While all the attention was on Apple’s fancy new iPhone 15 the newest generation of Apple AirPods also broke cover last week at Apple Park and while USB-C might appear to be the only change that’s not the case – but why are they only called 2nd Generation?
AirPods Pro were first introduced in 2019 with a smaller design, bud and tip style and of course – Noise Cancelling.
Less than a year ago, the 2nd Generation were revealed with improved connectivity and chipset they were Apple’s most advanced by far.
So – what on earth did they announce last week? And why are they still called 2nd Generation? Well – I think it’s because the changes are so incremental, but that doesn’t stop it from being a touch confusing.
The charging case gets USB-C connectivity in line with the new iPhone 15 and now all Apple products, and while that’s the headline act, and the only way to tell them apart in a retail setting there are some other changes under the skin.
Updated with the USB-C version is an improved IP rating up to IP54 for Dust, Water and Sweat resistance.
And, through some unique and perhaps magical but certainly according to Apple “Groundbreaking” wireless audio protocol, the USB-C 2nd Gens are capable of fully lossless and low-latency Audio connectivity. But. And it’s an important But – that only works on the Apple Vision Pro headset that’s coming out next year.
That’s it. That’s what’s new. And no, I didn’t test the sweat resistance year on year – nor do I have a Vision Pro to test those low-latency lossless claims. No-one does.
So what we’re really here to review are the new features of AirPods Pro that come to this year and last year’s models thanks to iOS 17.
Namely, Conversation Awareness and Adaptive Audio.
Conversation Awareness is Apple’s name for a feature we’ve seen before. Sony called it Speak to Chat and it has the same drawbacks, but its overall done better by Apple.
I’m listening to music at full volume. The world around me is tuned out, I’m in the zone.
I notice someone across the room, or hallway, or just at the desk next to me – and I say “Hey Rob, got a second” By the time I’ve even said that, the volume has been decreased to a level which makes it obvious the music is still playing – but transparency is turned on so I can have a full conversation no issues.
The volume drop isn’t a 10 to 0 instant drop, it’s actually a linear drop from 10 to 1 on a curved descent – but it’s not a slow curve, like a rollercoaster there’s a clear bend over the edge and to the bottom of the volume range.
If I keep speaking, the volume stays low. If in that same conversation the other person is speaking, the volume stays low – but only for a short while.
In my testing, the Volume went up after 10 seconds of me not talking while someone else is. If I’m the only one talking, the volume goes up after 3-4 seconds of silence from me.
Works a charm.
Adaptive Audio is similarly brilliant.
Instead of having to choose between no noise cancelling, transparency (which means you can hear what’s happening around you), and Noise Cancelling – Adaptive Audio puts all those decisions out of your hands and let’s the AirPods Pro make the all the calls on what you hear and how much they block out.
At it’s simplest, the AirPods Pro smoothly move between Noise Cancelling and Transparency depending on the environment and circumstances. If you’re walking the level of Noise Cancelling will be far lower than when you’re sitting still.
If there are loud noises, they are dulled, but still heard – because you want to know if there’s a truck reversing, or if someone is shouting at you. But you don’t want them peaking in your ears.
For most people, Adaptive Audio is where it’s at, and can stay on all the time.
Then there’s the Conversation Awareness – for some that will be a game changer, for others, a touch annoying. Especially those who love to sing along with music.
You sing a couple of words, and the music drops down to a barely audible level, and you just hear yourself. Kinda painful let’s be honest.
I can see what this is all about, for Apple this makes AirPods Pro something you wear for much longer than just a few songs, or even an hour. They could be worn all day, taken off only perhaps in a meeting and to charge them.
The iOS 17 updates takes this year and last year’s AirPods Pro 2nd Generation from great to outstanding.