AirPods Pro (2nd Gen) review: Welcome updates to Apple’s best buds

Market share analyses aren’t an exact science, exactly. Different firms take different factors into account, though more often than not, the numbers more or less line up among the bigger players. We discussed these figures in our recent review of the Apple Watch Series 8, noting that the line had captured roughly one-third of the overall market. For Bluetooth earbuds or *retching noise* “hearables,” the figures aren’t quite as stark, but Apple still maintains a strong lead in the category, globally.

As with smartwatches, the company’s dominance isn’t going to be challenged anytime soon (helped along by its Beats business), though Counterpoint noted back in March that Samsung has begun taking a bit of a bite out of the company in terms of worldwide shipments. That is, perhaps, to be expected, given the Galaxy maker’s consistent position at the smartphone charts.

Left: Pro Gen 1, Right: Gen 2. Image Credits: Brian Heater

In recent years, when people ask me which earbuds to get, I recommend going with the same company that made their phone. Much like flagship smartphones, premium earbuds are mostly pretty good across the board — it’s remarkable, really, how quickly the category matured. Device manufacturers design headphones to work with their smartphones. The rule goes double for Apple. The company makes its own software, hardware and the chips that go inside of it.

Of course, pretty much any Bluetooth earbud can be manually paired to any modern smartphone, but by doing so you’ll miss out on some of the software perks — including, in most cases, the pairing itself. It follows, then, that if you’re an iPhone owner, you’re best served buying Apple headphones. The pertinent question, however, is which pair. As discussed in my Watch SE writeup, choice is important, particularly in the wearables space. While the company has expanded its smartwatch offering in recent years, however, it still can’t touch its headphone offering.

The AirPods line is effectively comprised of three different models: the (relatively) budget AirPods, the premium AirPods Pro and the over ear AirPods Max. A slightly complicated and otherwise straightforward offering is Apple’s decision to keep the 2nd Gen AirPods around alongside the 3rd — the $40 gulf between the two includes things like a hardware redesign, Spatial Audio and extra battery life. Complicating things further is Apple’s 2014 acquisition of Beats, which brings some really solid alternatives to the table. I’m partial to the Fit Pro for workouts.

Image Credits: Brian Heater

The gulf between the 3rd Gen AirPods and the 2nd Gen Pros are double that of the lower end of the line. Of course, the $80 price premium amounts to a lot here. At $249, the Pros are pricey — but it’s a cost that comes with a number of truly premium upgrades …read more