I just tried the new AirPods Pro 2 adaptive audio features — and they're a game-changer

 Tom's Guide Awards 2023 winners.
Tom's Guide Awards 2023 winners.

With iOS 17 arriving today (September 18), there are plenty of new features to get excited about for iPhone users. In my opinion though, it's AirPods Pro 2 users who get the most interesting gains as iOS 17 introduces a suite of new audio features to old and new AirPods Pro 2 models.

The new features include Adaptive Audio, Conversational Awareness, and Personalized Volume to provide a stronger listening experience that learns your listening habits and adapts to your environment and audio needs.

I've been consistently impressed with the listening experience from Apple's AirPods Pro 2, and the iOS 17 audio update makes it even better.

Apple officially announced the new adaptive audio features back in June at WWDC 2023. The roll out applies to existing AirPods Pro 2nd generation (2022 version) earbuds, as well as the new Apple AirPods Pro 2nd generation USB-C (2023 version) that go on sale September 22. Along with the swap to the USB-C charging port, the new AirPods Pro 2 wireless earbuds come with an improved IP54 rating that means the 'buds and the charging case are better protected against dust and dirt ingress.

The AirPods Pro 2 USB-C can be pre-ordered today from Apple's online store priced at $249 / £229 / AU$399. They replace the Lightning connector version that launched this time last year at $249 / £249 / AU$399. The new AirPods Pro 2 USB-C version officially go on sale September 22.

Apple AirPods Pro 2 USB-C with iPhone 15
Apple AirPods Pro 2 USB-C with iPhone 15

As some of the best noise-canceling earbuds out there, the AirPods Pro 2 already have stellar ANC tech and a strong Transparency mode that enables wearers to stay connected to the world around them. This is nothing new though, and it's fair to say that Apple's machine learning has lagged behind some of the top adaptive earbud designs.

Models like the Sony WF-1000XM5 and the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds 2 have long supported adaptive and sophisticated awareness modes, and Apple had fallen behind in terms of AI tech. The new suite of iOS 17 audio features redresses the balance, and introduces a new set of listening experiences for AirPods Pro 2 users by adapting to the wearer's surroundings, activity and behavior.

I've been lucky enough to try out the new AirPods Pro 2 USB-C version ahead of the launch using iOS 17 public beta installed on my iPhone 12 Pro. I will update this story with any additional findings once the final software iOS 17 version is officially released later today.

What are the AirPods Pro 2 new audio features?

Apple Adaptive Audio on a white background
Apple Adaptive Audio on a white background

Adaptive Audio: Apple says the new listening mode dynamically blends Transparency mode and Active Noise Cancellation, adjusting the noise control based on the sound in a user’s environment. During my initial tests I found it useful at blocking out background sounds and adapting to different environments as I traveled from my home along a busy high street and on to the subdued surroundings of my gym.

The adaptive tech gave a seamless experience, allowing me to feel confident and aware of the traffic and sirens blaring around me on their approach to the nearby A&E hospital as I walked on the sidewalk that ran alongside a busy main road. Once at my destination, the AirPods Pro 2 switched without me noticing to block out the constant chit chat and din from the lively acoustics at the gym cafe.

Conversation Awareness: Similarly, while at the coffee shop, Adaptive Audio subdued the buzzing vibe of the coffee drinkers, while the full transparency mode appeared to spring into action the millisecond I went to place my coffee order with the barista. Apple's version appears to work in much the same way as Sony's Speak-to-Chat. Refreshingly, it perhaps isn't quite as sensitive as Sony's version, which is a big positive in my view given how readily the tech activates when I'm wearing the Sony WF-1000XM5 earbuds.

Personalized Volume: Apple says that personalized volume automatically fine-tunes the listening experience for users based on their preferences over time. So far, I haven't been aware of any volume adjustments based on environmental conditions and my volume selections, but maybe that's the point and that I just need to try the feature out in a wider range of different environments over the coming weeks.

Sound Quality: I've been consistently impressed with the listening experience from Apple's AirPods Pro 2, and the iOS 17 audio update looks to make them even better. Apple hasn't officially told me about any changes to do with sound quality, but we have learned that there have been some enhancements to make the new AirPods Pro 2 USB-C compatible with a new lossless audio protocol for Apple's Pro Vision. Whatever adjustments Apple has made to the internal architecture though, rest assured that sound quality hasn't been sacrificed in any way. In fact, I think they may actually sound even better.

AirPods Pro 2: Adaptive Audio Outlook

It's far too early for me to comment further until I can carry out extended listening tests with the final iOS 17 software fully in place. But following my early listening to some of my favorite tunes on the new AirPods Pro 2 version model suggests that they sound slightly improved with even greater levels of detail to enjoy. More on this to follow.

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