AirPods Pro 2 review: They’re everywhere for a reason
Apple did not invent the wireless earbuds — there were several brands pumping out truly untethered earbuds up to a full year before the AirPods made its debut in late 2016. But Apple made the wireless earbuds mainstream, and whether for better or for worse, the AirPods heavily influenced the design of wireless earbuds immediately after its debut.
But the original AirPods, if we’re being honest, looked pretty ugly, nor did they sound all that great. The one-size-fits-all tip also meant they simply didn’t fit in some ears. In my opinion, it really wasn’t until 2019’s AirPods Pro did Apple put out a truly great pair of wireless earbuds. But those, too, were quickly surpassed by rivals. By 2021, I’d argue Huawei’s Freebuds Pro or Samsung’s Galaxy Buds Pro pumped out noticeably fuller audio with better active noise cancellation.
The AirPods Pro 2 are excellent in almost every facet — fit and comfort, construction, and audio quality. But I can say the same about Samsung’s Galaxy Buds 2 Pro or Huawei’s FreeBuds 2 Pro, both of which just hit the market a couple of months ago. Even the $249 pricing is similar. But the AirPods Pro 2 has one major trick up its sleeve: it’s an Apple product, so it’s an official part of Apple’s ecosystem. And this alone will ensure almost all iPhone users pick these over, say, Samsung’s buds. And there are a lot of iPhone users in the world. The AirPods Pro 2 are almost certainly going to be a smashing sales success.
Apple AirPods Pro 2: Specifications
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About this review: Apple Hong Kong provided me a pair of AirPods Pro 2 for review. Apple did not have any input in this review.
Apple AirPods Pro 2: Price & Availability
The AirPods Pro 2 are available for purchase across retailers, starting from September 23, 2022 for $249.
Apple AirPods Pro 2: Hardware, Design, and Fit
- Looks virtually identical to the original AirPods Pro
- Silicon tip comes in four sizes, including a new “XS” for a wider range of fit
- Can now adjust volume directly on the earbuds
Not much has changed in terms of appearances with the AirPods Pro 2. The earbuds themselves look almost identical, with an extra vent in each bud being the differentiating factor. The case has the same overall shape but has some new hardware including a speaker (that can play a beeping sound if you can’t find it around the house) and a small looping slot for lanyard straps. There’s a newer H2 chip inside that is more powerful at handling audio and active noise cancellation (ANC), but this obviously isn’t a visible change.
Just like the previous AirPods Pro, the silicon ear tips are removable, and Apple is including four sizes this year (instead of three like most other earbuds). This means the buds will fit a wider range of ear canal sizes.
The fit is comfortable for me using the small size silicon, but I find the earbuds protrude too much from my ears for my liking. Yes, this is nothing new, AirPods have always stuck out like this. But other earbuds, even ones with stems like Huawei’s FreeBuds Pro 2, Bose’s QuietComfort 2, or Nothing’s Ear 1, do not stick out from the side as much. The AirPods Pro’s stems curve at a wider, rounder radius. If I wear the AirPods Pro 2 and Samsung’s new Galaxy Buds 2 Pro at the same time and look at a mirror, the AirPods Pro is much more noticeable.
It doesn’t help that the AirPods Pro 2 come in white. I think even giving it a black paint job would make the earbuds look sleeker and more discreet. But I’m pretty sure that within Apple HQ, the AirPods Pro being so noticeable is a feature, not a bug. Just like slapping a giant logo on the back of their phones and laptops, Apple wants its products to be seen and identified, and I suppose many consumers like it too. I don’t.
The stems did get a hardware upgrade — the capacitive touch panel now supports sliding motions, which is used to adjust the volume. Clicking on the sensors still brings a very satisfying haptic feedback that feels better than any other earbuds I’ve tested.
Battery and charging
While the battery capacity inside the earbuds and the case remain the same, battery life is improved, with the AirPods Pro 2 getting six hours of playtime on a single charge. This is with ANC or transparency mode on at all times (you must use one of the two modes). If you use Spatial Audio, Apple claims the buds are good for five hours, but my unit was draining at a faster rate. I’d say four hours seems about right. The case adds another five full charges.
Apple AirPods Pro 2: Setup, Audio Quality, Features
- Setting up with Apple devices is as simple as opening the lid; with Android or Windows devices, it requires the press of a button
- Excellent, balanced sound
- Can respond to text messages, including WhatsApp, via voice dictation
Setting up the AirPods Pro 2 is a piece of cake with my iPhone 14 Pro Max. As soon as I took the AirPods out of the box and opened the lid, the pairing screen already popped up on my iPhone. I only had to tap a button to confirm these are my AirPods, and after that, the buds also worked seamlessly with my MacBook and iPad (because they all share the same Apple ID as my iPhone) without needing to manually pair again.
Unlike some other earbuds, Apple doesn’t need you to install an additional app if you want to have more control over the AirPods. You can do so in the iPhone’s settings. These settings are more niche controls like accessibility features. For the most part, Apple doesn’t want you to fiddle with toggles and settings the way Samsung’s earbuds do.
I, however, do not always use an iPhone. In the past few days, I’ve actually put my SIM card back into the Xiaomi 12S Ultra, and pairing is still easy. I just had to long-press the button on the case to tell the AirPods to go into pairing mode and connect via the Bluetooth menu of my Android phone. After that, I encountered no issues in terms of audio quality or audio playback. However, there are some iPhone-specific features I lose out on, like the ability to have incoming notifications read to me, and the ability to respond. More on this later.
While the AirPods Pro 2 still uses the same 11mm drivers as the previous generation AirPods Pro, Apple redesigned the amplifier and driver, plus the AirPods Pro 2 uses Apple’s new H2 chip (versus H1 in the original), and the audio output is much improved. They’re noticeably fuller and more dynamic. I do think the Galaxy Buds 2 Pro and Huawei FreeBuds Pro 2 have noticeably stronger bass for that extra kick in certain tracks, but I think the AirPods Pro 2 have a well-balanced sound that favors spoken word as much as instruments. There’s a bit more consistency among audio quality whether I’m listening to Outkast or a podcast compared to Huawei’s earbuds or Beats by Dre’s audio products (which, ironically, are also owned by Apple).
Active Noise Cancellation
During Apple’s September launch event, it claimed the new AirPods Pro’s active noise cancellation (ANC) is twice as good as the original pairs, and I think it lives up to that hype. ANC here is very good, able to almost completely provide silence if I’m in a room, and does an admirable job of blocking out the extremely loud Hong Kong streets.
I think in terms of blocking out sound, the ANC here is neck and neck with the Huawei FreeBuds Pro 2, and a bit better than the Galaxy Buds 2 Pro. However, Bose’s new earbuds, which I have not tested, apparently have even better ANC that can mute human voices better than any earbuds before them.
Unlike other earbuds which give you the option to use ANC, transparency mode, or neither, Apple only does either ANC or transparency. This is fine by me, as I find the middle option (off) to be a bit pointless. Switching between ANC and transparency mode is just a long press of the stem away. It works well. I can easily hold a conversation and hear the other end perfectly in transparency mode, even if I have music playing, provided the volume isn’t too high.
Another little touch that Apple gets right: when you switch from ANC to transparency mode or vice versa, the transition is gradual, meaning the ambient noise will fade out or fade back in, instead of abruptly getting cut off or starting like with other wireless earbuds. Such smaller details help make the experience greater than just a sum of its parts.
Phone calls, and responding to notifications
Apple repositioned the microphones of the AirPods Pro 2 and they work fine for me. I almost never make phone calls these days, but a couple of test calls went smoothly, with the other party saying they could hear me. If I take the call outside in really noisy streets, the AirPods Pro 2 will apply ANC to my voice, which makes me sound a bit digitized, but it works. Again, Hong Kong is one of the noisiest places on earth, so if I can make a call outside here, I can surely make the call without issues in California or Berlin.
One of the cool features of AirPods Pro is the ability to have Siri dictate incoming text messages, to which I can respond via voice, without touching anything. I have to say “reply,” followed by the words I want to say. And it worked very well in my testing with WhatsApp. The ability to have text messages spoken to me and respond on the earbud is not a new feature, though I just found out about it because I so very rarely use an iPhone. I actually own a pair of AirPods Max I use daily, but I usually pair it with my MacBook or Android phone.
Another exclusive feature for iPhone users is Spatial Audio, where the AirPods Pro will keep track of your head movements so if you turn your head, the audio will shift around to maintain audio direction as if you really are sitting in front of an audio source. This feature works as advertised, though I find it a bit gimmicky at times.
Should you buy the Apple AirPods Pro 2?
You should buy the AirPods Pro 2 if:
- You want a pair of compact wireless buds with excellent sound and active noise cancellation
- You are already immersed in Apple’s ecosystem and want earbuds that play nice with everything in it
You should not buy the AirPods Pro 2 if:
- You already own the original AirPods and find audio and ANC quality perfectly fine
- You are on a tighter budget
- You want earbuds that look a bit more discreet in your ears
With the AirPods Pro 2, Apple didn’t try to make superficial changes. Instead, they chose to focus on improving things that matter, like battery life and audio quality. Even little things, like the ability for the AirPods Pro case to beep, are little touches that make them so easy to use.
If you own an iPhone and want your first pair of wireless earbuds, the AirPods Pro 2 are easy to recommend, as long as the $249 price is acceptable. The bigger question is whether those who own standard AirPods or the first gen AirPods Pro should consider an upgrade.
I’d say this really comes down to how happy you are with your existing AirPods or AirPods Pro. If you find your current set lacking in audio or ANC quality, the AirPods Pro 2 brings enough improvements to justify the upgrade.
There’s a reason why the AirPods, and later AirPods Pro, became ubiquitous in every major city around the world. Sure, part of it is they’re the default earbuds for iPhone users, but also because they’re just really, really good.