Sometimes, blasting anything into your ears will do. On the way to school, you are not as interested in a high-fidelity experience as much as blocking out all of the noise around you. When all you do is listen to podcasts, paying for the best earbuds doesn’t make as much sense. And, let’s be honest, if you are a country music fan, you just want to hear the growls.
For the rest of us, those who love music and want only the best audio reproduction, there’s the Apple AirPods 2. I tested the new second-gen model with all kinds of music, from ambient to screamo, comparing this earbud to the previous AirPods Pro and also a few other models.
First, about noise canceling. Around the time I was testing, I was using a leaf blower in my backyard and noticed the new models did a little better job blocking out the whine and whirring. I’ve read online that some listeners don’t find noise canceling to be as effective, but in my tests, it worked like a charm. I won’t say it works as well as the AirPods Pro Max but that’s a given — those headphones cover your ears and have noise canceling to boot.
I really wanted to find out whether this new model reproduces audio better than the previous set. Unfortunately, my ears might not be so attuned to the subtle differences that I could tell a big difference. There is a new driver in the AirPods Pro 2 that uses the new H2 chip. I played songs by bands like Stereophonics, Bear’s Den, Social Animals and Sea Power that I listened to quite a bit and paid attention to the bass and even cymbal taps and didn’t hear anything new. This isn’t a ding about the AirPods Pro 2, it’s just that the original AirPods Pro were stellar on their own. If there are differences in the songs I like, I didn’t quite hear it.
Here are a few examples. Back when I used to write a lot of audio reviews for Wired, I had a stable of songs that would often reveal the poor quality of the earbuds or speakers I was testing. I found one song by the band When Saints Go Machine that has a rattle sound at the start. It sounds about the same on the AirPods Pro first and second gen — I can’t hear much difference. I tried another one by the band How To Dress Well that has a slight little whirring sound; both AirPods played it about the same. This is not to say the products are not up to snuff. They just both sound amazing.
I did notice a longer battery life right away. One my first day of testing, I sort of expected the earbuds to run out of battery by the end of the day. Apple says battery life lasts about six hours with noise canceling enabled, but in my experience, the practical reality is that the new model lasts two days of occasional use, if not more. I just know I didn’t have to charge up consistently until the second or third day of listening pretty much all day at work. (This includes meetings and breaks, and also trips to buy food and eat snacks, of course.)
Some of the other new features are also handy. The case now has a speaker, so if you lose them and use the tracking feature on your phone or Mac, you can hear a loud chime to find them. I liked being able to swipe on the stem of the earbud to adjust volume, and it worked great. There’s also now a way to turn off noise canceling by holding the stem.
I wasn’t a big fan of the spatial audio setting, though. I’m not sure why. I like synth rock and alternative rock, so this setting just didn’t work as well for the music I like. For example, the band Bear’s Den already has a spatial sound that, using speakers in my office, fills the room with warm audio. I guess I don’t need to make it sound more spatial.
Will you hear all of the subtle differences between this model and the last? Maybe. I sometimes wonder if I have tested so many earbuds and speakers that, as long as the quality is good, there isn’t much more to hear in the first place. The band Stereophonics sounds about the same as long as you have high-fidelity earbuds and use an app like Tidal for better streaming. We all know when earbuds sound like mush and are not worth buying. For $229, the latest AirPods Pro 2 model is a smart buy for people who love music and want the best quality.