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Your AirPods Pro 2 are getting an upgrade, and it's a big deal

Apple and Sony are consistently neck-and-neck in the earbuds and over-ear headphones race. But Apple's new software update is closing on Sony's lead. Here's why.
Written by Jada Jones, Associate Editor on
Christina Darby/ZDNet

If you've Googled "What are the best earbuds?" you may have stumbled across the Apple AirPods Pro 2 and the Sony WF-1000XM5 earbuds. Most people will rave about both, making the choice between the two uniquely challenging.

Apple announced some major hardware and software changes coming to the AirPods Pro 2, and the changes are sure to close the gap Sony created between its earbuds and Apple's.

Also: Everything Apple announced: iPhone 15, Apple Watch Ultra 2, AirPods 

Apple debuted the upgraded AirPods Pro 2 with a USB-C charging port, leaving the Lightning charger behind. Sony first released the XM5 earbuds with a USB-C charging port, and both pairs of earbuds are compatible with Qi-certified wireless chargers.

The new-and-improved AirPods Pro 2 also boast improved dust resistance, as they now have an IP54 rating, making them protected from dust ingress. Previously, the AirPods Pro 2 had an IPX4 rating, and the "X" meant that Apple did not formally test them for dust ingress.

On the other hand, the Sony XM5 buds have an IPX4 rating, but that doesn't mean dust will be a huge problem. Keep your buds' charging port clean, and everything should be peachy keen.

On September 18, Apple will officially release iOS 17, its latest installment of the iPhone operating system. Within iOS 17 are some major software updates for the AirPods Pro 2, making both buds' capabilities more similar than ever.

Also: The best earbuds of 2023: Expert tested and reviewed

Here's why these new iOS 17 features are a big deal.

Prior to iOS 17, Sony's WF-1000XM5 boasted more premium features than the AirPods Pro 2, including Speak to Chat and Adaptive Sound Control. 

Sony's Speak to Chat feature pauses the wearer's music when the earbuds detect the wearer is conversing with someone. The earbuds automatically switch to Ambient Sound mode, allowing the wearer to converse without having to remove their earbuds.

Also: iPhone 15 Pro vs. iPhone 14 Pro: Which model is best to buy? 

Adaptive Sound Control learns the wearer's frequent locations and automatically adjusts headphone settings like volume and noise cancellation based on surrounding noise levels. If the wearer tends to have noise cancelation on while walking to the bus stop, the WF-1000XM5 will adjust accordingly.

Until iOS 17, the AirPods Pro 2 didn't have either one of these useful features. Now, Apple's Conversation Awareness and Adaptive Audio features operate in the same manner as Sony's Speak to Chat and Adaptive Sound Control features.

Therefore, Apple's two software upgrades eliminate key distinctions between the two earbuds, leaving only three major differences to influence your decision: A $50 price difference, earbud shape, and device integration.

Sony WF-1000XM5 in black against a brick wall
Jada Jones/ZDNET

At full price, the Sony WF-1000XM5 retail for $300, while the AirPods Pro 2 are $249. However, both earbuds are often sold for discounted prices at Best Buy and Amazon.

Sony's WF-1000XM5 earbuds are rounded, omitting stems that dangle from the ear. On the other hand, Apple's AirPods Pro 2 sport the traditional bud-attached-to-stem design. 

Also: How to choose the best AirPods for you: ZDNET's buying guide

Like all Apple devices, the AirPods Pro 2 work best with other Apple devices. If you don't have Apple devices, you'll miss out on key features such as Personalized Spatial Audio and automatically switching your AirPods from one device to another. 

With the software update, the AirPods Pro 2 will be more compatible with the Vision Pro, Apple's mixed-reality headset. Users can enjoy 20-bit, 48 kHz lossless audio only when connected to the Vision Pro since both devices share Apple's upgraded H2 audio chip.

But the WF-1000XM5 earbuds have multipoint connection, enabling you to connect your earbuds to two devices and seamlessly switch audio from one connected device to the other. Also, the Sony Connect companion app offers comprehensive EQ settings no matter your device's operating system. 

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