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Apple AirPods Pro (2nd generation)
What we like
What we don't like
Apple AirPods Pro (2nd generation)
Upon their release, we lauded the original AirPods Pro for their great fit, good active noise canceling (ANC), and tight integration with Apple devices. No doubt, they were among the best earbuds around for iPhone users, and now the AirPods Pro 2 have taken their place. Apple didn’t waste time reinventing the wheel but delivered an unchanged design with a few new features under the hood. Find out if these earbuds are worth buying in our Apple AirPods Pro (2nd generation) review.
Update, July 2023: To address upcoming software features and add the WF-1000XM5 as an alternative.
Apple AirPods Pro (2nd generation) review: What you need to know
- Apple AirPods Pro (2nd generation): $249 / £249 / €299
The AirPods Pro (2nd generation) hit physical shelves on September 23, 2022. The AirPods Pro 2 build upon the AirPods Pro (1st generation) and look almost identical. Aside from the charging cases, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a physical difference between the two AirPods Pro generations. Dig deeper, and you’ll see that Apple improved the ANC, sound quality, and more while sticking with the same $249 price.
Matching the other AirPods earbuds, the AirPods Pro 2 have an all-plastic build and still only come in white. The earbuds and case merit an IPX4 water-resistant rating, which means your sweatiest workouts won’t damage the buds. Touch-sensitive stems feature oblong divots for playback and call control. With these, you can swipe up or down to control the volume, which wasn’t an option with the original AirPods Pro. Apple supplies an extra-small set of ear tips for listeners with small ears.
Apple added Adaptive Transparency mode to the earbuds and new hardware to the case.
Under the hood, the second-generation AirPods Pro have the H2 chip. This new chip powers the improved ANC, battery life, and the same “Hey, Siri” access as before. It also enables Apple’s Adaptive Transparency mode so that you can hear background noise. The adaptive part of Adaptive Transparency is that it reduces the loudness of unexpected sounds in real time (e.g. someone dropping dumbbells at the gym). The AirPods Pro 2 charging case is more advanced than ever with a U1 chip. This is the same chip that Apple uses in its AirTags, and it lets users locate the case on a map or via Apple’s Precision Finding feature. You can also ring the AirPods Pro (2nd generation) case so it emits a sound.
Like the original AirPods Pro, pairing the AirPods Pro (2nd generation) with an iPhone enables Spatial Audio with head tracking. This feature requires compatible content from platforms like Disney Plus or Apple Music (and notably not Spotify). By letting your Apple device photograph your ears, you can optimize this feature. Personalization requires a device running iOS 16 or iPadOS 16.1 or later. Once set up, Spatial Audio and head tracking can also work on a Mac running macOS 12.3 or later, along with an Apple TV with tvOS 15.1 or later.
At WWDC 2023, Apple announced Adaptive Audio, Conversational Awareness, and Personalized Volume coming to the AirPods Pro 2 this fall. These listening modes will customize your listening experience on the move and allow you to engage in conversation without removing the earbuds.
Officially, the AirPods Pro (2nd generation) battery lasts six hours with ANC on. The case provides an extra 24 hours of battery life. These battery life specs are above average for wireless noise canceling earbuds.
What I like about the AirPods Pro (2nd generation)
The Apple AirPods Pro (2nd generation) look and feel identical to the AirPods Pro before them. An unchanging design may be boring, but this is a good thing. As before, the newer earbuds are comfortable and stay in place while exercising. My ears always work with medium tips, but adding the XS option makes these more appealing to small-eared listeners. If you’re not sure what size works best, you can take a no-nonsense ear tip fit test with an iPhone.
Apple retained the same IPX4 rating for the AirPods Pro 2 earphones and added a matching rating for the case. This rating reassured me when I placed the buds in the case during an afternoon drizzle. Apple tacked on other new features to the case, including a lanyard loop and MagSafe charging.
A great fit and good hardware help the AirPods Pro 2 stand out, but what I really loved was how the earbuds sounded. Apple added a bit more bass to the AirPods Pro this time around, so music has a more tangible impact to it. I could feel the bass bump in the hip-hop song Summertime by clipping. and King Tee. The extra bass doesn’t overpower vocals, though. When I listened to the song All I Ever Asked, Rachel Chinouriri’s melodic crooning sounded clear over the bass guitar and drum hits. Her harmonies remained crystal clear during the second chorus too. Adaptive EQ works on Android, Windows, and iOS. It ensures consistent audio quality across listeners and with every wear.
The AirPods Pro 2 center sound quality, noise canceling, and the user experience above all else.
Active noise canceling is very good with the AirPods Pro but not transformatively better than the first-gen buds. When testing the ANC in a controlled way, I wore the AirPods Pro 2 and donned my Massdrop x Sennheiser HD 6XX. With this monstrous setup, I played the Locomotive Train Sounds and Railway Express tracks through the HD 6XX. There was a big difference when toggling the AirPods Pro’s ANC on and off. I had a hard time hearing low frequencies with ANC on. Higher-pitched train track screeches were still audible, but the silicone ear tips did a good job of dampening these sounds.
The noise canceling effect was consistent with the AirPods Pro (2nd generation). It seemed like the earbuds quieted all low frequencies equally, which wasn’t the case with the Samsung Galaxy Buds 2 Pro — though Samsung’s flagship buds have technically more impressive ANC.
Apple’s pressure-sensitive stems are my favorite earbud controls. They work without a hitch. To skip a track, I squeezed the right stem twice. Changing the volume required me to swipe up or down along the stem’s divot. Unlike standard tap or button layouts, I never had a command misfire. Further, I found it easy to operate playback and call controls with gloves, a rare plus. A secondary benefit of the stems is that they’re easier to grip than a typical earbud shape. I didn’t drop these earbuds as I did with Samsung’s Galaxy Buds.
Apple tucks many AirPods Pro (2nd generation) features away in the iPhone and iPad Settings app. Here, you can customize the press-and-hold command of each earbud stem, take an ear tip fit test, and toggle Adaptive Transparency or automatic ear detection. With automatic ear detection, your music pauses when you remove the AirPods and resumes when you insert them. During this Apple AirPods Pro (2nd generation) review, curiosity got the best of me, and I tried to get auto-play/pause to work with a Google Pixel 6. No dice.
The Settings app is also where you’ll find Spatial Audio optimization. Apple’s take on Spatial Audio is very good and is something movie and TV buffs will love. Spatial Audio made me think, “Maybe a surround sound system is emitting music” during the dance scene in The Last of Us: Left Behind. After using this for a few TV episodes, I prefer leaving Spatial Audio on for visual media. Apple head tracking is smooth and feels more natural than Samsung or OnePlus’ implementations, which feel inconsistent or so responsive that it’s unnatural.
Other software features include selecting which earbud microphone the AirPods use for phone calls, optimized battery charging, and Apple Find My. With battery optimization, your iPhone learns your listening habits and only charges the buds to 80% capacity until you’re about to use them. This extends the life of your earbuds. Apple’s Find My network is the best in the business, giving you myriad ways to locate each AirPod and the case. It felt like a game when I used Precision Find to follow an arrow around my apartment until reaching the AirPods Pro 2.
Then there’s the microphone quality. Like other earbuds, the AirPods Pro 2 mics work well in quiet conditions. What sets them apart is how they still send intelligible audio in noisy environments. For this Apple AirPods Pro (2nd generation) review, I created a microphone demo and spoke outside on a windy day (18mph winds with 33mph gusts). My voice never dropped out until the last few seconds of the recording, when a particularly strong gust rolled in. The quality may not be the best, but other earbuds have dropped audio in less intense winds.
Apple AirPods Pro (2nd generation) microphone demo (Non-standardized):
What I don’t like about the AirPods Pro (2nd generation)
While the AirPods Pro (2nd generation) excel in many ways, there are shortcomings to address before you buy them. Let’s start with the most obvious: the AirPods work best with iPhones, not Android phones. There is no Apple-sanctioned AirPods app for Android. Yes, you can use the AirPods with an Android phone, but these buds are only a reasonable value if you own an iPhone. In all fairness, Apple isn’t the only company to gatekeep its features. We’ve seen similar exclusions with Samsung and Google, but Apple is the most restrictive.
Those willing to lose certain features like spatial audio with head tracking, battery optimization, Find My network access, automatic device switching, and more may find the AirPods worth buying. The Assistant Trigger app will help you recover some of these barred features, but that’s a lot of work for such expensive buds. Plus, no matter what, you need an iPhone to receive AirPods Pro firmware updates. These are important. Updates improve the performance of things like microphone quality and even noise canceling.
There is no Apple-sanctioned AirPods app for Android, meaning Android phones don't receive updates or access to software features.
Android phone owners aren’t the only ones considering the downsides of buying AirPods. The AirPods Pro 2 don’t have a bespoke custom EQ in the iOS Settings app. Instead, you’re left with Apple’s Adaptive EQ and original tuning. While I think the AirPods Pro 2 sound is great for most listeners, it would be nice to customize the sound. Even though most listeners prefer a standard sound with moderate bass and treble emphasis, some want to tune it to each piece of media or to their more unique preferences. When paying $249 for earbuds, a custom EQ should be a given. We’ve seen it with much cheaper earbuds, so this reads like plain old stubbornness on Apple’s part.
The last thing to consider is how the AirPods Pro (2nd generation) case charges via Lightning cable. The case supports wireless charging with a Qi or MagSafe mat. However, if you want to go wired, you’ll need Apple’s proprietary connector instead of a standard USB-C cable. At least Apple provides a USB-C to Lightning cable with the AirPods Pro 2.
Apple AirPods Pro (2nd generation) specs
|AirPods Pro (2nd generation)|
Earbud: 30.9 x 21.8 x 24.0mm
Case: 45.2 x 60.6 x 21.7mm
Earbuds, ANC on: 6 hours
Earbuds, personalized Spatial Audio and head tracking: 5.5 hours
Earbuds and case: up to 30 hours
Earbuds ANC on: 4.5 hours
Earbuds and case: 24 hours
Custom high-excursion Apple driver
Custom high dynamic range amplifier
Vent system for pressure equalization
Dual beamforming microphones
Latest versions of iOS, macOS, Apple Watch, Apple TV
Android: Limited Bluetooth features only
Windows: Limited Bluetooth features only
Personalized Spatial Audio with head tracking
Ear tip selection
XS, S, M, L
September 23, 2022
Should you buy the Apple AirPods Pro (2nd generation)?
I highly recommend the Apple AirPods Pro (2nd generation) if you own an iPhone. There is no smoother audio experience than a pair of AirPods and an iPhone. Separate from anything iPhone related, the AirPods Pro 2 are some of the best-sounding flagship earbuds. Where many earbuds have a strange bass or treble response, these sound good across the board. Apple’s noise canceling is also delightful. While it’s not the best ANC, it makes flights and noisy libraries quieter and less disruptive. Of course, this performance and convenience come at a cost that’s cheekily referred to as the Apple Tax.
There is no smoother audio experience than a pair of AirPods and an iPhone.
Apple’s earbuds are by no means perfect. There’s very little control customization and no way to EQ the sound. Apple’s Spatial Audio doesn’t yet work with YouTube, and the original price tag is seriously expensive (though, unfortunately, becoming the norm for flagships). If money is no object and you’re an iPhone owner, get the AirPods. Readers who don’t mind being a bit thrifty might want to consider the many AirPods alternatives out there.
The AirPods (3rd generation) ($195 at Amazon) are the most obvious runner-up. These buds are ostensibly the AirPods Pro 2 without ear tips and ANC. You get all the same features, including spatial audio with head tracking. The AirPods 3 case doesn’t have the U1 chip, so you will miss out on some Find My features. Like the Pro variant, the AirPods 3 only come in white.
If you want earbuds that work on any operating system, consider the Sony WF-1000XM5 ($298 at Amazon). These earbuds have even better ANC than the WF-1000XM4 before them. Overall, the WF-1000XM5 block out more noise than the AirPods Pro 2. The OS-agnostic Sony Headphones Connect app is the biggest perk of Sony’s buds. Sony’s buds sound similar to the AirPods Pro 2 but have a slightly louder bass response. You can adjust the sound profile with the app’s five-band equalizer.
Don’t forget about Google if you own an Android phone. The Pixel Buds Pro ($199 at Amazon) also have good ANC and decent sound quality. Like Sony’s buds, you can customize how the Pixel Buds Pro sound through the Pixel Buds app. There is no Pixel Buds app for iOS, and like Apple, Google’s spatial audio is currently exclusive to Pixel 6 and 7 smartphones. These offer a smooth user experience on Android akin to using AirPods and an iPhone.
More affordable options include the Sony LinkBuds S ($148 at Amazon) and Jabra Elite 4 ($79 at Amazon). Sony’s more economical earbuds have an anonymous design contrasting the flashy gold accents on the WF-1000XM4. ANC on the LinkBuds S is also on-par with the AirPods Pro 2. Mimicking Sony’s flagship buds, the LinkBuds S have quiet treble, but you can fix this in the app. Jabra’s earbuds sound like the AirPods Pro 2, and anyone can customize the sound with Jabra’s app (Android/iOS). Jabra’s noise canceling isn’t quite as good as Apple’s, but the Elite 4 cost much less than the AirPods Pro 2.
Top Apple AirPods Pro (2nd generation) review questions and answers
To use the AirPods Pro 2, you can rely on the force sensors for playback controls. One squeeze will play or pause music and answer or end a call. Two squeezes will go to the next track and three will return to the previous track. Pressing and holding the stem cycles through listening modes (ANC, Adaptive Transparency, and off), and you can reprogram this to access Siri instead. Swiping up or down on either earbud sensor adjusts the volume. You can also say, “Hey, Siri,” when connected to an iPhone to make any of the aforementioned commands, ask questions, receive message notifications, and more.
If you already have the AirPods Pro (1st generation), the AirPods Pro (2nd generation) may not be worth buying. The AirPods Pro 1 and AirPods Pro 2 share similar ANC and sound quality, with the second-gen buds having a louder bass response. The AirPods Pro 2 have a water-resistant case that you can track through the Find My app, but by and large, these are the same buds.
Now, if you’re starting without any earbuds, the AirPods Pro 2 are a better choice, namely because the first-generation AirPods Pro are no longer available.
The AirPods Pro 2 were first available for online pre-order on September 9, 2022, and in stores on September 23, 2022.
The AirPods Pro 2 have an official six-hour battery life with ANC on and get an extra 24 hours of playtime from the case.