backpack, or a purse.

The AirPods Pro second-generation case is the exact same size as the original as well.

Robust and Vibrant Audio

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The best way to describe the listening experience on the new AirPods Pro is robust since it works well with any genre, clear since it doesn’t add in distortion or change up the tunes, and vibrant since it can really pack in some oomph to your ears.

These offer a much wider soundstage and an overall better listening experience over the original AirPods Pro, the third-generation AirPods, and the classic second-gens. You can hear more of a given track and with Adaptive EQ on board, it listens across all aspects (low, mid, and high frequencies) to optimize the sound for your ears. The H2 Chip in comparison with the onboard ear facing microphones, work to customize the experience.

For instance a track like “Kiwi” by Harry Styles comes through crisp and roaring, as a rock-punk mix should. You won’t hear any added distortion and even at just 50% to 70% the AirPods Pro gets considerably loud.

They’re also great with more calming tracks for help with focus and with a wall-of-sound experience like “Born to Run” by Bruce Springsteen. You get the rush of a bevy of instruments in the beginning, but can clearly make out the different elements of a given track. The mix here doesn’t shy away from showing all elements and giving attention as the track instructs it. Bass and high frequencies are noticeably improved, but I think you’ll find that they’re just really enjoyable to use.

Powering the sound in addition to the H2 chip is a new low-distortion drive and an upgraded amplifier, as well as the vent on top. The latter lets these both fire at full force and have enough space for the sound to breathe. The bass can also be really strong and aid in the immersion of a track, it’s quite noticeable with “Brutal” by Olivia Rodrigo.

The other aspect to the listening experience is that these support Spatial Audio. Which essentially works to digitally place sound around you. So if you’re watching a Star Wars show or film on your iPhone or Mac, and the X-Wing or Falcon shoots across the screen from left to right, you’ll hear it from the left to right.

If you’re listening to Keep Driving by Harry Styles via Apple Music and you’re facing away from your phone, it’ll be like you’re standing backwards at a concert with vocals coming from behind you.

It sounds really good on the new AirPods Pro, and with Personalized Spatial Audio, it also customizes it to your ears. Essentially, you’ll scan your ears via your iPhone to help set this up and it sticks across your AirPods. This also isn’t exclusive to the new AirPods Pro, but comes via iOS 16.

Still the Best Transparency Mode

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While other earbuds — Sony LinkBuds S and Google Pixel Buds Pro — have improved their transparency listening modes on earbuds, nothing has reached the performance of first-generation AirPods Pro. In this mode these let outside environmental noise around you, so basically the opposite of noise canceling.

Competitors don’t sound as natural and there is often a buzzing effect, but AirPods Pro sound clear and ultimately as if you aren’t wearing earbuds. And AirPods Pro second-generation still meet this level — you can comfortably wear these and play music at home, in a park, at coffee shop, and at the office while still hearing folks around you.

Especially handy if you’re waiting on a pumpkin spice latte, but also really helpful for being aware of your surroundings. It’s basically a safety tool as well for folks and especially for walking around at night. You can hear if someone is walking near you, cars racing by, or even a more alarming sound.

Apple’s also introducing Adaptive Transparency mode which is made possible by the over a billion transistors in the H2 chip. Yes, on a tiny chip that’s already inside these compact earbuds. The AirPods Pro will now be able to lower more jarring loud sounds that are around you. So in my testing as I was walking past a jackhammer churning away on a construction site, the new AirPods Pro lowered the volume of that sound, but also kept the cars passing by and other folks walking, talking at the same volume.

Essentially, if the microphones pick up anything over 85-decibels it will lower the volume of that sound, but not change the tune of it. It was noticeably quieter than with the previous-gen AirPods and also has the same effect with noise on an airplane. On that same long-haul flight, AirPods Pro second-gen when in Transparency mode allowed me to hear the flight attendant or pilot announcements, but lowered the roar of an engine on a Boeing 777 aircraft.

The other thing that AirPods do well is not change your voice in this mode. I don’t sound gargled, but rather I sound like normal Jake.

Really Good Active Noise Cancelation

While Transparency and the new adaptive functionality is fantastic, Apple’s active noise canceling is still one of the best I’ve ever tested. It’s also pretty close to being on-par with Sony’s high-end in-ear buds. Apple noted that it’s up to twice as good at canceling out sound. And this is thanks to the H2 Chip and algorithms onboard the AirPods Pro. It’s also across the entire mix of sound, not just improvements on one end of the spectrum.

And on that same airplane with ANC on and volume at about 50%, it effectively blocked out the sound of the engine and other plane noises. That’s not an easy feat and it seems to still focus on blocking out very loud sounds, but also being able to handle higher, more tinny frequencies that can sometimes sneak through. Really impressive for a pair of true wireless earbuds. And even in the hands-on space at The Steve Jobs Theater, it did effectively and efficiently block out a majority of the crowd. Same goes for working at a nearby coffee shop and for in my apartment while carpets were being replaced outside and the HVAC system was chugging along.

Long Battery Life

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First-generation AirPods Pro lasted for about four and half hours on a full charge, but second-gen AirPods Pro stretched that number to six hours. Or well, that’s at least Apple’s promise and it’s with a listening mode like ANC or Transparency engaged. I’ve been getting closer to seven hours and 15 minutes with various volumes and going in and out of the two listening modes.

With none of those engaged and AirPods Pro just playing tunes in your ears, Apple says it’s about seven hours but I got closer to eight hours with this mode. So mileage will vary, but I suspect that many of us will find that these can over deliver on the battery life estimates.

Setup is a Cinch and Quick Switching is Great

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One of the main calling cards of AirPods Pro is easy setup and just a deep integration with all Apple devices, and that remains the same here. I was set up in under a minute with AirPods Pro quickly pairing with an iPhone 14 Pro Max. I just flipped the lid open and saw the splash screen a second or two later on the iPhone. I said connect, I named them, and even got a quick tour of features.

From there, they also instantly sync with my iCloud account so I can quickly swap between them being connected to my iPhone to a Mac, an iPad and even an Apple TV. The H2 chip also kept things simple and I didn’t experience any accidental drop outs with these.

Bottom Line: Are AirPods Second-Gen Worth It?

Simply, yes. AirPods Pro second-generation are the best earbuds for Apple users and some of the best earbuds currently on the market today. Not for nothing, you can pair these with an Android smartphone and still get to use the listening modes.

If you especially value or use noise cancelation or transparency modes, the AirPods Pro punch well above their weight. Audio quality is still great, battery life is longer, and they keep a design that fits for a day at home, at the gym, or while on the go.

For $249.99 you’re getting a lot of value and given that many folks are still using AirPods Pro from three years ago, myself included, there aren’t really any longevity concerns here. And you can save $10 by getting them from Amazon for $239.

Apple’s second-generation AirPods Pro are up for order now and will begin arriving to customers on Sept. 23.

Apple AirPods Pro second-generation ($239.99, originally $249.99 at Amazon)

Prices are accurate and items in stock at time of publishing.

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