AirPods Pro 2 are getting the Sony WH-1000XM5's best features with iOS 17

Apple AirPods Pro (2nd Generation) in case
(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

One of the most exciting things to come out of WWDC 2023 (held on June 5) was the announcement of Apple's Adaptive Audio technology that will be a boon for AirPods Pro 2 owners when iOS 17 gets released to the public later this year.

In lieu of any audio hardware update on the so-called Apple AirPods Max 2 headphones — which was hardly surprising given the show's focus on developers and the tools they need to make apps for Apple's assorted software programs — the Apple Adaptive Audio announcement was the event's highlight for AirPods Pro 2 fans. Why? Because the audio update looks set to introduce a level of intelligence that will make the AirPods Pro 2 earbuds even easier to use. 

Conversational Awareness coming with iOS 17

Our reviewer running with AirPods Pro 2

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Conversational Awareness is the most exciting feature in the Apple Adaptive Audio update, and it looks set to make it easier to engage when someone speaks. But why is this useful? 

I've lost count of the number of times I've stood in a crowded train, or in the middle of a gym workout, when someone nearby starts to chat while I'm wearing my AirPods Pro 2. I confess, I've often found the gesture controls on the AirPods Pro 2 a little tricky for my large fingers when I need to switch to transparency mode and respond to someone speaking to me, and this often feels awkward and rarely graceful.  

Typically, my intuitive response is to remove one (or both) of the AirPods from my ear(s) to allow me to engage with whomever is speaking. This often feels like a clumsy way to transfer from my musical world to the real world of face-to-face engagement, but Conversation Awareness could be about to change that and make this sort of transition much easier.

AirPods Pro 2 borrow from Sony

Although the AirPods Pro 2 delivered on the majority of our upgrade wishes when they launched last year, we had hoped to see the updated version borrow from one of its top audio competitors a bit sooner. 

The tech for Apple's Conversation Awareness is nothing new. In fact, it's been a favorite feature of ours on the Sony WH-1000XM5, one of our best headphones, as well as the Sony WF-1000XM4 earbuds. Sony calls it Speak-to-Chat, and with the feature enabled it uses the built-in mics and advanced signal processing to pause whatever's playing as soon as you speak. It's proved to be a popular feature that helps wearers keep their headphones in place while still being able to engage with the world around them whenever they need to.

Although I've yet to experience Apple's version of the technology, I imagine it works in a similar way by incorporating the AirPods Pro 2’s active noise canceling with transparency mode to adapt to the local environment while boosting the clarity and level of the speech. This should help improve conversation intelligibility and engagement automatically without needing to do anything to the AirPods Pro 2 or your playback device. 

Conversation Awareness will be available on the AirPods Pro 2 as part of the iOS 17 update that will roll out later this year, but the AirPods Max will miss out.

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Lee Dunkley
Audio Editor

As a former editor of the U.K.'s Hi-Fi Choice magazine, Lee is passionate about all kinds of audio tech and has been providing sound advice to enable consumers to make informed buying decisions since he joined Which? magazine as a product tester in the 1990s. Lee covers all things audio for Tom's Guide, including headphones, wireless speakers and soundbars and loves to connect and share the mindfulness benefits that listening to music in the very best quality can bring.