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Apple AirPods Pro (2nd-gen, USB-C) review: More than just a new charging port

Apple AirPods Pro (2nd-gen, USB-C) review: More than just a new charging port

Note: This review was first published on 18 September 2023.

The newest AirPods Pro come with a USB-C charging case but there's a bit more to it than meets the eyes.

The first thing you need to know about the just-announced AirPods Pro that come with the USB-C charging case is that it’s not just the charging case that is different. There are subtle but important differences on the inside too.

In true Apple fashion, the company says this new AirPods Pro have a new “acoustical architecture.” What this means exactly is unclear, but it enables this new AirPods Pro to transmit lossless audio to the yet-to-be-released Apple Vision Pro. Audio enthusiasts will know that this is a world’s first. As I’ve mentioned numerous times in other reviews, codecs like LDAC and aptX HD are not truly lossless.

Apple is coy about how this is done and would only tell me that it’s not Bluetooth and that it’s possible only because they have developed a new protocol. They won’t confirm if it’s Wi-Fi, but they did say that battery life will remain the same. Anyone with a deep understanding of wireless audio transmission will know that that’s remarkable.

The earbuds are the same too. In fact, they are interchangeable and will fit the old Lightning port charging case.

Sadly, lossless audio transmission is currently only for the Vision Pro – you can’t enable it on other Apple devices. That’s a real shame because many Apple devices – iPhones and iPads – have no headphone jack and therefore the only way to enjoy lossless music is to connect an external DAC and then wired headphones to them.

Anyhow, I digress, but this is one of the key differences of this new AirPods Pro, so anyone who is considering purchasing the Vision Pro when it comes out should take note if they want the best possible audio experience.

Physically, this new AirPods Pro is identical to the Lightning version. The buds are the same shape and stems can still be interacted with to control music playback and adjust the volume.The charging case is the same compact shape and size too. There are also speaker grilles at the bottom so that they can emit a noise when you use Find My to locate them. The only differences are the charging case now has a USB-C port instead of a Lightning port, and the water and dust resistance ratings have been improved to IP54 (it used to be IPX4, and for water only).That makes it much more convenient to charge, especially if you also have a newiPhone 15 or iPhone 15 Pro. You can charge it wireless too with MagSafe or any Qi wireless charger. Battery life is unchanged at up to 6 hours from a single charge and up to 30 hours with the charging case – that's with ANC on.

The charging case now has a USB-C port instead of a Lightning port. Battery life remains unchanged.

There are also new features worth mentioning, like Adaptive Audio, Conversation Awareness, and faster Automatic Switching. These were announced during WWDC 2023 and I have to emphasise that are not exclusive to the AirPods Pro with USB-C. They will be coming to all second-generation AirPods Pro – even those with Lightning charging case – once a new firmware drops alongside iOS 17, iPadOS 17, and macOS Sonoma.

Also worth mentioning is that these features, as welcomed as they are, aren’t ground-breaking. Sony has been implementing some sort of adaptive active noise cancellation in their earbuds since the WF-1000XM3 from2019, even if their effectiveness can be suspect at times.

I’ve only tried these features for a couple of days but they seem to work as advertised. Adaptive Audio is a nice middle ground that blends active noise cancellation with transparency mode to give users awareness of their surroundings while still suppressing noises in the environment. I can see this being handy when you are on a flight and want to stifle the drone of the engines while still being able to hear the pilot’s announcements.

The new features like Adaptive Audio and Conversation Awareness will be coming to all second-generation AirPods Pro – including those that came with the Lightning charging case.

Conversation Awareness automatically lowers the volume of whatever is playing and reduces background noise the moment it hears the wearer speaking. And when you are done speaking, it automatically goes back to whatever listening mode you were in. This is especially helpful since it relieves me of having to manually switch to Transparency mode, whenever I have my AirPods Pro on and I need to speak to someone.

And as someone who uses multiple Apple devices. I cannot tell you how happy I am that Apple has improved the Automatic Switching function. Previously, it could be glitchy and won’t switch between devices when you want it to. But when I was given a demo at Apple Park with this new AirPods Pro,I found that I could switch between devices quickly and reliably. It’s almost like a super-powered version of multipoint connection.I'll be testing this feature out extensively once Apple releases all the OSes later tonight.

As for the effectiveness of the active noise cancellation function, I can hear no difference between these new AirPods Pro and the ones released last year. It remains to be one of the best in the business even if I think Sony’s new WF-1000XM5 earbudshave a slight edge. The Transparency mode, however, is peerless. There’s a naturalness to the way it sounds that is unmatched by all of its rivals even after all these years.

The active noise cancellation function remains very good.

Sonically, these new AirPods Pro with the USB-C charging case sound identical to the ones that came with the Lightning case. That means it has a V-shaped sound signature with tastefully elevated bass and treble. The bass is full-sounding and punchy, while the treble is lifted just enough to it a sense of air and sparkle. Where the AirPods Pro falter is in the resolution department. It can’t match newer flagship earbuds like Audio-Technica’s ATH-TWX9or Technic’s EAH-AZ80, whose drivers have noticeably better detail retrieval and resolution.

Final thoughts

The best earbuds for Apple users just got a little better.

Are the AirPods Pro still the best earbuds for an iPhone or Apple user? Yes, unquestionably they are. Having a USB-C port makes charging so much more convenient, the active noise cancellation remains excellent, and new features like Adaptive Audio and Conversation Awareness are useful and nice to have. Automatic Switching seems to work as intended and will be invaluable to anyone who owns multiple Apple devices. And if you want to enjoy spatial audioon your Apple devices, the AirPods Pro are still the most fuss-free way to go about it.

At S$362.35, I hesitate to call them cheap, but they are priced competitively and attractively. Insofar as flagship products are concerned, the AirPods Pro can be said to be something of a bargain (relatively speaking, of course). Here’s how it stacks up against other flagship-class earbuds.

Price comparison
Apple AirPods Pro (2nd-generation, USB-C) S$362.25
Audio-Technica ATH-TWX9 S$398
Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II S$379
Bowers & Wilkins' Pi7S2 S$729
Devialet Gemini II S$629
Sony WF-1000XM5 S$419
Technica EAH-AZ80 S$469

However, there’s room for improvement. Recent earbuds releases from rivals are revealing that the AirPods Pro’s drivers can’t quite keep up in terms of sound quality. The tonality is mostly well-judged, but it’s a step behind in terms of resolution and detail retrieval. Also, lossless music support is only with the Vision Pro and not other devices, and that’s a real shame because lossless music is one of Apple Music’s biggest highlights.

Still, despite my grievances, I have no trouble recommending the AirPods Pro. Their blend of performance, features, and price make them indispensable for readers who are deeply invested in Apple's ecosystem. In fact, I challenge you to name better earbuds for Apple users. Go on, I’ll wait.

You can find the AppleAirPods Pro (2nd generation, USB-C case) on Lazada, Shopee, and the Apple Online Store.

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