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Apple AirPods 2 vs AirPods Pro: which Apple earbuds are better?

 Apple AirPods 2 vs AirPods Pro
(Image credit: Future)

If you're in the market for a new pair of wireless earbuds and you also happen to own an iPhone or iPad, chances are the Apple AirPods 2 and AirPods Pro are on your radar. But how do they stack up, both in terms of performance and price? Read on as we pit the AirPods 2 against the AirPods Pro...

The Apple AirPods Pro sit above Apple's second-generation AirPods. They're pricier but they do boast a new design, active noise-cancelling tech and some unique features. The question is, are they worth buying over the standard AirPods? Should you consider the AirPods 3 or perhaps even the rumoured AirPods Pro 2?

Below you'll find a comprehensive comparison to help you make the right choice at the checkout. We've even sought out today's cheapest AirPods deals...

Apple AirPods 2 vs AirPods Pro: price

The Apple AirPods Pro sit above Apple's second-generation AirPods. They're priced at £249 ($249, AU$399), so demand quite a premium over the £159 ($159, AU$249) AirPods 2, but they do boast an active noise-cancellation and some unique features.

Both models debuted in 2019 (although a new version of the AirPods Pro launched in 2021 with a new MagSafe charging case).

Apple AirPods 2 vs AirPods Pro: noise-cancelling

Apple AirPods vs AirPods Pro: which is better?

(Image credit: Future)

The Apple AirPods 2 don't have any form of noise-cancelling tech – you'll have to rely on noise isolation from the buds themselves.

The AirPods Pro address that. They feature (extremely effective) active noise cancellation that is continuously adjusted 200 times per second. Noises such as the thrum of a train are more or less completely eradicated, while less predictable sounds such as office chatter are reduced to a whisper. The Pro buds also boast a 'Transparency' mode, which comes in handy when cycling or jogging as it allows sound in from the outside world. 

Impressive, but if noise-cancelling is your biggest concern, you might want to shortlist the 2021 Sony WF-1000XM4 (£250, $280, AU$280). Their noise-cancelling is among the best at this price, which makes it among the best available from any true wireless earbuds. 

You could also consider waiting for the AirPods Pro 2, which are rumoured to feature improved noise-cancelling.

*Winner: Apple AirPods Pro*

Apple AirPods 2 vs AirPods Pro: battery life

Apple AirPods vs AirPods Pro: which is better?

(Image credit: Future)

The 2nd Gen AirPods (2019) deliver up to five hours battery life, with another 19 hours added by the charging case. It's a decent performance but Apple is tipped to give the upcoming AirPods 3 a significant battery boost.  

The AirPods Pros claim a little less than the AirPods 2 – 4.5 hours – plus 19 hours from the charging case. (To get the maximum battery life out of the AirPods Pro, you'll need to disable noise-cancelling.)

Both buds have similarly-sized wireless charging cases, which are compatible with Qi-based wireless charging mats. The Pros come with the wireless charging case as standard, whereas the 2nd generation AirPods are available with the standard charging case (£159/$159) or a wireless charging case (£199/$199).

If either pair runs out of charge, five minutes back in the case will give you another hour of listening.

*Winner: Apple AirPods*

Apple AirPods 2 vs AirPods Pro: design and fit

Apple AirPods vs AirPods Pro: which is better?

(Image credit: Apple)

In theory, the standard AirPods should fit any ear thanks to Apple's 'universal fit'. In reality, that's not always the case, and there's no way to adjust the fit if they do feel a bit loose. 

The AirPods Pro offer a much more customisable fit, with silicone tips in a range of sizes. And if you’re not sure which to use, Apple will help you find the correct fit thanks to the built-in 'Ear Tip Fit Test' which you can run once the headphones are in place.

While the noise-cancelling AirPods Pro are designed to fit snugly, they also feature tiny air vents to reduce that pressurised feeling that you often get from in-ear noise-cancelling headphones. It's a welcome addition if you're sensitive to that kind of thing.

Planning on taking your Apple earbuds to the gym? The AirPods Pros are far better suited to sporty adventures too – they're IPX4 sweat- and water-resistant (standard AirPods offer no water resistance).

*Winner Apple AirPods Pro*

Apple AirPods 2 vs AirPods Pro: connectivity

Thanks to a combination of Apple's splendid H1 chip and Bluetooth 5.0, both the AirPods and AirPods Pro offer flawless wireless performance and supremely quick pairing. 

We haven't experienced dropouts with either and find Apple's automatic pairing (insert an earphone and it instantly connects to your phone) to be predictably quick and responsive.

*Winner: Draw*

Apple AirPods 2 vs AirPods Pro: controls

Apple AirPods vs AirPods Pro: which is better?

(Image credit: Future)

Both the Apple AirPods 2 and AirPods Pro can be controlled with the power of your voice – Apple's  H1 chip enables the buds to act upon any “hey Siri” voice commands. 

What's more, both models have touch controls – albeit in a slightly different form. 

The AirPods are touch-sensitive; touch once to play or answer a phone call, touch twice to skip a song, and so on. The AirPods Pro have a small ridge on each stem which you squeeze to switch noise-canceling modes, skip tracks, pause music and answer calls.

*Winner: Draw* 

Apple AirPods 2 vs AirPods Pro: sound quality

Apple's second generation AirPods brought extra loudness and a touch more sonic sophistication to proceedings. As with most Apple products, sound is clean, neutral and nicely balanced. Like the pricer Pros, the standard AirPods don't have a ton of bass, but if you like sparkling vocals, they're great pound-for-pound performers.

As for the Pros, there's no artificial boosting of bass or treble enhancement. The midrange is where the AirPods Pros really shine, with plenty of texture and detail, with no hint of brightness. They sound richer and fuller than the AirPods 2 and dig out a bit more detail. We did find the Pros performed slightly better with the noise-cancelling switched off, though. 

Overall, the Pros are the best-performing AirPods we've heard to date, but they're not quite able to match the sound quality of either the 2019 Sony WF-1000XM3 or the 2021 Sony WF-1000XM4, both which are some of the best-sounding wireless earbuds we've heard.

*Winner: Apple AirPods Pro*

Apple AirPods 2 vs AirPods Pro: verdict

Firstly, you should know both pairs of AirPods offer a great user experience, especially if you're already an iPhone user. You also need to take into account the rather large price difference which remains, even in the Black Friday sales.

You could save yourself around £100 ($100) by opting for the 2nd generation AirPods and you'll even get marginally better battery life. And that's before you throw the Apple AirPods 3 into the equation.

But, the AirPods Pro up the ante and justify their premium price tag with state-of-the-art noise-cancelling, improved comfort, sportier credentials and better sound quality.

If your budget allows it, we'd opt for the AirPods Pro this Black Friday, but if you can only stretch to the standard AirPods (and you're happy with the fit) they'll still serve you extremely well.

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Andy is Deputy Editor of What Hi-Fi? and a consumer electronics journalist with nearly 20 years of experience writing news, reviews and features. Over the years he's also contributed to a number of other outlets, including The Sunday Times, the BBC, Stuff, and BA High Life Magazine. Premium wireless earbuds are his passion but he's also keen on car tech and in-car audio systems and can often be found cruising the countryside testing the latest set-ups. In his spare time Andy is a keen golfer and gamer.