I test earbuds for a living, and I’m surprised how good the AirPods Pro 2 sound

AirPods Pro 2 in charging case in reviewer's hand with red brick paving in background
(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

As audio editor at Tom's Guide, I listen to a lot of earbuds. From the NuraTrue Pro that became my favorite earbuds of 2022, to the underrated Sennheiser CX Plus and the next-gen ANC challengers such as my recent review on the OnePlus Buds Pro 2, I'm frequently swapping one set of earbuds for another. 

In fact, I regularly carry several sets of earbuds stowed away in my work and gym bags for reference purposes, as well as options to best fit my activity or mood. 

Although I enjoy listening to as many different wireless earbuds as I possibly can, it's easy to become 'ear blind' to a particular model's sonic signature if I spend too long listening to the same pair. Just like speakers or over-ear headphones, every earbud is designed with a unique sound characteristic and will have a subtly different tonal presentation to other models on the market.

I don't think I'm overstating things by saying that the audio quality from the AirPods Pro 2 is exceptional.

This being the case, swapping from one set of earbuds to another can sometimes be a bit jarring as a different sound characteristic is starkly revealed in contrast to whatever model I was listening to previously. It's a sound shift I am accustomed to making, and I've mostly been impressed at how many new earbud designs continue to push audio performance forward. 

But whether it's for benchmark reviewing purposes, personal listening at my desk, or my preferred choice of earbuds to join me on my workouts, I've surprised myself by how frequently I keep coming back to the AirPods Pro 2.

Apple AirPods Pro (2nd Generation) on table with pods out of the case

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Apple's high-end audio know-how

I'm lucky enough to have two pairs of Apple's AirPods Pro 2 in my possession — a situation that came about when I found I was experiencing similar audio drift issues with my first set of AirPods Pro 2 that had been reported by some users online shortly after release. Although there was never any comment from Apple, the drifting issue appears to have been overcome following a firmware update to 5B58, and I am genuinely enjoying the sound they now make.

I've always found Apple's in-ear buds sound good. I remember being thoroughly impressed with the pair of corded white earbuds that came supplied with one of my first iPods. They sounded better than most other wired in-ears around at the time, and I was surprised by how well they managed to strike an even tonal balance without any harshness or overemphasis across the frequency range. I felt totally engaged and connected with the artist playing from my portable music device. 

As the world went wireless, Apple demonstrated its high-end audio capabilities with the arrival of the original AirPods Pro and next-gen AirPods Pro 2. 

The AirPods Pro 2 are the pinnacle of Apple's earbud technology, and pretty much everything I loved about the first generation noise-canceling earbuds taken to the next level. I don't think I'm overstating things by saying that the audio quality from the AirPods Pro 2 is exceptional, even when it is being transmitted over Bluetooth using the bitrate-strangling AAC codec.      

The AirPods Pro 2 are easily the best-equipped earbuds I've used. Comprehensive audio features such as Headphone Accommodations in the iOS settings menu let users tune audio for balance, range, and brightness, as well as boost or decrease the presence of soft sounds. I also appreciate how Headphone Audio Customization scans your ears and creates a sound profile based on your hearing preferences. 

Not only is the sound balance good, but Adaptive EQ also creates a clear and consistent sound that has a 'warm' balance without being overly rich or too bass heavy. Even without spatial audio content, the soundstage feels open with a great sense of space around vocals and percussive instruments. I never feel the sounds from my music are confined inside my head as with the soundstage presentation from some earbuds.

Apple AirPods Pro (2nd Generation) with single bud in ear

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

AirPods Pro 2 are my go-to earbuds for sound right now

Personalized Spatial Audio is the killer feature of AirPods Pro 2, and with more content (new and old) being given the enhanced audio treatment, the AirPods Pro 2 are the perfect set of earbuds to experience the latest audio format developments.

But it’s not all about 3D sound on the AirPods Pro 2. A new low-distortion driver and custom amplifier are fitted inside the buds to pump out clean mids and deep bass, and this has really paid off to the overall sound balance and delivery. 

Apple claims the AirPods Pro 2 have double the noise canceling. This is a difficult claim to evaluate. I still have my original AirPods Pro to hand for comparison, and although I wouldn't quite go as far as saying that the noise canceling is twice as good, it does shush background sounds in a busy office more successfully, and the ANC performance is better than any other model I've reviewed. As such, the AirPods Pro 2 rank highly as one of the best noise-cancelling earbuds around.

Of all the earbuds I've tried over recent months, I still find it surprising that I keep coming back to the AirPods Pro 2. They have unintentionally become my go-to pair of earbuds for my day-to-day listening pleasure, and the benchmark by which I measure audio performance and features for any other earbuds that pass through my reviewing process. Having tested plenty of rivals, these really are the ones to beat right now.

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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.