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Apple AirPods Pro 2 review: Pleasing in more ways than one

In a tricky TWS earbuds market, Apple's second-generation AirPods Pro make a case for themselves with impressive noise cancellation and audio quality

New second-generation AirPods Pro on display at an Apple event on the campus of Apple's headquarters in Cupertino, California, on Wednesday 7 September 2022.  (AP)

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Audio products like Apple’s AirPods Pro or Samsung’s Galaxy Buds have a tricky spot in markets like India. They’re expensive, which means they take on the best audio companies out there, and if they can’t hold their own against a Bose or a Sony, a more affordable alternative is just a stone’s throw away.

Granted that Apple has never really made products ‘meant’ for India, the company’s AirPods Pro may actually be the right fit for premium true wireless (TWS) earbuds buyers in the country.

The AirPods Pro (2nd Gen), which will cost you 26,900, have been three years in the making, and these new versions sport Apple’s brand new H2 chip, updated touch controls, and an altogether better audio experience. Yes, a Sony WF-1000XM4 or Bose QuietComfort earbuds will come out on top in some cases, but the AirPods Pro do make a case for themselves.

Noise cancellation

The H2 chip is the brain of the AirPods Pro (2nd Gen), which means they handle the most essential features, like active noise cancellation (ANC), for instance.

While the 2nd Gen AirPods Pro do have better audio quality than their predecessors, ANC really is where you see the biggest difference. They can drown out street noise to a large extent, even when you’re not listening to music, and the transparency mode makes environmental noise feel more natural.

The transparency mode has become a common feature of ANC headphones over the past few years, meant to allow environmental noise flow in even when you have them on. The AirPods Pro, however, is tuned to soften a sudden harsh noise, like a car horn, but still let it through so you can hear it along with the audio content you are listening to. It’s a good feature for cyclists, runners etc.

To be sure, even Sony’s WF-1000XM4 are great at this, but you would be hard pressed to find a competitor for the AirPods Pro other than the Sony and Bose’s QuietComfort. It’s quite significantly better than the Pixel Buds Pro or the Samsung Galaxy Buds series. In fact, if you haven’t used a pair of headphones with really good ANC before, this might actually feel unnerving at first.

In the end though, this is the kind of noise cancellation that’s perfect for listening to a podcast, or an audiobook when you’re out running or just walking on the street. And yes, they do work for noisy Indian roads as well.

Audio quality

While noise suppression is definitely the highlight of the AirPods Pro, it’s no slouch in terms of audio fidelity either.

Apple and Google seem to have a different philosophy for how audio should sound on TWS, and frankly, I think they might be right. If you’re thinking of these as pure music listening devices, then the AirPods Pro definitely lacks the punchy and thumping bass that a Sony WF-1000XM4 can deliver.

Instead, the audio signature here is tuned to do justice not just to all kinds of music, but also to an audiobook, podcast, recordings and more. Where they really shine is in instrument separation, which is very clear in songs like Mark Knopfler’s Sailing to Philadelphia. In short, the AirPods Pro will handle music from rock bands like Imagine Dragons to soft-soothing tunes like Don Edwards’ Coyotes, without disappointing anyone.

The new AirPods Pro bring major upgrades to Transparency mode, Spatial Audio, and customer-loved convenience features, while cancelling up to twice as much noise over their predecessor.
The new AirPods Pro bring major upgrades to Transparency mode, Spatial Audio, and customer-loved convenience features, while cancelling up to twice as much noise over their predecessor. (Apple)

Gestures and other features

Despite these improvements, however, Apple’s AirPods have never excelled on audio or noise cancellation alone.

The AirPods Pro takes advantage of the company’s own ecosystem, and the fact that it controls hardware and software closely on its devices to provide not just seamless connectivity, but touch controls too.

You lightly press the stem of the Airpods Pro to play/pause music, or long press to switch between ANC and transparency modes. You can also slide your finger up or down the stem to turn volume up and down. It all does work without a glitch.

In addition, the AirPods Pro (2nd Gen) also has the company’s U1 chip, which is used in the AirTags as well. These allow iPhone users to use the Find My app on their phones to pin-point the AirPods’ location if they’re lost or misplaced.

The U1 chip allows directional tracking, which means the phone’s camera can be pointed around the house to find out exactly which sofa’s cushion the AirPods Pro are under. Apple’s overall Find My network also allows other iPhone users to be notified if a lost pair of AirPods Pro are near them, and they can then notify the rightful owner.

That said, the U1 chip is fitted inside the AirPods case, which means that what you’re tracking is the case and not the actual earbuds. Lose one without the case and you’re done for.

Should you buy them?

The AirPods Pro (2nd Generation) are much improved from their predecessors. They can also charge wirelessly or with Apple’s lightning connectors, and have a tiny speaker fitted on the case to chirp when the battery is low or the device is charging, etc. They do really have a lot going for them, and with the seamless connectivity you get with an iPhone, easy-to-use settings toggles, they definitely work for iPhone users.

The only problem today is that with Sony and Bose selling their best at just under 20,000, it’s difficult to ignore the value those offer as well. The AirPods Pro won’t disappoint you, but who doesn’t want to save a few thousand bucks if they can, right?

Also read: Sony WH-1000XM5 headphones review: The best just got better

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