Apple’s (AAPL) newest AirPods Pro are here. The second generation of Apple’s upscale earbuds, the Pros include improved active noise-canceling technology, an upgraded Transparency mode that limits the sound of noises like subways and construction equipment, and longer-lasting batteries.
The AirPods Pro will still set you back $249, the same price as their predecessors, making them a good deal more expensive than Apple’s third-generation AirPods, which start at $169 with a standard charging case.
Still, if you’re the type of person who regularly needs to block out ambient noise — or just wants earbuds with excellent sound quality — the AirPods Pro are every bit as worth the cash as their precursor — if you can afford them. Here's what they offer:
Improved noise canceling and Transparency modes
More robust bass
Better battery life
Building the beat
The most welcome addition to the second-generation AirPods Pro is an extra small option for their eartips. Apple included large, medium, and small tips with the original AirPods Pro. And while those worked for most people, others, like my wife, had trouble keeping the Pros in their ears. The extra small tips mean that more people will be able to take advantage of Apple’s offering without worrying that their $249 investment will fall out and go rolling down a storm drain.
As for sound quality, Apple has added a new H2 chip to improve active noise-canceling and Transparency modes. The company says that it provides double the noise canceling and from my experience it’s certainly an improvement over the first-generation Pros.
Transparency mode, which amplifies the sound of outside noise to ensure you can hear what’s going on around you while you're wearing the Pros, has also gotten an update. This time around, Apple has made it so that loud noises like jack hammers, passing emergency vehicles, or motorcycles are tamped down to make them more bearable while using Transparency mode.
Previously, all of those sounds would simply be turned up along with everything else around you. With the new Pros, though, Apple says Transparency mode will knock down the volume of excessively loud sounds to just below 85 decibels. I stood below an elevated subway and fired up Transparency mode and noticed the screeching of the train was definitely lower than without the buds.
Beyond different sound modes, the Pros also get a new audio driver that produces far more robust bass and sharper highs. Finally, there’s Apple’s new Personalized Spatial Audio feature. Spatial Audio, which is available through certain apps including Apple Music, makes music sound fuller, giving you the sensation that it’s coming from all around you rather than just from your buds.
Personalized Spatial Audio, meanwhile, allows you to use your iPhone’s TrueDepth front camera to scan your ears to improve the sound of Spatial Audio-compatible music and shows.
In my experience, songs like Lady Gaga’s “Poker Face” popped more with personalized audio on, but it wasn’t exactly game changing; it still sounded fantastic with regular spatial audio.
Volume controls and more battery life
Apple has also made a number of quality of life improvements to the AirPods Pro. First up, there’s a touch-enabled volume slider on the side of each earbud, which means that, if you’re out for a run, you don’t have to dig around in your running pouch for your phone just to raise the volume for your favorite song.
Apple also made it easier to find your AirPods if they go missing, adding precision tracking to the AirPods’ charging case via the Find My app.
As for battery life, Apple has boosted the amount of time the Pros will last with active noise-canceling to 6 hours from 4.5 hours with the original Pros. You’ll also get 30 additional hours of charge time using the charging case. Speaking of the charging case, it’s now compatible with your Apple Watch charger, so once your watch is charged, you can start powering up your earbuds.
My one gripe with the AirPods is that, as with every other pair I’ve had, they frequently get confused between whether I want to use them on my Mac or iPhone. Sometimes I’ll be listening to Spotify on my Mac, and the buds will switch to my iPhone for no reason. It’s annoying enough to make me turn Bluetooth off on my phone entirely.
Should you get them?
I’m a big fan of Apple’s AirPods already, and the Pros add a number of meaningful updates that users should find plenty helpful. If you’re looking for a pair of noise canceling earbuds that work well with Apple’s ecosystem, then the Pros are an easy sell. If $249 is too pricey, though, you can’t go wrong with Apple’s third-generation AirPods.
Heck, you can even opt for Apple’s Beats Fit Pro, which also offer great sound quality and active noise canceling for $199. But if you want that eye-catching Apple design, the Pros are your best bet.
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