My mom was arguing with my husband downstairs, the baby was crying, and I was holed up in the only empty room in the house trying to work. I'd just received a package of second generation AirPods Pro ($250), and slipped them in my ears. It was my first time using headphones with noise cancellation, and I didn't realize the feature was turned on as I followed the instructions to set everything up.
But then I noticed something off: It was quiet. The noise cancellation had drowned out everyone so completely that I literally thought they’d all gotten so mad they'd stopped talking to each other and our daughter had fallen asleep. Only when I took the AirPods out again did I realize it was just an illusion—everyone was just as noisy as they’d been all day.
The next morning, I took a virtual yoga class with the AirPods in, trying to channel some much-needed calm. I found I was more aware of my breath than I’d ever been during a flow—since everything else was silenced, all I could hear was my panting as I pushed through each pose.
As much as I love this quiet for yoga and work, the completeness of the noise cancellation is too nerve-wracking to use during my favorite activity: running. I live in Boston, where the drivers are (accurately) referred to as “Mass-holes,” and as much as I’d love to put the city on mute during my runs, I don’t feel safe muffling the sounds that could warn me when a driver is running a red light or an impatient cyclist is passing me from behind.
That’s why I was so excited to try these out: In an inspired move, Apple has added an “adaptive transparency” mode to the second generation of the AirPods Pro, which reduces the environmental noise around you without completely cutting it out.
I took my pair out on both easy runs and a handful of long ones ranging from 12 to 20 miles. I also tested them out during online Pilates, strength, and yoga workouts, and while working from home. Here are my honest thoughts.
What's new about the second generation AirPods Pro?
1. Better sound quality
As soon as I put these on, it was immediately clear that the sound quality is way better than my old third generation AirPods—I felt like I was wearing massive recording studio-style headphones that completely immerse you in the music. The details of the songs came through crystal clear, with nuance I’d never noticed before.
As any runner who listens to music in the first place knows, the more it can get you out of your head, the better. So even though I’m not usually picky about sound quality when I’m just putting on something to distract me from the monotony of putting one foot in front of the other (I have been known to rely on $10 headphones from CVS), this experience is next-level.
According to Apple, the improved sound quality comes from a new low-distortion audio driver and custom amplifier, and richer bass across a wider range of frequencies and volumes. There’s also now an extra small ear tip so even people with super tiny ears can get the best quality. And the new personalized spatial audio records the shape of your face and ears for a more “immersive” sound.
I’m no audio engineer, but the difference in quality is unmistakable.
2. A safer transparency mode
Switching to the new adaptive transparency mode (simply by holding down the stem of the ear bud for a second) reduces loud noises around you but doesn't completely block them. When I head out for a run with it on, traffic sounds like it’s coming through a recording, almost as an echo, rather than right in front of me. I can still hear it, but it doesn’t overwhelm my playlist or podcast. Both safe and effective.
3. Longer battery life
The new version promises the AirPods will last up to six hours on a single charge—a 33 percent increase over the original AirPods Pro. That means they can last long enough to stay strong through most people’s marathons.
One morning I stuck them in at 7:30 am for my morning run, and, other than a brief break to shower, I left them on the rest of the day, toggling between simply using the noise cancellation and playing music or connecting to Zoom. I didn’t get the sad “womp womp womp” signal that I’d worn out the batteries until just before 5 p.m.—more than nine hours later.
4. Volume control at your fingertips
As a city runner, the amount of noise around me comes and goes as I make my way along my route—by certain patches of the river, for instance, it’s serenely quiet, then a minute later, I’ll be running underneath a bridge right next to a highway and can barely hear what’s coming through my headphones.
One of my biggest disappointments with my older AirPods is that I need to use my iPhone to adjust the volume. Which means that if I can’t figure out how to press the volume button through the fabric of my pants pocket, I'll just end up playing songs I can't really hear, or miss a whole chunk of a podcast until I run past the noise.
So I was especially pumped for the new Pros’ volume control right on the stem of the earbud which you can change via an easy swipe up or down. I was afraid it’d be too clunky to manage while running, but I found it perfectly doable at an easy pace (and I didn’t mistakenly knock the buds out of my ears even once, despite being paranoid that I was going to).
Are they worth it?
Real talk: The pair of second gen AirPods Pro I was testing out were just a media loaner that I have to send back. Although I had no plans for a personal AirPod upgrade going into this, they made such a big difference that I’m now planning to buy a pair for myself.
They do sometimes fall out when I'm doing at-home workouts that require me to bend over. And every once in awhile there's a static-y sound when connecting to my laptop.
But for me, the $249 that they cost is worth it. The ability to actually hear what I’m trying to listen to, and for it to sound really good—and the fact that I know they'll last no matter how many miles I’m doing—has made my solo long runs so much more enjoyable.
The ability to drown out my husband while I'm working doesn’t hurt either.
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