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AirPods Pro vs. AirPods 2: Which wireless earbuds should you buy?

airpods pro vs airpods 2
(Image credit: Future)

This AirPods Pro vs. AirPods 2 face-off isn’t intended to decide a “winner,” per se. These are, after all, pretty significant differences between the two: the Apple AirPods is the crowd-pleasing, relatively affordable original, whereas Apple spared few expenses in making the AirPods Pro worthy of the best noise-cancelling earbuds around.

Even with the AirPods 3 rumored to launch this year, and the AirPods Pro 2 potentially coming in 2022, both current-gen pairs still stand up today. So, despite their differences, it’s worth knowing how they stack up in terms of performance, features, comfort and battery life.

Frankly, both of these are some of the best headphones in town, but our AirPods Pro vs. AirPods 2 comparison will give you the full lowdown.

AirPods Pro vs. AirPods 2: Specs compared

AirPods 2AirPods Pro
Wireless Charging Case
Yes ($40 extra)
Yes, included
Rated Battery Life5 hours (24 hours with charging case)4.5 hours (24 hours with charging case)
Water ResistanceNot rated for sweat- or water-resistanceIPX 4 (can withstand sweat and water, but not for use in water sports)
Case Size2.1 x 1.7 x 0.8 inches2.4 x 1.8 x 0.9 inches
Case Weight1.4 ounces1.6 ounces
Special FeaturesAudio sharing, announced messages with SiriActive noise cancellation, transparency mode, adaptive EQ, customizable fit, audio sharing, announced messages with Siri

AirPods Pro vs AirPods 2: Price

There’s no denying that the AirPods Pro are pricier than their predecessors, not least on simple MSRP terms. The second-gen AirPods are listed for $159 without a wireless charging case and $199 with one — so even the latter represents a more affordable option than the $249 AirPods Pro.

Since both have been on a sale for a while, prices have dropped, but the standard AirPods remain much cheaper. If you can go without wireless charging, you could pay as little as $119, while the AirPods Pro seldom drop below $189. You can check out our AirPods sales page for the latest sales and discounts.

AirPods Pro vs AirPods 2: Design

AirPods 2 vs AirPods Pro

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Most sweat-resistant Bluetooth earbuds look like tiny buds that you stick in your ear and are so unobtrusive that some people might not even notice you’re wearing them. Not the AirPods Pro. Apple has stuck with AirPods’ signature style, complete with gleaming white stems that drop down from the ear. At least the stems are shorter compared to the AirPods 2.

The AirPods Pro are also customizable, a first for Apple, so you can ensure a perfect fit. Three sizes of silicone tips — small, medium and large — are included in the box. If you’re unsure which size fits best, Apple has created the Ear Tip Fit Test to calibrate the AirPods and determine which tips are the best ones for you. The tips click in, so you don’t have to struggle to swap them out.

AirPods Pro vs AirPods 2

(Image credit: Regan Coule/Tom's Guide)

I also appreciate that AirPods Pro features a new vent system for equalizing pressure. This means the new ‘buds should be comfortable to wear, which isn’t always the case with sealed earbuds.

The AirPods 2 have what Apple calls a “universal” fit. There are no customizable silicone tips, and those ‘pods aren’t designed to nestle in the ear canal. Instead, they sit just outside of it, so you can still hear the world around you.

AirPods Pro vs AirPods 2: Audio and special features

Buying used AirPods

(Image credit: Future)

The design changes Apple made for the AirPods Pro are for one specific reason: Apple bet on superior sound with a suite of new features exclusive to these earbuds.

The AirPods Pro offer active noise cancellation (ANC) with an outward-facing microphone that listens for sound and then works to counter it before it reaches your ear. An inward-facing mic also listens for sound, and similarly works to cancel it. Along with the sealed fit of the Pro’s design, you’ll be able to completely tune out the world around you.

The AirPods Pro also have a transparency mode, so you can still listen to your playlists and podcasts while hearing what people say to you (or the outside world while exercising outdoors).

AirPods Pro vs AirPods 2

(Image credit: Apple)

Pressing a Force Sensor embedded in the stems of the AirPods Pro toggles between ANC and transparency modes. You can feel for the sensor with your fingertip, because the AirPods Pro's stem is grooved. Squeezing the groove again resumes ANC. If you've already got an iPhone in your hand, you can also use the volume slider in Control Center to switch between ANC and transparency mode instead of using the Force Sensor.

The AirPods Pro also have Adaptive EQ. Other Bluetooth earbuds, including the Sony WF-1000XM4 and Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2, let you manually adjust the EQ levels in a companion smartphone app. AirPods adjust on the fly according to the shape of your ear and the audio you’re listening to. 

The AirPods 2 don’t have many unique audio features by comparison, though they do offer solid sound. Like the AirPods Pro, the second-gen ‘pods offer audio sharing, so you can listen to a song or podcast from the same device with a friend who also has AirPods, and have Siri announce new text messages.

AirPods Pro vs AirPods 2: Water and sweat resistance

The AirPods Pro was Apple's first pair of sweat- and water-resistant pair of AirPods, and remains the only one of its kind today. As someone who has shorted out the battery of her first-gen AirPods by running outside (and getting caught in a few downpours), the pro's IPX4-rated protection is a welcome change. If you don’t like the hooked design of Powerbeats Pro, from Apple-owned Beats, the AirPods Pro are some of the best sport headphones to offer a similarly-featured alternative.

AirPods Pro vs AirPods 2: Performance

Both the AirPods 2 and AirPods Pro have Apple’s latest H1 chip with 10 audio cores. In the second-gen AirPods, this results in faster Siri responses. The same applies to the AirPods Pro, but the H1 chip also powers real-time noise cancellation — without sacrificing battery life.

AirPods Pro vs AirPods 2: Battery life

AirPods Pro vs AirPods 2

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Both AirPods 2 and AirPods Pro have wireless charging cases, which are compatible with Qi-based wireless charging mats. As mentioned, you can buy a pair of second-gen AirPods without a standard charging case for $40 less than the premium version. The AirPods Pro doesn’t offer a choice of charging cases. 

AirPods Pro vs AirPods 2

(Image credit: Regan Coule/Tom's Guide)

The AirPods Pro deliver 24 hours of battery life, with 4.5 hours in the pods and an additional 19-20 hours in the case. If you disable active noise cancellation, you can squeeze up to 5 hours of listening out of the AirPods Pro before sticking them back in the charging case. The AirPods 2 are rated for 5 hours of battery life, and they obviously don't have ANC.

AirPods Pro vs AirPods 2: Verdict

If you want noise cancellation, a customizable fit and a sweat-resistant package, AirPods Pro will fit your needs much more closely. But for those who just care about great sound and a relatively affordable price, the AirPods 2 are still better than most wireless earbuds — especially if you can get them on a sale.