AirPods Pro 2's noise cancellation is so good, I need to retrain my brain

AirPods Pro 2 in man's ear
(Image credit: TechRadar)

I'm a long-time AirPods Pro user, pretty much since the first version came out in 2019. I've tried lots of the best noise-cancelling earbuds since then, but I always came back to the AirPods Pro (2019) because I liked how light and small they are compared to most of the competition, and the quality of the noise-cancellation held up well over that time.

What it means, though, is that I've become extremely familiar with the particular sound profile of their ANC. I use them basically any time I'm walking somewhere –  five minutes to the shop, 30 minutes into town, three hours into the countryside – for podcasts or music, so I'm really used to how they change the sound around me.

Now, of course, I've switched to AirPods Pro 2. The same size and lightness, but upgraded in every other way – obviously, I was always going to be happy with that.

The active noise cancellation on the new AirPods Pro is absolutely mind-blowing, but a quirk of where it's most effective and where it isn't means that my brain keeps being surprised when I'm out among other people.

The AirPods Pro 2 are incredibly effective at noise blocking when it comes to any mid- or low-pitched sounds. Any low drone noise (dishwasher, microwave) are removed totally, and with something less predictable like traffic, it stamps on and suppresses the sound extremely well – and with consistency.

But sudden higher-pitched sounds aren't handled with the same crushing efficiency. It's always been the case that active noise cancellation tech find it easier to handle lower-frequency sounds than high-frequency ones, so it's no surprise that the AirPods Pro 2 let in more sound high sounds, but it means that there's a much larger mis-match between how effectively sounds get squashed at the low and high end in AirPods Pro 2 compared to the originals.

AirPods Pro 2 on wooden surface

(Image credit: TechRadar)

This is where my brain has been having trouble. It had basically trained itself to be familiar with the original AirPods Pro's flatter sound cancelling profile… so the fact that the new ones let in proportionally more high-end sound keeps confusing me.

I was walking the other day and I felt like someone was rustling a packet of snacks by my head. I turned to look, as you would if you thought a candy-loving stalker was sneaking behind you, and I realized that what I was hearing was a group of tourists walking along the path with their suitcases. The lower part of the noise from the trundling wheel had been cancelled well, but the higher 'clickety clack' of them hitting bumps remained, and ended up feeling much closer to me than I expected.

I've had a few other incidents, where I'm happy in my cocoon of silence, and then a baby's cry or something will break through, and because of the noise-cancelling, it's not always clear exactly where it came from.

I don't write this to criticize the noise cancellation of the AirPods Pro 2 – what's happening here is entirely because of how good it is. It seems churlish to complain, essentially, that's it's too good in one portion of the sound, leaving me confused about the other portion.

But it means my brain has work to do. Eventually, it'll become just as used to the noise-cancelling balance of the new buds as it was to the old buds, and it'll handle the levels of silence at the low end and occasional noises at the high end. For now, there might be a few more weeks where I'm shocked by oblivious tourists from 15 feet away.

Matt Bolton
Managing Editor, Entertainment

Matt is TechRadar's Managing Editor for Entertainment, meaning he's in charge of persuading our team of writers and reviewers to watch the latest TV shows and movies on gorgeous TVs and listen to fantastic speakers and headphones. It's a tough task, as you can imagine. Matt has over a decade of experience in tech publishing, and previously ran the TV & audio coverage for our colleagues at, and before that he edited T3 magazine. During his career, he's also contributed to places as varied as Creative Bloq, PC Gamer, PetsRadar, MacLife, and Edge. TV and movie nerdism is his speciality, and he goes to the cinema three times a week. He's always happy to explain the virtues of Dolby Vision over a drink, but he might need to use props, like he's explaining the offside rule.