Apple does it again, and while the design is unchanged, there's a lot under the hood.
It's been well over two years since I reviewed the first AirPods Pro. Back then, of course, there were key competitors, but for its time the feature list, the quality of the noise cancellation, the excellent transparency mode and the battery life were downright excellent. Not only that, the innovative way of "pinching the stem" on each device to control playback and Siri has been copied by a number of other competitors since, including OnePlus.
But two years is a long time, a very long time, and since January 2020, competitors have refined and updated their features and designs, to the point where AirPods Pro is a solid antiquated solution. Thankfully, Apple is finally, finally ready with the AirPods Pro 2nd Gen.
But you can't really tell at first glance, because apart from a so-called "lanyard", i.e. a hole in the case to put a cord in, the design is unchanged. As in, the dimensions are exactly the same. The devices also look similar, albeit with small additions here and there, but in broad strokes no one will be able to tell whether these AirPods Pro are new, or two years old.
I personally don't mind. The case is small and can fit in a pocket, the devices are comfortable and well-built, and thanks to both wireless charging, MagSafe compatibility, and even Apple Watch charging, there's really nothing decidedly lacking here. If it ain't broke...
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And while we're on the subject of small additions. There's now an extra set of tips in extra small included in the package, making it easier to find a set that's just right for you. In addition, Apple has a piece of software in the AirPods menu in iPhone settings that guides you as to whether the tips fit in your ears. It's still hugely disappointing to see the f**king Lightning port, but to be honest, I only charge AirPods wirelessly, and thanks to MagSafe and even the ability to charge on an Apple Watch charger, there are enough alternatives here that it's easier to forgive.
Before we get to the more central aspects of the user experience, though, it's worth applauding the total seamlessness that a set of AirPods Pro offers if you have a number of Apple devices in your home. They switch without command between the devices you're using, whether it's a Mac Studio, a MacBook Air, an iPad or an iPhone - indeed, even if someone's watching TV in the living room via an AppleTV, you'll be asked whether the sound should be switched to AirPods. It's totally functional, totally user-friendly, and totally awesome.
Combine that with IPX4 certification, a larger speaker that can emit a more significant sound when you've lost them, and direct Find support so you can find them via fairly granular software, just like with AirTags.
Inside, first and foremost, we have a brand new H2 chip that allows for a host of new features, but most importantly, it ensures phenomenal sound that few on the market can replicate. Well, let's start by stating that there are in-ears with better sound here and there. B&O's EX, Bowers & Wilkins PI7 - they're here, but they just don't offer the same usability dexterity, and with that in mind, the AirPods Pro 2nd Gen just sounds... well, downright brilliant. There's depth, there's width and all the other audiophile clichéd adjectives, but they just sound wonderful. It's 16-bit, 48KHz audio, and it works.
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Also, noise reduction has been improved quite a bit. Yes, Apple put up one of their silly slides advertising "2 more ANC", which tells us nothing at all. The new microphones work 48,000 times per second to process both sustained noise, and sudden sounds, and together it makes for an impressive demonstration to say the least. And yes, Adaptive Transparency has also got an upgrade, but it's a little harder to hear. It feels brilliant, though, and I started by setting it to a long squeeze on the left stem. That way you can almost have them in all day, and just switch continuously as the situation demands. They're that good.
You can also wear them all day. Whereas the last AirPods Pro had an estimated battery life of about 4.5 hours of direct use with ANC on, it's upped to six hours here, which fits well with our own estimates. Together, that's about 30 hours of use with the battery in the case.
The new Personal Spatial Audio service is pretty awesome, too. It's still a little too cumbersome to set up, since you have to hold the phone up to your ear, which is inherently difficult, because how do you know if the phone is seeing what it needs to see without turning your head and messing it up? Anyways, once it's all set up, then you get more custom audio, which takes care of where the sound is coming from and how it's all going to be processed.
Great sound, solid ANC, wonderful transparency, great battery life, outstanding user experience. It's hard to knock. Yes, Lightning is super annoying, yes they are still a bit expensive. But they're just amazing.