The AirPods Pro are, in their very small size, the example of what is expected from an Apple product. They pack a lot of technology, but are simple to use. They are essential in design, reliable and well recognizable. So, if the AirPods are the most popular headphones in the world, the Pros are in second place, and designing a new generation, three years after the first, is a very difficult task.
Apple has decided to focus on continuity, and in fact the external appearance of the earphones is practically identical, only the openings for the sensors have a slightly different shape. The sensors that detect whether the earbuds are in the ear have changed: while the first-generation AirPods Pro were equipped with infrared optical sensors, the new ones adopt skin-sensing sensors, like the third-generation AirPods.
The case changes, albeit slightly: there is a hook for a lace and you can see some holes that look like those of a loudspeaker. And there is really a speaker in the case: it is used to find it when it gets lost, using the Where is app as usual, from which you can send a sound signal, as well as locate it as if it were an AirTag. The new case is resistant to sweat and water (IPX4) and can be personalized with text and emojis (and even memoji, Apple’s personalized emojis) to recognize it immediately. It can be recharged with the usual Lightining connector, with the MagSafe for iPhone, and – new – also with the Apple Watch wireless charger.
In the stem there are the controls: a quick pressure starts or pauses the music (or answers an incoming call), a double pressure allows you to go to the next song, with a triple pressure you go back; a long press switches between the noise canceling modes. The novelty is that now it is enough to touch the bar with the finger, from the flat side, to adjust the volume, while previously it was necessary to use Siri, the volume keys of the iPhone or the digital crown of the Apple Watch. The volume can be adjusted using any of the earphones, but you have to practice with it: it works with iPhone, but also with iPad, Watch and Mac.
This alone would be a small but big step forward in terms of usability. But there’s more: the second-generation AirPods Pro sound better than the previous model. Thanks to larger transducers, capable of reproducing low notes with greater extension, new signal amplification circuits and the H2 chip that processes the data and transforms them into sound. Of course, Bluetooth 5.3 also plays a role, with which it is possible to transfer a 16-bit and 48 Khz audio stream, more than a normal cd. Purists may object that this is not a lossless transmission, that is, without loss of quality, but considering the prevalent use of Airpods – on the move – it would still be very difficult to grasp the difference.
The H2 chip also controls noise cancellation and transparency mode. The former has been upgraded, and is now twice as efficient, according to Apple. We are not able to confirm the numerical data, but an experiment can be done. It takes a fraction of a second for the H2 chip to identify the frequencies to be eliminated and process the equal and opposite signal to cancel them: when the process is active the effect is evident, especially at the ends of the audio band. All the more surprising because the AirPods Pro don’t mechanically seal the ear, so they can’t count on passive noise reduction.
But this means that they are more comfortable than those earphones that instead fit into the auricle, even if then you have to deal with the feeling that they are always close to falling. However, it almost never happens, and in addition the silicone plugs included in the package are now in four different sizes, to better adapt to each ear.
The idea of Apple, it seems to understand, is that the AirPods Pro can be worn all day: therefore they are more comfortable, they have a battery that lasts longer (six hours per charge, compared to the five hours of the AirPods Pro 1) , and an improved transparency mode that cancels specific noises (pneumatic hammers, cars, sirens, etc.) bringing the voice of the interlocutors to the fore. As if to say, it does not serve to isolate oneself from the outside world, but just the opposite: to better understand what is happening near us, or to listen to those who speak to us on a construction site. It works very well, as long as you remember to activate it in the control panel. Which is now a separate item in the Settings menu, where it is possible to control numerous parameters of the Apple headphones, from the functions that can be activated with a touch on the earphone rod to the use of the microphone, from the battery charge to the adhesion test to verify that the size of earphones chosen is the one that best suits our ear.
Custom spatial audio can also be configured in the control panel: a bit like on certain Sony models, where you take a picture of the ear, here you have to scan with the iPhone’s camera. The procedure is similar to that for registering a face on face ID, and is used to create a personal sound profile that will remain safe, private and will work throughout the Apple ecosystem, whether you use third generation AirPods, AirPods Pro (first and second generation) and AirPods Max. Once setup is complete, the music, voices, and directional sound elements of video content are effectively clearer and more precisely positioned in the surrounding space. The effect is also evident when using YouTube on Safari with a Mac: even if you move your head, the sound will continue to come from a precise point in front of us. Spatial Audio is different with music: today it works practically only with Apple Music, on Spotify or other streaming platforms, listening is in stereo.
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How they sound
Let’s start with Björk, Atopos: the first single of the next album Diggers. With the volume at maximum, meanwhile, there is no trace of distortion, and this is already an excellent result, considering the sound level reached by the small Apple headphones. The rhythmic base is important in this song and the Airpods bring it out very well, but do not neglect important details, such as the echo on the voice of the Icelandic singer, the intertwining of wind instruments, the choirs, the many sounds and noises that crowd the arrangement of the song. If there is one thing to note, it is that the extremes of the band seem a bit sacrificed, as if the sound message were concentrated in the mid frequencies. But it could be a precise choice of Björk during the recording phase
Why instead There Were Bellsby Brian Eno, also here from the next album Foreverandevernomore, it is transparent, ethereal, even if it does not give up on darker tones. The English master’s voice is heavily treated, but the words remain intelligible and the nuances of sound are present in every detail. The AirPods do justice to the song’s slow crescendo, retaining enough power for a low synthesizer note and creepy percussion at the end.
The piano’s space is very well rendered We hug by Vasco Brondi, the voice is perfectly natural even if a little cleared.
Blume by Pantha du Prince is delightful: the sounds are abrasive as they should be, the bass impressive, the percussion perfectly defined. The voices, deliberately in the background, are mostly sounds, but the integration with the other instruments is excellent.
Impressive Underwater by Sun’s Signature. Elizabeth Fraser’s unearthly voice that stands out on an electronic carpet of outdated noises and instruments is rendered with a great sense of rhythm, perfect articulation of the sound planes, and above all with an unprecedented dynamics for in-ear headphones.
But the AirPods Pro 2 get along great with all genres of music: from the dance of The Weeknd (Blinding Lights) to Metallica (Nothing Else Matters), dal rap (Kendrick Lamar, Mother I Sober) al soul (Sarah Vaughan, My Favourite Things). Excellent results also with the classical, both for chamber and for large orchestra.
In calls, it seems to us that sensitivity to external noises, such as wind, has decreased and the quality of the voice has improved for those on the other side of the phone. Good, as always, the range of action of the Bluettoth, which reaches about ten meters, even at home and with thick walls. The AirPods Pro can be connected to two devices at the same time, and automatically switch to the active one, for example the iPhone if a phone call arrives.
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We like it
- Battery life (6 hours per charge, and up to 30 hours using the case)
- Noise cancellation
We do not like it
- The coolest features are only available with Apple products
- They exist only in color: white
- The audio is not in Lossless format
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Six years ago, AirPods opened a niche that didn’t exist before, that of true wireless headphones. In 2019, the AirPods Pro opened another, that of the true wireless noise canceling headphones. In the meantime, the market has become crowded with competitors and even excellent products (think of Sony and Bowers and Wilkins, but not only). Apple has responded on two fronts: by improving usability and introducing new features (such as adaptive transparency), but it has also made a great effort to make the sound more natural and faithful. So the second generation of AirPods Pro does not really present revolutionary innovations compared to the first, but the improvements and adjustments introduced are enough to ensure that they remain on the podium of the best in-ear noise canceling headphones. For those who have Apple devices, of course: many of their most interesting features, in fact, are not available on Android or Windows, where the little jewels of the Apple are simple bluetooth headsets.
The AirPods Pro 2 will go on sale from 23 September; the price in the USA is the same as the previous model, while in Italy it goes from 279 to 299 euros.
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