AirPods Pro 2: two-minute review
The Apple AirPods Pro 2 are a significant upgrade from the original AirPods Pro true wireless earbuds. Because although the first AirPods Pro were a good move forward for Apple – sound quality and overall performance was good – there are plenty of new features to enjoy in these buds that came out in late 2022.
While the design hasn’t moved on that much since the first iteration (just a new audio vent hinting at a difference), the case has a speaker and a lanyard attachment, for both ease of finding the lost earbuds and keeping hold of them on your person.
What’s more, volume control from the stems is welcome, if fiddly to use, and the microphones have been enhanced to allow for better voice clarity as well. The Personalized Spatial Audio capability is also nice to have, making them feel like your earbuds, but we’re not sure it adds a lot.
However, the audio performance has been massively upgraded thanks to the new H2 chip inside, and it makes the AirPods Pro 2 a real contender for the best noise-cancelling earbuds and overall best true wireless earbuds around – even more than 6 months after they were first released.
The overall soundscape is wide, expansive and the AirPods Pro 2 are excellent at pulling out different instruments in the audio. The vocal tones are clear, the bass thudding but not dominant – we found ourselves reaching for them just to sink into a sonic world when we had an idle moment.
That feeling of audio envelopment comes from an enhanced noise-cancelling capability, and it’s brilliant on the AirPods Pro 2. Turn it on and the world fades away – it’s among the best we’ve tried in any true wireless earbuds.
The battery life has been extended, but not to beat many other rivals on the market. Turn on all the head tracking, Spatial Audio and noise-cancelling features and you’ll get about 4-5 hours between charges, with the case now able to charge in a variety of new ways too.
In short, while they’re expensive and a real investment, if you’re embedded in the Apple ecosystem these are excellent, immersive and beautifully-sounding buds.
AirPods Pro 2 price and release date
- Price impressive stays the same as original AirPods Pro
- AirPods Pro 2 release date: September 23
If you’re looking to pick up the Apple AirPods Pro 2, you’ll find them for $249 / £249 / AU$399 – and they’ve remained at this price since they were first released on September 23.
This is the same price as the previous model, the Apple AirPods Pro, except in the UK, where it’s a £10 increase. However, the older model is always discounted these days at retailers other than Apple, so while both are available, the new version costs more, effectively.
In the current climate, keeping the official price the same is actually a more aggressive move from Apple than it looks, because almost all other new flagship earbuds have increased their price. They’re not exactly affordable, but most major players are coming in higher with their latest true wireless earbuds.
AirPods Pro 2 design and features
- Design is almost identical to previous models
- Case is same shape, but with a few extra accessories
- Volume control is welcome, but erratic
- Good on-board microphones for voice
If you’re looking for AirPods with an all-new design, you’re not going to get that here. The AirPods Pro are precisely the same as the previous iterations, with the shorter stem and the wider, more squat case to house them in.
Side by side, you will notice that the AirPods Pro 2 do have an extra black section cut out, which is an audio vent designed to improve the quality of sound coming out of the diminutive buds – and, as you’ll see in a moment, that audio quality is darned impressive.
The only other small design change on the buds actually comes in the box, where Apple has packed in extra small tips for those with teenier ears – as our Senior Audio Writer Becky Scarrott can attest, this is a much-needed change and one that Apple should be applauded for making (especially as it’s keeping the RRP of the AirPods the same as the models from 2019).
While the stems on the AirPods Pro 2 might look the same, they house a new feature on AirPods: volume control. We’ve been mournfully crying out for this feature since the first AirPods emerged years ago, and it’s finally here – except, well, it’s far from perfect.
It works by stroking the small stem up and down, waiting for the small click to confirm a change. When you get the rhythm, it’s fine – the strokes work perfectly and you can alter volume easily, despite being a little slow to respond.
However, it’s so hard to get the sweet spot each time – while the feature is nice to have and one we use regularly, it’s not well implemented enough to be flawless.
The only other design change comes on the new charging case, which both last longer on a single charge but also comes with a new lanyard clip, as well as a speaker on the base.
The lanyard clip is a surprise, allowing one to wear the AirPods case around the neck in a nod to the world of fashion – but the speaker is more of a useful upgrade.
This speaker allows the AirPods Pro to gain ‘Find My’ features, so you can press a button on your phone to make a sound emanate from the AirPods Pro case. This is a useful upgrade as the previous method on the older models – making the buds themselves play ear-splitting sound – didn’t really work.
The AirPods Pro 2 also pack in the U1 chip that’s been added to iPhones of late, meaning you can see on your handset the direction of the headphones too – helpful if the sound isn’t playing.
It’s not perfect, as we sometimes just couldn’t connect to the case when we knew it was in the house somewhere, but on the other occasions when the connection appeared, it was fun to follow the signal around the house, with an increasingly strong vibration on the phone happening as we closed in.
The new charging case does have another neat trick: allowing you to use an Apple Watch charger to juice up the AirPods Pro holder. It feels so seamless to do that it’s hard to understand why this hasn’t happened before, but it’s a great feature nonetheless.
There’s also a new AirPods app in iOS 16, which allows you to head in and alter the settings on the AirPods themselves.
One of the key features here is the ability to set up Personalized Spatial Audio, where a scan of your face and ears will be able to re-calibrate the sound performance of the AirPods Pro 2.
It’s hard to see how holding your phone at arm’s length from your head is going to be able to see inside your ear, but Apple is adamant it makes a difference.
The set up is easy enough to achieve, and there is a marked difference using the personalized system – far more expansive and ‘interesting’ to listen to, with different instruments easier to pick out.
Another useful feature of the AirPods Pro 2 is the strong voice pickup when using the headphones as a headset for a Zoom call or taking a phone call. You can pair the Pro 2 with any Bluetooth device that requires a headset (such as a laptop, tablet or phone), and thus have decent video calls or have a phone conversation without worrying that the headphones aren’t going to pick it up.
It might sound like a small thing, but being able to use the new AirPods as a headset is crucial for many people, and the new AirPods Pro 2 didn’t disappoint in our testing. Just be warned: if you connect them to a PC running Windows it can disable the auto-connect feature on your iPhone.
- Design score: 4.5/5
- Features score: 4.5/5
AirPods Pro 2 sound quality and noise cancellation
- Sound quality is brilliant
- Noise reduction is phenomenal
- Spatial Audio works well
- Transparency allows for natural conversations
Right, let’s get onto the good stuff: how the AirPods Pro 2 actually sound. Short answer: phenomenal.
Longer answer: despite the fact Apple decided to not make the AirPods Pro 2 capable of Lossless audio (even though its own Apple Music platform supports it really heavily) the sound quality is so good that we just found ourselves wanting to put them on to drift off into a beautiful sonic world.
It’s hard to put into words how a pair of headphones can bring joy, because it’s about how they enable a connection with the music that wasn’t there before.
The way that the AirPods Pro 2 do this is a combination of factors: a clear ability to separate out different elements in the music, a strong ability to reproduce bass, a crispness in voice especially, and all combined with excellent Spatial Audio playback and mind-blowing noise cancellation.
It makes it even more maddening that Lossless audio isn’t supported here, as you feel that there could be even more to come from them, but if that’s the cost of keeping the price the same as in 2019, we guess we can stomach it.
Let’s pause a moment on the noise-cancelling qualities of these headphones, as it’s genuinely amazing for a pair of earbuds and up there with anything we’ve ever experienced. Sure, it’s not got a gradient of cancellation (some earbuds allow you to set the level of noise cancelling depending on your situation) but you’ll find it hard to care when switching it on.
We’ve been using noise-cancelling products for nearly 20 years now, when headphones came with a massive extra microphone block to achieve the feat. But slip on the AirPods Pro 2 in a noisy environment – we’re currently writing this review in a noisy cafe, for instance – and hold one of the stems to activate noise cancellation.
The world goes quiet, and you instantly enter a soft, comfortable studio where it’s just you and your music. The effect is stark and worth the cost of the headphones alone.
The AirPods Pro 2 will cancel out wind, train sounds and easily destroy the noise of an air conditioning unit or fan in the background. This is all possible thanks to the H2 chip that’s been unveiled with the Pro 2, and it’s such a good upgrade.
If you combine this with some Dolby Atmos-enabled sound on Apple Music or Tidal, you’ll find yourself seeking out the AirPods Pro 2 as an activity rather than just having them as a soundtrack to a commute or a walk. That’s the power of music, and Apple’s brought that closer here.
We tried a number of songs to experience the different modes and capabilities of the AirPods Pro 2, and the main thing that struck us was the sheer expanse of the sound in the ears compared to the original AirPods Pro from three years ago.
Sure, they’re never going to rival dedicated over-ear headphones, but they more than make up for that with the lightness and convenience that true wireless earbuds offer. It’s also true that the AirPods Pro 2 have definitely gone for ‘safe’ audio – it’s not ‘pull your pants down and spank you’ startling sound, but it is a hugely enjoyable audio experience.
Listening the Coheed and Cambria’s The Embers of Fire, the first thing that strikes is the crackling of fire creeping up behind you, rolling up to a crescendo of drums that’s handled with real stability.
Moving onto Violence Broken by No Mono, and the emotive vocals break through the music really clearly, that same stability meaning every drum beat is rich while the singing is crisp and emotive.
Flirting with June by Les Gordon showed where the Spatial Audio really performed, with the stereo sounds popping back and forth with a similar crispness, and the repeated ‘Yeah!’ from Prince in When Doves Cry slithered around our head as the song began, with the Spatial Audio kicking in nicely again here.
Even when not using Apple Music or Dolby Atmos, the sound is decent. Comparing The Ting Tings’ Fine and Dandy, the pitchy opening is quickly absorbed by background synth and electric guitar, and where the original AirPods Pro remained a bit too tinny, there’s a clear evolution to an expansive sounds with the new Pro 2.
It’s not just music that benefits either. While having an hour to kill during testing, we popped the new Thor Love and Thunder on an iPhone 14 Pro Max, and activated head tracking in the AirPods Pro 2.
The richness of the sound, the ability to follow the head perfectly in space and the clarity of the film on the iPhone’s OLED screen meant we felt completely absorbed, getting entirely lost in the experience despite being in the middle of a very noisy canteen with people coming and going.
The head tracking is far more subtle on the AirPods Pro 2, compared to something like the LG Tone Free T90, but we still don’t really see the point of it most of the time.
There are some fun elements – listen to Weaver of Dreams by Freddie Hubbard, and the wailing trumpet on your left and the soft drumbeat on the right are clearly distinguishable – and turning your head to ‘look’ at each instrument suddenly brings an evocative sense of being in a smokey jazz club with the lights turned down low.
However, for other songs where Dolby Atmos isn’t available, it’s basically just the sound coming straight at you from in front, and turning your head makes it move around a bit.
As we’ve mentioned before, Personalized Spatial Audio is worth doing, simply because it takes about 30 seconds and seems to enhance the audio performance by tailoring it to your own hearing. For audiophiles, they may appreciate this feature, but most will struggle to know if things are truly better.
(Case in point – we let someone else create a Personalized Spatial Audio profile, and to our ears theirs sounded better, with more clarity and richness in the sound, which doesn’t make a lot of sense).
The other thing that the H2 chip now enables is an almost-flawless Transparency mode. If you open up the microphones on the AirPods Pro 2 (by long-pressing on the stem when in noise-cancelling mode) it will open up the world again – and it’s so clear that you can easily have a conversation with someone else while wearing the Pro 2 headphones.
You will need to turn off the music, as that’s a bit too much to process, but it’s easy to forget you’re wearing the headphones when chatting to someone. It makes us wish that the AirPods Pro 2 had an auto-transparency feature, where when you started to speak it would automatically shut off the music and open up the microphones, like on the Sony WH-1000XM5 headphones.
Apple’s also thrown in Adaptive Transparency too, where the headphones monitor the audio conditions 48,000 a second to quickly dampen any sudden sounds like a siren or drill, but we didn’t encounter anything like that in our testing to say how well it worked (and we did go and hang out by a hospital to try… but after a while it just looked weird).
- Sound quality score: 4.5/5
- Noise cancellation score: 5/5
AirPods Pro 2 battery life
Apple has increased the battery life of the AirPods Pro 2 to manage 6 hours of use on a single charge, with noise cancelling enabled – and that’s what we found in our testing too.
However, we mostly had them in noise cancelling mode with head tracking and Spatial Audio enabled, to get the full experince, and Apple thinks this should last closer to five hours.
That seems a tiny bit generous, with a single hour’s listening dropping the battery life by about 25% – but in our view it’s more about the ability of the case to charge the headphones, as nobody is going to listen for four hours in a row regularly.
The AirPods Pro 2 case is now able to hold 30 hours’ charge – or five recharges of the AirPods – but, again, we found this a bit generous. Don’t get us wrong, we rarely had an issue where both the AirPods and the case was out of juice, but we estimate you’ll need to top it up once a week easily – and there are plenty of true wireless earbuds out there which can last longer.
You can pop the AirPods Pro 2 into the case when completely dead, and five minutes later you’ll be good to go for about an hour – that’s a useful touch.
When you do need to charge though, the aforementioned methods of re-juicing are good. There’s the novelty of using the Apple Watch charger to charge up the AirPods Pro 2 case, the Lightning port at the bottom, you can slot them onto an iPhone MagSafe charger or just plonk the case on a Qi-enabled charging pad.
Basically, invest in a couple of charging pads for home and work and you’ll likely never run out of charge again.
AirPods Pro 2: Should I buy them?
|Value||Not cheap, but not risen in price since 2019||3.5/5|
|Design||A functional, easy-to-use shape||4.5/5|
|Features||Great upgrades, but volume control needs work||4.5/5|
|Sound quality||Awesome sound quality, if a little safe||4.5/5|
|Noise cancelling||World-beating noise cancellation||5/5|
|Battery||Long enough without being market leading||4/5|
Buy them if…
Don’t buy them if…
If our Apple AirPods Pro 2 review has you considering other options, here are three other true wireless earbuds for you to look at.