Apple says old and new AirPods Pro ear tips are incompatible because of mesh density

Technology
The original AirPods Pro tips (left) have denser mesh than the new second-gen tips (right). | Photo by Chris Welch / The Verge

In my review of the new second-generation AirPods Pro, I pointed out that the inner mesh / filter of the ear tips is slightly different than those belonging to the original earbuds. As it turns out, that’s part of why Apple advises against using first-gen tips on the new model and vice versa. As MacRumors noticed, the company has updated its support page on AirPods Pro ear tips with a new section that says “ear tips have been designed specifically for their AirPods Pro generation, to deliver the highest-fidelity audio experience.”

“As a result, use the ear tips that come with your AirPods Pro. AirPods Pro (1st generation) ear tips have noticeably denser mesh than AirPods Pro (2nd generation) ear tips,” Apple’s support site reads.

Could a looser mesh pattern really make any difference to sound quality? If it’s there, it’s extremely subtle. Swapping back and forth between the first- and second-gen tips on the latest AirPods Pro, I didn’t notice any immediate or obvious sound changes. Noise cancellation also remained just as effective with both pairs. Maybe lab testing equipment can reveal some differences between the tips, but your ears will probably have a harder time at it.

When I used an old tip in one ear and a new one in the other — a situation where acoustic differences should be the most evident — music again sounded normal and balanced.

Apple’s decision to redesign the ear tip mesh might have been for the benefit of Adaptive EQ, the always-on feature that constantly analyzes the fit, seal, and sound performance of the AirPods Pro by using the built-in mics. Adaptive EQ optimizes audio output and noise cancellation in real time. It’s possible that for each model of AirPods Pro, Adaptive EQ is tuned to expect the default factory mesh density.

Apple must think something is different enough to warrant selling the old and new tips separately instead of fully switching over to the new version for all replacements. The company isn’t making more money from the new ones: the price remains $7.99 for two sets of replacement tips for either generation.

Whatever the case, despite Apple’s encouragement to stick with the right ear tips for the new AirPods Pro, you won’t notice any major issues should you need to switch to a backup set from your old pair. They fit perfectly; same goes for aftermarket foam tips that some people might’ve purchased for the original AirPods Pro. The ear tip connector on the earbuds is the same, even if much of what’s inside the latest AirPods has been upgraded and improved.

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