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Hands-On with the Second-Generation AirPods Pro

At a glance, there doesn’t appear to be much going on with the AirPods Pro (2nd generation). The physical design hasn’t changed dramatically, but nearly every other aspect of the earbuds has been improved in some way. The result is the best version of the AirPods Pro yet.

The first clue that there’s something different about the latest AirPods Pro is the case. The bottom has one hole to the left and three holes to the right of the Lightning port, which houses a speaker that serves a couple of purposes. The first is that when you place the AirPods Pro on a Qi charger or plug in a Lightning cable, a chime sounds, letting you know the case is charging, which is especially helpful if you’ve got a Qi charger that is finicky about where you place the case for charging to work.

The AirPods Pro can be charged with an Apple Watch charger.

The AirPods Pro can be charged with an Apple Watch charger.

There are more ways to charge AirPods Pro now too. In addition to charging via a Lightning cable or Qi charger, you can charge your new AirPods Pro with an Apple Watch charging puck, something that should have been possible with the original AirPods Pro but is an excellent addition because more ways to charge mean greater flexibility for topping off devices.

The speaker on the bottom of the AirPods Pro make it easy to locate using Find My.

The speaker on the bottom of the AirPods Pro make it easy to locate using Find My.

The AirPods Pro’s speaker is also used to locate them if they’re misplaced. Like the previous model of AirPods Pro, the 2nd generation model can play a gradually louder sound through the earbuds to help you locate them using the Find My app. With the addition of the speaker in the AirPods Pro case, it can play a sound, too, allowing it to be located independently of the earbuds. The new AirPods Pro case also supports the same technology as AirTags for pinpointing their location.

I haven’t misplaced my new AirPods Pro yet, so my testing of Find My was a little contrived. However, I’ve found the sound the case makes to be the best way to find my AirPods. The Find My feature wasn’t able to pick up a signal from my AirPods until I was nearly in the same room as them, but the chirping of the case was loud enough to be heard from a couple of rooms away. That might not be the case if your AirPods slip between the cushions of a couch where the sound is muffled, but in many other circumstances, I expect playing a sound from the case will be the best way to find your AirPods Pro. The speaker will also alert you when the case’s battery is low.

The case now has a lanyard connection point.

The case now has a lanyard connection point.

The other new feature on the 2nd gen AirPods Pro case is a connection point for a lanyard. Apple isn’t selling its own lanyard and, instead, is offering a $13 lanyard from Incase. I’d suggest going to Amazon instead because you can find many more options simply by searching for ‘wrist lanyard.’ I picked up a six-pack of colorful lanyards for $10 to give the new feature a try, and although I don’t think I’ll keep a lanyard on my AirPods Pro most of the time, I will probably do so when traveling so I can easily clip the case inside a pocket of my backpack.

The AirPods Pro earbuds have been upgraded too. The improvement I’ve appreciated the most is the improved sound quality. The earbuds include Apple’s new H2 chip, along with a redesigned amplifier and driver. The result is better sound. To my ear, the base is fuller, and the definition of instruments and vocals is crisper, although, like most audio, the improvements quickly become the ‘new normal’ and are less noticeable over time unless you switch back to the older AirPods Pro for a while.

Apple says that the active noise cancellation of the new AirPods Pro are up to two times better than the last generation. It’s not clear how Apple is measuring improvements to noise cancellation, but the difference was immediately noticeable to me.

The 2nd generation AirPods Pro have a new Transparency Mode feature that reduces the volume of loud noises like sirens when they’re detected. I haven’t used my AirPods Pro enough in loud environments to test this yet, but I live close enough to fire and police stations that I’ll undoubtedly have the chance soon.

Another factor at play in the sound quality with the AirPods Pro (2nd generation) may be the slightly different mesh used in the tips. According to an Apple support page:

Ear tips have been designed specifically for their AirPods Pro generation, to deliver the highest-fidelity audio experience. As a result, use the ear tips that come with your AirPods Pro. AirPods Pro (1st generation) ear tips have noticeably denser mesh than AirPods Pro (2nd generation) ear tips.

Chris Welch at The Verge made side-by-side comparisons and concluded that the difference was subtle but noticeable.

The AirPods Pro tips come with an extra-small option now.

The AirPods Pro tips come with an extra-small option now.

The AirPods Pro ear tips come in a new size too. The first generation model shipped with small, medium, and large tips in the box. Now, Apple also ships extra-small ear tips with the AirPods Pro, which should make them more comfortable for a greater range of users.

Apart from the sound improvements, the other big addition to the AirPods Pro (2nd generation) is the ability to adjust the volume by running your index finger over the earbuds’ stems. I found that this feature took a little getting used to. For the volume adjustment to work reliably, you need to lightly grip the stem with your thumb and index finger and then run your index finger up and down the flat surface of the stem. When your finger reaches the top or bottom of that flat strip, the volume is adjusted. There are a total of 16 volume increments from 0% to 100% that play a subtle tap-like tone to let you know you’ve changed the volume. If you want to adjust the volume in smaller increments, you’ll have to use the volume slider on the device to which you’re connected.

Finally, Apple says that the new model of AirPods Pro get around six hours of additional battery life. I haven’t had the new AirPods Pro long enough to test this, but any increase is welcome, especially because as AirPods Pro age, their battery life takes a noticeable hit. Starting at a higher maximum capacity should help prolong the earbuds’ lives.

The AirPods Pro were already a great product, so it’s not surprising that the second generation version iterated on that winning formula instead of redesigning it entirely. None of the changes are earth-shattering by themselves, but together, the combination of quality-of-life improvements, better sound, volume touch controls, and longer-lasting battery, add up to meaningful changes for anyone who uses AirPods Pro nearly every day as I do.

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