The best noise-cancelling headphones market is pretty busy. You have brands such as Sony, Bose, Beats and more producing brilliant and compact listening devices for not a lot of money, helping keep innovation alive and prices down, which, let's admit, isn't the worst place to be for us, customers. A saturated, innovative headphones scene means we always get the most bang for our buck.
Apple always managed to make a big noise with their latest AirPods releases, even in this busy environment. We awarded the original Apple AirPods Pro five stars in our review, and it still sits near the top of T3's best noise-cancelling earbuds years after its release. Now on their second iteration, Apple's top dog buds offer even more value for your hard-earned money in the best possible sense.
The Apple AirPods Pro 2 learned from the mistakes of their predecessor, and thankfully, Apple also had a good hard look at the competition to bring these premium tiny headphones up to speed. All that tinkering did make a difference, and although I can't give them more than five stars, let me just say that the AirPods Pro 2 are far more capable than their predecessor, both in terms is sound quality and active noise cancellation, among other things.
Apple AirPods Pro 2 review
Apple AirPods Pro 2 review: price and availability
Apple’s second-generation AirPods Pro were announced in September 2022 and are available to buy now at Apple for a recommended retail price of $249/ £249/ AU$ 399. You might have noticed that the price stayed the same, despite the many improvements made to the buds. The Apple AirPods Pro 2 come in one colour only, but you can personalise the charging case for free when you buy them via Apple.
Apple AirPods Pro 2 review: specifications
- Type: in-ear true wireless earbuds
- Active noise cancellation: yes, fully-adaptive
- Transparency mode: yes, adaptive
- Processor: Apple H2 chip
- Spatial Audio: yes, personalised with head tracking
- Connectivity: Bluetooth 5.3
- Water rating: sweat and water-resistant (IPX4) buds and charging case
- Weight: 0.19 ounces (5.4 grams)
- Battery life: up to 6 hours with ANC on (AirPods Pro 2 only), up to 30 hours with ANC on (AirPods Pro 2 and MagSafe charging case)
- Fast charging: yes, 5 minutes in the case provides around 1 hour of listening time
Apple AirPods Pro 2 review: design and build quality
Put them side-by-side, and you’ll find it hard to distinguish the second-generation AirPods Pro 2 from the first one – they look and weigh almost exactly the same. Once you observe the buds more closely, you’ll discover the differences: the vents are placed in different areas, and the AirPods Pro 2 also have updated touch controls, which allow you to control the volume of the buds via swipes on the arm of the headphones. It’s pretty intuitive, and once you get used to it, adjusting the volume on the AirPods Pro 2 will become second nature.
Another massive upgrade is the introduction of the Apple H2 platform. The chip doubled the transistors over H1 to over 1 billion and has supreme computational prowess, evident when looking at audio quality and especially active noise cancellation. The Apple H2 chip also allows for better transparency, which is now adaptive and can feed in sounds more efficiently.
It’s worth mentioning the all-new MagSafe Charging Case, which has a built-in speaker to let you find them quicker and is now IPX4-rated, like the Apple AirPods Pro 2. It has Precision Finding with U1 technology, making locating the buds wherever they are easier. And although the buds and case only come in one colour, you can customise the case via Apple’s free engraving service, which might make it unappealing for thieves. After all, who wants to steal a case that says ‘MATT’S EFFING PODDIES’?
The headphones are somewhat environmentally friendly, featuring 100 per cent recycled rare earth elements, while the case uses 100 per cent recycled tin in the solder of the main logic board and recycled aluminium in the hinge. AirPods Pro 2 are also free of potentially harmful substances such as mercury, BFRs, PVC, and beryllium. Sadly, there is no mention of where the plastic comes from.
Apple AirPods Pro 2 review: Adaptive Noise Cancellation and Transparency modes
The second generation AirPods Pro 2 made considerable gains in the ANC department, thanks to the Apple H2 chip. More computing power means ANC on the AirPods Pro 2 delivers up to double the noise cancelled over the previous generation. Apple claims ANC was also tuned explicitly for common daily scenarios like a busy office or cafe when you need to focus with a lot of people around or when travelling on the bus, train, or aeroplane where you want to reduce all that unwanted background noise.
Now, I was pretty pleased with the ANC prowess of the Beats Studio Buds Plus, but the AirPods Pro 2 blow those out of the water in terms of ambient sound isolation. I appreciate that Beats’ buds are much smaller, but that’s almost beside the point. The Apple AirPods Pro 2 seals you from your environment, no matter how noisy. I’m writing this on the way to London on the train in a coach full of people, and all I can hear is the faint hum of the train chugging along – that’s it. You have to experience it to believe it.
Transparency mode is also much better on the Apple AirPods Pro 2. Apple says on-device processing cycles 48,000 times per second to adjust down harsh environmental noises like sirens dynamically. Better still, when you use AirPods Pro 2 with Apple Watch, you can view the level of noise reduction in real time! Go to the Noise app on your Apple Watch, and tap on the little white icon in the corner to see the environmental sound level difference.
You’ll notice the difference between the two is only 15-20 dB, which goes to show that the algorithm is filtering out the right noises instead of using brute force to block out ambient sounds, which is what most earbuds do. The results are phenomenal.
Apple AirPods Pro 2 review: audio performance
The Apple H2 chip made a huge difference not just in terms of ANC and Transparency mode performance but also in audio quality. Apple says the AirPods Pro 2 produce richer sound with more clarity and consistency across volumes and a wider range of frequencies, benefiting genres like pop, rock, hip-hop, and electronic dance music. Indeed, based on my experience, the buds are leaps and bounds better than the original AirPods Pros and have a crisp, lively sound across the whole sound stage. Listen to Yosi Horikawa’s Bubbles and experience it yourself.
Distortion is kept to the minimum, even at louder sound levels, unless, obviously, it was intentionally put in there (duh). There is a nice separation on bass, mid and treble, each sounding distinctively clean and well-rounded. The bass isn’t overly heavy but is noticeable, and higher notes are also coming through the buds with superb clarity. I was impressed by the lack of ANC artefacts in the sound – it’s not like I was expecting it to sound terrible, but considering how effective ANC is, I thought I might be able to hear the overlay at lower volumes. I couldn’t detect anything.
There is also Personalised Spatial Audio, which for the first time, precisely tunes the surround sound experience to your ears, delivering the most immersive listening experience in the industry, according to Apple. With iOS 16 and the TrueDepth camera on iPhone, you can quickly create a personal profile that will work across your Apple ecosystem. Better still, this feature works with other headphones, including the AirPods (3rd generation), first-generation AirPods Pro and Apple AirPods Max. It also works with the brand-spanking new Beats Studio Pro headphones.
On iPhones, Spatial Audio is further enhanced by dynamic head tracking, making video content all the more immersive. Head tracking works exceptionally well, which shouldn’t come as a surprise, considering AirPods Pro 2 is tailor-made to work seamlessly with all Apple products and uses the Apple H2 chip (I might have mentioned the latter already). Watching Netflix – sorry, Apple TV – on the train has never been more fun than now.
Apple AirPods Pro 2 review: verdict
The Apple AirPods Pro 2 are truly scrumptious audio tech that should be right at the top of the shopping list of any music or movie fans who use iPhones (or Apple products, in general). These lightweight earbuds improved across the board, offering a more balanced sound, far better active noise cancellation and transparency modes, and longer battery life than their predecessor.
Apple's H2 chip did wonders for audio performance. Not to mention, it is currently exclusive to the AirPods Pro 2, which I can only assume will change soon based on how well it performs. Imagine an AirPods Max 2 with the Apple H2 chip! They would (will?) be quite something.
Best of all, you can buy the Apple AirPods Pro 2 for much cheaper these days, which is fantastic and should make you consider investing in them. As mentioned above, the second-generation AirPods Pro 2 is exactly the same price as their predecessor, so even at full price, you get more bang for your buck, let alone when they're on offer! Highly recommended.
Apple AirPods Pro 2 review: also consider
I mentioned a few alternatives above and would like to point out that Beats headphones offer native features on both Apple and Android devices, making them an ideal choice for people who occasionally use both.
Currently ranked as the number one noise-cancelling earbuds by T3, the Sony WF-1000XM4 are profoundly impressive and arguably one of the best true wireless earbuds you can buy. Some rivals may outperform them in certain areas, but the all-around package is hard to beat. Read Simon's excellent Sony WF-1000XM4 review for more info.
Or you can try the Nothing Ear (2) if you're after something more affordable. They build on the brand's position as a fashionable start-up to offer a genuine knockout product. ANC earbuds don't come more complete than this, offering excellent sound quality, a top-notch app interface and great battery life for Android users. Read Sam's full Nothing Ear (2) review.