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September 18, 2023 01:00 pm GMT

AirPods Pro Adaptive Audio preview: Automatically adjusting to your day

When Apple previews the upcoming version of iOS at WWDC, we expect to see all of the new features that will improve the iPhone. However, its not guaranteed that the company will take that opportunity to also update its popular wireless earbuds. But, alongside the arrival of iOS 17, a firmware update adds a few new features to the second-gen AirPods Pro, most of which will automatically adjust to your environment or activity so you dont have to touch the earbuds or reach for your phone.

The headline addition is Adaptive Audio, a tool that automatically and dynamically blends transparency mode and active noise cancellation (ANC) based on your surroundings. Apple says it will change the noise control settings continuously throughout the day, making the proper adjustments as you move to different settings. Thanks to the H2 chip in the AirPods Pro, the earbuds use a combination of computational audio and machine learning algorithms that can discern between consistent and transitory noise. The technology inside of the earbuds also accounts for whether you're stationary or in motion, and if youre listening to music or taking a call when making its automatic adjustments.

The whole idea is for this to happen without you really noticing. When theres a change in your surroundings, Adaptive Audio gradually starts tweaking the blend of ANC and transparency. So if you enter a loud coffee shop or sit near a noisy A/C unit, AirPods Pro gently increases the level of noise cancellation to combat the clamor. The point is to smooth the transition, so the change in cancellation level doesnt become a distraction itself.

Indeed, unless youre really listening for the fluctuations or you encounter loud noise, you wont notice them. It gradually increased ANC when I was washing dishes at the sink or grinding coffee to keep the audio where I could hear it clearly. But it also swung back to the transparency mode I previously had active when I ventured into a quieter spot. It works very well and its not jarring at all thanks to the gentle, but still quick, transition.

AirPods Pro Adaptive Audio
Photo by Billy Steele/Engadget

Before, you could switch between transparency mode and ANC by pressing and holding the AirPods Pro stem. You could also reconfigure one of those to just turn noise control completely off. Apple will allow you to swap one of the options that are accessible on the earbuds with Adaptive Audio, but the company is keeping it to only two settings via the on-board controls. As you might expect, Adaptive Audio is accessible through the Control Center where the AirPods options have been re-organized. Theres a noise control section that expands to give you access to transparency, Adaptive Audio, ANC and off just below the volume slider.

The next new feature is Personalized Volume. This uses machine learning to understand environmental conditions and listening preferences over time to automatically fine-tune the media experience, according to Apple. Its another layer of hands-off adjustment that AirPods Pro will do when you move from one place to the next. However, the over time part means I havent used it long enough to really notice a difference. After only a few days of testing, I cant say Ive encountered a time where the adjustment was obvious. Maybe the feature needs more time to learn my preferences or maybe Apples claims that youll barely notice the difference are true. Either way, Im not comfortable weighing the merits just yet. Personalized Volume is enabled via the AirPods Pro settings menu, just above the option for Loud Sound Reduction.

A handy new tool that I can see quickly becoming popular is Conversation Awareness. When you start talking, this feature automatically lowers the volume or pauses, focuses on voices in front of you and reduces background noise. Its similar to Sonys Speak-to-Chat, only that it completely pauses media when it detects your voice. Here, Apple reduces volume when you're listening to music and pauses things like podcasts and audiobooks. The main issue with Sonys version is its easily triggered by light coughs or clearing your throat. After a few days of testing, Conversation Awareness is less susceptible to false positives, unless youre really hacking. And if you find you dont like it, you can disable it entirely in the AirPod Pro settings.

I was skeptical at first, but I quickly got on board with Apples decision to reduce volume rather than stop a song completely. Its certainly less jarring, and the feature returns to your previous volume about three seconds after it no longer senses your voice or the person youre speaking to. Im sure there are some users whod prefer a complete pause for all media, those who dont want to talk over something in the background. But this is meant for quick convos rather than extended chats, and for that reason Im OK with Apples implementation.

The only issue currently with Conversation Awareness is volume reduces on podcasts first when you start talking and pauses a few seconds after. Its a bit clunky, and I think it would be smoother to just gently decrease the volume to zero. Thankfully, it works outside of Apple Podcasts with apps like Pocket Casts so you dont have to worry if youre not 100 percent in Apples ecosystem.

All of the features so far are exclusive to the second-generation AirPods Pro with the H2 chip. However, Apple is making improvements to other models too. For both versions of the AirPods Pro, third-gen AirPods and the AirPods Max, Apple improved automatic switching between the companys various devices. This means faster and more reliable changeover between listening to music on your Mac and taking a call on your iPhone, for example. This update also requires iPadOS 17 and/or macOS Sonoma, depending on your stable of devices, for you to notice the difference. I do not have an iPad or Mac running those yet, so I was unable to test Apples claims here.

AirPods Mute
Photo by Billy Steele/Engadget

Apple also added a mute function to the most recent AirPods, both models of AirPods Pro and AirPods Max. Simply press the stem or the Digital Crown on AirPods Max to mute or unmute yourself during calls. Its straightforward, but its also a welcome update. Youll see a banner and hear a chime every time you change the microphone state, so Apple will make it clear which setting you're on via two cues on your iPhone, iPad or Mac. Developers working on video- and voice-calling apps will be able to implement this functionality as well through CallKit on iOS. So in addition to being able to press to mute with Phone and FaceTime, you will be able to do so on other popular apps like Skype, Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp and WeChat. Apple says a Mute API will be available for macOS apps as well.

Apple doesnt typically offer such a robust update to AirPods alongside the annual iOS refresh. However, the additions of Adaptive Audio, Personalized Volume and Conversation Awareness expand the toolset of the most recent AirPods Pro so that you spend even less time physically pressing buttons to interact with them. And you can decide whether or not you even want to use them at all. Ill bet you will though, especially at times when your hands are full or you mightve stepped away from your phone.

The new AirPods Pro features are now available in the iOS 17 public beta. If you're okay waiting, the official release of the AirPods Pro firmware update will be available later today.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

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Engadget is a web magazine with obsessive daily coverage of everything new in gadgets and consumer electronics. Engadget was launched in March of 2004 in partnership with the Weblogs, Inc. Network (WI

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