It's just a matter of time before the Apple AirPods Pro 2 hit the shelves. Apple's inaugural AirPods Pro came out in late October 2019, offering a tweaked design over the original AirPods, along with a customised fit, active noise-cancellation, sweat- and water-resistance and superior on-device controls. And a few hints pointing to an AirPods Pro sequel have surfaced over the past few months, including one suggestion that they could launch alongside entry-level Apple AirPods 3.
So what can we expect from the inevitable next pair of Apple noise-cancelling wireless earbuds? When will they arrive and how much will they cost? We've rounded up all the leaks and rumours to paint as accurate a picture of the AirPods Pro 2 as we can...
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Apple AirPods Pro 2: release date
The AirPods Pro 2 were rumoured to launch in April, but that didn't come to pass. So when can we expect them? One Bloomberg report pegged the fourth quarter of 2021, but its more recent report says we won't see them until next year.
Though DigiTimes has speculated that we could see the AirPods Pro 2 a lot sooner than that. Its report focussed on flash memory supplier Winbond. Citing unnamed industry sources, the report states: "Winbond is also expected to be among the NOR flash suppliers for Apple's next-generation AirPods Pro slated for launch later in the first half of this year... The Taiwan-based chipmaker will be running its NOR flash production lines at nearly full capacity utilisation during the six-month period."
However, time is running out – the first half of this year is nearly over. It's more likely we'll see the next instalment of the standard AirPods this year, with a new Pro model coming in 2022.
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Apple AirPods Pro 2: price
So how much can we expect to pay for this new pair of Apple AirPods Pro wireless headphones? This is Apple, so don't expect them to come with the cheapest and most cheerful price tag around. Indeed, true wireless earbuds usually command a premium – even more so when they bear an Apple logo.
The Apple AirPods Pro launched at £249 ($249, AU$399), and while AirPods Pro deals have knocked down that price slightly since, we can't imagine Apple would deviate much from that price point for its next pair.
That would probably put them in the firing line of rivals from Sennheiser (the Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2 or their yet-to-be-announced sequels) and Sony (the Sony WF-1000XM3 or their rumoured successors, the WF-1000XM4).
Apple AirPods Pro 2: design and features
The same Bloomberg report also says they will arrive alongside a new third-generation "entry-level AirPods similar to the current AirPods Pro" that will apparently gain the shorter stem and replaceable ear tips first seen in the Pros. "That model, however, will not have higher-end AirPods Pro features like noise-cancellation," it adds.
So, noise cancelling seems set to remain an exclusive Pro feature – hardly a surprise considering it's the main differential between the standard AirPods and AirPods Pro. What is surprising is that the AirPods Pro 2 could reportedly get rid of the stem completely in favour of a rounder design, as adopted by the likes of the Samsung Galaxy Buds+ and Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2.
As if to back up these design alteration claims, the Bloomberg report states that packing noise-cancellation, wireless antennas and microphones into a smaller AirPods Pro earbud housing has so far proved challenging. Perhaps for now we should cross our fingers for – but not bet our homes on – a stem-free aesthetic.
Apple's in-ear AirPods are of course positioned above its Beats subsidiary brand range, so we expect a suitably premium set of features, headlined by ANC. Apple ignored the trend for user-selectable noise-cancelling modes in the AirPods Pro; noise cancelling is currently either on or off. The exception is the ‘Transparency’ mode, which actively allows sound in from the outside world. In our tests, we found the noise cancelling "strong" and effective, but we did find it impacted the timing of music a little.
Could Apple implement a more granular noise cancellation control, as seen on rivals like the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds? Maybe...
It seems the new AirPods Pro model will be powered by a new Apple wireless chip, which could have the potential to bring about improved noise cancellation, usability functions and battery life.
Bluetooth 5 should come as standard, as well as hands-free Siri compatibility. More stamina (currently, battery life in the Pros is a claimed five hours for the earphones with another 19 hours from the charging case) would be a notable improvement, and we'd love to see on-earpiece volume controls rather than having to dig our phones out or rely on Siri.
Though Apple might have something a little more special up its sleeve. According to one report, the AirPods Pro 2 could have 'through-body' controls, meaning you could control them by touching your face, clicking your tongue or making in-air hand gestures. There's even a patent to back this up. Though we wouldn't bet the house on this one.
There's also a rumour regarding some new fitness tracking features. A report by Digitimes claims that future AirPods will use ambient light sensors to take biometric measurements, potentially for monitoring blood oxygen levels as seen in the newly-released Apple Watch Series 6.
As suggested by MacRumors, this may well work in a similar way to the clip-on pulse oximeters used in hospitals, which shine a light through the earlobe to deduce the amount of oxygen in a patient's bloodstream. Involving stuff, and considering we found the AirPods Pro a great workout companion, such a feature might make them one of the best headphones for running.
That could also help position them as a way of keeping tabs on your health, just like the Apple Watch (current tagline: "The future of health is on your wrist"). And given the global health events of the past 18 months, it could well be an appealing prospect for many.
We would also expect another step up in terms of sound quality. The AirPods Pro, while still a cut above your average in-ear headphones, are bettered for sound by the Sony WF-1000XM3, which are a little more dynamic and attacking overall.
If Apple can marry a premium sound quality with its usual winning ease of use, it could well have a hit on its hands (and more importantly, in our ears).
Lastly, the charging case could be in for an overhaul. According to Macotakara's sources, the AirPods Pro 2 case will be a little taller and narrower than the current one. Not a massive change, admittedly, but a design tweak all the same.
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Will they be called AirPods Pro 2?
It's a good question. The Cupertino giant had enormous success with its AirPods range of wireless earbuds right out of the gate, and it chose to stick with the title for the AirPods Pro. Apple claims its AirPods are the most popular headphones in the world, so we expect the company to reuse such a recognisable name.
After all, it stuck with AirPods for its first over-ear headphones, the AirPods Max. Names such as 'SoundPods' and 'AudioPods' have also cropped up online, but the consensus seems to be that 'AirPods' is the chosen branding for all Apple headphones, and the suffix (i.e. Pro 2) will define the rest.
Reliable leaker Jon Prosser advises readers to think of 'Pod' as Apple-speak for 'music', which makes sense when you consider products such as the Apple HomePod and Homepod mini wireless speakers. For now, the smart money is on 'AirPods Pro 2'.
AirPods Pro 2 vs AirPods Pro
It's still too early to tell how Apple's next Pro proposition will compare with its predecessor, but obviously we can take an educated guess.
The predicted shorter (or even non-existent) stems will make them lighter, allowing the charging case to become smaller – ideally with an even beefier battery. It could also permit space for more advanced drivers and consequently a better audio performance. There could also be more room for noise-cancelling components, so we fully expect Apple's most advanced in-ear noise-cancellation yet, albeit potentially not controlled by a stem squeeze (which we actually found a little fiddly anyway).
We would also add that the current AirPods Pro aren't without issue; problems regarding ANC and crackling in some sets prompted Apple to offer free replacement sets to those affected. This glitch will hopefully be eliminated in the updated AirPods Pro 2 model.
It would be a tall order to better the AirPods Pro, but if anyone's up to the task, it's Apple.
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