The Apple AirPods Pro 2nd Gen are the much-awaited follow-up to the original AirPods Pro, which debuted in 2019. On the outside, they look borderline identical; on the inside, they're effectively 100% new, from the speaker driver to the wireless chip to the battery.
The real star of the AirPods Pro 2's show is the Apple H2 chip, which enables a 50% increase in battery life, and powers the truly astounding active noise cancellation, which can make the average office or home environment become so silent that it's eerie. They're absolutely one of the best noise-cancelling earbuds in the world today.
But the actual quality of the music playback is also a major step up over the original AirPods Pro (2019), delivering much deeper and weightier bass, plus brighter and sharper detail in vocals and treble. It's a bigger and more dynamic sound.
The audio quality is an even bigger step up over the AirPods 3rd Gen, adding not just dramatically more extension and detail to the bass and treble, but also a huge amount more clarity to the mid-range – and you can hear it better on the street when you've got active noise cancellation, of course, which the non-Pro AirPods don't offer.
Otherwise, most of the features are the same between the AirPods Pro 2nd Gen and the AirPods 3rd Gen, including auto-switching between Apple devices, audio sharing with AirPods and Beats headphones, Spatial Audio Dolby Atmos sound, and Find My support for missing devices. However, the Find My support is massively improved here by the addition of the Apple U1 ultra-wideband chip, which means compatible iPhones (iPhone 11 and later) can literally point you towards the AirPods when they're within range.
And the new AirPods do all this while still being lighter and smaller than the vast majority of the competition, which will make them more comfortable for more people. They've also maintained their official price at a time when many competitors are increasing prices, so they look very competitive against the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II, for example.
They're not perfect – we'll get into the occasional foibles deeper in our review. Still, the most significant issues are that there's no lossless audio support despite Apple including it in Apple Music, and that all the extra features require you to have an iPhone to use with it. But they're some of the best earbuds on the market today, no question. So read on for the full review, and then if you want to snag a pair, check out our page on the best AirPods Pro 2 prices.
Apple AirPods Pro 2 review: Features
You will not be surprised to hear that the AirPods Pro 2nd Gen are designed to work with Apple tech first and foremost. Because they're just Bluetooth earbuds at heart, they absolutely work with Android phones, Windows laptops and so on, but your list of features will be limited to listening to music, playing and pausing with the on-device controls, and turning active noise cancellation on or switching to the Adaptive Transparency Mode.
When you use them with Apple devices, you get instant pairing (bring them near your iPhone and open the lid and you'll see the option to pair them with just a tap), and they'll switch automatically between any devices that use your Apple ID, so if you're listening to music on your phone and then you start playing a video on your MacBook Pros, your AirPods can just seamlessly move their connection from one to the other.
You can also choose to share audio from your Apple devices to an additional pair of AirPods or Beats headphones, so two people can watch the same movie on an iPad while travelling, say.
There's hands-free Siri support (you can say "Hey Siri" to trigger Apple's assistant and ask it for information or to perform tasks), and Siri can also read out messages to you when they come in over your AirPods. We find this to be way too intrusive, but it's only optional anyway, as is "Hey Siri" support – you choose whether you want them during the pairing process.
The active noise cancellation comes with three modes: on, off, and Adaptive Transparency. The latter is a 'listen through' mode, where the microphones mix outside sounds with your music, so you can hear what's going on around you while walking near roads, say. The adaptive side of it means that it takes action to limit the loudness of any sudden big noises (like construction) so that they're generally better for your hearing when walking in loud places – or so goes the theory. In your office, it would make it easier for people to get your attention while listening to music.
They'll be added to the Find My app on your devices, which means that if you're not sure where you left them, the app can say when your phone was last connected to them. The AirPods Pro 2nd Gen take this two big steps further, by bringing in tech from Apple's AirTags.
They include ultra-wideband (UWB) tech, which means when they're within range of your phone (which is basically in the same room, or next door), an arrow on your phone will literally point you towards them. This works really well generally – even if you're not close enough for an accurate arrow, you can still get a sense for whether you're in the right portion of the house. The main issue is that it doesn't deal with height, so you can be pointed in the right direction, but on the wrong floor. Still, the feature is perfect for days when you can't remember if you left them in your coat or bag or wherever.
The case also now includes a speaker, so you can use the app to tell the AirPods to make a fairly loud noise to help you locate them. The case also now makes a noise when you pair it and when you start charging it but can turn this off if you prefer.
Speaking of charging, the battery life here is quoted as six hours from the earbuds, and 30 hours from the charging case. This estimate fits with our usage, and it's an excellent increase over the original AirPods Pro, which managed 4.5 hours from the buds and 24 hours from the case.
The increase in the buds in particular is so welcome because we now very rarely find ourselves ever running out of juice when we want them, which wasn't the case before.
This battery life is typical for noise-cancelling earbuds from the buds themselves (it's very good for the case). It competes well with the best from Bose or Sony – but some competitors (such as the Master & Dynamic MW08) can hit 10 hours with ANC on. So the battery life overall is good, but not impressive.
Their Bluetooth connection is rapid, and is generally very stable, though we've had a few more connectivity drops in one ear with the AirPods Pro 2nd Gen in our time with them so far than we generally had with the first-gen version. Nothing that feels like an issue – and it's always solved by putting them back in the case for a second, then replacing them in our ears – but the fact remains.
Apple has included Bluetooth 5.3 support (the latest version), but sadly hasn't included support for Bluetooth LE Audio (a new codec that promises to maintain audio quality better when the connection is poor) or for any kind of lossless audio, even though they theoretically have the bandwidth for it.
We can mostly understand why Apple wouldn't go for LE Audio, since a huge part of its appeal is that it's better than the standard SBC audio codec, but Apple will generally use the superior AAC codec whenever possible anyway. But the lack of lossless audio seems a real shame when Apple Music makes both CD quality and Hi-Res Audio tracks available across the whole library, but Apple's best earbuds can't make the most of it.
However, Apple has included Spatial Audio support here again, and we'll cover that (and the quality of the noise cancellation more) in the Sound Quality section.
Apple AirPods Pro 2nd Gen review: Build and design
The exterior design of the AirPods Pro 2 is not identical to the original AirPods Pro, but the differences are almost completely academic. Exterior vents are positioned slightly differently on the earbuds, and there are now holes on the bottom of the case for the built-in speaker, but that's mostly it, apart from two more practical differences: the inclusion of a lanyard loop, and the addition of a new extra-small in-ear tip included in the box, for those with smaller ear canals.
The latter isn't for kids (or rather, it could be, but isn't exclusively) – we've given the buds and new tips to two adult women who never got on with AirPods Pro, and both found the comfort and quality of sound improved a lot from having the smaller size available.
That means you get four silicon eartips in the box (XS, S, M, L), and it now seems to cover the spectrum very well (and you can take an ear fit test in the Settings app to make sure you've got it right).
The use of an in-ear fit is the same as the previous AirPods Pro but sets them apart from the non-Pro AirPods 2nd Gen or 3rd Gen, both of which feature an outer-ear fit, where they sit over the ear canal, but don't enter it.
Some prefer that kind of fit, but it's not conducive to effective active noise cancellation, so it makes sense that Apple hasn't used it here.
The earbuds themselves still weigh just 5.3g, which is essentially the same as the previous model, and is one reason why we rate them so highly. Many earbuds with equivalent features are physically larger and weigh more – the Sony WF-1000XM4 are a whopping 7.4g each, for example, making them 40% heavier. That makes a big difference to how secure they feel as well as how comfortable they are for long periods.
Most other earbuds have larger cases too, but the design of AirPods Pro means the case is slim enough to slip into a pocket without looking ridiculous. This all matters, but too many earbuds makers seem to forget about it.
But it does mean that we've still got the design with the sticks, and some people really aren't keen on it. We don't mind it at all, not because of the practical benefit of it being comfortable to wear, but also the fact that it makes them easy to spot, so people don't try talking to you and then you both end up embarrassed that you couldn't hear. The white stick design adds an affordance, of a kind.
Having said that, we really do wish they'd offer the option of something other than white. AirPods Max get to be cool colours – why can't AirPods Pro have that too?
The sticks also have another advantage, though: they offer some of the best on-device controls of any earbuds. You squeeze the sticks to play/pause, or hold them to switch between active noise cancellation or Adaptive Transparency mode. (You can customize what these do in the Settings app, though, including different controls on different buds.)
This works remarkably well, even if you have gloves on. We much prefer it any options based on touch controls – they're harder to trigger accidentally, for a start.
Apple has added a new control this time, though: volume control. You can now swipe up or down the sticks to change the volume. This works well overall, but it isn't as foolproof as the other controls: it can be triggered accidentally when playing/pausing, or when adjusting the fit. It also doesn't work with gloves. So while it's a nice addition, it's not a game-changer for me.
Beyond that, the overall strong build quality is here. They're plastic, but they feel like dense, high-quality plastic. There's no creaking, no flex, and no poorly finished joins. They're a premium device, no question.
Their waterproofing is IPX4, so they should be able to withstand sweat when working out, but try not to drop them in a pool or put them through the washing machine.
Apple AirPods Pro review: Price
The official price of AirPods Pro 2 is £249/$249/AU$399, which is exactly the same as the official price of their predecessors. This is actually interesting at a time of inflation when most new headphones releases are receiving price increases compared to previous models – that's the case for the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds 2, for example, which launched at a higher price of £279/$299 on the exact same day as AirPods Pro 2nd Gen. The Sony WH-1000XM5 launched at £30/$50 more than the version it replaced, as another example.
So in that context, the price of the AirPods Pro 2nd Gen looks pretty aggressive. They're actually among the cheapest of the premium earbuds at official prices – though in practice, lots of people will buy during sales events, so you may be able to find that AirPods' price gets undercut a little by rivals.
There are lots of officially cheaper (much cheaper, in many cases) earbuds that feature many of the same features, including active noise cancellation, but their sound quality and noise-stopping power is not remotely close to what you're getting here.
The only other thing worth mentioning is that the original AirPods Pro were available from most retailers for more like £190/$200, so if it feels like the new model is more expensive, that's why. Why we're already seeing discounts of around £20/$20 on the latest model even shortly after their launch, so keep your eyes peeled.
Apple AirPods Pro 2nd Gen review: Sound quality
We've already spoiled most of this, but the AirPods Pro 2 sound great. They're a major step up compared to their predecessors, but compared to anything else on the market they're near the top of the tree for sound quality.
The sheer range of what they're capable of is what's immediately apparent. Low-end notes land with as much weight as the song wants to give them – hard bass lines hit deep and sink into your head, but more subtle the low-end resonance of an acoustic instrument offers convincing reality without feeling overblown. Even weeks in, we're sometimes still surprised by songs that start with no bass and then drop it in – it always comes in deeper than you remember it can manage.
This doesn't come at the expense of the mid-range, which maintains the open-ness and airiness you want for great vocals and instrumentation, while still dipping down to link neatly with the bass as needed.
And the treble sits above it all, sparking out with crispness and detail, but never feeling disconnected from the rest or overly bright.
The detail across the board is excellent, revealing as much information as a song can offer over the AAC connection. Nothing is left out – notes that should roll on slowly do, rather than fading into the mix; those that stop suddenly feel natural rather than like they'll fall off a digital crisp.
It makes us wonder what they'd be capable of if the extra little details and human imperfections that are present in Apple Music's higher-quality audio tiers were available to them.
Still, the music also gets here without feeling coloured on its way by how punchy it can be in the bass or treble – Apple usually aims for a reasonably neutral presentation, and that's what you get here in general. Apple says it has an 'Adaptive EQ' that responds to your music to better balance the sound, though it's unclear exactly what the overall effect is.
As usual with AirPods, though, there's no manual EQ for the AirPods, so while you can edit the EQ of an individual app, you can't adjust the presentation of the AirPods' overall sound.
With music, there's basically nothing to complain about, but we do find the sound to be a little more forward and aggressive than the previous AirPods Pro, and the same when compared to the AirPods Max, even, which manage a similarly impactful level of bass and clear level of treble, but are a slightly easier listen over time.
It's not a big deal, and we've had no problems using the AirPods Pro a lot since we've had them, but they're just a little more fatiguing than AirPods Max or the previous version.
We think this is eased a little when you turn Noise Cancellation off – the presentation takes just half a step back – so consider that if you don't need to kill the outside world.
Of course, music isn't the only use for them, and they might be even more stunning with movies. For a start, this is where Spatial Audio and Dolby Atmos is at its best. It's nice with music (helping to give the instruments more space and a feeling that the sound is coming from around you, not piped right in the ear) – but it's astounding with movies. It feels like you're in a cinema surrounded by speakers – you move your head, and the sound stays oriented to the iPhone, iPad or Apple TV in front of you.
It makes the most of object-based sound, steering effects in 3D to exactly the right spot, including a great feeling of height.
But the mix is also clearer than most people's home TV speakers, while still feeling hugely powerful. It means that fights and explosions land with punch, but dialogue is always incredibly clear – clearer than your TV, we'll wager.
And adding to all this is the quality of the active noise cancellation. Its ability to suck any low or droning ambient noise from a room is near-total. It's so effective that it actually takes some getting used to because the brain is not used to that kind of noise-sucking power.
An office AC is completely gone. A microwave will be truly silenced right in front of you. Speech will register barely, but you may not notice it at all over your music.
Traffic on a road will make it through, but you'll always be able to hear what you're listening to over it without having to crank up the volume, so they're good for your hearing in that sense.
The only sometimes odd thing is that they're more effective at lower registers than higher (as is normal for noise cancellation), so sometimes outside sounds can surprise you. Walking near a waterfall made it sound like a hiss, which made us need to take the earbuds out to check what was happening. It was so good at disguising the lower registers of the water falling, that we didn't recognise what the higher register sound that could leak in actually was. We had the same thing with people walking nearby with suitcases on rough pavement – it sounded bizarre because it was the clack of the wheel without any of the weight of an object being dragged.
We do wish that you could adjust the level of noise cancellation. It's not always necessary to have noise blocking that's this effective, and sometimes you'd prefer to be able to hear someone yelling at you without having Transparency mode on. Competitors such as Sony and Bose offer different NC modes for different needs, so it would be nice to have.
The new Adaptive Transparency mode is a big improvement over the Transparency mode in the previous model. It's not so much about it clamping down on the volume of loud sounds that it's letting in (they'll still drown out most of what you're listening to, even if your hearing is being protected), but it feels like a better mix of the outside sound and the music overall. The original AirPods Pro were too transparent – these are a good balance.
Should you buy the Apple AirPods Pro 2?
The conclusion here won't be much of a surprise: the AirPods Pro 2nd Gen are generally the best earbuds Apple users can get. They sound excellent, the noise cancellation is astounding, and Apple devices unlock all of their useful extra features.
On Android, they're still a very good purchase overall, especially for their noise-stopping power, and doubly so for those with smaller ears. But that's not a concern, you may want to pay the extra for the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II, which are the only competition for sheer noise-cancelling power, but have more control and features on Android.
If you have the original AirPods Pro, the new version is good enough to strongly consider an upgrade, thanks to their improvements in so many areas.
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