If you were an AirPods Pro fan, the last few Apple events have been an exercise in dealing with disappointment. With an anticipated 2022 release, two events — the March Mac, iPad and iPhone event, and WWDC — passed by without so much as a hint of updated noise-cancelling ear buds.
It was third time lucky though in September. Apple unveiled new AirPods Pro with an updated chip, extended battery life and Apple’s Find My technology, so when you inevitably lose an ear bud or the case you can ping it through the app.
The short version of this review is: the second generation of AirPods Pro are excellent. From the adaptive transparency to the improved sound quality, the AirPods Pro are up there with the best. Add in the extra gestures — you can now control volume with a swipe — and the new AirPods Pro have solved some of the niggly issues with the first generation.
You’ll have to shell out just shy of €300 for the privilege though, so these are not a budget option. Likewise, they are made to work with Apple and while you can connect them to other devices, the experience isn’t as smooth as using them with an iPad, iPhone or Mac.
The first thing you should know is that Apple has made almost no changes to how the AirPods Pro look, both in terms of the buds and the case. If you look really hard, you might spot a couple of small differences, but by and large, the new AirPods Pro are the same as the old ones on the outside. It’s a tried and tested formula and one Apple has decided not to mess with — for now.
That means the fit is the same too, although Apple has added in a new extra small ear tip that will solve the fit issues for those of us with smaller ears. If you were getting less than satisfactory results running the fit test with the existing silicon tips, this may just solve your problem.
The real differences are on the inside. Apple has swapped out the H1 chip for the H2, and increased the battery life a little. That means that not only will the AirPods sound better than before, but they will also last you an hour longer in full active noise control mode.
The new AirPods also support spatial audio but with a new twist: you can personalise it. As part of the set-up process, you can customise it using the iPhone’s front-facing camera to scan your head shape. It’s hard to tell if it made a real difference, but if you are trying to get the best possible sound out of your ear buds, it’s a quick job that you do once and forget about.
If you have an Apple Watch, you can use the hearing app to monitor noise levels around you, and see the impact of the different sound options — enabling active noise cancelling on an busy roadway decreased the noise level reaching my ears to less than 45dB, for example, lowering it considerably.
If there is one thing that is guaranteed to happen, it’s that I will put down an ear bud and forget where I’ve left it. Or that the case will slip under something and disappear for a while. Apple has added in a speaker to the charging case and you can now use Find My to track everything down, including both ear buds separately.
The speaker is sufficiently loud to find the case easily — mine had slipped into a drawer, but it was easily located — and the combination of that plus the LED means lost AirPods cases should be a thing of the past.
The other big change to the AirPods is the gesture control on the buds, bringing in volume control with a quick swipe up and down. They are easy to manage and hard to accidentally trigger, which is all I’m really asking for in touch controls.
If none of the new features appeal to you though, there are bargains to be had with the original AirPods Pro, which still sound good enough to warrant a second look.
The new AirPods Pro have even better sound quality. The H2 chip pulls its weight here, improving clarity on sound as well as the quality.
Active noise cancelling is also impressive. There is a noticeable improvement on the second generation of ear buds blocking out even the noisiest of traffic on a morning commute, or background noise from family life when you really need to concentrate for a few minutes.
The personal spatial audio may seem like a gimmick, but you do it once and never have to think of it again.
The not so good
If you are not an Apple user these buds will be too expensive to get the most out of them. And if you were hoping for any radical redesign, you are headed for disappointment.
The volume controls on the ear buds are easy to use and are not triggered accidentally. You can still order Siri around those if you would rather go for that option.
You can also use the Apple Watch charger to power up the case, as well as the lightning port and wireless chargers, giving you more options when you do need to charge up.
As far as Apple-friendly earbuds go, it’s hard to beat the AirPods Pro.