AirPods Pro (2022) review: H2 and the sound of silence
Introduction, what's new, ANC and transparency performance
Note: This article was first published on 22 September 2022.
Even by Apple’s lofty standards, the first-generation AirPods Pro were one of the few products that they really nailed from the start. They had great active noise cancellation, sounded mostly quite good, were easy to set up, and worked seamlessly with other Apple products. It was the true wireless earbuds that Apple users wanted. But in the past three years since its release, the competition has moved the game on in some ways and it was clear a successor was needed. And their response are the white earbuds in the photo at top of this page. The new AirPods Pro.
If you didn’t know what to look out for, you could easily mistake the new AirPods Pro for the old one. I walked around with them for nearly a week before this review was published and not once did anyone stop me to ask me about them. Or maybe I didn't hear them.
Anyhow, the shape of the earbuds is the same to the point where you can fit the new AirPods Pro into its predecessor’s charging case and vice versa (you can’t charge them without their correct cases, however). The way to tell the difference is by the position of the vents and the size and shape of microphone openings, which Apple has altered slightly. The earbuds now also come with an additional XS size (extra-small) eartips that some users might find preferable. I'm perfectly happy with the default medium eartips and these new AirPods Pro fit me very well.
The touch controls have been improved with one feature that users have been asking for: volume control. You can now glide your finger up and down the stem to adjust the volume – a feature which was bizarrely and frustratingly missing on the first-generation AirPods Pro. The touch controls are, as ever, 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 missing in other earbuds. You immediately know if you have actuated them properly.
Like the earbuds, the charging case looks mostly identical. The one giveaway is that there’s now a lanyard loop on the side of the case. The case still has a Lightning port for charging, but fortunately, it isn’t the only way you can charge it. You can also use a Qi wireless charger, the Apple Watch’s charging puck, or a MagSafe charger.
However, what’s arguably the biggest change to the charging case is that it has AirTags technology built into it. If you misplace it, you can open the Find My app on your iPhone and look for it using Precision Finding just like you would with AirTags. It even has built-in speakers to help you locate it (another way to tell the new case from the old). 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 charging case are IPX4 water and sweat-resistant.
Noise cancellation, transparency, and mic performance
The biggest update to the AirPods Pro is one that you can’t see and that is Apple’s new H2 chip. As you’d expect from Apple, they are coy on the specs of this chip and will only say it is much faster and that it “unlocks advanced computational audio algorithms previously unable to run on a device of this size.” The only specifics we know is that H2 has over a billion transistors, which is double that of 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 these new algorithms, coupled with the optimised position of the acoustic vent of the earbuds and the microphone, will enable the AirPods Pro to cancel up to double the noise of the first-generation AirPods Pro.
It’s hard to say if it really cancels up to double the amount of noise but the new AirPods Pro are unquestionably better. At my desk, with my fan at its middle setting pointing at me, I barely hear a thing. If I were using the first-generation AirPods Pro, I would still hear a slightly low-pitch rumble. And even with the fan at full power, all I could hear was a faint whisper. It was the same outdoors too. The amount of noise that the new AirPods Pro can cancel borders on being unnerving. Your mind can’t square what your eyes are seeing with what your ears hear. It’s so silent.
Furthermore, if you have an Apple Watch, you can now see how much sound the AirPods Pro nullifies using the Noise app. With the fan blowing at me, the Noise app is giving me a reading of 54dB. That drops to 30dB when I turn on the ANC function. That means it cancelling out around 24dB of noise, which is very nearly half.
Is it better than Sony’s very excellent WF-1000XM4? I’ll need to hear them back to back to confirm. But based on my memory, I think the new AirPods Pro edges it.
What’s not up for debate, however, 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 is processing sounds 48,000 times per second, it can automatically tune down harsh environmental sounds that it hears like the sirens of an emergency vehicle, a motorcycle zipping past, or even construction noise. Unfortunately, given the very specific way this feature activates, I can’t tell if it really works. What I can tell you, however, is that the new AirPods Pro transparency mode remains class-leading. It sounds so natural that you'll forget you had earbuds in your ears.
Mic sound quality is also markedly better – voices now sound less hollow and more natural. The same is true in noisy environments too. The new AirPods Pro are better at isolating your voice.