The new AirPods Pro 2 with MagSafe Charging and USB-C are a bit of a mystery: Apple hasn't mentioned anything specific about the changes to their design (outside of the new IP54 durability rating instead of IPX4) but for me at least there's a noticeable uptick in sound quality.
I've been lucky enough to secure a pair ahead of the on sale date to try them out with Apple's new Adaptive Audio features released with iOS 17, and I have a theory why this new version may sound even better.
Better sound at the exact same price
On the face of it, the MSRP for the new USB-C version remains the same as the 2022 version for U.S. and Australian buyers, and they're available to buy today (September 22) via the Apple Store priced at $249 and AU$399 respectively.
Territory pricing discrepancies for the USB-C version aside, 2022's AirPods Pro 2 have been critically acclaimed for their sound and user experience when partnered with an iPhone. There is no doubt in my mind that these are some of the best wireless earbuds in the world right now. And based on my experience so far with just a couple of days under my belt with my iPhone 12 Pro updated to iOS 17 and AirPods Pro 2 auto updated with the build number 6A301, I think it's fair to say that the introduction of new audio features including Adaptive Audio, Conversational Awareness, and Personalized Volume boost the listening experience even further.
That would be enough for many, but my early listening to the new USB-C has led to an intriguing discovery that makes me think that the new AirPods Pro 2 version have even more to give.
Do the USB-C AirPods Pro 2 sound better?
If you're looking for an immediate answer to the question of whether the new USB-C AirPods Pro 2 sound better? Then yes. I believe they do. Let me explain.
Although Apple hasn't specified any internal differences for the new USB-C AirPods Pro 2 version, there are some factors that point to the possibility that there have been some upgrades. There has been mention of changes to the acoustic architecture, and if that's the case I think they can be heard.
You see, the new AirPods Pro 2 may look identical, but I believe they have subtly different characteristics. Although I will add that you will need to listen very closely indeed to hear them.
Given that the specification mentions that Apple's new AirPods Pro 2 have lossless audio support, it's fair to imagine that there may be some internal architecture changes to enable them to be compatible
We know that the USB-C AirPods Pro 2 will support an all-new 20-bit/48kHz lossless audio protocol, claiming ultra-low latency to work with the $3,500 Apple Vision Pro expected to arrive in 2024. We also know that the new protocol requires Apple's powerful H2 chip.
The H2 chip first appeared on 2022's AirPods Pro 2, but we're told that the new lossless audio protocol (which hasn't even been given a name yet) will only work in the latest AirPods Pro 2 when combined with the Apple Vision Pro. That being the case, it seems reasonable to imagine that there are some additional elements in the new AirPods Pro 2 that make lossless audio possible. And possibly something to ensure the wearer gets to experience every last drop of detail from a lossless audio stream. This could be something in the DSP (digital signal processing) chain or some material change to the acoustic properties of the AirPods Pro 2 design such as the driver material or type.
You see sound quality isn't entirely about the amount of data, but also the components and their acoustical properties when producing sound waves beamed into our ears that make a difference. The components need to be able to replicate the entire frequency range as accurately and efficiently as possible, and it's here where I think Apple may have been busy.
Next-gen AirPods Pro 2 sound more finessed
Even though I've applauded the last-gen AirPods Pro 2 plenty of times for their sound quality, the new version appears to take things further. The sound feels rhythmic and more refined across the whole of the frequency range, and there's space around vocals and instruments within the stereo soundstage that just feels more natural. There's a fraction more detail to the bass frequencies and level of energy, more clarity in the mid-range where vocals sit, and edgy highs sound more finessed.
That sounds like a lot, I know, and the effects are subtle even in my side-by-side comparison when playing the same tracks over and over switching between old and new models. Ultimately though, the sound from the new AirPods Pro 2 feels better resolved. For me playing "Si Te Portas Bonito" by Sofia Kourtesis conjures up images of long summer evenings watching sunsets, and listening to the track on the new AirPods Pro 2 made me feel more blissful than I anticipated.
Of course this isn't lossless audio, but I did feel a stronger sense of connection wearing the new AirPods Pro 2 listening to my favorite music, which is ultimately what it's all about for me. I guess my takeaway is what this could mean for AirPods models in the future, and whether lossless audio will eventually come to iPhones to enable millions of Apple Music subscribers their music wirelessly without compromises. Now that feels like a very exciting indeed prospect indeed, and the new AirPods Pro 2 could be Apple's very first step.
What else is different?
The durability rating may have been boosted to IP54 (from IPX4), meaning they're now better protected from dirt/dust ingress, but from an external point of view they look remarkably similar. The only visible differences are the new USB-C port on the underside of the charging case, and the USB-C cable supplied in the packing carton, replacing the Lightning cable boxed with its predecessor.
Incidentally, the new USB-C cable can be connected to the new iPhone 15 for AirPods Pro 2 battery top-ups in an emergency. Side-by-side everything else looks pretty much the same in terms of the earbuds themselves, and it's actually really hard to tell them apart based on their looks alone.
For more insight into the differences, look out for our AirPods Pro 2 USB-C vs. AirPods Pro 2 (2022) face-off coming soon.