Apple AirPods Pro adds better sound, improved controls to Apple’s best headphones

Apple’s newest AirPods Pro (AAPL) are here. The second generation of Apple-exclusive headphones, the pros include enhanced active noise cancellation technology, an improved transparency mode that limits sound from noises like subways and construction equipment, and longer-lasting batteries.

The AirPods Pro will still set you back $249, the same price as their predecessors, making them much more expensive than Apple’s 3rd-gen AirPods, which start at $169 with a standard charging case.

Still, if you’re the kind of person who regularly needs to block out ambient noise, or just want headphones with great sound quality, the AirPods Pro are worth just as much as their predecessor, if you can afford them. This is what they offer:

building the beat

The most welcome addition to the 2nd generation AirPods Pro is an extra small option for your ear tips. Apple included large, medium, and small tips with the original AirPods Pro. And while that worked for most people, others, like my wife, had trouble keeping the professionals in their ears. The extra small tips mean more people will be able to take advantage of Apple’s deal without worrying about their $249 investment falling off and rolling down a storm drain.

Apple AirPods Pro get new touch controls and improved audio. (Image: apple)

As for sound quality, Apple has added a new H2 chip to improve active noise cancellation and transparency modes. The company says it provides twice the noise cancellation, and in my experience it’s certainly an improvement over the first-gen Pros.

Transparency mode, which amplifies sound from outside noise to ensure you can hear what’s going on around you while wearing the Pros, has also received an update. This time around, Apple has made loud noises like jackhammers, passing emergency vehicles, or motorcycles slammed together to make them more bearable while using Transparency mode.

Apple added Custom Spatial Audio to AirPods Pros, which makes the audio sound a bit fuller, but not much better than standard spatial audio.  (Image: apple)

Apple added Custom Spatial Audio to AirPods Pros, which makes the audio sound a bit fuller, but not much better than standard spatial audio. (Image: apple)

Previously, all those sounds would just turn on along with everything else around you. However, with new pros, Apple says that Transparency mode will reduce the volume of excessively loud sounds to less than 85 decibels. I stood under an elevated subway and turned on Transparency mode and noticed that the train screech was definitely lower than without the buttons.

Beyond the different sound modes, pros also get a new audio driver that produces much more robust bass and crisper highs. Finally, there’s Apple’s new custom spatial audio feature. Spatial Audio, which is available through certain apps including Apple Music, makes music sound more complete, giving you the feeling that it’s coming from all around you rather than just your friends.

Meanwhile, custom spatial audio lets you use your iPhone’s TrueDepth front camera to scan your ears and enhance the sound of music and shows that support spatial audio.

In my experience, songs like Lady Gaga’s “Poker Face” appeared more with custom audio, but it wasn’t exactly a game changer; it still sounded fantastic with regular spatial audio.

AirPods Pro get improved precision tracking.  (Image: apple)

AirPods Pro get improved precision tracking. (Image: apple)

Volume controls and more battery life

Apple has also made a number of quality-of-life improvements to the AirPods Pro. Firstly, there’s a touch-enabled volume slider on the side of each earbud, which means if you’re out for a run, you don’t have to search for your phone in your running bag just to turn up the volume for your favorite song.

Apple also made it easier to find your AirPods if they’re lost, adding precision tracking to the AirPods charging case via the Find My app.

As for battery life, Apple has increased the amount of time the Pros with active noise cancellation will last to 6 hours from 4.5 hours with the original Pros. You’ll also get an additional 30 hours of charging time with the charging case. Speaking of the charging case, it’s now compatible with your Apple Watch charger, so once your watch is charged, you can start powering up your earbuds.

My only gripe with AirPods is that, like every other pair I’ve owned, they frequently get confused as to whether I want to use them on my Mac or iPhone. Sometimes I listen to Spotify on my Mac and the headphones switch to my iPhone for no reason. It’s annoying enough to make me disable Bluetooth on my phone completely.

Should you get them?

I’m already a big fan of Apple’s AirPods, and the pros add a number of significant updates that users should find very useful. If you’re looking for a pair of noise-cancelling headphones that work well with the Apple ecosystem, then the pros are an easy sell. However, if $249 is too expensive, you can’t go wrong with Apple’s third-generation AirPods.

Heck, you can even opt for Apple’s Beats Fit Pro, which also offers great sound quality and active noise cancellation for $199. But if you want that flashy Apple design, the pros are your best bet.

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