The AirPods Pro 2 remain as they are, without any major changes. Apple briefly mentioned them during the recent iPhone 15 event, but it was easy to miss.
This limited stage time likely reflects the modest upgrades they offer, primarily a switch to a USB-C charging case and some improvements in listening modes.
There’s also a key detail Apple hasn’t fully disclosed yet, related to a piece of hardware slated for an early next-year release.
The Vision Pro, like the AirPods, didn’t get much attention during the event. I expected more information but it seems Apple is saving that for a later reveal. Interestingly, the new AirPods Pro indirectly confirms something we’ve suspected for a while: Spatial audio was paving the way for spatial computing. This confirmation comes in the form of the H2 chip.
This chip, besides being in the AirPods Pro, also finds a home in the Vision Pro, a detail Apple hadn’t shared until now.
Essentially, this means the headset is tailored for Apple’s headphones. When paired, you can expect 20-bit, 48kHz lossless audio with ultra-low latency. This pairing promises an enhanced experience, creating a sense of location through spatial audio. However, we’ll have to wait until closer to the Vision Pro’s launch for the full experience.
To fully embrace the Vision Pro experience, you may need to invest in a separate pair of AirPods. If you’re already spending $3,500, another $249 might not be a deal-breaker.
For now, let’s focus on the AirPods’ updates. Hardware-wise, the introduction of USB-C is the standout feature. With this change, Apple eliminated one of the last remaining devices in its lineup that used the Lightning port.
Some products still feature the Lightning port, including the Magic Keyboard, Mouse, and TrackPad, lower-end AirPods, and AirPods Max. However, these will gradually disappear over time, as Apple has until 2024 to complete the transition.
USB-C is a welcome standard, but there’s a minor inconvenience of having to replace all those old Lightning cables.
At present, Apple isn’t selling the USB-C case separately. If you want the new port, you’ll need to commit to the $249 package. While they might offer it separately in the future, Apple hasn’t hinted at any such plans yet.
In terms of hardware, not much has changed. Interestingly, the original AirPods Pro 2 still works with the old case, which is convenient.
A complete overhaul would have been great, but it’s worth noting that the original AirPods Pro arrived just about a year ago, and Apple’s headphone refresh cycles tend to be longer than those for iPhones. In fact, it’s been nearly three years since the first and, as of now, only AirPod Max was released.
When it comes to sound quality, the AirPods Pro remains top-tier. They deliver a rich listening experience for both music and podcasts. For pure sound quality, Sony’s WF1000XM5 still leads the pack in my book.
However, Apple’s strength lies in its ecosystem. Features like automatic switching seamlessly transition between devices, a convenience that sets Apple apart.
On the software side, the headline news is the new modes, specifically Conversational Awareness and Adaptive Noise Control.
In iOS 17, you can access these by swiping down into Control. Once your AirPods are connected, long-press the volume slider to find options for Noise Control, Conversational Awareness, and Spatial Stereo.
For now, let’s skip Spatial Stereo, as it’s been around for a while, and focus on the other two.
Noise Control offers four settings: Off, Transparency, Adaptive, and Noise Cancellation. Adaptive aims to find a middle ground, adjusting sound levels without completely cutting you off from your surroundings.
It’s easy to spot with its rainbow-colored icon. Noise Cancellation can isolate you from the world, while Transparency might make you feel like you’re not listening to anything, especially in noisy environments. The new mode uses the built-in mic to detect ambient sounds and adapt accordingly.
As I write this in a hotel bar, my room is being cleaned, and the bar is filling up with fans of a redheaded performer at the nearby stadium.
With Adaptive Transparency on, I can hear the conversations around me, the clinking of glasses, and the bartender refilling ice. It’s not fully immersive; it’s as if my music is playing over the PA system, especially when paired with fixed Spatialized Stereo.
Of course, a bar may not be the ideal testing ground. This feature becomes more relevant when navigating a crowded city street or riding the subway, ensuring you remain aware of your surroundings.
While I’ve always favored full noise cancellation, this new setting offers a compelling balance. However, it’s important to note that the headphones don’t distinguish human voices from other ambient sounds, which is where the next feature comes in.
Conversational Awareness is a welcome addition. It relies on a mix of sensors, including built-in microphones and accelerometers that detect vibrations to determine when you’re speaking.
It doesn’t activate when you cough, yawn, or clear your throat, but when you start talking, the music automatically lowers. There’s no fixed duration for this; it’s determined by an algorithm that considers factors like the duration of your conversation.
Another intriguing feature hides in the settings menu: Personalized Volume. As the name suggests, it uses machine learning to fine-tune your listening experience based on your preferences and environmental conditions over time.
I’ve only had a few days with the new buds, so I can’t offer a definitive review of this feature’s effectiveness.
Nevertheless, it’s fascinating to see Apple use sensors and machine learning to enhance the standard earbud experience. Apple envisions a future where you never need to remove your headphones.
However, there’s still a question of etiquette, especially when interacting with others, like cashiers at checkout counters. I find myself pulling one or both earbuds out when I speak to someone.
While Conversational Awareness lets you hear them, it doesn’t indicate to them that you’re listening. It’s uncertain if there’s a solution to this disconnect, but we can already observe that keeping earbuds in is becoming more acceptable, if not common.
One positive aspect is that the price of the AirPods Pro remains unchanged at $249. The main drawback currently is that if you want the new USB-C functionality, you have to purchase the entire package.
In summary, the AirPods Pro 2 offers a subtle upgrade with the introduction of USB-C and improved software features like Conversational Awareness and Adaptive Noise Control.
While the hardware remains largely unchanged, Apple’s commitment to its ecosystem and user experience continues to set these earbuds apart from the competition.