It is difficult to understand that there is something new in the new AirPods Pro. Apple certainly doesn’t help when it continues to define them as “second generation”, because then one is led to think that the only change compared to the model currently in both the case and the case, finally equipped with a USB-C port for charging. To further confuse the situation comes a firmware update that brings many new features to previous models as well.
The packaging: the only difference with the previous model is the USB-C writing
Similarities and divergences
The box of the AirPods Pro 2023 is identical to that of the AirPods Pro 2022, except for the USB-C writing, in brackets. Inside, the first thing you notice is the new fabric-covered cable, about eighty centimeters long. Reading the specifications, there is another new feature: the AirPods Pro and the charging case are now resistant to dust, sweat and water according to IP54 standards (the 2022 model is IPX4 certified, i.e. it lacks dust resistance). They cannot be used for swimming, but if they get wet they should continue to work without problems. Apparently, therefore, the changes would not only be in the case, but also in the earphones.
We won’t dwell on listening, given that the sound is the same, generally balanced, rich in detail, precise on low frequencies; for a more in-depth analysis we refer to our test of the Lightning version. But AirPods Pro do more than just play music and podcasts.
On the left, the case of the new AirPods Pro 2 with USB-C, on the right the old model
Unlike other competitors, AirPods can be worn for hours, or even all day, without feeling discomfort, and indeed many already do. Apple has taken note of this habit and has integrated a new function via software, called Conversation Recognition, which automatically lowers the volume when we talk to someone: one more reason not to remove the earphones from your ears. Music, podcasts or other content we are listening to passes in the background, to allow us to hear the voice of our interlocutor. The volume decreases for a variable period of time: a few seconds if it is a simple exchange of words, a little more if the conversation lasts.
A similar solution, which does not lower the volume but pauses the audio, has been present for a few years on the Sony WF1000 headphones (of which a new version has just been released), direct competitors of the AirPods Pro in terms of price, features and performance. On the Apple earphones, in the few days of our test, Conversation Recognition was activated when it was actually expected, that is, only if we were the ones speaking, and not if the microphones captured voices or noises around us. According to the company, the function takes into account people who have the habit of talking or muttering something to themselves, or maybe even just reading in a whisper; in these cases it does not come into operation.
The intelligence of sound
Conversation Detection is enabled from the AirPods Pro control panel and works with all listening modes: Noise Cancellation, Transparency and Adaptive Audio. Which is another example of how artificial intelligence (but Apple prefers to talk about machine learning) can bring new and useful features even to a simple pair of headphones. An algorithm analyzes the environment in real time and chooses which sounds to cancel and which to play: it compensates, for example, for traffic noise, but retains horns and bells; at home it muffles the blender but allows you to clearly hear the cry of a newborn. Ultimately, the Adaptive Audio effect is a cross between noise cancellation and transparency mode.
Another new feature is the Personalized Volume, which changes depending on the time of day and the noise of the external environment. Here too, Apple uses machine learning to precisely set the optimal listening level depending on the habits of those who use the AirPods: these are small variations compared to the volume set manually, so you won’t find AC/DC at full volume if we didn’t decide it. This new feature is particularly useful in situations where you have your hands full because it allows you not to worry about adjusting the volume on the iPhone or on the earphones themselves. From an audio point of view, the music does not undergo any compression, and it is always possible to hear the differences in volume between various songs and various parts of the same song.
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Even on older models
All these new features also arrive with a software update on the AirPods Pro 2 already in circulation, as well as on the AirPods Max. They can be activated and adjusted in the appropriate panel from Settings, which can also be accessed by long-pressing the volume bar in the control center of iOS 17. Custom spatial audio can also be configured: you need to scan with the iPhone camera, a bit like you do to register a face on Face ID, and a personal sound profile is created that will remain safe, private and will work across the entire Apple ecosystem, whether you use 3rd generation AirPods, AirPods Pro (1st and 2nd generation), and AirPods Max. Once set up is complete, music, voices, and directional sound elements of video content are actually more clear and positioned more precisely 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 you. Spatial Audio with music, however, is different: today it practically only works with Apple Music and Amazon, on Spotify or other streaming platforms listening is in stereo.
The supplied USB-C cable is of excellent quality, covered in fabric
AirPods Pro can connect to two devices at the same time, and automatically switch to the active one, such as the iPhone, if a call comes in. With Automatic switching, just press Play on an Apple device and the sound will automatically play through the connected AirPods. This is also a software feature, available on all Apple wireless headphones and earphones; All devices must be updated to the latest operating system version and registered with the same Apple ID.
The new AirPods Pro have an autonomy of about six hours and are recharged through the case, using a MagSafe charger for iPhone, or any wireless charger with Qi standard, or via cable. You can connect the case to an iPhone or iPad, but also to all Android smartphones and tablets. And, considering that USB is a universal standard, the USB-C port of a computer or any brand of power supply will also work.
Thanks to the H2 chip of Vision Pro and AirPods Pro 2, an improved acoustic architecture, and a new wireless audio protocol, it is now possible to play lossless audio at 20 bit and 48 kHz (therefore better than a compact disc) with minimal latency: ideal to complete the experience of Apple’s augmented reality headset, which should arrive next year. But, if you think about it, the AirPods Pro already create a kind of augmented reality: with the software updates of the latest version, in fact, external sounds are converted into digital and reworked, modifying them according to needs. So less noise, or voices in the foreground, or certain sounds more prominent than others, or even a combination of different settings. Not to mention the wonders of spatial audio, which over time seems less and less like a bizarre curiosity and more and more like a way to add realism to music, audio content and conversations.
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We like it
USB-C Sound Conversation Recognition
We do not like it
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There wasn’t much to improve on the AirPods Pro, which are already the standard of the True Wireless market, and yet Apple managed it. In software, adding functions that exploit machine learning in a useful and original way, and continuing on the path of computational audio which in a few years will lead to a radically new way of listening to music and other content. The hardware change, which for common users consists only of the USB-C port on the case, was inevitable, given the new EU rules, but it was also the minimum that common sense required when the iPhone 15 abandoned the Lightning connector. Other times it hasn’t happened, of course, and for this there is reason to rejoice. Just as there is to be happy about the price, which for once drops compared to the previous model: the new AirPods Pro with USB-C cost 279 euros instead of 299 euros.
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