Last week, Apple released AirPods firmware updates for all models other than the first-generation AirPods. Firmware versions 6A300 and 6A301 promise to improve the Automatic Switching experience for all available AirPods when used with Apple devices with the latest software updates. Also, the third-generation AirPods, both generations of the AirPods Pro, and the AirPods Max will let you press the stalk to mute and unmute calls. Firmware updates are applied automatically, but you can check your version in Settings > Bluetooth > AirPods name.
The firmware update’s marquee features, however, are available only for the second-generation AirPods Pro. Apple describes them like this:
- Adaptive Audio automatically prioritizes sounds that need your attention as you move through the world. By seamlessly blending Active Noise Cancellation with Transparency mode when you need it, Adaptive Audio magically delivers the right mix of sound for any environment.
- Conversation Awareness automatically lowers the volume of what’s playing, enhances voices in front of you, and reduces background noise when you’re wearing AirPods Pro and need to speak with someone nearby.
- Personalized Volume uses machine learning to understand your listening preferences in different environments, and automatically adapts sound based on your patterns over time.
I only have the first-generation AirPods Pro, but John Gruber of Daring Fireball says the second-generation AirPods Pro are a significant improvement even before the new features:
But going back to the original AirPods Pro for just one afternoon walking around the city really brought home just how much improved the AirPods Pro 2 are. Transparency mode and Noise Cancellation are way better, and more strikingly, just the audio quality difference alone was obvious. After a year as a near-daily user of AirPods Pro 2, I now find the audio quality of the first-generation ones to be thin and tinny. I was downright blown away by the difference.
Gruber found Conversation Awareness functional but annoying when it kicked in after picking up voices of people talking around him but not to him, and he filed it under “Not for me personally, but you might love it.” On the other hand, he’s a fan of Adaptive Audio, saying:
I don’t even see why Adaptive Audio isn’t a replacement for Transparency. For me, so far, it’s just Transparency but better, with more on-the-fly dynamic adjustments. It’s fantastic.
Given that I wear my AirPods Pro only a few times per month for Zoom calls and while mowing the lawn, I can’t justify spending $249 for a new pair to try these new features, but if you have a first-generation pair in your ears often, the combination of the new USB-C charging case and this firmware update may make an upgrade worthwhile (see “Apple Updates AirPods Pro with USB-C Case and Improved Dust Resistance,” 15 September 2023).