AirPods Pro 2 (2022) vs AirPods Pro: what are the differences?

Apple's distinctive white AirPods might be a byword for true wireless earbuds, but they consistently only earned four out of five in our reviews. That all changed with the AirPods Pro 2 in 2022, whose combination of effortless usability and enhanced sound quality edged them into the fifth star.

The first-gen AirPods Pro are no longer sold by most retailers, but you can still buy them refurbished or second hand. Let's see if they're worth hunting down, or if the second-gen model is as good value for money.

Looking further ahead? Here's what we're hoping for from the AirPods Pro 3.

AirPods Pro 2 (2022) vs AirPods Pro: price

We are happy to report that the newer AirPods Pro launched at the exact same price as the originals in 2019 – £249 / $249 / AU$399. What makes us even happier is that (in the UK at least) this price dropped by £20 with the introduction of the USB-C charging case in September 2023. Apart from the difference in ports (mandated by a change in EU law), the Lightning-equipped AirPods Pro 2 and USB-C version are exactly the same, though Apple no longer sells the Lightning version.

Due to their age difference, there is now a price discrepancy between the old and new models, though. Second hand or refurbished AirPods Pro (1st generation) are available online, with prices varying between around £80 / $180 / AU$130 and £200 / $240 / AU$250.

The AirPods Pro 2's price puts them among the premium cream of the crop, including the class-leading Sony WF-1000XM5 and Bose QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds. So they aren't short of competition.

AirPods Pro 2 (2022) vs AirPods Pro: design

AirPods Pro and AirPods Pro 2 charging cases side by side

(Image credit: What Hi-Fi?)

Despite rumours of shorter stems or even stem-less designs, the AirPods Pro design stays the same – same stem size, same bulbous body with an eartip, same all-white finish. But the new model isn't a carbon copy of the original. 

You now get four ear tips in the box: a smaller XS size is included, giving you more options to get the perfect fit and seal. That's good news if you’ve struggled with the AirPods’ fit before.

In addition to their 'force sensor' for controlling music playback and taking calls, the stems on the new AirPods Pro now also have a touch-capacitive layer that you can swipe up and down to change the volume. On-earpiece volume control was one of the biggest things missing from the predecessors, so we're glad to see it added here.

Arguably the biggest design change here is to the charging case: it now has a built-in speaker and a lanyard loop. The speaker emits tones to indicate charging, low battery and to help you find it. The case itself remains the same small and pocketable size – it easily slips into a pocket, bag and the palm of your hand. It even has a lanyard loop and can be engraved with a Memoji for free.

Both the earbuds and charging case are once again IPX4 rated for water and sweat resistance.

AirPods Pro 2 (2022) vs AirPods Pro: features

AirPods Pro and AirPods Pro 2 with their charging cases side by side

(Image credit: What Hi-Fi?)

The Pro model still separates itself from the 'standard' AirPods model with one big, distinguishing feature: active noise cancellation. The sound-blocking function is dramatically improved this time, thanks to the new H2 chip as well as optimised placement of the acoustic vent and mics. We found it to be incredibly effective – although not quite as effective as the Award-winning Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II

This H2 chip also facilitates the Adaptive Transparency mode which is designed to reduce loud, harsh, high-decibel noise around you such as a passing lorry or roadworks. It seems to do a decent job of damping down high-pitched noises but it can be a subtle effect.

While the original AirPods Pro were updated to support Apple's Spatial Audio with head tracking technology, the Pro 2 tailor this immersive listening to individuals. The process involves using your iPhone’s camera to capture images of your ears, but we found it to be a tricky and frustrating business, and one we hope Apple can streamline in an update.

Of course, those with an Android device still don't get access to any of these extra Apple-centric features, and there’s still no Android app either. 

Battery life is longer, too. While the 2019 AirPods Pro offer five hours of playback in the earbuds and another 19 hours from the case, totalling 24 hours, the Pro 2 take that to six and 24 hours, totalling 30 hours – and that's with noise cancelling activated. The latter means the Pro (2022) are now  now more competitive with the market-leading Sony WF-1000XM5 buds (eight hours in the buds, 24 hours in total). 

We did find the new AirPods Pro (2022) charging case drains a bit more power than before during use, but it charges up swiftly. If you’re running low on battery, pop the earbuds into the case for five minutes to get an entire hour of charge.

It’s also worth noting that neither the first- nor second-gen AirPods Pro support higher-quality codecs, which remains at odds with the 24-bit high-res audio tracks available in Apple Music’s large catalogue.

While baby steps have been taken in the design department, larger ones appear to have been made when it comes to feature set in order to keep the Pros competitive and unique in the market.

AirPods Pro 2 (2022) vs AirPods Pro: sound quality

Apple AirPods Pro 2 and charging case with a smartphone on a table

(Image credit: What Hi-Fi?)

Apple has always impressed us with the clarity and tonal neutrality of its products’ audio quality, but the AirPods Pro (2022) bring some extra weight and detail to the party.

This is thanks in part to the new custom low-distortion, high-excursion audio driver, transducer and high dynamic range amplifier, which combined with the new H2 chip’s advanced audio algorithms, results in a sound that’s been improved in every way from the original Pro. 

That's not to say you should discount the first-gen buds. We like how the AirPods Pro sound – balanced and easy-going, their mid-range especially packed with texture and detail. They just aren't as dynamic as the second-gen Pro (2022). Nor are they as musical as the newer Sony, Bose and Sennheiser rivals.

AirPods Pro 2 (2022) vs AirPods Pro: verdict

AirPods Pro and AirPods Pro 2 with their charging cases on a table

(Image credit: What Hi-Fi?)

The AirPods Pro needed to be brought up to date. Since their arrival, the market has moved on significantly, with longer battery lives, customisable fits and ANC intensities, and dinkier designs.

Happily, Apple has done just that – and taken a big leap forward in the process. With fantastic sound, dramatically improved noise-cancelling and some clever (Apple-centric) features, the new AirPods Pro 2 (2022) are much admired here at What Hi-Fi?. Sure, we'd have liked to see the arrival of higher quality audio codecs but that doesn't detract from their all-round appeal.

If you're on a tighter budget, or simply don't want to spend big on Apple's souped-up AirPods, the original AirPods Pro remain an excellent buy.


Read the full Apple AirPods Pro 2 (2022) review

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Becky Roberts

Becky is the managing editor of What Hi-Fi? and, since her recent move to Melbourne, also the editor of Australian Hi-Fi magazine. During her 10 years in the hi-fi industry, she has been fortunate enough to travel the world to report on the biggest and most exciting brands in hi-fi and consumer tech (and has had the jetlag and hangovers to remember them by). In her spare time, Becky can often be found running, watching Liverpool FC and horror movies, and hunting for gluten-free cake.