After 10,000 miles, Apple’s latest AirPods Pro are my new travel choice
“Can Apple really do it again?”
That was the question I asked myself after watching The main event of the tech giant “Far Out”. in September.
While the biggest news from the special event was probably the new iPhone 14 line and with the launch of the all-new Apple Watch Ultra model, Apple also debuted the long-awaited second-generation AirPods Pro.
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Ever since first generation AirPods Pro launched in 2019, fast became my favorite on long flights. With impressive noise cancellation in an incredibly portable package, it was a combination that was hard to beat, especially given how well integrated they are into the Apple ecosystem.
But for many travelers, AirPods Pro are the way to go. With the launch of the second generation model, however, I wondered if they would be worth spending the money to upgrade.
Well, after five flights and nearly 11,000 miles in the air putting them to the test, I have an answer.
Noise cancellation better than ever
The first generation of AirPods Pro packed an impressive sound experience into an incredibly portable package, and the new model takes it to the next level.
As a long-time user Apple’s professional-grade headphonesI’m used to the sound experience they provide and I imagine the next generation buds will be an iterative update in terms of sound quality.
But when I put them on for the first time, I was particularly impressed with the active noise cancellation upgrades.
Powered by the next-generation Apple H2 silicon chip, the new AirPods Pro can process advanced algorithms previously not possible on the first-generation model. This, combined with a new, more powerful audio driver (which physically produces sound) unlocks nearly twice the active noise cancellation of the previous generation.
Of course, there’s no better place to test Apple’s claims than cruising at 30,000 feet in an airplane.
And after five flights with a new one AirPods Pro, the active noise cancellation was really impressive. I’ve flown with my first and second generation Pros and alternated which ones I used during flights to get a sense of the improvement in sound quality.
I was disturbed by fewer announcements and chatty passengers with the second-generation Buds than with the legacy model. The sound quality was also noticeably better.
The battery packs a punch over the long haul
During my travels, I tried to test the battery life improvements that Apple made with the second generation AirPods Pro.
Nowhere was I more impressed than during my two transcontinental flights. With the first-generation headphones, I always found myself needing to charge my AirPods about three-quarters of the way through a transcon flight.
But with the new AirPods Pro, the music continued to play until the moment we landed. When I flew from New York to Seattle, I put the AirPods Pro on during boarding to help me focus on last-minute work.
Then I listened to a podcast and played music for the rest of the flight. When I arrived in Seattle, I still had about 10% of my AirPods Pro left.
With a door-to-door time of just over six hours, my experience with the second-generation AirPods Pro (slightly) beat Apple’s promise of up to six hours of listening time with the new Pro, a one-third increase over the legacy model.
The extra 90 minutes of listening time was plenty during my transcon flights and also made a noticeable difference during my long journeys. (You’ll also get an extra hour to chat with new pros.)
While you could always charge the AirPods Pro when they died (five minutes in the case yields about an hour of listening time), I appreciated being able to continue listening during my flights without having to interrupt my music or podcasts.
Small speakers make a big difference
The new AirPods Pro are also a great upgrade for travelers who tend to lose things.
For one thing, you can always keep them connected to your bag thanks to the new lanyard loop on the charging case.
And if you lose your second-generation AirPods Pro, the new U1 chip in the charging case allows for precise tracking inside Find my networkwhich gives you precise insight into where they are.
As you get closer, a new speaker in the case can play sound to help you quickly locate your AirPods, whether they’re tucked into your couch or nestled between seats on an airplane.
Personally, I’m someone who keeps my AirPods in my pocket, but now I’m confident that if they fall out somewhere during a trip, it shouldn’t take long to reconnect with them.
Volume at your fingertips
Controlling your sound experience on the go just got easier with the second generation of AirPods Pro.
Apple has redesigned the touch surface on the housing of each AirPod to give users more flexibility when playing music or talking on the phone.
With the addition of a new capacitive sensor layer, you can now swipe up and down on the stem to adjust the volume. Pressing the grip controls your sound while holding the grip toggles between noise canceling and transparency modes. (You can always adjust these options from the settings menu on your paired iOS device.)
Personally, the new volume slider functionality came in handy during trips when flight attendants were coming up to my queue and when important announcements were being made.
When this happened, I quickly turned down the volume directly on my AirPods without having to use my phone or connect my Apple Watch. I was then able to communicate with the flight crew and listen to the entire announcement without any interruption. (Alternatively, I could have switched to transparency mode – more on that below.)
Of course, reaching for your phone or simply pausing isn’t necessarily an inconvenience, but the new volume slider is a nice-to-have feature.
Transparency Mode is getting a major upgrade
Sometimes you want to be aware of your surroundings when listening to audio on headphones. Maybe you want to hear what’s going on around you while you’re navigating a new city or waiting to board your flight.
In those cases, be sure to turn on transparency mode on your AirPods Pro. This feature will essentially play back what’s going on around you without stopping your music.
And, the new AirPods Pro take the transparency mode experience to a new level with the introduction of Adaptive Transparency.
When you walk past noisy construction or a fire alarm goes off, the new AirPods Pro will dynamically adjust those sounds to a much healthier decibel.
You can adjust many aspects of this feature in the accessibility settings on your iOS device, but by default, adaptive transparency will activate for any sound above 85 decibels. This should definitely help you avoid listening to harmful sounds that could eventually lead to hearing loss.
While some travelers still swear by over-ear headphones, the new AirPods Pro offer a compelling reason to ditch those bulky headphones while traveling.
With an even better sound experience in a package that fits easily in a pocket or purse, the second generation AirPods Pro are especially great for travelers. They are also better than Entry-level AirPodsthat don’t offer active noise cancellation — a must-have feature for people who want to distance themselves while in transit.
Priced at $249, the new Pros cost $70 more than the “regular” third-generation AirPods. It’s worth the splurge, especially if you plan to travel with your headphones.
Improved noise cancellation and increased battery life headline the upgrade for travel-focused professionals, but additional improvements like precision tracking, redesigned controls, and a new adaptive transparency mode make these Apple’s best travel-friendly headphones yet.
It’s worth noting that AirPods (and Bluetooth headphones in general) are still a problem for those trying to use their headphones with existing seatback monitors on airplanes. While Bluetooth support it is slowly spreading on the latest aircraftyou will still need to pack the key (AirFly is our recommendation) on most others.
For those upgrading from a first-generation model, the new Pros offer a handful of worthwhile upgrades. While an immediate upgrade may be necessary, it certainly can’t hurt to put next-gen headphones on your vacation wish list.
Who knows? Santa might be extra generous this year.
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