Apple announced the second generation of AirPods in March 2019, followed by the AirPods Pro in October 2019.

How do the AirPods Pro, AirPods 2 and the old AirPods compare though? Should you upgrade if you have the old AirPods and which should you buy if you're in the market for a pair of Apple's wireless earphones?

Apple AirPods Pro vs AirPods 2 vs AirPods: Price

  • AirPods Pro: $249/£249
  • AirPods 2: From $159/£159
  • Old AirPods: From $159/£159

The Apple AirPods Pro cost $249/£249 and they feature a wireless charging case as standard.

The Apple AirPods 2 start at $159/£159 with a standard case. For the wireless charging case, the price increases to $199/£199. The wireless charging case can also be bought separately for $79/£79.

The old Apple AirPods also cost $159/£159 when they launched originally. Apple no longer sells the old model, but you might find them cheaper elsewhere, especially with the new models now available.

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What's the same between Apple's AirPod models?

All the Apple AirPod models connect to your iPhone or Apple Watch with just one tap, offering super simple setup. Once connected, you'll just need to select AirPods from the device you're using and you'll be ready to go.

There are sensors to automatically control the audio experience, playing sound as soon as the AirPods are in your ears and engaging the microphones for phone calls. You can also choose to wear one AirPod or both at anytime. 

The AirPods 2 and the original AirPods also allow you to double tap to play music or skip forward a track and they share the same design. The AirPods Pro meanwhile, have a slightly different design but they also have on device controls like the other models - they are just more advanced. All AirPod models come in white only.

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What's different between Apple's AirPods models?

As you would expect, there are a number of differences between the AirPods Pro, AirPods 2 and the old AirPods. In the case of the AirPods 2 and original AirPods, many of these differences are beneath the surface, while the AirPods Pro have both surface level and beneath surface level differences compared to the other models.

Design

  • AirPods Pro: IPX4 water and sweat resistant
  • AirPods 2: No IP rating
  • Old AirPods: No IP rating

The AirPods Pro have a slightly different design to the AirPods 2 and the old AirPods. The Pro model is IPX4 water and sweat resistant, while the other AirPods models are not and the Pro model also come with silicone ear tips in three sizes for a better fit.

The AirPods Pro have a vent system in their design for pressure equalisation too, as well as a force sensor on the stem, allowing for more controls. Additionally, the AirPods Pro feature two microphones for active noise cancellation.

Controls 

  • AirPods Pro: Advanced on-device controls
  • AirPods 2: Basic on-device controls
  • Old AirPods: Basic on-device controls 

The AirPods Pro have more advanced on-device controls than the AirPods 2 and old AirPods.

On the AirPods Pro, one tap on the stem will allow users to play, pause or answer a phone call. Two taps will allow users to skip forwards and three taps will enable users to skip back. A press and hold will switch between Active Noise Cancellation and Transparency mode. Transparency mode will allow you to simultaneously hear your favourite song, as well as the environment around you.

On the AirPods 2 and old AirPods, the only on-device controls are in the form of double tapping. Users can set the left and right AirPod to offer a different control with a double tap but controls are limited to launching Siri, next track, previous track, or play/pause. When a phone call comes through, a double tap will answer the call though.

Sound

  • AirPods Pro: Adaptive EQ, Active Noise Cancellation
  • AirPods 2: No noise cancellation
  • Old AirPods: No noise cancellation

The AirPods Pro promise a more immersive sound experience than the AirPods 2 and the old AirPods. They feature Adaptive EQ, which automatically tunes the low and mid-frequencies of the music to the shape of an individual's ear. A custom high dynamic range amplifier is on board too and there is a custom speaker driver designed to optimise audio quality and remove background noise.

The AirPods Pro also have Active Noise Cancellation on board, as we mentioned previously. Two microphones are built into the AirPods Pro design which are used in conjunction with advanced software to adapt to an individual ear and remove background noise. 

The AirPods 2 and old AirPods offer the same sound experience as each other, which is likely to be less superior to the Pro models. There is no Adaptive EQ, no Active Noise Cancellation and no Transparency mode on board either the AirPods 2 or old AirPods.

Processor

  • AirPods Pro: H1 chip
  • AirPods 2: H1 chip
  • Old AirPods: W1 chip

The AirPods Pro and Apple AirPods 2 run on a chip called the H1 compared to the W1 chip found in the original AirPods.

The H1 chip is claimed to offer two times faster connection between active devices than the old AirPods, 50 per cent more talk time and 1.5x faster connection for phone calls. It is also said to deliver 30 per cent lower gaming latency.

Siri voice control

  • AirPods Pro: Siri compatible 
  • AirPods 2: Siri compatible
  • Old AirPods: Siri through iPhone or Apple Watch

Thanks to the H1 chip, the Apple AirPods Pro and Apple AirPods 2 offer "Hey Siri" control, allowing users to make a phone call, play music, change the volume and ask for directions using their voice.

The old Apple AirPods don't support Siri, though users can still use their iPhone or Apple Watch for Siri control.

Wireless charging case

  • AirPods Pro: Wireless charging case
  • AirPods 2: Standard case or wireless charging case
  • Old AirPods: Standard case, compatible with wireless charging case

The Apple AirPods Pro come with a wireless charging case as standard. The Apple AirPods 2 offer the option of a standard charging case like the original Apple AirPods, but they also have the option of a wireless charging case.

The wireless charging case is Qi compatible, allowing you to charge your new AirPods on a Qi charging pad with no wires. The wireless charging case can be bought separately, and it is compatible with the old Apple AirPods, offering wireless charging compatibility to both wireless earphones.

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Talk time

  • AirPods Pro: 3.5 hours talk time
  • AirPods 2: 3 hours talk time
  • Old AirPods: 2 hours talk time

The Apple AirPods Pro claim to deliver 3.5 hours of talk time and 4.5 hours of listening time. According to Apple, they will offer 5 hours of listening tie when Active Noise Cancellation and Transparency modes are off.

The Apple AirPods 2 are said to deliver an extra hour of talk time compared to the old AirPods. The AirPods 2 are therefore said to offer three hours of talk time, compared to two hours, or five hours of listening time.

The charging case will offer up to two hours of talk time and three hours of listening time with 15 minutes of charge.

Conclusion 

Should you upgrade from the old AirPods to the Airpods 2? If extra talk time, Hey Siri control and faster and more stable connections are important to you then you should notice a difference with the second generation of AirPods. If not, but you want wireless charging, you could opt to buy just the wireless charging case for your old AirPods.

Should you upgrade from the old AirPods or the AirPods 2 to the AirPods Pro? If sweat and water resistance, better audio quality, noise cancellation, more advanced controls and a better fit are all features you've been looking for, then the AirPods Pro should deliver. 

For those deciding which AirPods to buy, the first generation only make sense if you can find them significantly cheaper than $159/£159. Bear in mind that if you want wireless charging too, you'll also need to buy the case so you'll need to find them for under £100 for them to be worth the downgrade. The AirPods Pro naturally offer the most on paper, but they are also the most expensive so you'll need to weigh up what features you really want and what you're prepared to pay for.