AirPods 2 vs. AirPods Pro: Which Apple wireless earbuds are best?

In this face-off, the AirPods 2 and AirPods Pro go head-to-head but only one can claim the title of Apple’s best wireless earbuds.

The AirPods Pro is considered a near-perfect product by critics, even earning a 4.5 out of 5-star rating from Laptop Mag. With adaptive sound, a customizable fit, effective active noise cancellation, and seamless integration with iOS/macOS devices, these buds come with many top-tier hallmarks. New iOS updates have also kept Apple’s flagship earbuds futureproof, at least until the rumored AirPods Pro 2 become official.

Two years after its release, the AirPods 2 remain a hot seller for budget shoppers who want the AirPods experience. Adequate talk times, clear audio, and hands-free Siri functionality, along with similar listening modes as its more premium sibling, keep this second-gen version relevant in today’s consumer market.

Despite their differences in form and specs, these two models are the best true wireless options for iPhone, iPad, and Mac users. As for which is better, well, that’s what we’re here to answer. Check out our in-depth look comparing the AirPods 2 and AirPods Pro, which breaks down the superior Apple wireless earbuds.

AirPods 2 vs. AirPods Pro: Specs

AirPods 2 AirPods Pro Price$149, $199 (with wireless charging case) $249 Wireless charging caseYes (optional)Yes (included)ProcessorH1H1Battery life (rated)5 hours (24 hours with charging case)4.5 hours (ANC on), 5 hours (ANC off), 24 hours (with charging case)IPX ratingNoneIPX4 Size and weight (buds)1.59 x 0.65 x 0.71 inches, 0.14 ounces1.22 x 0.86 x 0.94 inches, 0.19 ouncesSize and weight (charging case)1.7 x 0.8 x 2.1 inches, 1.4 ounces1.8 x 0.9 x 2.4 inches, 1.6 ounces Special features: Audio sharing, “Hey Siri” voice activation, auto switching, customizable sound via iPhone settings, Live Listen, smart controlsActive noise cancellation, transparency mode, adaptive EQ, spatial audio, automatic switching, customizable fit, audio sharing, Fast Fuel charging, announced messages with Siri, “Hey Siri” voice-activated assistance, wireless charging case

AirPods 2 vs. AirPods Pro: Price

Apple products are known for being expensive, but the AirPods 2 launched at an attainable price point: $159. A wireless charging version is sold for $199, which is still cheaper than the $249 AirPods Pro.

If you look on Amazon right now, both versions are currently on sale. The AirPods 2 can be had for $128.98 and the wireless charging version for $149, while the AirPods Pro is listed as low as $197. 

For all of the latest headphones deals, we advise bookmarking our Amazon Prime Day 2021 and best headphones deals pages.

Winner: Tie

AirPods 2 vs. AirPods Pro: Design

(Image credit: Laptop Mag)

The AirPods’ long-stem silhouette might be synonymous with the true wireless category and has inspired hundreds of knockoffs, but, honestly, it isn’t an attractive or flattering design. When comparing these two models, the AirPods Pro is a significant upgrade from an aesthetics standpoint, featuring smaller stems, stronger build quality with IPX4 sweat and water resistance, and air vents that reduce pressure inside the ear. All of these details give the AirPods Pro a more distinguishable appearance.

(Image credit: Regan Coule/Future)

The AirPods 2 is as vanilla as you would expect from a pair of Apple earbuds. We’re talking about a minimalist, all-white plastic exterior that offers zero protection. There is no IPX rating, so you have to be extremely careful exposing these buds to dirt, sweat or light splashes. The lengthy stems stick out like a sore thumb as well. Simply put, the AirPods 2 isn’t built for longevity and will break easily if dropped from a high distance or stepped on by mistake.

(Image credit: Regan Coule/Future)

Different earbud designs often bring about different charging case designs, which is evident when looking at the AirPods 2 and AirPods Pro. Apple made noticeable changes to the AirPods Pro case, opting for a wider, more rectangular shape, slightly better construction, and a more powerful magnet to keep the lid shut tightly. The AirPods 2 case is smaller and more portable, but also lacks the protection and security of its counterpart. Something else worth mentioning is that both cases are scuff-and-scratch magnets.

Winner: AirPods Pro

AirPods 2 vs. AirPods Pro: Comfort and fit

(Image credit: Laptop Mag)

It’s amazing the world of difference ear tips make. Apple finally gave in to our demands and added ear tips to the AirPods Pro that not only assist with optimizing ANC and sound by creating a tight seal but, most importantly, latch onto your ears to prevent slippage. This also makes them ideal for working out. The elongated sound port allows for easy insertion into the ears, though wearing the buds past the 2-hour mark leads to some soreness around the concha. Apple even went a step further and developed an Ear Tip Fit Test that calibrates the buds to determine the best tips for proper fitting.

(Image credit: Regan Coule/Future)

The primary issue with the AirPods 2 isn’t comfort. You can prop these wireless danglers on your ears and not feel weighed down, nor fatigued from hours of listening. Unfortunately, the lack of tips means these buds will constantly fall out. You can purchase third-party tips to achieve a more secure fit, but we feel you shouldn’t have to pay extra for something that Apple should have prioritized right out of the gate. There’s a reason why Apple’s replacement AirPods business has generated nearly half a billion, annually.

Winner: AirPods Pro

AirPods 2 vs. AirPods Pro: Controls

(Image credit: Regan Coule/Future)

Automatic ear detection and onboard controls are programmed into both pairs of buds, though they each have different input methods. Where the AirPods 2 uses touch sensors, the AirPods Pro has a force sensor system located at the bottom of the stem. The latter serves as the more reliable control scheme, registering presses accurately and producing a nice click to ensure users of intended commands. Double-taps and hold gestures operate fine on the AirPods 2, but there are times when the sensors won’t acknowledge taps, requiring you to perform the action one or two extra times.

On-ear detection works well on the AirPods 2 and AirPods Pro. We did notice some slight latency on the AirPods 2, but nothing too off-putting. Removing the buds from your ears will pause whatever you’re listening to and placing them back resumes playback.

(Image credit: Regan Coule/Future)

“Hey Siri” voice activation is available on either set of AirPods and it’s a game-changer. This places thousands of Siri commands at the tip of your tongue. Siri is also receiving a huge speed boost via the iOS 15 update that will offer on-device speech processing to complete several tasks in succession and super-fast. We favor Siri on the AirPods Pro, mainly because of its intelligible dual-mic array, which picks up vocals and long-winded verbal inquires with precision.

Our only wishes are that Apple finds a way to increase the number of controls that can be assigned to the AirPods 2 and AirPods Pro, and make Siri useable on Android devices. FYI: users can enable the AirPods 2 or AirPods Pro’s digital assistant function on the Android platform through third-party apps like Assistant Trigger. 

Winner: AirPods Pro

AirPods 2 vs. AirPods Pro: Audio

(Image credit: Laptop Mag)

Besides active noise cancellation, adaptive sound is the other major feature that was introduced on the AirPods Pro, and we’re very happy with the results. The soundstage is wider, meaning you’ll be able to hear individual instruments and the midrange much more clearly. Lows are also emphasized on the AirPods Pro to get more impactful bass and treble out of tracks.

Many critics agree that the AirPods 2’s sound is an upgrade from the EarPods that came bundled with older iPhone models. Don’t mistake that for top-tier performance because this isn’t a model for audiophiles. Warm sound is expected and allows for some enjoyment when indulging in bass-heavy selections, granted, clarity takes a hit. But it’s the high end that takes a significant dive, sounding heavily recessed or oftentimes absent on recordings with complex orchestral arrangements. 

One cool thing about using the AirPods 2 and AirPods Pro on an iOS device is that you can personalize sound in the Settings. There is an EQ that has over 20 different presets to accommodate different music genres and video content. It’s another ingenious example of how Apple continues to optimize its software without the need for a companion app or extra hardware.

(Image credit: Regan Coule/Future)

Apple’s commitment to enhancing audio is still going strong with the company launching new features over the past year to gain the best listening experience possible on either set of buds. The first is spatial audio, which adds immersive surround sound to video content and Apple Music. We believe it does a fantastic job of presenting 3D audio.

This was originally exclusive to the AirPods Pro and AirPods Max, but is being rolled out onto the AirPods 2 and compatible Beats models; check the Music section in the Settings and you might see it. Apple just announced that spatial audio with dynamic head tracking is coming to Apple Music in the fall, though it will only be available on the AirPods Pro and AirPods Max with a compatible iPhone or iPad. In addition, there is a new Spatialize Stereo option as part of the iOS 15 update that will simulate Spatial Audio for non-Dolby Atmos content.

Winner: AirPods Pro

AirPods 2 vs. AirPods Pro: App and special features

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

You would think the AirPods Pro crushes the AirPods 2 in functionality and extra features, but besides the few listening modes, they carry many of the same functions. These include audio sharing between two Apple or Beats headphones, automatic switching, battery life indicators, Hey Siri, Live Listen to hear conversations clearer, and Headphone Accommodations to adjust audio levels for those with hearing impairments.

We already touched on spatial audio and EQ customization. There is also the new Find My app that helps you locate misplaced AirPods. All of the other major features — Active Noise Cancellation and Transparency Mode — are afforded to the AirPods Pro.

(Image credit: Regan Coule/Future)

Apple’s two-mic noise-cancelling array surprisingly blocks out external sounds at a high level. No, the technology isn’t beating what is stuffed inside the current true wireless ANC king, the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds. Either way, you’ll be satisfied with the noise reduction it offers. We’ve found the feature useful for muting chatty co-workers, loud TVs, and the humming sounds from our AC. High-frequency noises like crying babies and sirens will creep onto the soundscape, but unless they are a few feet away from you, they aren’t distracting enough to pull you from whatever’s playing on Apple Music. 

Transparency mode works well for eavesdropping on conversations and conveying coffee orders to baristas without having to take off the buds. You’ll also gain a better sense of awareness when in rowdy settings by identifying specific sounds. 

Winner: AirPods Pro

AirPods Pro vs. Pixel Buds 2: Battery Life

(Image credit: Laptop Mag)

Apple rates battery life on the AirPods Pro at 4.5 hours and 5 hours on the AirPods 2. Wait, so the older model has longer playtimes than the newest model? Yes, but that is only when factoring in ANC. You can extend playtimes on the AirPods Pro to 5 hours when turning off ANC, which might be the case for most people who use their buds religiously to stream media or FaceTime. Nonetheless, you’re looking at about 2 to 3 days of moderate use at best, even less if you’re a music lover who requires sonic stimulation all day long at your work desk.

Fortunately, Apple has done a magnificent job with battery management, engineering the H1 chip to learn your daily charging routine and refrain from charging past 80% until necessary. This approach helps preserve the health of your battery. The AirPods 2 and AirPods Pro will squeeze every bit of juice out before requiring a recharge.

(Image credit: Future)

The AirPods 2 and AirPods Pro charging cases share the same playtime: 24 hours when fully charged. That equates to four or five extra charges, depending on how you use the buds daily. Wireless charging is available, though the AirPods 2 offers it for a premium. 

Winner: Tie

AirPods 2 vs. AirPods Pro: Call Quality

(Image credit: Regan Coule/Future)

Call quality on the AirPods 2 is great, but it is excellent on the AirPods Pro. Will you hear calls clearly on either pair of buds? Yes. Are you still getting 50% more talk time? Indeed. Is dropout an issue? Not at all. Does wind affect clarity? Very rarely, thanks to impressive wind resistance.

(Image credit: Regan Coule/Future)

It’s just that the AirPods Pro’s mics are better engineered to pick up vocals and minimize external distractions. Personalized fit is also a major bonus since you’ll feel more at ease taking calls on the streets without worrying about the buds falling into a sewer drain. The AirPods Pro also offers a longer talk time: 3.5 hours versus 3 hours.

Winner: AirPods Pro

Overall winner: AirPods Pro

Apple made every improvement it possibly could with the AirPods Pro, and then some. It’s all about the ecosystem, as the H1 chip combined with flawless iOS integration and exclusive features gives these pricier buds more mass appeal. The adaptive EQ is a difference-maker that promises clearer sound. Apple’s first foray into active noise cancellation is successful due to highly effective noise reduction that is capable of silencing 85 percent of external sounds. Whine all you want about the short battery life, but that is the only legitimate drawback when matched up against its predecessor.

AirPods 2 AirPods Pro Value (5) 44 Design (15)911 Comfort and fit (10) 79Controls (10)89Audio (25)1922 App and special features (20) 1618Battery life and charging case (10) 67Call quality (5)34Total score (100)7284

Now, don’t take the AirPods 2 losing this battle as a sign of it being less worthy of ownership. At full price, iPhone users are still getting high-performance buds that will likely advance with future iOS 15 updates, extending their shelf life just a little longer before the AirPods 3 are introduced. Sound isn’t the best, nor the worst, and to have key features like “Hey Siri” and automatic switching is rewarding. On the other hand, we would be remiss not to state that battery life is much shorter than what other rivals offer, plus the design is stale at this point.

If you have the extra $50 or $100 (keep an eye out for those great sales), the AirPods Pro stands out as the more logical purchase.


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