New USB-C AirPods Pro change might be bigger than just a new case

USB-C Apple AirPods Pro 2nd Generation

The Apple AirPods Pro 2nd Generation has just been updated to charge with USB-C, along with the iPhone 15 range. This is no surprise, because the European Union passed laws last year mandating the use of the port standard on all new devices by 2024, and 2024 is uncomfortably soon.

What is a surprise, though, is that the USB-C version of the AirPods Pro 2nd Generation isn’t just the same buds in a new case. They’re mostly the same, but there are a couple of key differences.

The most noticeable difference for most people is that they now have a dust-resistant rating of IP54, bringing them up from IPX4. This means that while dust is not totally prevented from getting into the important bits of the buds and case (the dust resistance scale is 1-6), it now has significant protection. However, it’s still merely splash resistant, because the water protection rating is 1-9, so don’t wear them in the shower or in heavy rain.

It’s somewhat unclear whether this is a hardware change for the USB-C version, or if Apple just took a while to get certification on dust resistance for some reason, so maybe continue protecting your old Lightning model 2nd Gen AirPods Pro from dust, just in case.

Preparing for the spatial computing future

Another difference is that the USB-C AirPods Pro are designed to have low-latency lossless audio with the Apple Vision Pro headset. I tried out the Vision Pro a few months ago, and it was the absolutely flawless Spatial Audio that sold the experience for me, so it’s good to hear that there will be a low latency wireless headphones option to wear with them for when you don’t want to listen out loud.

Though, I do question whether this will also come to the 2nd Gen Lightning AirPods Pro, given it’s supposedly the H2 chip that powers it, and both headphones have the H2 chip. Hopefully, Apple will release more information on this closer to the Vision Pro launch, because it would be rough for there to be such a big divide between users of what is supposedly the same generation of headphones.

There have been tweaks to the acoustic architecture as well, to aid the use of lossless audio with the Vision Pro.

Hands-on with the USB-C AirPods Pro 2nd Generation

I’ve spent the weekend using the new headphones, and I’m really impressed. I am noticing a slight improvement in audio quality, but it’s unclear whether that improvement comes from any physical changes, or the new software that the headphones downloaded when I paired them to my phone.

It’s not an improvement I would throw out my Lightning model over, but it’s one that I welcome for people upgrading from the first-generation AirPods Pro.

The big change that all AirPods Pro 2nd Generation users with iPhones will notice is the new Conversation Awareness mode, coming with iOS 17, which will automatically turn down the volume on your music when you start talking, and turn on transparency mode.

The way Conversation Awareness works is that when you start talking, the music turns down, and then it will stay down as long as you either keep talking, or make those annoying “active listening” sounds like “mmhmm”, “yeah”, and “uh-huh”, periodically while the other person speaks. It’s an odd way of doing it, but it does mean that your headphones won’t turn the volume down and tune into the conversations of strangers around you. This is either a blessing or a curse, depending on how juicy that stranger’s conversation is.

One downside of Conversation Awareness is that you can’t sing along or hum along to your music without having the music suddenly disappear, leaving you to be confronted by how out of tune you are. Or perhaps that’s just me, and everyone else is great at singing.

An interesting aspect of using Conversation Awareness is that you can really hear how much of a difference noise cancelling makes. I was talking to my wife while cooking and testing the headphones, and it was fascinating hearing the volume on the extraction fan be turned up and down depending on whether or not we were chatting. The extraction fan never fully disappeared, but the most irritating parts of it were turned right down.

Other 2nd Gen AirPods Pro improvements

Apple’s AirPods Pro 2nd Generation always excelled most at Transparency mode, and they still have the best transparency mode I’ve heard in any headphones primarily designed for music.

Other new modes include Adaptive Audio (which blends Noise Cancellation and Transparency to adjust depending on the noise of your surroundings) and Personalised Volume (which uses machine learning to work out your listening preferences over time, depending on the “conditions of your environment”).

Perhaps the biggest benefit users with shiny new iPhone 15s will get from the new Apple AirPods Pro 2nd Generation with USB-C is that you’ll be able to plug the AirPods’ USB-C case into the iPhone 15 to get a little extra charge if you find yourself in a pinch.

Apple AirPods Pro 2nd Generation with USB-C will be available in stores from Friday 22 September, with pre-orders open now.

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