AirPods Pro (2022) review: H2 and the sound of silence

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Introduction, What’s New, ANC and Transparency Performance

Even by Apple’s high standards, the first-generation AirPods Pro were one of the few products that really nailed them from the get-go. They had great active noise cancellation, sounded pretty good most of the time, were easy to set up, and worked seamlessly with other Apple products. They were the true wireless earbuds that Apple users wanted. But in the last three years since its release, the competition has progressed the game in a way, and it was clear that a successor was needed. And their reaction are the white earplugs in the photo at the top of this page. The new AirPods Pro.

What’s new

The earbuds themselves haven't really changed in design.  And why would they?  They fit perfectly.

If you didn’t know what to look for, you could easily mistake the new AirPods Pro for the old one. I walked around with them for almost a week before this review was published and not once did anyone stop me from asking. Or maybe I didn’t hear them.

Anyway, the shape of the earbuds is the same to the point where you can place the new AirPods Pro in its predecessor’s charging case and vice versa (you can’t charge them without the proper cases, though). The way to tell the difference is through the position of the vents and the size and shape of microphone vents, which Apple has slightly modified. The earbuds now also come with a extra (extra small) earplugs in size XS which some users may find better. I am perfectly satisfied with the standard medium earbuds and these new AirPods Pro fit me very well.

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You can now adjust the volume by sliding your finger up and down the stem.

The touch controls have been improved with one feature users have been asking for: volume control. You can now slide your finger up and down the stem to adjust the volume – a feature that was bizarrely and frustratingly missing from the first-generation AirPods Pro. The touch controls are, as always, responsive and work with a very high success rate. The reason it’s so good is because it has a sense of tactility that it lacks in other earbuds. You immediately know whether you have managed them correctly.

Like the earbuds, the charging case looks largely the same. The only giveaway is that there is now a cord loop on the side of the cover. The case still has a Lightning port for charging, but thankfully this isn’t the only way you can charge it. You can also use a Qi wireless charger, the Apple Watch charging puck, or a MagSafe charger.

I charge the new AirPods Pro with Belkin's excellent Boost Charge Pro 3-in-1 wireless charger with MagSafe.

However, perhaps the biggest change to the charging case is that it has AirTags technology built into it. If you’ve lost it, you can open the Find My app on your iPhone and search for it with Find precision just like you would with AirTags. It even has built-in speakers to help you find it (another way to tell the new case apart from the old one). This is extremely thoughtful. You know what else Apple could have built into the charging case? A battery level indicator. Another thing to note is that both the earbuds and the charging case are IPX4 water and sweat resistant.

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Noise reduction, transparency and microphone performance

The H2 is the magic sauce behind the AirPods Pro's amazing active noise cancellation.

The biggest update to the AirPods Pro is one you can’t see and it’s new from Apple H2 chip. As you would expect from Apple, they are hesitant about the specs of this chip and will only say that it is much faster and that it “unlocks advanced computational audio algorithms that could not previously run on a device of this size.” The only specifics we know are that: H2 has over a billion transistorswhich is double H1.

What’s important is that it’s because of H2 that Apple can load its complex noise-cancelling algorithms onto these new earbuds. Apple claims that these new algorithms, combined with the optimized position of the acoustic ventilation of the earbuds and the microphone, will allow the AirPods Pro to cancel up to double the sound of the first generation AirPods Pro.

It’s hard to say if it really cancels out up to double the amount of noise, but the new AirPods Pro are undoubtedly better. At my desk, with my fan on the center position facing me, I barely hear a thing. If I were using the first-generation AirPods Pro, I would still hear a slight low-pitched rumble. And even with the fan on full blast, all I could hear was a faint whisper. It was the same outside. The amount of noise the new AirPods Pro can cancel out borders on unnerving. Your mind cannot reconcile what your eyes see with what your ears hear. It’s so quiet.

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On the left is the amount of noise I hear with ANC on and right with ANC off.  30dB is the sound of whispering.

Plus, if you have an Apple Watch, you can now see how much noise the AirPods Pro cancels out with the Noise app. As the fan blows at me, the Noise app gives me a reading of 54 dB. That drops to 30dB when I turn on the ANC function. That means it neutralizes about 24 dB of noise, which is almost half.

Is it better than Sony’s excellent WF-1000XM4? I need to hear them back to back to confirm. But based on my memory, I think the new AirPods Pro is making an edge of it.

In transparency mode, the H2 chip analyzes noise 48,000 times per second.

What’s not up for debate, though, is how much better Apple’s ambient sound or transparency mode is. Thanks to the H2 chip, Apple is now calling this mode Adaptive transparency. Because the chip processes sounds 48,000 times per second, it can automatically attenuate loud ambient noises it hears, such as emergency vehicle sirens, a speeding motorcycle or even construction noise. Unfortunately, given the very specific way this feature is activated, I can’t say if it actually works. However, what I can tell you is that the new AirPods Pro transparency mode continues to lead the way. It sounds so natural that you forget you had earplugs in your ears.

The sound quality of the microphone is also noticeably better – voices now sound less hollow and more natural. The same is true in noisy environments. The new AirPods Pro are better at isolating your voice.

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