Apple unveiled the original AirPods Pro back in 2019. They were a step forward over the standard AirPods, featuring innovations such as active noise cancellation (ANC), transparency mode, and Apple’s first in-ear wireless earbud design. And with the second-generation AirPods Pro, Apple turned it up to 11 with improved ANC, Adaptive Transparency, longer battery life, and improved controls.
Both AirPods Pro models are excellent. If you have the first-generation AirPods Pro, you don’t necessarily need to go out and upgrade. But if you’re curious about how the two models compare, we’ve taken a close look at them below.
Design and Charging Case
The biggest change you’ll notice between the first- and second-generation AirPods Pro is the charging case. Starting with the basics, the case now charges via the iPhone’s MagSafe connector or the Apple Watch charger. This is in addition to wired charging via a Lightning cable. The original AirPods Pro case supported standard wireless charging. But if you purchased your AirPods Pro after October 2021, the case was revised to also support MagSafe charging.
Unfortunately, charging speeds between the first- and second-generation cases are the same (there’s no fast charging). But hey, at least you have more ways to charge it!
Beyond charging, the case got a few notable changes in regard to Find My. While the first-generation AirPods Pro supported Find My tracking, it only worked when the AirPods were out of the case and in range of your personal Apple devices. But with the AirPods Pro 2, both earbuds and the case are Find My capable. And to take it a step further, Apple has added a speaker and a U1 chip to the case for precise and easy tracking, even when you’re not near it.
It’s also worth noting that while you can fit your second-generation AirPods Pro into a first-generation case, and vice versa, Apple’s software won’t let them charge up. Upon trying to do so, you’ll get an alert on your iPhone saying that your AirPods are in the wrong case and to put them back into the original case.
Sound quality is highly subjective and personal. Unfortunately, Apple doesn’t give us frequency response graphs for us to refer to. However, according to Apple’s AirPods Pro 2 announcement, the AirPods Pro 2 feature improved drivers and amplifiers for a better overall sound experience.
As someone who used the first-generation AirPods Pro for three years, I’d describe their sound as balanced but lacking in the treble department, with a non-offensive and friendly sound. With the second-generation AirPods Pro, I can tell that Apple has boosted the treble and bass to create a more balanced sound signature.
Apple’s Adaptive EQ, which tries to adjust the EQ to compensate for how your AirPods fit in your ears, is also improved, according to Apple. But in practice, this is hardly noticeable on the AirPods Pro. Adaptive EQ is more notable on Apple’s larger AirPods Max as there’s more variability in how you can wear them.
One of the signature features of the AirPods Pro, and what sets them apart from the standard AirPods line, is active noise cancellation (ANC). Both the first- and second-generation AirPods Pro feature ANC, but Apple has improved its algorithms with the second-generation model. Apple claims that AirPods Pro 2 offer up to two times better noise isolation than the originals.
And from my experience owning both the first- and second-generation models, I can confirm that the ANC is much better on the newer AirPods Pro. For example, if the low hum from an airplane engine could slightly be heard on the first-generation AirPods Pro, the second-generation almost completely silences that noise. Whether the second-generation is two times better is hard to say, but they’re definitely a step up from the originals.
The AirPods Pro 2 also feature Adaptive Transparency, which turns down extremely loud noises when in Transparency Mode. For example, if you’re walking in the street and are passing a construction site, your AirPods Pro 2 will lower the volume of the loud jackhammer to a more comfortable level. The original AirPods Pro still feature a great Transparency Mode that sounds true to life, but will not lower the volume of louder noises.
Both AirPods Pro generations use Force Sensors on the stems of the earbuds. By default, a single click plays or pauses your audio or answers or hangs up a phone call. A double click skips forward, and a triple click goes back. And a click and hold switches between ANC and transparency modes.
However, the new AirPods Pro have a trick up their sleeves. In addition to the click gestures, Apple has included a new swipe gesture. This lets you change the volume by swiping up or down on the touch portion of the stem. Swiping up or down goes up a predetermined amount, meaning you’ll need to swipe multiple times if you’re wanting to change the volume a significant amount.
The first-generation AirPods Pro don’t have a physical volume control and require you to reach for your iPhone or use Siri to change the volume. So if you’ve been clamoring for a change there, this may push you to upgrade.
While the battery life is pretty good on the first-generation AirPods Pro—offering 4.5 hours with ANC turned on, and 24 hours total with the charging case—the AirPods Pro second-generation take it up a notch. They add 25% more battery, to get up to 6 hours of juice with ANC enabled, and around 30 hours with the charging case.
Of course, those times assume that your AirPods Pro and case are brand new with fresh batteries. Battery degradation is bound to happen with all rechargeable batteries, and as you use both your AirPods and the case, you’ll have to rely on tips to prevent your AirPods from losing battery too quickly. Still, it’s better to start out with more, which you get with the AirPods Pro 2.
Both AirPods Pro models retail for $250, but since the first-generation AirPods Pro are no longer being sold by Apple and have been around for several years, you can often find them at a discounted price. Oftentimes, you’ll be able to snatch a new set of first-generation AirPods Pro for $199. Or, if you’re looking to save even more money, you’ll sometimes find them refurbished for around $150.
Though, finding a new set of AirPods Pro first-generation might prove to be tricky, as most major retailers have switched to exclusively shipping the second-generation buds. If you’re not looking to spend $250 on new earbuds, finding a used or refurbished pair, or finding the first-generation AirPods Pro new at a discounted price may be your best bet.
Should You Upgrade to the AirPods Pro 2?
If you’re generally happy with your first-generation AirPods Pro, and have no complaints about them, there’s no real reason to pick up the second-generation. However, if you’ve found the battery life is starting to get too short or if you’ve been yearning for better ANC, the second-generation AirPods Pro could be a wise purchase.
Even then, you’ll have to ask yourself whether you want to spend another $250 on a set of true wireless earbuds. That’s especially true if your current set aren’t very old.