AirPods Pro 2 look great — but they're missing one key feature

AirPods Pro 2
(Image credit: Future)

Although I’ve yet to see the AirPods Pro (2nd Generation) — known to most as the AirPods Pro 2 — in the flesh, Apple's September event indicated that there’s plenty to get excited about when they do officially arrive on September 23.

Thanks to the new H2 Chip inside, Apple's next flagship true wireless earbuds offer better noise cancellation and battery life, which is why they were introduced by Tim Cook as “Apple’s most advanced AirPods yet”. 

That being said, despite some new features and specs, the new AirPods Pro 2 actually look remarkably similar on the outside to the original Pro earbuds that have been around since October 2019: Love them or hate them, the AirPods Pro 2 sport the familiar drop-down stem with new capacitive touch controls, and the rumored design modifications that suggested a more rounded bullet-like design was on the cards is disappointingly nowhere to be seen. As with all of Apple's earbuds, the AirPods Pro 2 will only be available in white. 

From what I've seen so far, the AirPods Pro 2 look to have received only a very light reworking to their styling (which is no bad thing) but what I do take umbrage with is the lack of a key feature we were told might be there: support for lossless audio.

Where's the lossless audio support, Apple?

AirPods Pro 2 at Apple Event

(Image credit: Apple via YouTube)

At this stage it's important to point out that, unlike my colleague, Kate Kozuch, who has been fortunate enough to get AirPods Pro 2 hands-on, I have yet to have any personal experience with the AirPods Pro 2. But going on the specifications that I've seen so far, the lack of any mention about codec support for the AirPods Pro 2 has me curious about whether Apple has any plans to bring full lossless codec support already available to subscribers of its Apple Music streaming service.

Quality audio fans like myself are likely to be disappointed by the lack of clarification around lossless audio codec support

The Cupertino giant had been rumored to be introducing its own lossless audio codec on next-gen AirPods Pro that would allow the earbuds to playback music at a higher quality via compatible devices, but thus far that hasn't materialized.

Lossless codec support may still come in some future update, but Apple has not mentioned anything yet, and this was the one audio upgrade I was really hoping for. 

Given the AirPods Pro 2's inclusion of a more powerful H2 audio processing chip and amplification, and the aforementioned audio capability improvements, lossless audio could possibly come at a later date yet to be announced. Right now though, it seems to be a little shortsighted given the current lossless codec advances elsewhere that are promising significant improvements for quality-audio fans. 

AirPods Pro 2: Lossless audio could still come

Although the AirPods Pro 2 specifications claim support for Bluetooth version 5.3 that makes handling data transmissions more efficient, Apple is thought to be working on its own wireless codec transmission system for lossless audio. The lack of any mention about it so far though means that it's looking like the AirPods Pro 2 could quickly be overshadowed by competitors offering higher resolution performance over Bluetooth. 

Unlike the latest ANC rivals like the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II (also announced on September 7), and the NuraTrue Pro earbuds, which both also claim to offer Bluetooth 5.3, these models are likely to support Qualcomm’s aptX Lossless Audio codec as well. Apple hasn't yet made any similar claim despite speculation that it is working on a big audio boost

At the time of writing, I had yet to experience the new aptX Lossless Audio codec on either of the Bose or Nura earbuds, but if the claims are true it will deliver uncompressed, bit-perfect CD-quality audio via compatible playback devices to stream 16-bit/44.1kHz, CD-quality audio over Bluetooth at data rates of up to 1,200kbps. This is a big leap forward for quality audio fans — for a perspective on how significant this is aptX Adaptive offers a maximum bitrate of 420kbps, aptX HD 576kbps, while Sony's LDAC offers a maximum streaming bitrate of 990kbps. (Update: Here's some first impressions after listening to Bluetooth lossless audio for the first time.)

As far as we know right now, though, there aren't any hardware devices even among the best mobile phones or the newly announced iPhone 14 series that offer support for the new aptX Lossless Audio codec, but we're told to expect it to arrive on flagship Android phones in the coming year.

Although, I've no doubt that the AirPods Pro 2 will bring significant gains in performance over the original, quality audio fans like myself may be disappointed by the lack of clarification around lossless audio codec support. 

I had high hopes, but while the AirPods Pro 2 specification suggests that there's likely to be room for future audio upgrades (and the possibility of delivering audio quality in as much detail as is available on a recording), Apple currently looks to be someway off enabling Bluetooth listeners to fully experience lossless audio readily available via its own music streaming service.

AirPods Pro 2

(Image credit: Future)

It's no lossless audio codec, but hats off to the H2 chip

Given the AirPods Pro 2's inclusion of a more powerful H2 audio processing chip and amplification, and the aforementioned audio capability improvements, lossless audio could possibly come at a later date yet to be announced. 

Internally, things appear to be a lot more exciting from an audio perspective, which is after all what they're all about. From the information I've seen so far, the AirPods Pro 2 are said to feature a more powerful H2 audio processing chip, plus a new dynamic speaker driver that promises to deliver greater audio clarity to enhance the listening experience, although we wont know for sure how they really sound until we are able to carry out a full listening test and review. 

Other enhancements include active noise cancellation (ANC) technology, which promises to be twice as effective as its predecessor, and there are improvements to Adaptive Transparency mode, too. Personalized spatial audio integrates with the TrueDepth camera on iPhone, plus there's an all-new charging case and better (but not exactly groundbreaking) battery life. 

These improvements are all well and very good, but for me, lossless audio is still the must-have feature the AirPods Pro 2 are still missing.

More: See how the top ANC earbuds right now compare in our Bose QuietComfort Earbuds 2 vs. AirPods Pro 2 face-off.

Next: Discover why Tom's Guide audio editor says I'd still choose wired headphones over wireless.

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.