A Live Metal Gig Is No Match for the Noise Reduction of the AirPods Pro 2

A Live Metal Gig Is No Match for the Noise Reduction of the AirPods Pro 2
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It was only last year I finally understood the hype around getting a pair of Apple headphones. To me, headphones made for an iPhone were ones you kept in a drawer, used only if your better ones weren’t nearby, or, if they were flat. But while the AirPods 3 sold me on Apple earbuds, the AirPods Pro 2, or AirPods Pro (2nd generation), have floored me.

The AirPods Pro 2 promise a lot. I’d argue they deliver.

AirPods Pro (2nd generation)

The AirPods Pro 2 were announced during Apple’s Far Out event earlier this month. They offer an improvement in audio quality and a handful of new features that their 2019 predecessors don’t have. A lot of this is thanks to Apple’s H2 chip.

Running through the features, with the AirPods Pro (2nd generation) you’ll get Active Noise Cancellation (ANC), adaptive transparency, better pressure equalisation, Personalised Spatial Audio with dynamic head tracking, adaptive EQ, easy-to-use on-bud controls, multiple charging options, tips to suit most ear types, up to 6-hours of listening time and the benefit of Apple’s walled garden.

My smaller ears thank you

AirPods Pro (2nd generation) Airpods pro 2
Image: Apple

There’s a lot to talk about with the AirPods Pro (2nd generation), but the addition of an XS ear tip set is something worth mentioning. The thing that’s kept me from fully ditching over-ear cups for buds is my small ear canals, complete with a piercing that takes up a lot of real estate in there. Usually, noise-cancelling buds will make you feel like you’ve shoved a cork in there. Pulling them out hurts and you’re left with a pain that is not by any means severe, but annoying.

Now having four sizes of silicon ear tips (extra small, small, medium and large), there’s less ‘plugging’ for those with almost every sized ear.

Doing the ‘Ear fit test’ plays a little jingle in your ear. The first time, it told me the left was perfect but the right wasn’t. As this is the ear with a piercing, I fiddled around a little and shoved it back in, it was then too loud (Slack notifications) to do it again. The third time was a charm and I’m using the best tips, apparently.

Ear Tip Fit. It’s a thing, I promise. Image: Asha Barbaschow/Gizmodo Australia

The most Apple of setups

As with everything Apple does, setting up the new AirPods Pro is easy. You open the case, put the buds in your ears and everything will start working. It will leave you with the default settings, which are easy enough to change. If you’ve spent the cash on a pair of AirPods Pro (2nd generation), I’d recommend setting everything up and getting the most out of them. The first is Personalised Spatial Audio.

Spatial Audio is basically Apple’s way of bringing sound to you as a more theatre-like experience, making sound sound like it’s coming from all around you. Personalised Spatial Audio takes that one step further and uses the phone’s true-depth camera to map your head (based on if you wear glasses, your ear spacing – absolutely everything that makes your head yours, much like Face ID) to provide a more personalised experience. Spatial Audio is only available on a handful of tracks and they’re all of course in Apple Music, same goes with shows/movies in Apple TV. It sounds mint, more on that in a sec, however.

AirPods Pro (2nd generation)
Setting up Personalised Spatial Audio. Image: Asha Barbaschow/Gizmodo Australia

You can only have one profile set up at a time, but I’m not overly bothered by this as I’m not exactly going to share my earbuds with anyone.

On-bud controls are also very useful. Here’s one we prepared earlier. But, with the AirPods Pro (2nd generation) you also get Touch Control, which allows you to swipe up and down in front of the stems to control the volume.

They of course work perfectly with Siri, a problem I’ve run into with other earbuds, such as the Amazon Echo Buds, and not having an extra app is fantastic (it’s getting severely clogged with every new piece of review tech that comes across my desk).

Too many charging choices, not enough battery

You can charge the AirPods Pro (2nd generation) with a lightning cable, wireless magsafe charger and also the charger that comes with an Apple Watch. Spoiled for choice one might say. While that means charging is convenient, I’d rather better battery life. Apple reckons you’ll get 6 hours of listening time, and when you include the case, you’ll get 30 hours. I got to 5.5 hours before I had to pop them back into the case for a top up. While they were back to 100 per cent in less than 30 minutes, I….look, I’m stretching for things to dislike with the new AirPods Pro. The only thing I don’t like about them is that you can’t get a full day of use.

How do they sound?

Usually, this is the most important part of any headphone or speaker review – how the darn things sound. But in true Apple form, I’ve had much more to hyperfixate on. Do the AirPods Pro (2nd generation) sound better than Apple’s first attempt? Absolutely. Do they match the quality of other noise-cancelling earbuds in their price range? Absolutely. Are they the best-sounding headphones I’ve ever used? No. But on that last point, they still sound fantastic.

Adaptive EQ means richer bass, particularly at lower levels, crystal clear sound across a wide range of frequencies – and a lot of this is handled software-side. Hip-hop, pop, rock and EDM will get you excited. Anything with instruments that kick will sound schmick, to be honest. Putting the buds through the usual song tests, I can hear silence on a track, a light and climbing guitar strum, feel the emotion in vocals, paired beautifully with drums that don’t overpower the other instruments, nor make you flinch when a heavy bang beams through.

If we go back to Spatial Audio for a sec, there’s no other way to describe it other than it feels like sound is coming at me in 3D.

I’d like to say Blink 182’s Take Off Your Pants and Jacket never sounded so good, but the album version in spatial audio is censored, which means every third word is blanked out and disrupts the entire vibe of the experience. Aside from that, the bass drum could be felt in one ear, the snare in another and somehow the cymbals sounded like they were in front of me. Having a scroll through the ‘Available in spatial audio’ section and I gave a bunch of artists a try that aren’t usually my jam. A standout was how clear the likes of Cardi B sounded, usually a repetitive bass bash on a pop track makes me flinch with every hit, but this was softer, easing the monotonous thudding I normally hear on this type of track. Apple is definitely making me consider jumping to its streaming service.

Moving across different genres even in Spotify (ie without Spatial Audio), you still can hear every instrument with clarity and there’s no need to have the volume up at max when walking along a busy street, or even working in the office, as noise-cancelling immerses you in the track.

Noise-cancelling is actually what floored me with the AirPods Pro (2nd generation). They’re reportedly 2x better than the last Pro pair at this, and I think it’s truly noticed when you’re sitting there with them in, without anything playing. All of a sudden the outside is blocked, but it again doesn’t feel like you’ve got plugs in your ears, rather that you are removed from the action (truly, like a sequence from a movie when someone zones out and you’re presented with a flashback). Existential crisis aside, when you are listening to music, it’s great to feel the music and the space around you but still appear removed from the outside.

Transparency mode, meanwhile, allows this separation to dissipate. It reduces the quality of the music coming through, of course, but they’re great for being in an office where you need to engage in conversation or walking home of a night. New with the AirPods Pro 2, however, is the additional feature of Adaptive Transparency. There’s a lot of smarts behind this, thanks again to the H2 chip, but all you really need to know is that activating it adjusts automatically to all the fast and quick sounds popping up around you.

(Live) music to my ears

AirPods Pro (2nd generation) Airpods pro 2
Using the AirPods Pro 2 to save my ears at a concert. Image: Asha Barbaschow/Gizmodo Australia

While watching Far Out, one thing that caught my attention was a clip in which a woman was standing around chilling to music while an obnoxious jackhammer was outside doing its thing. It obviously gave the impression the AirPods Pro 2 could be used in a loud environment with little to no impact on you when using them, but it also made me think these things would be great for reducing ear damage while at a concert.

As you can tell by the headline, this is my favourite bonus feature of the AirPods Pro (2nd generation).

Leaving the AirPods Pro 2 on Adaptive Transparency mode, you’ll experience a reduction of sound around you. I wore these at a concert on Sunday (The Plot In You and Erra, for those of you playing at home) and in between songs, I could hear almost everything that was going on around me. As the sounds got louder, the more noise-cancellation came in. It didn’t block the sound, nor did it distort it. It delivered each instrument and every word with complete clarity, just in a way that was going to help reduce any further damage to my ears that years of loud concerts have before. While there are specific earbuds that are sold to reduce the damage you can do at concerts or even during band prac, these are more than sufficient. The only thing is being that guy with AirPods in your ears at a gig.

Are they worth the hype?

Are they worth the hype? The iPhone 14 Pro Max camera is, at least. Image: Asha Barbaschow/Gizmodo Australia

Honestly, we’re almost at 1,850 words here and I could go on for another 1,000. Apple has packed a lot of smarts into the AirPods Pro (2nd generation) as well as their case and the in-Settings, well, settings. It’s usually just how they sound that is important when we review earbuds, but there’s so much more to this year’s AirPods Pro that makes them so good. If you don’t use an iPhone and/or a MacBook, I don’t think these are for you because you lose so much of their proposition without an Apple walled garden. But, if you’re an iPhone owner in the market for noise-cancelling in-ear buds that sound good, have more smarts than you could imagine and come in at under $400, I couldn’t tell you these wouldn’t be worth your consideration. I am thoroughly impressed.

Where to buy the AirPods Pro (2nd generation)?

Apple $399 | The Good Guys $399 | JB Hi-Fi $399

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At Gizmodo, we independently select and write about stuff we love and think you'll like too. We have affiliate and advertising partnerships, which means we may collect a share of sales or other compensation from the links on this page. BTW – prices are accurate and items in stock at the time of posting.