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Apple AirPods Pro (2nd generation) vs Apple AirPods Pro (1st generation)

The Apple AirPods Pro (2nd generation) is out, but is worth an upgrade if you already own the originals? Newer isn't always better, after all.
By
October 4, 2022
The Apple AirPods Pro (2nd generation) lays on a wooden surface next to the Apple AirPods Pro (1st generation), earbuds in open cases.
Austin Kwok / SoundGuys

Apple has made a habit of putting out new versions of the standard AirPods fairly regularly, but the Apple AirPods Pro has stayed remarkably the same for a few years. Now the Apple AirPods Pro (2nd generation) is here, boasting new tech in the charging case and apparent improvements across the board, all for the same price. The AirPods Pro (1st generation) has been a reliable active noise cancelling (ANC) mainstay for a while, though. How big of a step up are we really looking at between the two AirPods Pro?

Editor’s note: this post was published on November 14, 2022, to include a video summary.

What’s it like to use the Apple AirPods Pro (2nd generation) compared to the Apple AirPods Pro (1st generation)?

Using the Apple AirPods Pro (2nd generation) is a lot like using the Apple AirPods Pro (1st generation), which is to say, buttery smooth on an iPhone. The earbuds themselves look almost identical, and they feel the same to use too. Both maintain the now iconic stemmed design, all-white color scheme, and control layout. They both retain the silicone ear tips which sets them apart from other AirPods models, and makes them fit far more securely in your ear. However, the stemmed design still may catch on masks and longer hair if that’s something you struggle with.

The Apple AirPods Pro (2nd generation) lays on a wooden surface next to the Apple AirPods Pro (1st generation), earbuds out of case.
Austin Kwok / SoundGuys
The earbuds are pretty hard to differentiate.

Both the Apple AirPods Pro (2nd generation) and the AirPods Pro (1st generation) feature an IPX4 rating for the earbuds, which means they’re protected from splashes of water and sweat. However, the 2nd generation model also expands that rating to cover the case too, so you won’t have to worry about pulling it out in the rain.

While the two AirPods Pro models seem very similar, and indeed they are, the 2nd generation model makes some changes under the hood with an upgraded H2 chip in the earbuds and a U1 chip in the charging case. The H2 chip offers improvements in the same areas as the previous AirPods Pro H1 chip, only more so—things like battery life, noise cancelling, transparency mode, and connection stability are all improved. The U1 chip brings better location services to the charging case—it’s now precisely findable with the Find My iOS app, and sports a little speaker to emit a sound that makes finding it even easier.

Basically the new AirPods Pro is just as easy to use, and far harder to lose. Oh, and it comes with one more pair of ear tips (sizes XS-L).

How do you control the Apple AirPods Pro (2nd generation) and Apple AirPods Pro (1st generation)?

A hand holds the right earbud of the Apple AirPods Pro (2nd generation) to show off the stem.
Lily Katz / SoundGuys
The pressure-sensitive stems on the AirPods Pro (2nd generation) now support swipes to adjust the volume.

The controls for the Apple AirPods Pro (2nd generation) build on what was offered for the AirPods Pro (1st generation). It also features pressure-sensitive stems, but now also supports swiping movements for adjusting playback volume.

AirPods Pro (2nd gen) controls:

INPUT (stems)ACTION
One press
Play/pause/answer call
Two presses
Next track
Three presses
Previous track
Press and hold
Toggle ANC/Adaptive Transparency modes
Swipe up/down
Increase/decrease volume
"Hey Siri"
Change volume, request directions, playback control, receive messages, and more

The AirPods Pro (1st generation) still offers a decent range of control, but the lack of swiping means no volume controls.

AirPods Pro (1st gen) controls:

INPUT (stems)ACTION
One press
Play/pause/answer call
Two presses
Next track
Three presses
Previous track
Press and hold
Toggle ANC/Adaptive Transparency modes
"Hey Siri"
Change volume, request directions, playback control, receive messages, and more

Both generations of AirPods Pro of course also support hands-free controls using Siri, and in fact it’s the only way to adjust the volume with the older model without pulling your phone out of your pocket. If you happen to use one of these with a non-Apple device, only the AirPods Pro (2nd generation) will have an on-board option for volume control.

What app supports the Apple AirPods Pro (2nd generation) and Apple AirPods Pro (1st generation)?

The Apple AirPods Pro (2nd generation) case is open and contains the earbuds next to an iPhone 12 mini, which prompts the user to update to iOS 16.
Lily Katz / SoundGuys
Make sure to update your iPhone to iOS 16 to get the most out of your new AirPods Pro.

Both generations of AirPods Pro use the iOS Settings app for their primary software features—there’s nothing extra to download, and just opening the charging case near your phone will get start the process of getting the earbuds hooked up (something made possible by the H2 and H1 chips of the respective earbuds). The two models share most of their software features, with useful inclusions like an ear tip fit test, and the ability to customize some of the on-ear controls. They both gain access to personalized Spatial Audio and the Spatialize Stereo feature, which can turn digitally stereo mixes to surround sound (to varying degrees of success).

The earbuds also support the Apple Find My app, which is meant to help track down your Apple devices when you misplace them, but AirPods Pro (1st generation) doesn’t include the case in its support. The lack of a U1 chip means if you lose it, you’re just out of luck, unlike the newest version.

While you can connect either set of AirPods Pro to an Android device, you won’t have access to any customization or firmware updates.

How do the Apple AirPods Pro (2nd generation) and Apple AirPods Pro (1st generation) connect?

The Apple AirPods Pro (2nd generation) lays on a wooden surface next to the Apple AirPods Pro (1st generation), earbuds in open cases, shot from above.
Austin Kwok / SoundGuys
The connection process is pretty much the same.

The Apple AirPods Pro (2nd generation) and Apple AirPods Pro (1st generation) both support Bluetooth connections and use the default SBC and AAC audio codecs. This makes sense, as AAC is the standard for Apple products and brings lower latency connections—it’s also the only non-SBC codec that works for them. However, while original AirPods Pro uses Bluetooth 5.0, the Apple AirPods pro (2nd generation) uses Bluetooth 5.3, which makes for more stable connections and better power efficiency. It also means the new AirPods Pro may one day support the Bluetooth LE Audio—who knows when that’s coming out though.

Is battery life better on the Apple AirPods Pro (2nd generation) or Apple AirPods Pro (1st generation)?

The Apple AirPods Pro (2nd generation) case lays on a wooden surface next to the Apple AirPods Pro (1st generation) case.
Austin Kwok / SoundGuys
Both cases support wireless charging with Qi and MagSafe chargers, but only the second generation model supports Apple Watch chargers as well.

The Apple AirPods Pro (1st generation) was never a showstopper when it came to battery life. In our testing of real music playback, peaking at 75dB(SPL), the older model lasted 4 hours, 20 minutes on a single charge with ANC on. This is pretty much middle of the pack when it comes to true wireless earbuds—not a great place to start given the rate at which AirPods batteries deteriorate.

The AirPods Pro (2nd generation) sports the H2 chip, which is supposed to help expand battery life. In our testing, the AirPods Pro (2nd generation) lasted 5 hours, 43 minutes on a single charge with ANC turned on, a worthy improvement. Though it’s not going to significantly impact the environmental reality of constantly charging tiny lithium batteries.

Both AirPods Pro cases can fast charge the earhones: 5 minutes of charging yields 60 minutes of playtime. With either case, you get an additional 24 hours of playtime with ANC on.

Does the Apple AirPods Pro (2nd generation) block noise better than the Apple AirPods (1st generation)?

A noise cancelling comparison chart for the Apple AirPods Pro (1st generation) and Apple AirPods Pro (2nd generation), which shows better attenuation across the frequency spectrum from the newer model.
it’s not as big a gap as initially thought, but the 2nd gen model is still a clear step up.

Here’s where that H2 chip really starts to show off. The Apple AirPods Pro (2nd generation) features consistently improved ANC over the Apple AirPods Pro (1st generation).

The previous generation model is still plenty capable, and at some frequencies features superior isolation in the very high range, but that’s not enough to counterbalance roughly 5-10dB improvement from the low end through the mid range. The newer AirPods Pro will do a much better job with the kinds of sounds ANC is built to handle—things like the rumble of a car engine, or the din of a crowded cafe. ANC performance like this isn’t just nice for quieting the distractions, it will also help you keep the volume below levels that will cause noise-induced hearing loss.

Does the Apple AirPods Pro (2nd generation) sound better than the Apple AirPods Pro (1st generation)?

A comparison chart for the Apple AirPods Pro (1st generation) and Apple AirPods Pro (2nd generation) frequency response, showing improved low-end output.
A lot more bass for the new AirPods Pro.

Both models of AirPods Pro sound great, with frequency responses that stick very closely to our in-house curve. In our testing, there are mostly small differences between the two, except in the low end, where the Apple AirPods Pro (2nd generation) is a little louder than our target up to around 200Hz. Conversely the AirPods Pro (1st generation) undershoots it in the same stretch of the frequency spectrum quite a bit. This means sub-bass sounds will sound a lot louder coming out of the AirPods Pro (2nd generation), but otherwise the spread between the new model and the old is less than 5dB in most places, and the difference between either and our target is even smaller than that.

Basically, the AirPods Pro (2nd generation) may sound a little nicer to you if you’re accustomed to audio products that have a little extra bass. However, the difference is small enough that you may not notice a difference very often. If you listen to music with a lot of sub-bass content, the new AirPods Pro will definitely have a little more oomph.

Does the AirPods Pro (2nd generation) or AirPods Pro (1st generation) have a better microphone?

Both models of Apple AirPods Pro have decent microphones for a pair of true wireless earbuds, and for the most part sound pretty similar. The AirPods Pro (2nd generation) is a little louder, and sounds just a tiny bit clearer, in ideal conditions. The newer model also rejects external noise a little better, though neither do all that well in this regard. Excessive noise like what’s on display in our Office test conditions can cause voices to drop out for a moment. If you’re looking for a pair of earbuds for Zoom calls while working from home, either of these should sound totally fine, though.

Apple AirPods Pro (2nd generation) microphone demo (Ideal conditions):

Apple AirPods Pro (1st generation) microphone demo (Ideal conditions):

Apple AirPods Pro (2nd generation) microphone demo (Office conditions):

Apple AirPods Pro (1st generation) microphone demo (Office conditions):

Which microphone sounds best to you?

1426 votes

Should you get the Apple AirPods Pro (2nd generation) or Apple AirPods Pro (1st generation)?

The Apple AirPods Pro (2nd generation) sensors decorate the earbuds which lay on a yellow, textured surface.
Lily Katz / SoundGuys
The AirPods Pro (2nd generation) is decked out with skin-detect and bone conduction sensors, just to name two.

This shouldn’t come as much surprise, but if you’ve got the option of getting one or the other, it’s pretty obvious that the Apple AirPods Pro (2nd generation) is the better buy. It’s the same price as its predecessor, it has slightly better battery life, and better noise cancelling. The inclusion of the U1 chip for in the charging case makes it harder to lose, which is no doubt attractive to anyone who’s ever felt nervous spending hundreds of dollars on a piece of tech smaller than their wallet.

The Apple AirPods Pro (2nd generation) wireless earphones in white coming out of the MagSafe charging case which stands vertically.
Apple AirPods Pro (2nd generation)
All prices listed in USD unless otherwise specified. Prices may change over time, and vary by region. Unfortunately, we cannot list Amazon prices on the site, as they vary greatly by currency.

However, while it’s pretty clear cut whether you should opt for the new generation AirPods Pro over the old one, it’s not so easy to decide if it’s worth the upgrade. If you’ve already got the AirPods Pro (1st generation), you’re looking at $250 USD for a notable ANC increase, about 40 minutes longer battery life, and a charging case that’s harder to lose. The sound differences are pretty minimal, the software differences are non-existent, and the wireless charging options are almost the same (especially if you don’t have an Apple Watch). That’s a lot of money for a pretty marginal update, especially when you can find the first-gen AirPods Pro for less than $200 USD.

Render of the Apple AirPods Pro in white against a white background.
Apple AirPods Pro (1st generation)
All prices listed in USD unless otherwise specified. Prices may change over time, and vary by region. Unfortunately, we cannot list Amazon prices on the site, as they vary greatly by currency.

What should you get instead of the Apple AirPods Pro (2nd generation) and Apple AirPods Pro (1st generation)?

The Sony WF-1000XM4 on a wet, red bench, also with moisture on the earphones.
The Sony WF-1000XM4 has an IPX4 rating, which means splashes, sweat, and humidity won’t kill your earphones.

If you’re an Android user, you shouldn’t get the Apple AirPods Pro (1st generation) or Apple AirPods Pro (2nd generation)—you lose out on all the benefit of the H2 (or H1) and U1 chips, and you won’t even be able to adjust volume with on-ear controls with the older model. Instead, look for something like the Sony WF-1000XM4—it’s a little more expensive than the AirPods Pro, but it’s got pretty much the best noise cancelling (and passive isolation) on the market for a pair of true wireless earbuds, plus loads of software features like an ear tip fit test and Sony’s 360 Reality Audio—the Sony Headphones connect app works the same on iOS and Android, too.

If you’re on the hunt for something a little cheaper than the AirPods Pro, check out the Beats Fit Pro. These colorful true wireless earbuds come with stabilizing ear wings, which runners will love, and sports good ANC and audio, all for $50 USD less. There’s the older H1 chip here, so you get personalized Spatial Audio and a lot of the same features as the AirPods Pro (2nd generation).

Frequently asked questions

You can find the AirPods Pro (1st gen) for $179 USD from retailers like Amazon and Best Buy. Interestingly though, the AirPods Pro (2nd generation) seems to be immediately replacing the first-gen in Apple store fronts. Apple doesn’t sell the first gen model on its webstore anymore.