AirPods (2nd generation) were made available for in-store pickup at Apple Stores today. I wasn’t planning on buying them, but seeing that they were in stock and rationalizing with the return period, I picked up a pair with the classic charging case on a whim. Here are some impressions from a longtime AirPods owner.
First, connection times are definitely faster. Switching between outputs is kind of pokey with the first generation – definitely a weak point in an otherwise great product. With the second generation, the claim of halving switching times is definitely noticeable. I tested with the same downloaded songs on an iPhone 7 Plus on 12.2 (Music app) and 2017 MacBook Pro on 10.14.3 (iTunes). I pressed play with the AirPods connected to one device, then started playback over the other device’s speakers. Then I selected the AirPods as output on the device which it currently wasn’t connected to and timed how long it took to start audio playback. Here are the results, averaged over 5 runs for each.
ModelTimeAirPods (1st generation)7.09 sAirPods (2nd generation)3.77 s
Strangely, switching from phone to MacBook always took a bit longer than MacBook to phone. They’re both Bluetooth 4.2 devices – maybe there’s more overhead in the macOS audio stack? Purely speculating.
Another improvement of the second gen over the first is how quiet they are when not playing anything. Over multiple pairs of first gen AirPods, I found that there was a constant low-level hiss when connected to any device and faint whines right before playing sound or immediately after sound is playing. These sounds are completely eliminated on the new model.
The different in sound quality isn’t immediately apparent, but its definitely there. When I saw comments and posts from people claiming that “AirPods 2 are worlds better than AirPods 1,” I rolled my eyes and chalked it up to new product placebo or earwax-clogged grilles.* “These people are crazy, I thought. “There’s no difference in sound whatsoever.”
After escaping street noise from my walk home and comparing both models in a quiet environment, I have to say I’m wrong. It’s not a quantum leap or revolution by any means (like some may suggest), but sound quality on the second generation has noticeably improved. While maintaining the same sound signature and balance as the first, the new model sports more precise delivery, especially in the lows and mids.
What does this all mean? You’ll notice a brighter sound with more clarity in your home or office. Output volume has not changed appreciably. If you like how the first gen sounded, you’ll appreciate the second gen. If you didn’t – or they didn’t fit your ears – this isn’t going to change that. I personally quite enjoyed how AirPods sounded from the beginning. They’re not the most detailed headphones by far, but they’re well-balanced with an upfront bass. Of course my over-ears (H9i, M50x) and HomePod offer better sound, but none are as convenient as AirPods – which don’t suck in comparison.
* Sidenote: Anyone saying that the new model is much louder or sound 100x better needs to clean out their old AirPods. Don't be gross.
Odds and ends
“Hey Siri” definitely works but its not as fast as “Hey Siri” recognition on other devices, including Apple Watch. Trying it for the first time, I thought the people at the Apple Store screwed up and handed me a first gen because it took a few tries to successfully activate. I’m pretty sure what’s happening is that the AirPods are listening only for the hotphrase then handing off everything to the paired device.
I couldn’t get “Hey Siri” to work when paired to Apple Watch. Checking this support page, it’s because watchOS 5.2 is required but not yet released. So on 5.1.3, “Hey Siri” doesn’t work, and interestingly, the voice feedback is much lower quality than when paired to an iPhone running iOS 12.2 (the same quality as Siri on the first gen).
The packaging is essentially identical. The only differences I see are label placement and size, updating Apple’s address to 1 Apple Park, year update from 2016 to 2018, box version change from 602-00758-A to 602-00758-B, and the elimination of the dash in the German phrase “mit Lade-Case” (with Charging Case). The setup guide has also been revised to reflect new features and iOS 12.
I haven’t had a chance to fully test battery life and range yet, but I’ll update this soon.
The second generation AirPods are a solid advancement over the first, with slightly better sound, faster and more refined wireless connection, and better Siri support. The wireless charging case is by no means a necessity, but if you’ve got multiple charge pads it’s definitely nice to have. I’d say first generation owners shouldn’t feel the need to upgrade unless the battery on yours is degraded – these updated AirPods don’t make the first gen any less of a product.