TECH

Listening on Apple Vision Pro: Audio Pods, AirPods Pro and AirPods Max

Audio modules for Apple Vision Pro, AirPods Pro 2 and AirPods Max

Apple Vision The Pro offers users two incredible ways to listen to audio, and AirPods Max is not one of them. Here's how the options compare.

The Apple AirPods line includes four variants, but only one has Apple Vision Pro features — AirPods Pro 2 with USB-C. Other products work, but they lack the magic that comes with a proprietary 5GHz connection.

Of course, Apple Vision Pro has a built-in way to listen to audio, called Audio Pods. These small speakers are located directly above the user's ear and transmit sound generated by the computer.

I will focus on the three most premium options available for Apple Vision Pro – — Audio Pods, AirPods Pro 2 with USB-C and AirPods Max. Each has its pros and cons, but there is still a winner.

Audio modules in Apple Vision Pro

Audio modules work with built-in microphones and depth maps to make the sound more natural — as if it were reflecting off the surfaces in your room. It's an incredible effect that sounds like it's coming from quality speakers that are both right next to your ears and across the room.

Audio stands are small speakers placed in front of the user's ears

Increase the volume as much as possible and you'll notice some limitations that small speakers have &mdash ; tinny highs and fuzzy bass. However, the average volume for everyday listening is ideal for most tasks.

The coolest thing about Apple Vision Pro is that it plays sound almost constantly thanks to environmental sounds. This makes wearing the Apple Vision Pro in complete silence seem unbearable.

Because the speakers don't cover your ears, you can enjoy the sound in the room without relying on transparency mode or other tricks. It lets you listen to the birds chirping in Yosemite while listening to soft music, with every keystroke audible.

All this creates this feeling of presence, which is removed when you cover your ears.

However, there are also disadvantages to using Audio Pods. You may not always want your speakers to produce sound for the entire room to hear, plus, no matter how good the quality of the speakers, small speakers produce quiet sound.

Audio Pods are great for everyday listening

Audio Pods were created for passive listening. Music, YouTube, notifications and other sounds are all ok, but nothing compared to AirPods.

Unless you're an attentive audiophile, you'll probably never notice what's missing from the Audio Pods' sound. I don't pay much attention to it, but in this article, switching between audio devices made the problem severe.

Compared to any set of AirPods, the Audio Pods sound thin and lack bass. I was watching Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse and the hits landed with a thud that sounded like nothing compared to the head-vibrating bass produced by any set of AirPods I compare.

We repeat: the audio modules create incredible-sounding audio that sounds like it's coming from the room, not from tiny speakers in your ears. But they are not the final solution.

If you're serious about active listening, you'll want to get the AirPods Pro with USB-C. The audio modules get the job done, but they lack the ability to truly isolate the user, and weak audio doesn't always provide the best experience.

AirPods Pro 2 with USB-C

If you've used AirPods Pro 2, USB-C, or Lightning—you already know what they sound like for general tasks. Music is crisp and clear, spatial audio makes it feel like you're not wearing headphones, and active noise-cancellation isolates you from the world.

AirPods Pro 2 with USB-C provide a great listening experience when isolated.

Apple Vision Pro and AirPods USB-C have one new aspect. About — proprietary H2-H2 5 GHz connection. It provides lossless audio playback, but I'm not sure that's all there is going on here.

I'm by no means an audiophile, but I'm not sure I can tell the difference between standard audio and lossless audio. However, there is a difference in how the AirPods Pro 2 sound compared to other devices, and I believe it has to do with computational audio.

Apple was intentionally vague when discussing the relationship between the new AirPods Pro 2 and Apple Vision Pro. The company says the AirPods Pro 2 with USB-C can deliver lossless audio thanks to its native connection, but it looks like Apple's Vision Pro does more to handle audio than something like the AirPods Max.

While the AirPods Max have better bass and are capable of louder volume, they seem to be held back by the outdated H1 processor. Don't get me wrong, the AirPods Max still sound better in some aspects thanks to the larger, high-quality drivers, but there's something missing in the computing department — more on how they sound in a moment.

AirPods Pro 2 with USB-C can make direct H2 to H2 connection

When you insert AirPods Pro 2, you are simply surrounded by a sound field. Spatial music feels more real, movies have a theatrical quality, and environmental sounds are natural.

While Apple hasn't made this claim as far as I can tell, it looks like the AirPods Pro 2 will benefit from Apple Vision Pro's room-sensing capabilities to make the sound more natural. In its Apple Vision Pro keynote, Apple called it audio ray tracing, and while it was meant to describe the technologies used to create sound on Audio Pods, it looks like it could be used for AirPods Pro as well.

The sound stage sounds bigger and wider when using AirPods Pro with USB-C. This is the best way to watch a movie or immerse yourself in Apple Vision Pro, without a doubt.

But Apple has more premium headphones called AirPods Max, which should offer better sound quality depending on the size. This is wrong.

AirPods Max can still be used

Pure physics complicates this discussion. AirPods Max have great sound thanks to large drivers that can move a lot of air.

AirPods Max were not created with Apple Vision Pro in mind

Result — Excellent mid- and high-frequency sound reproduction with strong but not overpowering bass. This is the unique sound signature of AirPods Max.

However, Apple's Vision Pro relies heavily on computational audio, and this is where the AirPods Max fall short. The audio sounds great, especially music, but it lacks the directionality and separation that the AirPods Pro 2 with USB-C have.

If I had to describe the sound, it's more stereo than the AirPods Pro, despite both being spatial. The bass is heavier and the sounds are more centralized.

AirPods Max have not been updated since their release in 2020

Simply put, — AirPods Max are great headphones with large speakers that produce high-quality sound. However, they are held back by older technology and cannot take full advantage of Apple Vision Pro's room sensing capabilities.

It's a subtle difference, but you'll notice it if you rewatch certain scenes or listen to music repeatedly. When fully immersed, the AirPods Pro 2 with USB-C don't sound like headphones — they become a convincing part of the illusion.

I'm not ruling out the AirPods Max just yet, as Apple may finalize them with H2 (or even H3) chips and 5GHz radio frequency. It's hard to imagine AirPods Max sounding better, but room-sensing computational audio could be a game-changer for $550 headphones.

There is a unique use case for AirPods Max in which Audio Pods and AirPods Pro cannot be used — podcast recording. If you listen to the AppleInsider podcast every week, you know that I record while wearing the Apple Vision Pro.

View a virtual Mac display in Vision Pro while recording a podcast

A 14-inch MacBook Pro connected to hardware via a Thunderbolt dock actually records podcast audio, but I can see the Mac display in Vision Pro. The AirPods Max on my head are connected to a microphone so I can hear myself speak.

If Apple can release AirPods Max with the computing capabilities of AirPods Pro 2 and USB-C, I'll be first in line. This updated product is the best way to enjoy Apple Vision Pro audio.

And before anyone asks: yes, the headphones are much heavier than the AirPods Pro. The combined weight of the Apple Vision Pro and AirPods Max isn't painful or overwhelming, but it does cause fatigue to set in more quickly.

I use the Solo Knit strap and it doesn't interfere with the AirPods Max headband. If you rely on the Dual Loop strap, the fit of both headbands will likely be less than perfect or impossible.

Computational Audio is the Winner

AirPods Max can play have a certain role in my workflow, but outside of podcasting they are hardly used. AirPods Pro 2 with USB-C are the best way to listen to audio on the Apple Vision Pro today, but they're more isolated.

Apple Vision Pro is Apple's first spatial computer, and it requires accessories built with it in mind.

Audio Pods offer the best built-in audio quality that I've ever seen. ever been in an Apple product. While I'm working with the Apple Vision Pro, my HomePods are hanging uselessly on the wall, even though they have improved audio capabilities — of course they are still used when I'm not tied to Apple's version of the Matrix.

This opens up a completely new use case not covered in this part — room-filling spatial audio provided by HomePods. This is not a feature yet, but it may be of great interest to Vision Pro users.

Apple is still new to spatial computing, and its ecosystem of accessories will need to be updated to accommodate this paradigm. Pay attention to this place because it will be interesting, but for now, just buy AirPods Pro 2 with USB-C.

Keep up to date with my analysis of the Apple Vision Pro by reading my one month review and three month review.

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