Apple AirPods Pro 2nd Gen - An Audiophile's Impressions
Apple AirPods Pro 2nd Gen Impressions
Written by Precogvision
When Apple originally launched the original AirPods Pro in late 2019, I have to admit that I never would have imagined that I’d grow to appreciate them as much as I do now. But indeed, two years later, they’ve become an integral part of my EDC: I use them at the gym, I use them while commuting, and I even use them around the house when I have access to much better sounding earphones. So when Apple released the awaited AirPods Pro 2nd Gen at $250 - the same price as its predecessor - purchasing them was a bit of a no-brainer from my point of view. Here’s a tip, though: don’t bother pre-ordering them for delivery. Just go pick them up in-store, and you’ll save yourself a lot of the headache that I went through!
This unit was purchased with my own money. As a disclaimer, the AirPods Pro Gen 2 have a lot of features and I haven't had the opportunity to rigorously test them all; for example, it's very difficult to quantify the effects of the new Adaptive Transparency mode. That in mind, please think of my thoughts below as just going through some of the highlights.
Apple AirPods Pro 2nd Gen - Product Summary
- Reasons to buy
- Adaptive EQ
- Improved ANC, Transparency, and other Hardware
- More Exciting Sound Signature and Improved Technicalities
- Reasons not to buy
- Some Bugs That Still Need to be Ironed Out
- Might be to Bass-y and Mid-Forward
- AirPods Pro w/ charging case
- Lightning to USB-C charging cable
- 4x pairs of tips ss/s/m/l
Left: AirPods Pro 2nd Gen, Right: Original AirPods Pro
Very little has changed between the ergonomics of the AirPods Pro 2nd Gen and its predecessor. Generally, however, I found the fit of the AirPods Pro 2nd Gen to be a little snugger and to sit more tightly within my ear. The case probably has the most visually distinctive change with the inclusion of a lanyard loop and grill for the integrated speakers. Irrespective, I found the Andar leather case I was using for my original AirPods Pro to fit just fine for the AirPods Pro 2nd Gen.
A couple of selling points touted by Apple are the improved ANC and Transparency mode of the AirPods Pro 2nd Gen. I think I would agree with this. The ANC mode is definitely more effective (or perhaps the ANC on my original AirPods has simply weakened over time), blocking out ample noise at the gym and on the train. Transparency mode is also sharper; I can hear sounds further away and they pop more than they did previously.
But I do feel that there are some bugs that need to be ironed out with how the microphones and chip are processing ambient sound. I’ve observed that sometimes - especially with Transparency and abrupt outside noises - the frequency response of the AirPods 2nd Gen will change sharply and music will sound quite odd before the sensors catch up with what’s happening. Additionally, when I quickly turn on my phone while music is playing, sometimes I’ll observe a brief crackle in the music.
In any case, I found there are other small benefits to the Airpods Pro 2nd Gen. The battery life is better than the original AirPods Pro (then again, mine are also a couple years old which exacerbates this observation). There is also finally integrated volume control (in the 1/16th steps of the iPhone’s volume rocker) via brushing the stem. I found this motion slightly awkward at first, but it’s manageable enough.
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It needs to be noted that the AirPods Pro 2nd Gen has adaptive EQ, meaning that it adjusts its sound depending on your listening conditions. For example, if you are a louder listener, you will get a less bass-y, less treble-heavy sound signature; vice versa if you listen quieter. This is an effort to mitigate what is known as the Fletcher Munson curve wherein listeners perceive the highs and lows as being more emphasized at higher volumes. The measurement below was taken off an IEC-711 clone coupler and there is a resonance peak at 8kHz:
I suspect that the AirPods Pro 2nd Gen's frequency response can also change slightly depending on how deeply the earphones are seated. So for example, if one side is knocked slightly loose in your ear while you’re running on the treadmill at the gym, the frequency response of this side will be adjusted accordingly to maintain channel matching. But this is just speculation, and I’m playing it by ear. I also do not think that the AirPods Pro take into account the dynamic range of songs yet, but it’s certainly a possibility given that they can display listening levels in real-time if you turn on the setting in accessibility.
Something else I noticed is that the frequency response changed after configuring Personalized Spatial Audio, even when the Spatialize Stereo function wasn't enabled!
You can see why it’s something of a reviewer’s nightmare getting consistent measurements from these earphones. In any case, for the purposes of review and consistency, I tested the AirPods Pro 2nd Gen at listening volumes of ~70dB which I think is fairly reasonable (as I’m also not someone keen on premature hearing damage). My iPhone 13 Mini with Apple music was used. I found the sound between the three modes - Transparency, ANC, and OFF - was more or less the same.
Taking a step back, and to lend context, the original AirPods Pro had one of the most inoffensive signatures that I’d heard. This was thanks to its moderately boosted bass, relaxed midrange, and dipped mid-treble. The new AirPods Pro maintains the general flavor of sound while taking everything up a notch in terms of excitement.
In terms of bass response, the second generation stacks on a sizable amount of extra sub-bass, almost to the point of which I’d consider it to be in bass-head territory. If you were someone worried about the AirPod Pro 2nd Gen’s ability to rumble and thump, worry not unless you’re coming from the most bass boosted of earphones. That said, the quality of the bass itself is more questionable. For whatever reason, I hear the AirPods Pro 2nd Gen’s bass as generally lacking in texture - or a sense of realism to drums - a characteristic synonymous with the original AirPods Pro. In fact, this characteristic generally extends to the rest of both AirPod Pro’s sound signatures working up.
So speaking of which, the midrange of the AirPods Pro 2nd Gen is noticeably more boosted in the 1-3kHz region than its predecessor. This translates to a sense of female vocals, in particular, sounding more forward. I wouldn’t say it ever quite comes off as strident, but it’s certainly a departure from the “inoffensive above all else” tuning that Apple seemed to have been targeting with the original AirPods Pro. Likewise, the treble response of the AirPods Pro 2nd Gen has become noticeably more “sparkly” thanks to what is a peak at around the 7kHz region. This characteristic also lends itself to some more trailing edge - perceived detail - on vocals.
In essence, all these changes in frequency response are more or less synonymous with what I’d call an increased sense of technical performance: more slam in the bass, more “dynamics”, and a greater sense of clarity. The AirPods Pro Gen 2 are now sitting somewhere in solid “B” grade territory for these metrics, head-and-head with its Samsung competition from memory.
That said, I did note that the timbre of the AirPods Pro 2nd Gen is still uncharacteristically plasticky for a dynamic driver. I have to wonder if this is a product of a recession somewhere after 8kHz before coming back up somewhere post 10kHz. This could possibly be influencing my perception of the bass’ texture, as what we hear is a product of frequency response in totality. In any case, I don’t think just the lossy Bluetooth codec is responsible for my impressions of timbre, as this characteristic is not something I’ve observed with other TWS that I’ve tested in the past.
The Bottom Line
At the end of the day, even if the AirPod Pro 2nd Gen’s price has remained unchanged, the true measure of its worth lies in how it compares to its competition. Now, admittedly, I have not gone out of my way to keep up with every new TWS that has come out. But I think that relative to what I have heard - a lot, which you can see here - the AirPod Pro 2nd Gen comes out as a solid recommendation. This is even within the context of wired earphones, which have a tendency to deliver better sound quality. If you’re someone stuck behind the walls of Apple’s garden, then they’re an even more straightforward recommendation.