Apple doesn't make rubbish. It simply doesn't. So a few years back when I first started using Apple products on a more regular basis, I was hardly surprised to discover how good AirPods were and I began to understand that people weren't just wearing them to look cool, they actually sounded cool too.
There have been a few upgrades over the years - but only a few. In its usual style, Apple doesn't change for the sake of it - only when the changes are deemed important and necessary.
As we've seen with this year's iPhone 15 series, the change to USB-C charging has definitely become important and necessary. So inevitably, that change has come to AirPods too.
The AirPods Pro (2nd generation) are essentially still the same devices I reviewed this time last year, when I declared them the "true stars" of 2022's big September launch.
I was blown away by what the new H2 chip was capable of - not just running its Adaptive EQ to perfection but offering standout Active Noise Cancelling and extended battery life.
None of that has really been tweaked here - although I did recently read one review where the author suggested he could hear a slight improvement in sound quality between the '22 and '23 models.
Either way, yes, the charging case is now USB-C and both the case and AirPods are IP54 water, dust and sweat-resistant. Most people have been wearing their AirPods to exercise with anyway but now it's nice to know they are officially rated for it.
As convenient as USB-C is, wireless charging is even more so and I'd completely forgotten you can also charge using via MagSafe using an Apple Watch charger. You still get about 6 hours on a full charge - 30 including the case. This is good - not the best on offer but I haven't accidentally gone flat yet.
Other features well worth a mention (or a re-mention if we've already covered this before) include Adaptive Audio, which lets the H2 chip decide on a mix of Transparency Mode and ANC - depending on the environment. Conversation Awareness automatically lowers the volume of what you're listening to if you start talking to someone - hopefully, this'll save some of those pesky, "Stop ignoring me!" comments.
Then there's Personalised Volume - a feature I only discovered because it was toggled on by default when I set the AirPods Pro up. This uses "machine learning" (whatever that is) to learn your listening preferences and fine-tune your audio - mostly volume - to adapt to your environment. It took me by surprise because I couldn't figure out why the volume kept turning itself down every time I started listening to my podcasts. It was because I was usually alone in a quiet house and the H2 chip had decided the podcast didn't need to be so loud.
I've turned that feature off. I hate being told what to do.
In saying that, I don't really mind that I can't manually EQ the AirPods Pro like I can on other earbuds. This is because Apple's already done such an amazing job for me.
As I sit here listening to "Zoltan" by Larry Young, the duelling sax and trumpet desperately play against each other, mixed in opposite ears and it sounds so clean, so precise. Although this is a small jazz combo, there's a lot going on in the background with organ, bass and drums - so subtle you might miss it, except the AirPods Pro bring out every little detail.
This precise reproduction absolutely zings on Herbie Hancock's "Man-Child" - not just sax and trumpet this time but a full horn section in concert with some of the best-mixed funk guitar and Fender Rhodes piano you'll ever hear... and what a great way to hear it.
Of course, it's not just music that'll take you on a magical mystery tour using the AirPods Pro - I've started using them to watch Apple TV. The Spatial Audio provides absolutely convincing surround sound effects - creating realistic impressions of distance and direction. This is aided by intelligent head-tracking which means the audio stays in the right place even if you don't. It's so good sometimes I watch Loki with my AirPods in even when there's no-one else home.
Lossless audio is another bold new world and with the introduction of the Vision Pro headset next year you'll literally be able to transport yourself to that world, with the AirPods Pro already tuned to take you there.
I only ever really had two significant pain points with the AirPods Pro (2nd generation) - the first being the lightning charging cable which we've now kissed goodbye.
Unfortunately, there remains a rather large elephant in the room... or at least, in my ear. While you get four sizes of eartips in the box - including XS for more petite earholes - they still don't stay in. I know I've chosen the correct sized tips because I've run the tip size test in the settings menu on my iPhone. While this means they sound incredible and are ultra-comfy, when I'm digging in the garden, scrubbing windows or heaven forbid, exercising vigorously, the AirPods wiggle around, get looser and looser and eventually one falls out. Usually the left one. (I've started referring to that ear as "Lefty Loosey.")
I can't understand why Apple has let its competitors get the jump on it in the fit department. I can't be the only one to run into this issue and yet for years, other than changing to a more oval tip shape, the basic form factor has remained essentially the same and essentially too fally-outy. One can only hope the next generation meets this challenge and gets more of a grip.
In short, as much as I love my AirPods, all the clever audio features and the new USB-C charging port, there's no way I'm going to risk wearing them next time I go hand-gliding or extreme downhill snowmobiling. Just as well I don't do either of those things, so for now, I'll keep them in.
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