AirPods Pro 2: what we know about the rumored Apple earbuds

AirPods Pro 2: what we know about the rumored Apple earbuds

The AirPods Pro 2 are the rumored follow up to Apple's hugely successful AirPods Pro true wireless earbuds - and they might launch in 2022.

Right now, there are four AirPods models to choose from, and the next model in the range could be the most advanced yet, if rumors of enhanced noise cancellation, support for lossless audio, and fitness features are to be believed.

Rumored AirPods Pro 2 features

- Expected to launch in 2022- Possibly cheaper than the current AirPods Pro- A streamlined design- Improved active noise cancellation- Fitness tracking features - Support for ALAC (Apple Lossless Audio Codec)- Gesture controls- 'Find My' charging case support

If you’re confused by the different AirPods, what you need to know is the AirPods Pro are different to the standard 2019 AirPods and the newer AirPods 3 in that they offer active noise cancellation - in other words, they're able to block out some of the ambient sound around you to let you hear your music in peace. The AirPods Max are the brand's first and only over-ear headphones.

The AirPods Pro 2 are said to be the next-gen version of Apple's noise-cancelling earbuds, and all the rumors so far point to a 2022 release window - though that date has moved around a few times, with initial leaks hinting that they'd launch last year.

What we don't know is whether the Apple AirPods Pro 2 will be an upgrade on the AirPods Pro or a more affordable version of the Pro, which might be called the AirPods Pro 'Lite' instead. A leak back in 2020 suggested they'll be the same price as the previous version, not cheaper.

Whenever they materialize, we're hoping Apple will introduce some big upgrades to its flagship true wireless earbuds. Here's everything we know so far about the rumored Apple AirPods 2 earbuds, plus a few key features we'd like to see.

AirPods Pro 2 news and updates

February 7 - iPhone SE 3, iPad Air 5 tipped to appear at an Apple event on March 8.

January 25 - A patent describes earbuds that are capable of receiving audio via optical transmission, suggesting that future AirPods could ditch Bluetooth.

January 7 - A DigiTimes report claims Apple is ramping up its chip production in preparation for the AirPods Pro 2.

January 2 - Analyst Ming-Chi Kuo tells investors that the AirPods Pro 2 will launch in the last quarter of 2022 and come with ALAC support and a trackable charging case.

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November 13 - Twitter leaker @FrontTron claims the AirPods Pro 2 release date has been pushed back.

October 26 - The AirPods 3 go on sale.

October 21 - @LeaksApplePro claims the AirPods Pro 2 will cost $249 and come with improvements to battery and noise cancellation, as well as ambient light sensors.

June 30 - Ming-Chi Kuo says that the AirPods Pro 2 will launch in 2022.

AirPods Pro 2: what you need to know

AirPods Pro 2 release date: Apple is yet to confirm that it's working on the AirPods Pro 2, let alone reveal a release date - but the rumors suggest they will be launched in late 2022.

AirPods Pro 2 price: Pricing is also yet to be confirmed, but a previous leak has said they'll cost $249 (about £180 / AU$350), the same price as the original AirPods Pro.

Design: It's rumored that the AirPods Pro 2 will have a more streamlined look, perhaps eliminating the protruding stems we've seen on previous AirPods.

Audio performance: We've heard rumors that the AirPods Pro 2 will support lossless audio via Apple's ALAC codec.

Battery life: Leaks suggest that the battery life will be improved - currently the AirPods Pro offer about 25 hours of playback.

Controls: Patents filed by Apple have led to rumors that the AirPods Pro 2 could utilise gesture controls and rely on codewords to adjust the noise cancellation.

Fitness features: One of the most longstanding AirPods Pro 2 rumors is that they'll be able to measure your blood oxygen levels thanks to ambient light sensors.

AirPods Pro 2 release date

The AirPods Pro 2 are likely to land in 2022, according to industry analyst Ming-Chi Kuo. He said we'd likely get a new AirPods iteration in 2021, and a new AirPods Pro model in 2022 too (via AppleInsider). He then expanded his predictions to say that the AirPods Pro 2 will be released in late 2022, in the last quarter of this year (October, November, or December).

In 2021, we had a big Apple event in October - that's when the AirPods 3 were announced, so the company could do the same this year. It's also possible that the AirPods Pro 2 will be released alongside a new iPhone, which usually happens in September.

That's backed up by information, which supposedly comes from a supply chain insider, that was released by @FrontTron (via MacRumors), who says that the launch of the premium wireless earbuds has been pushed back from Q2 2022 to Q3. The source didn't give a reason for the delay, but given so much tech has been delayed due to chip shortages, it's not surprising.

It's worth noting that there is an Apple event rumored to be taking place on March 8, where we'll supposedly see the iPhone SE 3 and iPad 5 - and possibly even a new Mac. As the AirPods Pro 2 aren't expected to launch until later in the year we aren't holding our breath for a surprise announcement, but we'll be tuning in all the same.

Apple has yet to confirm that it's working on a new pair of AirPods, let alone give us any indication of an AirPods Pro 2 release date. However, the original AirPods Pro were launched way back in 2019, and are probably due an upgrade in the near future - and rumors surrounding the next Apple noise-cancelling earbuds are steadily hotting up.

AirPods Pro 2 price

According to a tweet from LeaksApplePro, the AirPods Pro 2 will cost the same as their predecessors ($249 / £249 / AU$399).

This price contradicts previous reports that the new earbuds will be an entry-level version of the AirPods Pro (hence the AirPods Pro Lite name). So it might be that they're an upgraded version instead.

AirPods Pro 2: what we know about the rumored Apple earbuds

However, if we do get a budget-friendly version of the AirPods Pro 2, that would really shake up the competition with a genuinely affordable pair of Apple earbuds.

We don't think that's super likely though; Apple reduced the price of the AirPods 2 when it released the AirPods 3, making them the cheapest AirPods you can currently buy. We can't see Apple undercutting that $129 / £119 / AU$219 price tag for a pair of more comprehensively-specced noise-cancelling earbuds.

Interested in buying some Apple headphones now? Check out the best deals we've found below:

AirPods Pro 2 design

According to a Bloomberg report that cited "people familiar with the plans" the AirPods Pro would get a design overhaul in 2021, eliminating the ear stems altogether, for a "more rounded shape that fills more of a user's ear" – perhaps taking a few design cues from the Samsung Galaxy Buds and the Google Pixel Buds.

But now we're in 2022 it's clear we haven't seen these. Maybe this report was referring to the AirPods 3, which do have a different design but one that definitely doesn't do away with the stems – just makes them shorter.

Or it could just be that the Bloomberg report is referring to the Pro 2 but pre-empted the release date. It says that fitting the features of the AirPods Pro, including the antennas and microphones, into a more compact build has been a challenge so far, which "could result in a less ambitious design when the final product is finalized".

If Apple does keep the protruding stems we’d love the brand to include haptic feedback when you touch them – it would add a little bit of tactility to the user experience that we think would be really beneficial.

We've also since seen alleged leaked photos of the AirPods Pro 2 and their charging case, which shows what appear to be speaker holes (possibly for emitting a beeping sound when you misplace it like the AirTag) - but we're not convinced they're the real deal. MacRumors received the images from a claimed Apple internal source, though they the source declined to share any additional information, and they don't have an established track record:

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The images themselves are... questionable. We can't see Apple drilling three massive holes into the bottom of the charging case, which is otherwise very streamlined. As for the metal loop that could be used to attach a carrying strap? It seems pretty pointless to us.

The images don't show the AirPods Pro 2 with missing earstems - the source apparently told MacRumors that particular rumor was incorrect.

So, what would we like to see from the AirPods Pro 2? Some earfins wouldn’t go amiss to make the AirPods Pro 2 appeal to the running crowd. While we find that the AirPods Pro are generally quite secure during workout sessions, some extra security could win over diehard fans of the earhook-toting Beats Powerbeats Pro.

Another way to steal some custom from Beats (and therefore itself)? Adding some cool color options to the AirPods Pro 2. We’d love to see true wireless earbuds in the same space gray and rose gold colors we’ve seen with some iPhone and MacBook Pro models - however, we don't think this is likely based on Apple's track record for all-white AirPods.

AirPods Pro 2 audio performance

While the AirPods Pro don't sound bad by any means, they can't compete with the Sony WF-1000XM4 and Cambridge Audio Melomania 1 Plus in terms of audio fidelity - and we're expecting Apple to make some changes to their sound profile to entice the audiophile crowd.

Aside from improving the drivers inside the AirPods Pro and allowing for adjustable EQ settings, Apple could do this by adding support for lossless audio. According to Ming-Chi Kuo, the AirPods Pro 2 will come Apple Lossless (ALAC) support, allowing for higher quality streams than previous models, without the disappearance of data associated with low bitrate Bluetooth transmission.

This would allow the AirPods Pro 2 to deliver far more detail in your music than was previously possible, letting you hear every tone, instrument, and element of a track the way the artist intended. Plus, it would tie in nicely with Apple Music's Lossless Audio streams.

We've also heard how the AirPods Pro 2 could swap Bluetooth for a proprietary wireless streaming technology in a bid to deliver lossless audio. According to a patent spotted by Patently Apple, the company is working on a new optical audio transmission technology - and based on the illustrations included in the patent, it will work with the rumored Apple MR headset that could launch this year.

Optical audio transmission provides a higher bandwidth than Bluetooth, which could allow for earbuds using this technology to play lossless and hi-res audio files - though it requires a 'line of sight' between the audio source and the earbuds, so it wouldn't work if your phone was stashed in your pocket.

We know that Apple is interested in overcoming the limitations of Bluetooth audio transmission. In an interview with What Hi-Fi?, Apple's VP of Acoustics, Gary Geaves said that “there’s a number of tricks we can play to maximise or get around some of the limits of Bluetooth,” but that “it’s fair to say that we would like more bandwidth”.

Another option could be to include support for Qualcomm's new aptX Lossless codec - though Apple hasn't used Qualcomm technology in the past, and we can't see it changing the habit of a lifetime.

Otherwise, we expect the AirPods Pro 2 will continue to support Spatial Audio like their predecessors and the AirPods 3.

AirPods Pro 2 battery life

The battery life offered by the AirPods Pro doesn't match some of the best true wireless earbuds you can buy today. While perfectly acceptable, just under 25-hours of playtime has been far outmatched by the likes of the Lypertek PurePlay Z3 2.0 (though these admittedly don't come with noise cancellation, which can drain battery life).

According to @LeaksApplePro, the AirPods Pro 2 will come with "better battery life", but there's no indication of how much playback we'll actually get. Most noise-cancelling earbuds aren't as long-lasting as regular true wireless earbuds - ANC can be a real battery drain - but even a few extra hours of playback would be very welcome.

You can almost guarantee that the AirPods Pro 2 will come with wireless MagSafe-compatible charging like the AirPods Pro and the AirPods 3 - and the charging case itself could come with a rather nifty feature of its own.

Apparently the Apple AirPods Pro 2 will come with a charging case that can be tracked with the Find My app on the iPhone, so you can find it if it gets lost. It'll also make a beep if you need to locate it, much like the AirTag does.

AirPods Pro 2 controls

A number of Apple patents surrounding the way earbuds can be controlled have led to rumors that the AirPods Pro 2 will be particularly futuristic.

The most recent rumor circulating about the AirPods Pro 2 is that they’ll allow specific codewords and voices to ‘break through’ their active noise cancellation settings.

Spotted by Apple Insider, a new patent application called ‘Interrupt for noise-cancelling audio devices’ describes a new feature that’s designed to stop you from missing out on important conversations while active noise cancellation is switched on.

Apple was also been awarded a patent in 2020 that describes the ability to control true wireless earbuds with futuristic 'in-air gestures'.

Spotted by Patently Apple, the patent describes how in-air gestures – for example hovering a hand over the AirPods – could work alongside the touch controls already employed by the AirPods Pro, allowing you to trigger different actions.

Apple also filed a patent describing earbuds that could be controlled by touching your face, shaking your head, and even clicking your teeth together. Whether these features will actually materialize remains to be seen, but it's clear that Apple is investigating some exciting new tech for its wireless earbuds.

Doing something like cupping an ear over your earbuds to pause active noise cancellation or your music doesn’t seem that far fetched - but clicking your teeth? We're not convinced.

AirPods Pro 2: fitness features

A May 2020 report by Digitimes said future AirPods will use ambient light sensors to take biometric measurements – potentially for monitoring blood oxygen levels like the Apple Watch 6.

According to AppleLeaksPro, this feature is coming to the AirPods Pro 2 – and as posited by MacRumors, this could work in a similar way to the ear-based clip on pulse oximeters used in hospitals, which shine light through the earlobe to detect the amount of oxygen in a patient's bloodstream. It's not clear whether the design of the AirPods Pro would have to change materially to allow this to happen, but we think it's unlikely that Apple would ditch the design that has made its earbuds so ubiquitous.

We're not sure how likely this particular rumor is. The current AirPods Pro don’t rest on the earlobe in a way that would work for a blood oximeter, and integrating an actual ear clip would bring a drastic design change to the AirPods Pro. Of all the earbuds that this feature could come to, the Powerbeats Pro are more likely, since they hook around the ear and have more contact with the skin.

That's not all. Last year, Apple was awarded a number of new patents, one of which suggests that the next AirPods could come with a nifty feature for fitness fans, possibly cementing their place among the best running headphones in the world.

According to Patently Apple, the patent describes AirPods that use inbuilt sensors to "gather orientation information such as accelerometer measurements during user movements".

That's not all. Future Apple AirPods could automatically pause or lower the volume of your music if they detect hazards in your surroundings, according to a patent granted to the company on August 11 2021.

The patent describes a pair of true wireless earbuds that are capable of adjusting their audio output based on the user's activities and location, including "adjusting audio volume, stopping or preventing audio from playing, providing feedback, directions, encouragement, advice, safety information, instructions, and the like".