Hardware

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Will Apple’s new flagship earbuds be music to your ears?

Apple’s ‘Pro’ branding modifier is inconsistently used, and yet there’s one commonality: it indicates what the company considers best-in-range.

But although these second-generation AirPods Pro are even Pro-ier, are they worth the outlay, or should you buy something cheaper? Let’s find out…

Best case scenario

It’s odd to start an earbuds review by talking about the case, but there’s good reason to. The new case here works with an Apple Watch charger (and still with MagSafe chargers) and is now sweat and water resistant. But the big news is it’s harder to lose.

Precision finding makes it a cinch to locate your AirPods Pro case using your iPhone’s Find My app, and the case’s speaker can emit an ear-piercing noise if it’s still proving elusive. Noises can of course still be sent to individual earbuds as well.

Listen up

Apple claims fancy new silicon in these earbuds makes for better sound – and, well, no complaints here. Despite the in-ear form factor, the AirPods Pro kick out arrestingly distortion-free audio with great clarity whether you’re listening to music or watching TV.

Audiophiles might gripe (but then they always do), not least about the lack of lossless audio support. But we didn’t care. Bass was thumpy. High-end noises were crisp and well-defined. Vocals were clear. Top stuff.

Block party

There are two noise control options for these earbuds: Noise Cancellation and Transparency. The former helps you focus by blocking external noise. It’s imperfect but effective and a big improvement over the previous generation of AirPods Pro.

Apple’s revamp of Transparency mode is more interesting: now using Adaptive Transparency, it tones down harsh noises so you’re not deafened by a surprise siren during a morning stroll. It’s a little short of audio wizardry.

Lose your touch

Honestly, we think it’s an exercise in futility attempting to control music using tiny devices like AirPods. These new Pros don’t do anything to change our mind. You click a stem to play/pause or use multiple clicks and long presses for other actions. It’s… fine, but not ideal when moving about.

Apple’s now added volume control, which requires you to stabilize a stem with a thumb and swipe up or down with a finger. It’s fiddly at first and, well, never stops being fiddly. You soon enough master the feature, but won’t use it much.

Spaced out

Everyone’s ears are different. Apple reasons your phone may as well scan another part of your head to personalize your listening experience with Spatial Audio. Set-up is comical and not nearly as straightforward as Face ID. But we eventually had our ears’ contours logged.

Honestly, it’s hard to tell how much difference the personalization makes. Spatial Audio itself, however, does at least bring more clarity and a greater soundstage to music, especially if it’s been mixed to take advantage of the tech. We were unconvinced by the feature’s head-tracking, though, which didn’t always keep up with our head’s relative position to the audio source.

Easy listening

Several ‘convenience’ features – old and new – are baked into these earbuds. Switching them between Apple devices varies between impressive and magical. New extra small tips will appeal to people who’ve struggled to comfortably wear Apple earbuds.

Apple has also added a new section to Settings so you can quickly adjust preferences related to your AirPods Pro. Well, except EQ, which remains bafflingly absent. Not ideal, given the paucity of options elsewhere on iPhone. Tsk.

Verdict: sounds good

The worst you can say about the second-gen AirPods Pro is some features don’t quite click. Spatial Audio is variable. The volume control is iffy. And so on. But mostly, you buy earbuds to listen to media. And for that, these earbuds are great.

Audio is rich and clear, the noise control options range from solid to superb, and Spatial Audio brings a new dimension to your music. At $249/£249, these earbuds aren’t cheap, but they’re worth the extra outlay over Apple’s third-gen AirPods ($169/£179) if you care about audio quality, will make use of the noise control features, or tend to mislay your charging case.

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