- AirPods Pro 2 improves everything, from the case to the sound.
- Any Bluetooth 5.3 features will only work with iPhone 14.
- It will be almost impossible to lose them.
The AirPods Pro 2 might look just like the originals, but under the skin, everything has changed.
The headline features are better sound, better noise canceling, better battery life, and so on, but there are also a bunch of smaller improvements that will probably make a bigger difference, in the end. And the biggest update doesn't even look like much of an update at all until you understand what it means.
"I hate to say the word 'perfect,' but at least on paper, these look damn close for what they are," AirPods Pro fan Macduke says in a MacRumors forum thread. "Right now, I can't think of much of a reason to ever upgrade from the AirPods Pro 2 unless I break them, lose them, or the battery craps out."
First, let's talk about audio; there are two parts to the AirPods Pro audio setup. One is the music, podcasts, or movie audio you're actually listening to, which has been improved, says Apple, with a new driver design. The driver is what the rest of us call the speaker, the little disk that moves the air, and it should now deliver better bass and less overall distortion.
The other part is noise-cancelation, which removes background sounds so you can better hear your music. And this seems to have gotten a serious upgrade in the new AirPods Pro. Apple says the noise cancellation is "2x" better, which is a pretty meaningless number. Two times what?
I hate to say the word ‘perfect,’ but at least on paper, these look damn close for what they are.
Active noise-canceling works by listening to the surrounding sound, inverting it, and playing the reversed version into your ears. The sound waves cancel each other out, and you get reduced noise. The new H2 chip powering the AirPods Pro samples that external audio 48,000 times per second (the same sample rate as a CD). In transparency mode, this is fast enough to silence sirens and reduce other background sounds, while smart processing still lets voices through. Transparency mode is one of the best features of the original AirPods Pro, so this is great news.
Also related to audio is the new touch controller on the AirPods' stem; you can swipe up and down to adjust the volume. That's way better than using Siri and a nice addition to using the iPhone's volume controls or the digital crown on your Apple Watch.
A Lost Case
The other obvious improvement is the charging case. It adds a lanyard loop, a speaker so you can make it beep while you locate it using the Find My app, and it can now charge from an Apple Watch charger in addition to all the previous wired and "wireless" options. You also get longer battery life.
That lanyard option is neat, but unless the magnet that holds the case shut is a lot stronger, there's no way I'm hanging that thing from a backpack.
This is the big feature that makes all kinds of great things possible. Bluetooth 5.3 is the latest spec and is also available in the iPhone 14. Apple hasn't yet made public which of the new capabilities it uses, but it's easy to read between the lines.
Bluetooth 5.3 brings Bluetooth LE Audio, which allows audio to be sent over a Low Energy connection, like with keyboards, mice, MIDI, and so on. This means lower battery drain and better audio quality.
BT LE audio also allows simultaneous connections between devices. One use for this is to broadcast to many pairs of headphones. Another is for one pair of headphones to remain connected to several devices, which means Apple's somewhat flaky auto-connect will finally work as expected. Your iPad, iPhone, and Mac could all be connected to your AirPods Pro all the time, so pressing play on any device would play immediately.
"The low power consumption ensures that battery life remains strong while delivering premium sound and leaves room for the addition of advanced features like hearing personalization and spatial awareness cues to operate simultaneously," Raj Senguttuvan, VP of marketing at the Knowles Corporation, an audio technology company, told Lifewire via email.
Unfortunately, the only iDevice currently supporting Bluetooth 5.3 is the iPhone 14. Previous iPhones, including the 13, topped out at Bluetooth 5.0. We might expect the next iPad Pro to include it, though, now that Apple has a reason to do so.
Finally, one "new" feature is also available on your existing AirPods Pro. iOS 16 lets you use the depth-sensing Face ID camera to make a 3D scan of your ears and uses that data to tailor Spatial Audio to fit your ears. It's remarkably good on the original Pros. This scan also informs the Adaptive EQ to better adjust regular audio.
If you're already a fan of the AirPods Pro, then you're obviously going to L-O-V-E the new ones. But are they worth an instant replacement? Unless you also have an iPhone 14 with Bluetooth 5.3 to pair with it, then perhaps not.