iOS 17 AirPods features and performance

Apple highlighted the upcoming iOS 17 software update, which promised to add additional features to the AirPods Pro 2

Apple highlighted the upcoming iOS 17 software update, which promised to add additional features to the AirPods Pro 2. The company then announced a new version of the second generation AirPods Pro just last week. We’ve got the opportunity to spend some time with both over the last several days to put them through their paces. Here’s how the new performance improvements will affect your AirPods when your iPhone gets the new update, as well as a closer look at the AirPods Pro 2—and if the new ones are worth buying.

iOS 17 AirPods features and performance

Enhanced Adaptive Audio
Apple has always handled transparency mode at least as well as its competitors. It sounds so natural, with only a little increase in treble frequencies, that I frequently forget I’m wearing them in that mode. Apple has now gone the next step in the evolution of Transparency Mode, combining it with ANC to provide Adaptive Audio.

Apple isn’t the first company to integrate adaptive noise cancelling in its earbuds—Sony, for example, connects its adaptive ANC to movement (sitting, walking, etc.)—but it works better than competitors. When I wash my hands, the quick burst of water from the kitchen sink gets more muffled and becomes a background noise rather than the center of my aural world.

It feels convincing and natural because of the adaptive timing. I spent years working as a film sound editor, and one crucial component of making sound appear natural and unobtrusive is how it fades and mixes into everything else going on around it. Our attention is automatically drawn to the fade if it is too rapid or too sluggish. The implementation of Adaptive Audio in iOS 17 hits the sweet spot, adjusting at the perfect speed to sound seamless. It’s not ideal, to be sure. The ANC was somewhat more aggressive in one ear bud than the other at times, which was disconcerting. But it didn’t happen very frequently, and when it did, it was only for a few seconds.

Apple’s interpretation of discourse awareness
Conversation Awareness is a feature already offered by competitors that is now available on the Apple AirPods Pro 2. Make a sufficiently loud disturbance, such as saying “Excuse me? “, and the AirPods will transition into transparency mode, allowing you to carry on a conversation. Theoretically, it is a great method to stay connected to your surroundings while maintaining your privacy. However, as with every implementation I’ve heard of so far, it’s only for a small subset of individuals, specifically the quiet ones.

Conversation Awareness has the potential to activate if you have the habit of chanting along to your music, conversing with yourself, or have a cough. I began singing along with the acoustic version of “Everlong” a little too enthusiastically, which triggered Conversation Awareness (and made me a little self-conscious about my vocal volume, even when nobody was around). I’m confident I could eventually master the Apple-specified threshold, but I honestly lack such patience.

Individualised volume adjustment
This is potentially the most intriguing of the three new AirPods functionality enhancements. The theory is that, through machine learning, the AirPods will learn your volume preferences over time and modify the volume to the ambient sound, enhancing the listening experience.

In my experience, volume adjustments were imperceptible; perhaps machine learning requires more time to produce a more pronounced effect. The greatest benefit will presumably result from the combination of Personalized Volume and Adaptive Audio. When our surroundings are audible, we all have a tendency to increase the volume in order to contend with it. When ANC is enabled, the same decibel level becomes excessively loud. Personal Volume reduces the volume to protect our hearing.

Several other enhancements
While Adaptive Audio, Conversation Awareness, and Personalized Volume are the three most notable additions to iOS 17, there are a few others of note. Improved Automatic transitioning is included in the list of updates for those of us with multiple Apple devices, and I had less difficulty transitioning on iOS 17 than on previous versions.

In addition, there are new fast mute/unmute controls while on calls. While the enhancements we’ve discussed thus far are exclusive to the AirPods Pro 2, mute controls are available on the entire audio line, including both generations of AirPods Pro, the third generation of AirPods, and the AirPods Max.

Is it worth upgrading to the new USB-C AirPods Pro 2?

The new USB-C case and AirPods within appear identical to the Lightning iteration of the AirPods Pro 2 that was released in 2022. The only visible distinction is the USB-C port on the case’s underside. It’s great to see Apple ultimately adopt USB-C, as it means the current generation of Apple products is fully integrated into the USB-C ecosystem.

Its laptops have had USB-C for some time, and both the conventional and Pro versions of the iPhone 15 are now available for preorder with the port. I’d like to say that Apple finally saw the light, but it’s actually due to the European Union’s USB-C requirements for all device manufacturers. Regardless of the reason, I’m glad it has ultimately occurred. (Thank you, Europe.)

In addition to visuals, the USB-C AirPods Pro 2 have enhanced dust resistance (IP54, up from IPX4) and will be able to transmit lossless audio with ultra-low latency to the Apple Vision Pro. Due to the absence of a Vision Pro, we were unable to test this feature. Although only a small percentage of AirPods Pro 2 users will be affected, this is an intriguing indicator of where things may be headed. The lack of ultra-low latency lossless audio on the iPhone 15 models is likely due to the proximity of the headset and earbuds when used together, as suggested by a colleague.

Existing AirPods Pro 2 owners will likely find this to be the most discouraging development. There is presently no way to purchase the new USB-C charging case for AirPods that came with a Lightning case, and it is likely that this will remain the case. I also anticipate that if you bring your AirPods Pro Lightning case to the Apple Store for repair or replacement, you will receive a Lightning case and not the new USB-C case.

If you already own a pair of AirPods Pro 2 earbuds, should you sell them and purchase a USB-C model? The new charging port and enhanced dust resistance is a nice addition, but I don’t believe it’s worth getting rid of your old pair of headphones. iOS 17’s substantial functional enhancements are compatible with both versions of the AirPods Pro 2, which are the true story.

Those who have not yet purchased the AirPods Pro 2 should do so immediately. Just make sure the version you’re receiving is the USB-C one.

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