In my review of the new second-generation AirPods Pro, I pointed out that the inner mesh/filter of the earbuds is slightly different from the original earbuds. It turns out that’s part of the reason Apple doesn’t recommend using first-generation tips on the new model and vice versa. As MacRumors noticedthe company has its support page on AirPods Pro earbuds with a new section that says “earbuds are specifically designed for their AirPods Pro generation, to deliver the most reliable audio experience.”
“So use the earbuds that come with your AirPods Pro. AirPods Pro (1st generation) earbuds have a noticeably denser mesh than AirPods Pro (2nd generation) earbuds,” Apple’s support site reads.
Could a looser mesh pattern really make a difference to sound quality? When it’s there, it’s extremely subtle. As I switched back and forth between the first and second generation tips on the latest AirPods Pro, I didn’t notice any immediate or obvious sound changes. Noise cancellation also remained equally effective in both pairs. Lab testing equipment may be able to reveal some differences between the tips, but your ears will likely have a harder time with it.
When I used an old tip in one ear and a new one in the other – a situation where acoustic differences should be most apparent – the music sounded normal and balanced again.
Apple’s decision to redesign the earbud mesh may have been in favor of Adaptive EQ, the always-on feature that constantly analyzes the AirPods Pro’s fit, seal, and sound performance using its built-in microphones. Adaptive EQ optimizes audio output and noise reduction in real time. It’s possible that any AirPods Pro model has Adaptive EQ tuned to expect the factory default mesh density.
Apple needs to think something is different enough to justify the sale old and new ones tips individually instead of switching to the new version completely for all replacements. The company is no longer monetizing the new one: the price remains $7.99 for two sets of replacement tips for both generations.
Regardless, despite Apple’s encouragement to use the right earbuds for the new AirPods Pro, you won’t notice any major problems if you have to switch to a backup set of your old pair. They fit perfectly; the same goes for aftermarket foam tips that some people may have bought for the original AirPods Pro. The earbud connector on the earbuds is the same, even if much of what’s in the latest AirPods has been upgraded and improved.