The smallest of upgrades but the USB-C AirPods Pro 2 are still the best earbuds for iPhone owners
- Fantastic noise cancellation
- USB-C adds convenience
- Slightly improved audio quality
- Protruding stems are awkward
- Conversation awareness isn’t great
I’m a huge fan of the Apple AirPods Pro 2. I’ve been using them as my daily driver ever since they were released, so when Apple revealed the USB-C version I was pretty excited.
There’s no revolutionary update here, and the buds are the same price as before, but the addition of USB-C for increased convenience and a small handful of useful improvements mean they’re still the best all-round earbuds available for iPhone owners.
Apple AirPods Pro 2 USB-C review: What do you get for the money?
The AirPods Pro 2 USB-C are, like their predecessors, pretty unassuming for the £229 asking price. They come housed in a smooth, pebble-shaped, glossy white charging case that can be recharged wirelessly or via USB-C. As with the previous model, they can deliver audio with noise cancelling enabled for up to 6hrs before needing to be popped back in the case for a top-up.
The case will give you a further four charges for 30 hours of total listening time and, if you’re in a rush, five minutes in the case provides up to an hour of extra audio playback once the buds have run out of juice.
The move from Lightning to USB-C is a godsend, especially if you’ve just bought an iPhone 15, but it isn’t the only new feature. The AirPods Pro 2 USB-C (and case) also come with improved dust resistance and support for 20-bit/48kHz lossless audio when partnered with Apple’s upcoming Vision Pro headset.
Oddly, iPhone and iPad owners still can’t listen losslessly with these new AirPods Pro but Apple has slightly improved audio quality, which I’ll go into in more detail below.
There are a few new quality-of-life features, too, but these aren’t exclusive to the new AirPods 2 Pro USB-C, despite the introduction of the new H2 wireless chipset – owners of the older Lightning AirPods Pro 2 also benefit from these when updating to iOS 17. The first is the addition of adaptive noise cancelling, which makes use of the AirPods Pro 2 USB-C’s external microphones to monitor ambient noise and adjust the level of noise cancelling accordingly.
The second is “Conversation awareness”, which detects when you’re speaking to someone and momentarily mutes what you’re listening to, while at the same time patching audio through from the external microphones. And you can now mute and unmute the microphone on video calls by squeezing the stem of either bud; a useful feature for anyone who finds themselves in a lot of virtual meetings.
READ NEXT: The best headphones to buy right now
Apple AirPods Pro 2 USB-C review: What do they do well?
The noise cancelling on the AirPods Pro 2 USB-C is as good as ever. On a noisy aeroplane flight or London Tube train, they kill the worst ambient noise stone dead, and it’s not just the low rumbling of aeroplane engines they’re good at cutting down on.
They’re also pretty good at cutting out nearby conversations and other high-pitched noises. On a recent flight with a wailing child sitting in the row behind me, for instance, I was impressed with how effectively the AirPods Pro 2 eliminated the irritating sounds – they’re simply superb.
In these circumstances, you’ll want noise cancellation on full, but if you want to be able to hear a little of what’s going on around you, the new adaptive mode comes in handy. This doesn’t mute audio or pause it but it does cancel out some ambient noise without completely killing it, meaning if someone calls your name from across the office, you might be able to hear them.
As ever, integration with other Apple products is great. The presence of the H2 chip with its ultrawideband capability means you only need to bring the AirPods Pro 2 near your iPhone or iPad to pair them. And, even better, if you can’t remember where you put your headphones down, you can use Nearby Find to locate them to within a few centimetres.
I cannot begin to express how useful this feature is; it’s a huge time saver when you’re rushing around the house on your way to the office and can’t remember which jacket pocket you left your AirPods in. This feature must have saved me hours of frustration since it was introduced in the Lightning version of the AirPods Pro 2.
I’m also a big fan of how the touch controls work. They’re the same as on the Lightning AirPods Pro 2, but that doesn’t diminish how useful they are. You can pause and play with a quick squeeze of the stem, skip tracks with a double- or triple-tap, adjust the volume by sliding a fingertip up or down the front of each stem and toggle between noise cancellation modes by squeezing and holding.
READ NEXT: The best running headphones to buy
And it is good to see that the sound quality has improved, albeit by a tiny amount. I listened to the new AirPods back to back with the old ones in a blind test and found I was consistently able to identify the new ones as having a little more clarity and nuance to the audio – a small amount of extra zing, if you like – and slightly cleaner bass.
The synths at the beginning of Ed Wynne’s remaster of Ozrice Tentacles’ White Rhino Tea sounded a touch more three-dimensional, and once the intro subsided into the bass guitar lead-in, there was just a touch more separation.
Now, you’re not going to get sound quality quite as good as, say, the Bowers & Wilkins Pi7 S2, but I would say all but the most demanding of audiophiles and bassheads are going to be perfectly happy with the way these sound.
Apple AirPods Pro 2 USB-C review: What could they do better?
There isn’t anything particular these new buds do badly, but I must say that I’m not totally convinced about the conversation detection feature Apple has introduced with iOS 17. I’ve been using the new earphones for over a month at the time of writing and after a couple of weeks of having the feature enabled, I had to turn it off.
Word to the wise: if, like me, you ever mutter anything to yourself quietly as you walk down the street or involuntarily sing along to your favourite songs, this feature will be a constant frustration, muting tunes, podcasts and radio with annoying frequency.
Having said that, there isn’t much else to complain about here and I only found them lacking when I was hankering after a bit of thumping bass to accompany me on my daily tasks. And, there’s no way to remedy this with EQ adjustments, unfortunately. It’s Apple’s way or the highway.
However, the AirPods Pro 2 are perfect for podcasts, audiobooks and radio, too, delivering voices with just the right balance of body and clarity, and they’re awesome for phone calls, picking up your voice with clarity even against busy background noise.
Possibly the AirPods Pro 2’s worst characteristic, though, is their physical design. The biggest problem is that the earbuds stick out too much from the ear, and this makes them alarmingly easy to catch and flick out onto the floor. I’ve dislodged one or both several times during my time with them and only blind luck has meant I’ve been able to retrieve them safely.
The charging case could also do with a revamp. Its glossy plastic surface shows marks and scratches far too easily, something that could be solved by moving to a woven or patterned material. While I’m on the charging case, I’m not too keen on the lid hinge. It feels insubstantial and a bit loose and flappy for my liking.
Apple AirPods Pro 2 USB-C review: Should you buy them?
Despite those negatives, the AirPods Pro 2 USB-C will always have a place in my travel bag on a trip or my pocket on the way to work, if for nothing else other than their sheer convenience.
The noise cancellation is simply sublime and although the conversation awareness is hit-and-miss, the adaptive noise control feature works well. Audio quality is perfect for most types of content aside from tracks that require head-banging bass and they just work so well within the Apple ecosystem. If you’re the sort of person who is constantly misplacing your headphones at home, then these are the headphones for you.
No, they are not a huge improvement on their predecessors and, no, they are most definitely not worth spending £230 on if you already own a pair of the Lightning model. They could also do with a bit of a physical redesign, too. But are they the best earbuds an iPhone owner can buy? Yes, yes they are.