Incredibly effective noise cancellation combined with a stack of brilliant features make these the true wireless headphones to beat
- Superb noise cancelling
- Awareness mode is great
- Top-notch fit and comfort
- Not the last word in sound quality
The Apple AirPods Pro 2 are the second generation of what has, over the years since the original product was launched, become an icon among true wireless headphones. Supremely slick integration with iOS and iPadOS devices, extremely effective active noise cancellation (ANC) and all-day comfort set them apart from the competition from day one.
With rivals becoming more numerous and more capable by the day, however, they were beginning to feel a little left behind.
With the AirPods Pro 2, Apple brings some big-hitting upgrades, from improved ANC to better battery life, superior fit and more convenient charging. And while they’re not quite as stacked with features as some rivals, if you own an iPhone they should be high up your shopping list.
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Apple AirPods Pro 2 review: What you need to know
As with the originals, the AirPods Pro 2 sit at the top of the AirPods in-ear range. Unlike their standard, non-Pro stablemates they’re equipped with silicone tips that push into the top part of your ear canals to provide a degree of passive noise isolation.
The physical design of the buds themselves is similar to the previous model, with short stems protruding from an oval-shaped body, a number of black sensors and grilles spotted around the body of each one and ear tips that clip on and off with a positive click.
Elsewhere, however, there are numerous improvements and new features. Apple has repositioned the external microphone ports to improve noise cancellation and voice pickup, and it has added the ability to adjust the volume by swiping your finger up and down either of the earbuds’ stems.
Apple now provides four sizes of ear tips in the box – one more than last time – with an extra small set for those with pixie ears. And the charging case now has a speaker plus a lanyard loop attachment point.
Inside the buds, Apple has upgraded to the new H2 chipset, which brings more powerful computational audio, allowing for adaptive transparency as well as “2x” better noise cancellation (Apple’s words). There’s a new “high excursion” driver, too, and the charging case now has UltraWideband built-in, which means you can track and locate it just like an Apple AirTag.
There’s also better battery life all-round. The buds themselves now give you up to six hours of listening time with ANC enabled (versus 4hrs 30mins in the original AirPods Pro), or 5hrs 30mins with spatial audio and head tracking enabled, and the charging case upgrades that to a total of 30 hours. Finally, charging is achieved via a Lightning connector or wirelessly via MagSafe and Qi-compatible chargers. If you own an Apple Watch, you can even use that to charge the case.
Apple AirPods Pro 2 review: Price and competition
Back when the original AirPods Pro were launched, there wasn’t an awful lot of competition around when it came to true wireless headphones with ANC. Today, however, the landscape has transformed and most manufacturers have models available at multiple price points.
The AirPods Pro 2’s price of £249 hasn’t changed since the first version and places them at the premium end of the current price spectrum for true wireless earbuds. They’re more expensive than other big-brand true wireless headphones from rival smartphone manufacturers such as Samsung’s Galaxy Buds2 Pro, which cost £219 and the Google Pixel Buds Pro (£180).
Typically, anyone considering spending this much on a pair of true wireless headphones should also be looking seriously at the Sony WF-1000XM4 (£200), which are our favourite all-rounders, or the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds (£230), which have incredibly effective ANC.
Apple AirPods Pro 2 review: Design, fit and features
Apple’s AirPods Pro 2 will be instantly familiar to most people, with their white, bulbous housings and short, stubby stems, as they’re not much different from the first AirPods Pro earbuds.
Like all wireless earbuds, they’re stored in a case that contains an extra battery that charges the buds while they’re stored. Pop the buds in the case and they’ll charge rapidly, delivering an hour of listening time for every five minutes they spend inside.
The main change on the case design is the new lanyard attachment point, which is on the right side of the case – allowing you to hang the case around your neck or wrist – and the speaker grille on the bottom edge, which emits a series of beeps when you tap Play Sound in the iPhone Find My app. This can be used in conjunction with the U1 UltraWideband chip to help you find your headphones if you’ve misplaced them somewhere in the house.
The Apple AirPods Pro 2 remain supremely comfortable and their IPX4 rating ensures they can withstand a bit of rain and sweat, too. The rubber tips provided in the box have a light feel to them and, once I’d settled on the size I needed, I was able to wear them for hours on end without ever feeling earache or fatigue. The acoustic equalisation vent introduced on the first AirPods Pro is present here, too, and this helps reduce the pressure build-up that can cause discomfort with some in-ear headphones while also balancing how loudly the buds pick up things like your breathing or chewing.
As for other features, the AirPods Pro 2 are pretty stacked. As you’d expect, the buds have wear detection, so they’ll pause your music or podcast when you remove them from your ears. And you can control your media via the pressure- and touch-sensitive controls built into the earbuds’ stems. A squeeze of either stem pauses and plays, a double squeeze skips you forwards and a triple squeeze skips back. A squeeze and hold switches you between ANC and the new Adaptive Transparency mode, and you can hail Siri by simply saying “Hey Siri”.
The big new feature when it comes to controls, however, is that you can now swipe your finger up and down the stem to adjust the volume. This worked perfectly during testing, and allows you to make small tweaks without getting your phone out of your pocket. There’s even some customisability available via the Settings app on your phone, where the AirPods Pro 2 now get their very own section.
There are no EQ settings to customise but you can set whether the long squeeze on each earbud activates Siri or noise control and, for the latter, you can choose which settings to toggle between – Noise Cancellation, Transparency and Off.
Another feature the original AirPods Pro didn’t have is support for Apple’s Spatial Audio technology with head tracking. This is Apple’s version of Dolby Atmos for headphones, delivering a surround-sound effect, and with head tracking enabled, it means whatever you’re listening to sounds like it’s coming from one location in front of you.
As with previous products that have this feature – the AirPods Max and AirPods (3rd generation) – this works uncannily well. Move your head to the right and whatever you’re listening to sounds like it’s coming predominantly into your left ear; move your head to the left, and the reverse happens.
To improve its effectiveness, Spatial Audio can now be “personalised” by using your iPhone’s front-facing True Depth camera to scan your face and ears. Again, this works effectively: I scanned my ears and enabled the technology, and listened to the same section of a podcast with it on and then off, noting a definite improvement in how voices were spatialised with it active.
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Apple AirPods Pro 2 review: Transparency mode and noise cancellation
To round off the new features, the Apple AirPods Pro 2 now come with Adaptive Transparency. This enhances the transparency option found on the AirPods Pro with the aim of protecting your ears against very loud noises. Essentially, if the ambient noise goes above a certain level, the Adaptive Transparency mode reduces its intensity, effectively turning the AirPods Pro 2 into smart earplugs.
As soon as the ambient noise level reaches around 80dB, the AirPods Pro 2 reduce the loudness of that noise. Even better, when you use the AirPods Pro 2 with an Apple Watch, you’ll be able to use the Noise app to view, in real time, exactly how this is working. I tested it out by clapping my hands right next to my ears and it dulled the impact remarkably well.
It’s also possible to use the Apple Watch to see how well the buds attenuate external sound when you have active noise cancellation engaged. Once you’ve stuck them in your ears, however, you probably won’t need numbers to convince you how effective their ANC is.
It’s no exaggeration to say that the AirPods Pro 2 are the most effective noise-cancelling headphones I’ve ever used – and by quite some distance. Not only do they cut out the low-level rumble of aeroplane engines, train roar and general office hubbub better than most, they’re also remarkably effective at keeping a cap on higher-frequency audio such as nearby conversations and keyboard bashing. The AirPods Pro 2 can even dampen the shrieks of whining children, something I can attest to having sat in front of one particularly vocal ankle-biter on a recent flight.
Apple claims to have improved active noise cancellation by a factor of two, and that’s a claim I wouldn’t argue with at all. I tested them back-to-back against a pair of Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro 2 and Technics EAH-AZ60 and the AirPods Pro 2 were effortlessly better than both at attenuating external noise across the whole frequency spectrum.
Apple’s noise cancelling and transparency intelligence goes beyond plain noise reduction, however. They’re also great for use on video and conference calls. Not only does the aforementioned equalisation vent reduce the amount your voice is amplified, but Apple feeds some of your voice back into the mix so you can hear yourself while speaking – at just the right level of volume.
AirPods Pro 2 review: Sound and microphone quality
I’d probably recommend the AirPods Pro 2 based solely on their comfort level, ANC and adaptive transparency, but Apple has also nailed sound and microphone quality.
To be clear, sound quality can’t match the very best audiophile earbuds. Those Technics EAH-AZ60, for instance, deliver a tighter, more detailed and muscular performance than the AirPods Pro 2. But that’s not to say the Apple earbuds are bad. Far from it.
For music, the AirPods Pro 2 are best listened to in Spatial Audio mode but without head tracking enabled. With head tracking on, I found the sound profile would change as I nodded along to the music, which was more than a little distracting. Even with head tracking disabled, however, I found the sound was occasionally a little harsh in the upper registers and not quite warm enough in the mid- and sub-bass regions.
Play Depeche Mode’s classic 1980s anthem, “Personal Jesus”, and Dave Gahan’s vocals lack the fullness that brings the song to life on other headphones, while heavier, denser tracks such as Rammstein’s wonderfully melodramatic “Deutschland” are delivered with just a tad too much politeness.
What the AirPods Pro 2 take with one hand, however, they give back with the other, with simpler acoustic tracks benefiting from an atmospheric and spacious soundstage, packed with crisp details.
Even tracks that haven’t been processed for Spatial Audio sound great. Nina Simone’s “Sinnerman”, for example, comes across with an astonishing sense of space and positioning, with vocals and instruments spread wide across a broad virtual soundscape.
The microphones in the AirPods Pro 2 can’t compete with a decent USB microphone for richness and detail but, again, they do the job decently enough, picking out your voice clearly and transmitting it without the distraction of background noise.
Joining an office Zoom meeting from Charles de Gaulle airport, I was able to speak without the general noise and tannoy distracting the other participants too much. And the way the noise cancelling feeds some of your voice back in while you’re speaking means the AirPods Pro 2 are far more pleasant to use than the majority of in-ear headphones.
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Apple AirPods Pro 2 review: Verdict
It’s difficult not to fall in love with the Apple AirPods Pro 2’s supremely effective noise cancellation, adaptive transparency mode, comfortable fit, pressure vent system, volume controls and AirTag-style tracking.
They may not boast the very best sound quality around but they’re pretty darned good, and the versatility and effectiveness of the rest of the package lifts them above their rivals. If you own an iPhone and you need a good pair of headphones for calls, exercise and travelling, the AirPods Pro 2 should be at the very top of your shopping list. In fact, scratch that: if you can afford to, go out and buy a pair right now. They’re absolutely brilliant headphones.