By placing the new Apple AirPods Pro 2 headphones that Apple unveiled at the Far Out event on September 7 in my ears in the Steve Jobs Theater hands-on space, I wanted to experience what Apple promised would be a 2x better active noise canceling experience. Even in this bustling space, I was surprised at their effectiveness, which is mainly due to the new Apple H2 chip.
Apple’s silicon, which some say started with the iPhone and its specially designed A-series chips, has spread across a range of devices, including Macs and tablets with M-series processors – but the H2 predecessor that appeared on the original Pros AirPods in H1 chip form, in fact predates the Apple Silicon concept (similar to the original A series).
Now, however, regardless of what information Apple gets on the construction of the M1 line on SoC development, it seems to inform the processors in all Apple devices.
If there is one hallmark of all Apple Silicons, it’s performance, and Apple’s new H2 processor has hit new heights by incorporating twice as many transistors into the chip – now there are over a billion.
The most obvious result is the advertised six hours of AirPods Pro 2 life (30 hours total with the redesigned charging case). This number, however, is related to stronger Active Noise Cancellation (ANC) enabled; turn it off and the number reportedly increases to seven hours for the buds and 35 for the casing.
More AirPods Pro Profits
It’s not just about power management, though – the new H2 chip architecture is behind most, if not all, of the performance gains Apple advertises on the AirPods Pro 2.
There is more memory on board, giving the chip the bandwidth to handle larger audio models. In practice, this means that it can interpret a wider variety of noise sources faster and better know what to do with them in flight.
An example would be how the AirPods Pro 2 apparently copes with harsh sounds in Adaptive Transparency mode. The Transparency Mode, which pulls in real-world sounds through the bud’s microphones, and which I experienced over a few short demonstrations and later during more causal, real-world use, was impressive for its clarity and fidelity, but H2’s fast processing can also, apparently, overtake sharply louder external sounds, such as sirens and motorcycles. To be clear, this is not so prediction loud noise but response time can be fast enough to keep noises at 90db and above 85db when they pass through the AirPods Pro 2 into your ears.
Of course, no one wears their buds all the time, and it’s unlikely they’ll be in your ears when your neighbor decides to turn on his gas leaf blower. A more realistic scenario might be wearing your AirPods Pro 2 during a concert so that the sound is below the level of the ringing in your ears.
I wore donuts on a transatlantic flight and they muted the noise in the cabin very effectively (until one popped out when I fell asleep and almost lost it – I’m a restless sleeping plane); they were just as good at mowing the lawn as they were walking along the busy streets of Manhattan.
Turning on the ANC at a crowded intersection, the transition to almost silence was a whistle and so complete that for a moment I felt isolated. There is still a sound, but it is a muffled whisper compared to the roaring reality of the city street.
As for my lawn mowing experience, I tried to go back to the first-gen AirPods Pro and there was a noticeable difference in noise attenuation. Both are good, but the AirPods Pro 2 are noticeably more effective.
Sound management is not only about loud, big sounds. Apple optimized the processor algorithm for noisy environments like restaurants and offices, and of course did some hardware work to support these efforts. The inward facing microphone has been moved to improve the way it perceives ambient noise, helping the H2 chip to better understand what noise is and process it accordingly. There are also new beamforming microphones that should help cut out wind and outside noise so that you only leave your voice while talking.
I made a few phone calls to the new buds and noticed that no one had trouble hearing me, regardless of my surroundings – on one occasion I had a loud oven fan next to me for the entire duration of the call.
Regardless of what Apple claims during its presentation, my experience with the AirPods Pro 2 has largely backed it up, with massive noise reduction likely due to the combination of a decent gasket (tiny tips, after all!) And the computing power of the H2 chip.
Despite hardware changes, including a new H2 chip, updated microphones, and new spindle volume controls, Apple hasn’t made the AirPods Pro 2 bigger or heavier than their predecessors; in fact, they look almost the same.
The charging case looks similar unchanged, but gained two or three grams, perhaps to accommodate new features, such as a speaker that can be used with the Apple Find My app to help locate the case if it gets lost (the case light will also flash to help with localization effort).
It is a pity that this more powerful case is also unable to charge the last generation AirPods Pro – but you probably can’t have everything.