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swadeadday magazine 😔😚😂 Apple AirPods Pro (2nd Generation) Review: A New Standard | WIRED
Apple AirPods Pro (2nd Generation)
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Rating:

9/10

WIRED
Comfortable fit. Great sound. Improved noise canceling. Good microphones. Extremely easy to use with iPhone/Apple products. Spatial audio is good for movies. New, improved charging case with speaker for better Find My functionality. IPX4 rating for workouts.
TIRED
Siri doesn’t activate perfectly all the time.  Spatial audio is still in its infancy for music.

Despite launching in 2019, it's easy to understand why Apple's AirPods Pro remain so popular. These wireless earbuds pair quickly, sound pretty good, and mostly stay out of the way. You don't even look that weird wearing them anymore because it feels like nearly everyone is walking around with (the uglier) AirPods these days.

After three years, you might have been expecting a bigger visual update with the new second-generation AirPods Pro, but I'm not surprised to see Apple barely changing the design. Why reshape such a well-identifiable wheel? Instead, Apple’s focus was aimed at the inner workings, where the musical rubber meets the road. 

You get a much-needed battery life increase, significantly better sound quality (improving on the already-good sound they had), and even better noise-canceling tech. How good are the second-gen AirPods Pro compared to the originals? I’d go so far as to say these are the best in-ear headphones I’ve ever used with an iPhone.

Photograph: Apple
A Case for Change

The biggest physical change over its predecessor is in the case. The rounded rectangle now comes with three circular perforations on the bottom right for a new, built-in speaker. Need to find the case via Apple's Find My app? Now you can, and it rings quite loudly. It also makes a little jingle when it starts charging. Speaking of, you can wireless charge as usual (the case supports MagSafe too), but it's a shame to see Apple still relying on the Lightning port instead of USB-C. 

Pop open the magnetic clasp on the lid, and the two peanut-shaped buds stare back at you. Their new skin detection sensors—a replacement for the IR sensors on the old models—are the only touch of black on otherwise white buds. (These sensors help detect when you take the buds out of your ears to play or pause music.)

You’ll notice a slight flat spot on the side of the trunk on each bud—it's a new touch sensor that allows you to (finally!) adjust the volume via a swipe up and down. The previous, squeeze-based controls are still at play here, so you don’t lose any functionality that you’re already used to. One squeeze will play or pause, two squeezes will skip tracks, and a long press will activate active noise canceling or Transparency mode.

These new buds are aesthetically so similar to the previous version that I had to keep checking which I was looking at when I had them both out of their cases side-by-side. A bit of key sculpting makes the second-generation a hair more comfortable and stable in my average-sized ears during workouts and longer listening sessions. Mine came fitted with medium-size silicone ear tips (there are smaller and larger pairs in the box as well), and they seemed to provide a better seal than before. This makes sense because Apple has moved some of the vents on these earbuds to deliver better bass.

Photograph: Apple
Sound Gardens

Before I get to bigger, audio-based changes inside the AirPods Pro, the most notable change is the better battery life. The original AirPods Pro had a paltry four and a half hours of listening time with noise canceling on, which was hardly enough to make it through a reasonable work day without having to hear your cubicle mates’ mechanical keyboards. It's why I often ended up recommending a pair of Apple-made Beats earbuds for business-minded folks because they lasted so much longer.

Now, so long as you pop the buds in their case for lunch, the six hours of juice in the buds and 24 in the case will easily get you through a day at the office or around town. Heck, they’ll get you through a catastrophically slow marathon, audiobooks intact.

Beyond the much-needed battery boost, it's clear Apple has seen the strides that the competition—like Jabra, Samsung, and Sony—have made in terms of sound quality over the past few years. The new AirPods Pro finally bring Apple back to the cutting edge. Between brand new drivers and a new amplifier on each side, I immediately noticed how much more balanced they sound overall. The low end is punchy but not boomy, the midrange present but not cloudy, and the high end is clear but not sibilant (that thing when s sounds really stick out).

The redesigned AirPods Pro are so good they can even make harder-to-reproduce recordings sound awesome. I recently discovered that What We Do In The Shadows’ Matt Berry is an accomplished musician with several fantastic albums. My favorite song, “Take My Hand,” has a tendency to come through a bit muddy on most earbuds because it is so layered with guitars, horns, keyboards, voices, and other midrange heavy instruments, on top of prominent bass. With the new AirPods Pro, I can clearly hear each layer of the song, easily discerning his lyrics (in my opinion, mixed a touch too low on any system).

Most people will probably be listening to hip-hop, pop, and other Apple Music-based jams on these things, and you’ll be well rewarded there, too. Kaytranada’s “Glowed Up” has been a favorite of mine for testing deep bass response, and these things smash it, providing lower oomph than I’ve probably ever heard from a pair of dynamic drivers—a testament to how well these earbuds form a seal and how well the noise canceling works.

The amount of noise reduction is massively improved from the already-great first iteration too. I have one of the loudest dogs in existence (I recently found out he’s 15 percent Alaskan Malamute and this tracks), and I swear, with these buds in, I cannot hear him when he’s yelling for dinner.

When you don’t want to cut out the entire world, the buds have a new adaptive Transparency mode that allows them to cut out some, but not all, of the noises around you. That might sound like it goes against the whole idea of a Transparency mode, but let me explain. This mode usually lets you hear your ambient surroundings, but you probably don't need to hear that ambulance blaring at full volume. Apple's H2 chip will adjust the level so that you can still hear it, but it won't feel like your eardrums are about to explode. 

Similarly, if you start talking to someone with the buds in your ears, it will try and enhance their voice so you can hear them better without needing to take the buds out (though you should probably still take your earbuds out, you monster). Overall, I found it worked pretty well during my workouts when I always like to have my ears available to hear others around me.

Then there are the microphones—they're easily among the best you'll find in a pair of wireless earbuds, and mechanically aided by the fact that those elephant trunks aim right at your pie hole.

In the Groove

Some downsides? I wouldn’t call it a huge downside per se, but the included spatial audio features are basically the same as the last generation. It's great for movies on Netflix and other streaming apps—adding a bit of surround sound—but I’m still not convinced that spatial audio adds much for music. 

There are newer, interesting Dolby Atmos mixes on Apple Music (mostly from big-name artists), but the reality is most music is and was created in stereo or mono, and with spatial audio turned on, you'll likely run into what I call the “upscale” problem: that is, old music being upscaled to Atmos after its creation. I find most of this stuff sounds a bit weird, like someone added a touch of reverb to everything, and it tends to be boomy and bright.

As far as actual functional problems with the buds, WIRED reviews editor Julian Chokkattu has noticed that his pair has trouble picking up the “Hey Siri” command to trigger the voice assistant when he's outdoors in New York City, at least on the first try. I never had an issue with it in my sound-treated studio, or when wandering around outside my home in Oregon. We both did notice that when you say the command, the chime to tell you Siri’s listening is faint, so you’re not always positive it's listening.

Otherwise, I'm struggling to come up with many other issues with these earbuds. They pair instantly, fit well, and are IPX4-rated water resistant, so you can take them with you to the gym and a jog in the rain. The sound, noise canceling, and microphones are top-notch for everything from running music to vital conference calls. You can use them to silence your screaming children, and you can now even turn up Taylor Swift without picking up your iPhone. What else do you really need from a pair of headphones?