Apple has given its top earbuds an upgrade, adding improved noise cancelling, new touch controls for volume and a case that makes sounds to the AirPods Pro. But the problem of repairability continues to dog them.
Side by side with their predecessors it’s difficult to spot what has changed. Some of the black vents have been moved on the earbuds while the still-very-pocketable case has a few new elements, including sweat resistance.
The case chimes during pairing, when placed on charge or when the battery is too low to fully charge the earbuds. If you misplace them it has a U1 chip for precise finding in the Find My app on an iPhone and can ring out to help you locate them.
The earbuds fit the same as their predecessors, held in place by a silicone tip with the stalk hanging down towards your earlobe. I find them secure and comfortable for extended periods, but a lack of any stabilising wing makes them less suitable for exercise.
They have the same good squeeze controls on the stalks for playback and noise cancelling as their predecessors. But they also have a new swipe gesture for turning the volume up and down that works very well.
Better battery life means they last for a good six hours of playback with noise cancelling or just under five for calls. The case can fully charge the earbuds up to four times for a combined playback time of 30 hours, which compares favourably with rivals.
Connectivity: Bluetooth 5.3, SBC, AAC, H2 chip, UWB
Battery life: six hours ANC playback (30 hours with case)
Water resistance: IPX4 case and buds (splash resistant)
Earbud dimensions: 30.9 x 21.8 x 24.0mm
Earbud weight: 5.4g each
Charging case dimensions: 45.2 x 60.6 x 21.7mm
Charging case weight: 37.9g
Case charging: Lightning, Qi wireless (MagSafe), Apple Watch
Better sound and noise cancelling
The earbuds have Apple’s new H2 chip, which supports the latest Bluetooth 5.3 standard and improves sound and noise cancelling. They work best with Apple devices, automatically switching between them, but worked fine with a Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 4 and various other Android devices and PCs.
The new AirPods Pro sound really good with more bass and a little more clarity across the range than their predecessors. They produce solid separation between tones, super clear vocals and handle complex and overlapping tracks well. They sound fairly balanced and rounded, doing a good job with most music genres for general listening.
Used with an Apple device they can also create a virtual surround effect, called spatial audio. With the iOS 16 update, you can also personalise the spatial audio using scans of your ear taken with an iPhone’s front-facing camera creating a more realistic sound based on your unique ear shape. Note both of these features are available on other recent AirPods.
For music it piles on the bass and sounds more spacious, which is an acquired taste. For films, particularly those with Dolby Atmos soundtracks, it sounds fantastic giving you a much more immersive experience more akin to a cinema than earbuds.
The active noise cancelling is also improved over the old models with more capable handling of wind noise. They do a better job at blocking mid tones, cancelling out car noise and the rumble of trains more effectively. They still struggle with higher pitch noise such as keyboard clicks in an office, but manage background chatter better than most, particularly for their size and fit. Only Sony’s much larger WF-1000XM4 perform better for earbuds.
Apple’s transparency mode is still best in class, sounding very natural, as if you’re not wearing earbuds. A new “adaptive” mode reduces very loud noises to below 85dB, which keeps things like sirens or jackhammers from being overwhelming. If you use an Apple Watch you can see the amount of sound reduction in real time in the noise app, which is novel.
Call quality is really good, coming across very natural sounding in quiet settings with good noise control in loud street-side environments.
Apple does not provide an expected lifespan for the batteries but they should last in excess of 500 full-charge cycles with at least 80% of its original capacity. A battery service costs from £55.
The earbuds are not repairable, scoring a zero out of 10 on iFixit’s repairability scale, but Apple offers replacements costing £89 per earbud. The earbuds and case are made from recycled aluminium, gold, rare earth elements, tin and plastic, but Apple does not publish environmental impact reports for accessories such as headphones. The company offers trade-in and free recycling schemes, including for non-Apple products.
For comparison, the AirPods 3 cost £169, Beats Fit Pro cost £220, the Google Pixel Buds Pro cost £179, the Sony WF-1000XM4 cost £199, Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 3 cost £225, and the Samsung Galaxy Buds 2 Pro cost £219.
The second-generation AirPods Pro are Apple’s best earbuds yet. They sound better, have more effective noise cancelling, last longer on a charge and keep what is good about their predecessors.
The onboard volume control is very welcome, as is the adaptive transparency feature. They work best with Apple devices, but are fine with most others, missing a few advanced features. There are very few competitors that offer quite as much as the AirPods Pro 2 in such a pocketable and comfortable package.
But they are a missed opportunity to improve on the sustainability front. Inclusion of recycled materials is good but they are just as unrepairable as their predecessors and most competitors, which is a real shame and loses a star.
Pros: great sound and noise cancelling, adaptive transparency, sweat resistance, great controls including onboard volume, advanced features with Apple devices including spatial audio, comfortable, excellent case, good call quality
Cons: not repairable, expensive, no hi-res audio support, lack features when connected to Android/Windows, same stalk design as predecessors, only available in white