AirPods Pro 2 are coming this year. The second generation of Apple's best wireless earbuds will no doubt come with the usual smattering of superlatives, but while Apple is undoubtedly very good at making some of the best noise cancelling headphones – my AirPods Max are uncannily quiet – so are its rivals.
This year we've already been blessed with some absolutely spectacular wireless earbuds, and there are more exciting ones on the way, too. As such, by the time the AirPods Pro 2 are rumored to be hitting the shelves this Autumn, there's going to be plenty of fierce rivals for it to content with.
And, out of those rivals, these are the three strongest, state-of-the-art wireless earbuds Apple's AirPods Pro need to beat.
1. Astell&Kern UW100
I love my job sometimes, and testing these earbuds was definitely one of those times. The Astell&Kern UW100s are absolutely spectacular, delivering the kind of sound that you'd typically have to buy larger over-ears to get. The price is similar to the expected RRP of the AirPods Pro 2, and while these particular buds don't have active noise cancelling they've been designed in such a way that they do a superb job of blocking out the rest of the world so you can concentrate on your music. They're not buds for fans of overly heavy bass – they're much more natural and precise – but if you're serious about music these are absolutely wonderful earbuds.
2. Sony LinkBuds S
They haven't been officially announced yet, but we know the Sony Linkbuds S are imminent – and as we know from the Sony WF-1000XM4 earbuds, Sony knows a thing or two about noise cancellation. Although these buds aren't direct rivals for Apple's AirPods Pro, they're likely to offer a very similar specification with smart assistant integration (Amazon and Google), improved noise cancelling and impressive sound for considerably less cash than the AirPods Pro 2. Rumours suggest they'll learn your behaviour to offer better automatic noise cancelling, which sounds fascinating.
3. B&O Beoplay EX
The B&O Beoplay EX earbuds will cost more than Apple's AirPods 2 – the RRP is £349/$399 – so they're at the very highest end of the earbud market. But unlike their similarly audiophile rivals they're considerably smaller and lighter, and that's a big plus the AirPods Pro currently offer: some of the very best earbuds, such as the Bowers & Wilkins PI7, are pretty hefty. By offering better-than-AirPods sound in a similarly small and light package. B&O could well be onto a winner here – and by the time AirPods Pro 2 ship, we'll likely see some discounting that'll make the EX more competitive too.