At the Apple keynote last week, the new AirPods Pro hardly got a mention and the focus was merely on how it had also shifted to USB-C from the lightning charger. What Apple did not tell you was how it had used this as an opportunity to actually overhaul the most popular earphones in the world. It was while covering the MotoGP Bharat qualifiers that I realised the full potential of these really new AirPods.
First, let me start with the design. The new AirPods Pro 2 has exactly the same design that every time I pick it up, I have to check at the bottom what port it has. This is the only visible differentiating factor in comparison to older models, while this has a better IPX rating now as well as a speaker.
But the new version actually packs a punch. I had popped the AirPods in my pant pocket primarily hoping to catch up on some music and podcasts on the long drive to Buddh International Circuit which is hosting its first MotoGP this weekend. I did not get the opportunity to use the AirPods during the drive though.
But as soon as I was near the paddocks with scores of riders testing out the tracks at breakneck speeds, I was reminded of just how noisy an environment a MotoGP or F1 track is. And this is when I pulled out the AirPods Pro 2. As soon as I wore the AirPods, the ear piercing drone of the high-powered superbike engines had become all but a vague hum in the background. The adaptive noise cancellation on the AirPods Pro 2 works overtime when in really loud environments like this — my Apple Watch was constantly alerting me that noise was over 100 decibels every time I stepped out of the soundproof lounge. And when I am working at home for instance it does not have to dial up so much as it has to drain out is the buzz of my living room fan.
As the KTMs, Ducatis and Aprillias swished away in front of me, there was hardly any noise to accompany the speed, until they turned at the end of the course, and the AirPods let in a little shriek to acknowledge that. And this I realised was because it had the new conversational awareness mode on, and the AirPods thought the faint drone of the bikes as they moved far away was maybe someone trying to strike up a conversation. But when someone actually did try to talk to me, or when I walked up to the food counter to get a bottle of water, this new feature cut the noise cancellation so that it did not become a conversation blocker. However, this is not exactly a new feature and Sony has had this in its headphones for a few years now.
Over the past few days I have been using the new AirPods Pro 2 for my evening walks as well as my regular calls and even for a podcast recording. The experience is clearly a notch better than the earlier edition. And it is not just with the active noise cancellation.
The new H2 chip in these AirPods offer three-dimensional audio, which means there is dynamic head tracking now. As I listen to Plinio Fernandes’ Bacheando on the Apple Classical Music app while pacing around the living room, the Brazilian artiste’s guitar stays in a specific part of the virtual room. The Dolby Atmos version of the hi-res lossless file wraps around my head and after a bit, it is like a shroud, almost aloof from my ears. And all this when there is a lot happening in my open kitchen, which the AirPods Pro 2 has relegated to a mute cacophony in favour of Plinio’s Bachianinha No 1.
Cool new features of AirPods Pro 2
The AirPods Pro 2 now does spatial audio as a standard feature. As I switch to Larghetto by Randall Goosby and Zhu Wang, the audio is so clear I notice a flaw in the recording, a faint buzz which could one of the artists breathing or the violin pulling back after each note. And all this is happening with such a clear sense of space — the violin, the piano, this buzz, all finding their spot in my head.
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However, I did not really like the adaptive audio all that much because it creates a vague white noise in the background, almost like transparency mode. So unless you are in a situation where you need to be in control of your surroundings, it is better to go into full active noise cancellation. I don’t want any disturbance when I am trying to soak in Christopher Tin’s ‘The Drop That Contained The Sea’. This is the kind of song that tests any earphone with its range highs, lows and mids. With the AirPods Pro 2, it’s smooth sailing even as the chorus steps up from a single vocal and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra tries to take the entire composition to an ethereal level.
One other change in the AirPods Pro 2 charging case is the addition of a speaker. So now when you are trying to find the case, you can use Find My to make it play a sound from whichever nook it has fallen into. The battery life is the same as before though with about six hours of playback on the earphones every time you take them out of the case. And for the record, these are now dust, sweat and water resistant.
While the pricing of Rs 24,900 has not changed, the new AirPods Pro 2 packs a punch which is way beyond what the older version offered. With hardware and software upgrades the AirPods Pro 2 seems headed to become even more popular, and you don’t even have to carry an extra charger in your bag. What still beats me is why Apple did not give this beauty more time in the keynote.