- Amazing noise cancellation
- Find My features
- Brilliant all-round sound
- Volume on stalk fiddly
- Android users miss out on best features
The Apple AirPods Pro have long been our top pick of in-ear buds (for the iOS crew of course) – and now they’re back for a second generation.
To the naked eye, not a lot has changed. The AirPods Pro (2nd Gen) haven’t perceptibly altered in terms of design – but there are plenty of useful new features and improvements. It makes the AirPods 2 even easier to recommend.
Read on for our experiences with months of living with the AirPods Pro (2nd Gen).
Better noise canceling
Everyone has their favorite killer AirPod feature, but for us, it’s active noise canceling. Drowning out the city sounds for more quality time with your music is fantastic – and it’s been improved this time out.
It’s powered by an all-new H2 chip, and while the tech specifics aren’t that important, it means that Apple claims that it can cancel twice as much ambient noise.
And that certainly came through during our testing. It’s not so much walking around London that we’ve noticed it – but in office and home-office environments. The AirPods Pro 2 completely stifle the sound of my wife making calls in our home office, when paired with some music – and believe me, there’s no finer praise than that.
New volume controls
A new addition is an ability to control volume using the stem – a welcome addition. Previously you’d have to find your phone or ask Siri – both quite overkill for a quick change in volume.
We’ve always found the stem a little small to house so many smart controls – so we were a little skeptical about adding another tactile control.
You have to slide your finger up or down the inside face of the stalk to change the volume up/down, but also be careful that doesn’t register a press, which will pause your music.
In the first week, we had about a 20% success rate in actually changing volume – and that has risen to about 80% as we’ve got used to it. But we still have mishaps.
Needless to say, it’s still fiddly to use. But tweaking up the volume while running past Buckingham Palace in the Royal Parks Half Marathon from the ear, when shouting at Siri or fiddling with the Apple Watch just wasn’t ideal, was a moment where this new feature really shone through.
Design and fit
There were rumors that the AirPods Pro 2 would change for a stemless design, akin to in-ear headphones such as the Galaxy Buds Pro. But to us, it seemed unlikely Apple would deviate from the AirPods’ iconic design.
They are a great fit for a range of ears, abetted by the Fit Test within the Apple iPhone settings, which helps you pick the right size rubber tips.
We find them extraordinarily comfy for long periods – and worse extensively on a long-haul flight to the US. They stay put well during exercise, although when they do start to move in sweaty ears, there's a knack for relocating without knocking any of the touch-sensitive controllers.
The Apple AirPods (2nd Gen) are largely unchanged from their predecessor. But there are a couple of tweaks.
The case now has a hook for a lanyard (not supplied) so you can hang the case around your neck – if that’s your thing.
Find My features
The case can also play a sound to help locate it when lost in your house. The AirPods Pro (2nd Gen) case appears in the Find My app if it’s lost, and if you have a U1-equipped iPhone (iPhone 11 – 14) you can get directions to find it.
We’ve had AirPods go missing for weeks in the past, tucked in the pocket of some jeans we wore to dinner and put back into the cupboard. So a decent location feature is a huge benefit.
It worked well too. It will guide you around your house, perhaps helping you to discover that your dog is sitting on the case (somehow this really happened - see above). It's a very helpful tool to guide you to the right general area.
And then there’s charging. You can now charge via Lightning, via an Apple MagSafe charger, and now, the Apple Watch charger, too.
In terms of battery life, we’ve always found the AirPods Pro 2 excellent – although it will hugely vary based on individual usage. Apple promises 30 hours from buds and case charges – and that seems about right from our experience.
We only needed to charge around once every couple of weeks – after using it for running, blocking out work chatter, and a couple of days of commuting.
Spatial Audio improvements
The Apple AirPods Pro (2nd Gen) sound superb. We’re no audiophiles, but in our opinion, there are few better-sounding in-ear headphones on the market – and the fact that What Hi-Fi rated them five stars speaks volumes.
The sound has a serious punch in all frequencies – and perhaps the easiest thing to identify is how balanced your tunes sound. The AirPods Pro 2 are brilliant all-rounders, whether you like big heavy beats, thrashing guitars, or something altogether gentler. We love all those things, which is possibly why we’ve been so effusive in our praise.
It’s important to note that support for high-fidelity codecs is missing – and the AirPods 2 only uses basic AAC.
However, one of the unique selling points is Spatial Audio – an Apple Music feature. A selection of tracks on Apple Music has been remastered in “Spatial”, which offers 360 music – which is designed to sound as if you’re in the room with the band. And you need a pair of AirPods Pros to enjoy it.
If you turn your head left and right, the music will slightly track to one ear as if the band was playing right in front of you.
It is still a little hit-and-miss. Outkast’s ATliens and, weirdly, Sum41’s Fat Lip sound excellent – while others (The Beatles’ One for example) just don’t wow.
The selection of music treated to Spatial is also skewed to newer music, and honestly, we find it hard to sustain a playlist of Spatial music we’re actually interested in.
But the AirPods Pro (2nd Gen) does add to the experience. You can use the iPhone’s camera to make a personalized Spatial, which scans the shape of your head and the position of your ears for a supposed better experience.
Beyond being an excellent neck stretch, we didn’t really understand what this added in real terms. We’re Spatial fans, but the personalized experience didn’t sound too different to us.
If you love Spatial Audio then it’s a great reason to invest – but for us, there are far better reasons to spend on the AirPods Pro (2nd Gen).