Australian technology news, reviews, and guides to help you
Australian technology news, reviews, and guides to help you

AirPods gain new skills in upcoming update

Owners of the AirPods Pro 2nd-gen look set to get some new features this year. Owners of the first-gen and more expensive AirPods Max, less so.

It’s nice when you find that products don’t have to be locked in time and can grow with you, evolving and seeing new features as developers work out what else they can do.

That typically happens in the world of headphones, which can see new features added through software over time, as companies expand capabilities via updates.

Apple did that with its first-gen AirPods Pro when it threw in support for head-tracked spatial audio, a technology that can track the direction that you face and move your position inside of a soundtrack.

It works for movies and music, and when paired with a compatible music service like Apple Music, it can make your experience stand out, so much that you may need to go back through your music catalogue just to hear how those recordings have changed.

This year, Apple will be doing something similar, updating its earphones with new skills thanks to some software updates set for release in spring, likely alongside the iPhone 15 in September.

Specifically, Apple will be updating the current AirPods Pro 2nd-gen with three features: Adaptive Audio, Personalised Volume, and Conversation Awareness, while also updating the controls to let you quickly mute or unmute in a call.

Apple's mute feature
Apple’s mute feature

Outside of the mute feature — which works across all AirPods Pro versions (1 and 2), plus the 3rd-gen AirPods and AirPods Max — the new features are limited to the 2nd-gen AirPods Pro, and take advantage of the hardware to improve the sound and listening experience.

With Adaptive Audio, Apple is blending the sound of transparency and active noise cancellation to allow you to listen to your music and still hear through the earphones, cutting back on the loud environmental noise transparency can let you hear through to.

In a way, Adaptive Audio sounds like Apple’s interpretation of Sony’s hear-through mode that can vary based on environment, something you can control via the Sony Headphones app, and has been there on the WH-1000XM3, WH-1000XM4, and the current WH-1000XM5, as well as the earphone varieties.

Meanwhile, Conversation Awareness borrows aspects of this, kicking in when you start talking, and lowering the volume of music and improving the sound of voices nearby as the sound of the environment is reduced.

Personalised Volume will be a little different, using machine learning and the sound of environments to change listening volume over time, basically varying the sound you listen to so you get your own sense of sound.

Interestingly, it seems as though owners of the more expensive AirPods Max will miss out on these new features.

That shouldn’t come as a major surprise, mind you: the 2nd-gen AirPods Pro are based on newer hardware than what’s in the AirPods Max, making this update likely linked to hardware, not just new software.

As such, we wouldn’t be surprised to see new AirPods Max released alongside the AirPods Pro software update later in the year, especially as they’d be roughly three years old at that point, though we won’t know until then.

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