Last week, as predicted, Apple announced that the second-generation AirPods Pro would start shipping with a USB-C charging case instead of one using the company’s Lightning port. But surprisingly, this refresh isn’t strictly about the case: Apple also added dust resistance (on top of the existing water resistance) to the USB-C AirPods Pro. And the company announced that these AirPods Pro — and not the model from last year — will support lossless audio when paired with the upcoming Vision Pro headset next year.
I’ve been using the refreshed second-gen AirPods Pro for a few days now, and while the dust resistance makes for some added peace of mind, I can’t imagine that anyone except for the staunchest USB-C loyalists will feel any temptation to upgrade. (It’s a shame that Apple isn’t selling the USB-C case by itself.) From a user’s perspective, everything else about these is identical to last year’s model.
Adaptive audio puts your music front and center while keeping you aware of the outside world
That’s a good thing, because all second-generation AirPods Pro owners get to enjoy the new software features that are being introduced alongside iOS 17: Adaptive Audio, Personalized Volume, and Conversation Awareness. I’ve only just begun testing and getting familiar with all three, and I plan to update our AirPods Pro review in the near future after putting in more time with them. But I can already tell that these are some of the most significant new tricks that Apple has brought to the AirPods in quite some time. They’re not all original ideas; Sony and Samsung have been offering a “speak to chat” feature for several years now. But as usual, Apple’s implementation is second to none.
Adaptive Audio is meant to be a set-it-and-forget-it mode that blends active noise cancellation and transparency, canceling loud distractions where needed while also helping you stay present in your environment. In my experience so far, this feature rarely cancels my surroundings to the same degree as the full noise cancellation mode (I wouldn’t use it on a plane), but it reduces outside sound enough to not take away from my music — even at lower volumes. To my ears so far, it’s basically an even smarter version of the adaptive transparency that Apple debuted with last year’s AirPods Pro.
If you’re regularly wearing your AirPods Pro on busy city streets, you should give Adaptive Audio a try. I think this is something Apple will continue to refine and tweak as it collects feedback from customers about which sounds they do and don’t want their earbuds to let through.
Conversation Awareness is designed to make it easier to chat with people for brief interactions without having to remove your earbuds. Start speaking, and your music volume will instantly get dialed way down while transparency mode activates to help you clearly hear whatever’s being said back to you. Apple says the feature reduces overall background noise while enhancing the voices of anyone you’re talking with. So far, I’ve been very impressed with Conversation Awareness. It’s smart enough to avoid being triggered by a cough or other non-speaking noises. But if you’re like me and have a habit of quietly singing along with your music, that’ll quickly become a problem if you keep this setting on.
Conversation Awareness makes it easy to keep your earbuds in while ordering a morning coffee
Personalized Volume is the new trick that I’ve experimented with the least so far; I’m someone who just prefers manual control over how loud my audio is instead of letting software make random adjustments based on my past preferences. I’ll try to give it a chance more over the next few weeks and see how good Apple is at knowing what I want — or if I find myself reaching for the volume for a manual override.
Aside from those three main new features, Apple says the latest AirPods firmware also “adds convenience and control on calls with press to mute and unmute for AirPods (third generation), AirPods Pro (first and second generation), and AirPods Max, as well as significant improvements to the Automatic Switching experience for all available AirPods across Apple devices with the latest software updates.”
Automatic Switching has behaved erratically and proven unpredictable for me in the past — so much so that I normally disable the feature altogether on my devices. But some of my colleagues including deputy editor Dan Seifert have noticed that this update really does seem to improve things when switching from one Apple product to the next. Just keep in mind you’ll need to have installed iOS 17, iPadOS 17, and macOS Sonoma on their respective devices to experience the more reliable automatic switching. The concept has always been great, but nothing’s more frustrating than earbuds that have a mind of their own and switch to the wrong device at the worst possible time.
On the whole, the new AirPods Pro update is yet another example of Apple making the most of its ecosystem. I suspect we’ll see some of these features come to future version of the regular AirPods and the next AirPods Max headphones — presumably whenever each of them makes the transition to USB-C.