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AirPods Pro (2nd Gen) review: Welcome updates to Apple’s best buds

Market share analyses aren’t an exact science, exactly. Different firms take different factors into account, though more often than not, the numbers…

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Market share analyses aren’t an exact science, exactly. Different firms take different factors into account, though more often than not, the numbers more or less line up among the bigger players. We discussed these figures in our recent review of the Apple Watch Series 8, noting that the line had captured roughly one-third of the overall market. For Bluetooth earbuds or *retching noise* “hearables,” the figures aren’t quite as stark, but Apple still maintains a strong lead in the category, globally.

As with smartwatches, the company’s dominance isn’t going to be challenged anytime soon (helped along by its Beats business), though Counterpoint noted back in March that Samsung has begun taking a bit of a bite out of the company in terms of worldwide shipments. That is, perhaps, to be expected, given the Galaxy maker’s consistent position at the smartphone charts.

Left: Pro Gen 1, Right: Gen 2. Image Credits: Brian Heater

In recent years, when people ask me which earbuds to get, I recommend going with the same company that made their phone. Much like flagship smartphones, premium earbuds are mostly pretty good across the board — it’s remarkable, really, how quickly the category matured. Device manufacturers design headphones to work with their smartphones. The rule goes double for Apple. The company makes its own software, hardware and the chips that go inside of it.

Of course, pretty much any Bluetooth earbud can be manually paired to any modern smartphone, but by doing so you’ll miss out on some of the software perks — including, in most cases, the pairing itself. It follows, then, that if you’re an iPhone owner, you’re best served buying Apple headphones. The pertinent question, however, is which pair. As discussed in my Watch SE writeup, choice is important, particularly in the wearables space. While the company has expanded its smartwatch offering in recent years, however, it still can’t touch its headphone offering.

The AirPods line is effectively comprised of three different models: the (relatively) budget AirPods, the premium AirPods Pro and the over ear AirPods Max. A slightly complicated and otherwise straightforward offering is Apple’s decision to keep the 2nd Gen AirPods around alongside the 3rd — the $40 gulf between the two includes things like a hardware redesign, Spatial Audio and extra battery life. Complicating things further is Apple’s 2014 acquisition of Beats, which brings some really solid alternatives to the table. I’m partial to the Fit Pro for workouts.

Image Credits: Brian Heater

The gulf between the 3rd Gen AirPods and the 2nd Gen Pros are double that of the lower end of the line. Of course, the $80 price premium amounts to a lot here. At $249, the Pros are pricey — but it’s a cost that comes with a number of truly premium upgrades over their predecessors. As with the original Pros introduced all the way back in 2019, the 2nd Gen Pros are considerably more comfortable than the standard AirPods, sound better, feature both active noise canceling and transparency and come in a case that supports wireless charging.

This year’s models improve upon their predecessors in a number of important ways, including sound and noise canceling and the addition of personalized Spatial Audio and adaptative transparency mode. The case arguably brings even more to the table, with the addition of speakers to chime when they go missing, a built-in lanyard loop (okay, this one’s less exciting that it is useful) and expansion of wireless charging functionality to include the Apple Watch’s charger (fewer cables is always better when you’re traveling).

Image Credits: Brian Heater

I won’t go so far as saying this is anywhere approaching a necessary upgrade if you have a still-working pair of the Gen 1 buds, but it certainly keeps the Pros in strong contention for the top spot among all wireless earbuds. I hesitate to give any single pair the title of “best buds,” as this is a field-wide range of different preferences. Sound quality is subjective and comfort even more so. I will say, however, that the new Pros hit it out of the park for me on both counts.

The design changes seem minor, save for the couple of updates to the case. The most obvious difference on the buds themselves is a refinement to the microphone array used for things like ambient sound detection, wind blocking and noise canceling. The biggest hardware change to the buds themselves is also the most welcome. The stem-squeezing interface presents some clear limitations. Chief among them is the ability to adjust volume. Imagine the nightmare of trying to execute that with a series of clicks.

Image Credits: Brian Heater

Instead, a small, touch-sensitive slider has been added to the stems. Rather than a contiguous slide interface, it’s designed to do one level at a time to avoid accidentally cranking up the sound up. I like the feature in principle, though the execution is a bit flawed. The spot is slim and located right next to your face, which makes it a bit tricky to execute a proper slide — especially if you’re attempting to do so while running. Depending on how you wear your AirPods, you may find the new interface more or less navigable.

The buds stay in place well while walking. Running for the most part, too, though I found myself having to adjust them a fair bit to keep the seal when the sweat really started flowing. Again, the Beats Fit Pro remain my gold standard if workouts are your primary use case.

There have been a few subtle changes to the buds’ ergonomics, along with the replaceable silicone tips (the of the major improvements over the standard buds, in terms of sheer comfort). The medium tips worked well for me (there’s a new extra small version, as well), forming a nice seal and sitting comfortably in the ear for long stretches.

Image Credits: Brian Heater

AirPods have long been at the forefront of a push to normalize keeping headphones in one’s ear all day. Comfort is a huge part of that, along with the stated six hours of battery life. For better or worse, they’ve seemingly made it more socially acceptable to carry out on a conversation with buds in (even before our social norms went to hell during the pandemic). Please, though, remove them when talking to the cashier at the supermarket. A little recognition of someone’s humanity goes a long way.

The addition of adaptive transparency helps further push the buds in that direction. Specifically, the company is suggesting that they could serve as a replacement for earbuds in high noise environments. Quoting from the CDC here, “A whisper is about 30 dB, normal conversation is about 60 dB, and a motorcycle engine running is about 95 dB. Noise above 70 dB over a prolonged period of time may start to damage your hearing. Loud noise above 120 dB can cause immediate harm to your ears.”

There’s an interesting solution here, when you pair the new buds with the Apple Watch’s noise app. The later gives you a read of ambient sound levels, sending you an alert when you cross a specific threshold. Toss the AirPods in with adaptive transparency on, and it will give you an estimate of the overall sound reduction. Effectively, the adaptive noise cancelling works by bringing loud sounds down to a more reasonable 80 dB. Apple has suggested people leave their AirPods in at a concert to save from potential hearing damage.

I believe we’re far away from it becoming socially acceptable to have AirPods in your ears at a concert. I couldn’t bring myself to do it at the Voxtrot reunion show last week. Maybe a few brave souls can change that — or perhaps wearing headphones at a rock show will always be a social faux pas.

Image Credits: Brian Heater

The strongest experience I had on the noise canceling front was the flight home from Apple’s Far Out event. It’s one of those hearing is believing deals. Once the buds are firmly in place, there’s an almost vacuum effect that happens as the plane noise vanishes. If you’re looking for buds that will remove ambient noise completely, the buds aren’t them. I prefer something like Sony’s LinkBuds S, which offer an additional passive noise canceling element into the mix, due to their hardware design (they also rival the Pros in terms of comfort).

The effect is more subtle here. On my five-mile Saturday, for example, they didn’t cut out the sound of the Queens above-ground subway line completely. Rather, even in noise canceling mode, they leave you aware of your surroundings — something that’s probably a positive while walking through New York City. When meditating at the gym in the morning, however, I prefer being blocked off from the bad electronic music over the PA and the sounds of weight trainers slamming down barbells.

Apple’s goal is to remove as much ambient sound as possible with the noise canceling feature. That works in places like airplanes where the goal is removing all noise. Adaptive transparency, on the other hand, is designed to keep you aware of your surroundings, while protecting you from unexpected loud noises, like, say, a subway train or garbage truck.

You certainly can’t argue with the sound quality here. I mean, you can — and I did suggest that it’s subjective earlier — but for my money, Apple makes a strong case here for the best-sounding buds, whether you’re listening to music or podcasts. The balance is excellent and the sound is crisp and full. There’s none of the overreliance on bass that you get with some headphones — though the deep low-end is there when you need it.

Image Credits: Apple

Much of the improvements to sound, noise cancelling and transparency come courtesy of H2. The 2nd Gen Pros are the first AirPods to sport the new silicone, which Apple says doubles the H1’s transistor, to more than one billion. The company notes:

The brand-new H2 chip carries out more functions than ever, using computational algorithms to deliver even smarter noise cancellation, superior three-dimensional sound, and more efficient battery life — all at once.

That includes Spatial Audio. Apple’s been pushing the feature for a while now, though this time out it gets a brand new setup process in the iPhone’s settings menu along with the standard ear tip fit offering. The customizable version of Spatial Audio features a setup process similar to that of Face ID. It will walk you through the process of identifying your ear shapes to offer a better experience.

Image Credits: Brian Heater

I will come right out and say that I’m still not sold on Spatial Audio. It’s a novel experience for things like Apple TV and Music, mimicking the effect of a real-world sound source. Rarely, however, do I find that it does much to enhance the experience of music listening. Instead, I’ve been long convinced that Apple is working to lay the groundwork for a fuller mixed reality experience — and a number of companies have joined that cause.

What the new Pros don’t offer, however, is high-res audio. While Apple Music supports lossless audio via the ALAC codec, the company believes that — despite claims from companies like Samsung and Sony — the current Bluetooth standard isn’t capable of delivering a consistently good experience. I will say, I do believe the Pros’ audio experience as it currently stands will be plenty good enough for most people in most situations.

Image Credits: Brian Heater

The most welcome change of all just might be the speakers on the charging case. The three small holes to the side of the Lightning port bring some cool functionality. For starters, you get a single note chime when charging starts and another when it hits 100%. The biggest trick, however, is the ability to play a sound when attempting to locate a lost case. The buds were already able to do so, because they — obviously — have their own built-in speakers.

Image Credits: Brian Heater

If your case went missing, however, your fortunes were left entirely to the AR Find My app, which sometimes falls short in close quarters. Now each bud and the case can send out a sound, individually. Fair warning, it’s high-pitched and downright ear-piecing (out of necessity). I just fired it up and my ears are still ringing (my rabbit is very much not a fan). Hit Play Sound in the app and you get a series of six beeps, played three times. It’s extremely handy and arguably the best new feature.

The case offers four additional charges, bringing the combination up to a stated 30 hours of life — six more than their predecessors. Even with the H2 chip, I did run into the occasional connection issue — though thus far it’s nothing that turning Bluetooth on and off again can’t fix. The buds and case are rated IPX4, which means sweat and the occasional downpour won’t be an issue, but don’t like, wear them swimming or anything.

Overall, the new Pros are, again, excellent. Some really welcome additions to one of the best pair of earbuds out there. At $249, the pricing is a bit steep, but these are a pair of headphones you’ll want with you for the long haul.

AirPods Pro (2nd Gen) review: Welcome updates to Apple’s best buds by Brian Heater originally published on TechCrunch

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We can turn to popular culture for lessons about how to live with COVID-19 as endemic

As COVID-19 transitions from a pandemic to an endemic, apocalyptic science-fiction and zombie movies contain examples of how to adjust to the new norm…

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An endemic means that COVID-19 is still around, but it no longer disrupts everyday life. (Shutterstock)

In 2021, conversations began on whether the COVID-19 pandemic will, or even can, end. As a literary and cultural theorist, I started looking for shifts in stories about pandemics and contagion. It turns out that several stories also question how and when a pandemic becomes endemic.


Read more: COVID will likely shift from pandemic to endemic — but what does that mean?


The 2020 film Peninsula, a sequel to the Korean zombie film, Train to Busan, ends with a group of survivors rescued and transported to a zombie-free Hong Kong. In it, Jooni (played by Re Lee) spent her formative years living through the zombie epidemic. When she is rescued, she responds to being informed that she’s “going to a better place” by admitting that “this place wasn’t bad either.”

Jooni’s response points toward the shift in contagion narratives that has emerged since the spread of COVID-19. This shift marks a rejection of the push-for-survival narratives in favour of something more indicative of an endemic.

Found within

Contagion follows a general cycle: outbreak, epidemic, pandemic and endemic. The determinants of each stage rely upon the rate of spread within a specified geographic region.

Etymologically, the word “endemic” has its origins with the Greek words én and dēmos, meaning “in the people.” Thus, it refers to something that is regularly found within a population.

Infectious disease physician Stephen Parodi asserts that an endemic just means that a disease, while still prevalent within a population, no longer disrupts our daily lives.

Similarly, genomics and viral evolution researcher Aris Katzourakis argues that endemics occur when infection rates are static — neither rising nor falling. Because this stasis occurs differently with each situation, there is no set threshold at which a pandemic becomes endemic.

Not all diseases reach endemic status. And, if endemic status is reached, it does not mean the virus is gone, but rather that things have become “normal.”

Survival narratives

We’re most likely familiar with contagion narratives. After all, Steven Soderbergh’s 2011 film Contagion, was the most watched film on Canadian Netflix in March 2020. Conveniently, this was when most Canadian provinces went into lockdown during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic.

A clip from the film Contagion showing the disease spreading throughout the world.

In survival-based contagion narratives, characters often discuss methods for survival and generally refer to themselves as survivors. Contagion chronicles the transmission of a deadly virus that is brought from Hong Kong to the United States. In response, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control is tasked with tracing its origins and finding a cure. The film follows Mitch Emhoff (Matt Damon), who is immune, as he tries to keep his daughter safe in a crumbling Minneapolis.

Ultimately, a vaccine is successfully synthesized, but only after millions have succumbed to the virus.

Like many science fiction and horror films that envision some sort of apocalyptic end, Contagion focuses on the basic requirements for survival: shelter, food, water and medicine.

However, it also deals with the breakdown of government systems and the violence that accompanies it.

A “new” normal

In contrast, contagion narratives that have turned endemic take place many years after the initial outbreak. In these stories, the infected population is regularly present, but the remaining uninfected population isn’t regularly infected.

A spin-off to the zombie series The Walking Dead takes place a decade after the initial outbreak. In the two seasons of The Walking Dead: World Beyond (2020-2021) four young protagonists — Hope (Alexa Mansour), Iris (Aliyah Royale), Silas (Hal Cumpston) and Elton (Nicolas Cantu) — represent the first generation to come of age within the zombie-infested world.

The four youth spent their formative years in an infected world — similar to Jooni in Peninsula. For these characters, zombies are part of their daily lives, and their constant presence is normalized.

The trailer for the second season of AMC’s The Walking Dead: World Beyond.

The setting in World Beyond has electricity, helicopters and modern medicine. Characters in endemic narratives have regular access to shelter, food, water and medicine, so they don’t need to resort to violence over limited resources. And notably, they also don’t often refer to themselves as survivors.

Endemic narratives acknowledge that existing within an infected space alongside a virus is not necessarily a bad thing, and that not all inhabitants within infected spaces desire to leave. It is rare in endemic narratives for a character to become infected.

Instead of going out on zombie-killing expeditions in the manner that occurs frequently in the other Walking Dead stories, the characters in World Beyond generally leave the zombies alone. They mark the zombies with different colours of spray-paint to chronicle what they call “migration patterns.”

The zombies have therefore just become another species for the characters to live alongside — something more endemic.

The Walking Dead, Fear the Walking Dead (2015-), Z Nation (2014-18), and many other survival-based stories seem to return to the past. In contrast, endemic narratives maintain a present and sometimes even future-looking approach.

Learning from stories

According to film producer and media professor Mick Broderick, survival stories maintain a status quo. They seek a “nostalgically yearned-for less-complex existence.” It provides solace to imagine an earlier, simpler time when living through a pandemic.

However, the shift from survival to endemic in contagion narratives provides us with many important possibilities. The one I think is quite relevant right now is that it presents us with a way of living with contagion. After all, watching these characters survive a pandemic helps us imagine that we can too.

Krista Collier-Jarvis does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

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Xi Reemerges In 1st Public Appearance After ‘Coup’ Rumors

Xi Reemerges In 1st Public Appearance After ‘Coup’ Rumors

So much for the "coup in China" and "Xi is missing" rumor mill of the past week,…

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Xi Reemerges In 1st Public Appearance After 'Coup' Rumors

So much for the "coup in China" and "Xi is missing" rumor mill of the past week, which at one point saw Chinese President Xi Jinping's name trending high on Twitter...

"Chinese President Xi Jinping visited an exhibition in Beijing on Tuesday, according to state television, in his first public appearance since returning to China from an official trip to Central Asia in mid-September – dispelling unverified rumours that he was under house arrest."

He had arrived in Samarkand, Uzbekistan on September 15 - and attended the days-long Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit - where he met with Russian President Vladimir Putin, among others.

Xi is "back"...image via state media screenshot

Importantly, it had been his first foreign trip in two years. Xi had not traveled outside of the country since before the Covid-19 pandemic began.

But upon returning the Beijing, he hadn't been seen in the public eye since that mid-September trip, fueling speculation and rumors in the West and on social media. Some pundits floated the idea that he had been under "house arrest" amid political instability and a possible coup attempt.

According to a Tuesday Bloomberg description of the Chinese leader's "re-emergence" in the public eye, which has effectively ended the bizarre rumors

Xi, wearing a mask, visited an exhibition in Beijing on Tuesday about China's achievements over the past decade, state-run news outlet Xinhua reported. The Chinese leader was accompanied by the other six members of the Politburo Standing Committee, a sign of unity after rumors circulated on Twitter about a challenge to his power.

He'll likely cinch his third five-year term as leader at the major Chinese Communist party’s (CCP) meeting on October 16. The CCP meeting comes only once every half-decade.

What had added to prior rumors was the fact that the 69-year old Xi recently undertook a purge of key senior security officials. This included arrests on corruption charges of the former police chiefs of Shanghai, Chongqing and Shanxi.

More importantly, former vice minister of public security Sun Lijun and former justice minister Fu Zhenghua were also sacked and faced severe charges.

Concerning Sun Lijun, state media made this shocking announcement a week ago: "Sun Lijun, former Chinese vice minister of public security, was sentenced to death with a two-year reprieve for taking more than 646 million yuan of bribes, manipulating the stock market, and illegally possessing firearms, according to the Intermediate People's Court of Changchun in Northeast China's Jilin Province on Friday." The suspended death sentence means he'll spend life in prison.

Tyler Durden Wed, 09/28/2022 - 14:05

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Did the pandemic change our personalities?

Despite a long-standing hypothesis that personality traits are relatively impervious to environmental pressures, the COVID-19 pandemic may have altered…

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Despite a long-standing hypothesis that personality traits are relatively impervious to environmental pressures, the COVID-19 pandemic may have altered the trajectory of personality across the United States, especially in younger adults, according to a new study published this week in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Angelina Sutin of Florida State University College of Medicine, and colleagues.

Credit: Brian Merrill, Pixabay, CC0 (https://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/)

Despite a long-standing hypothesis that personality traits are relatively impervious to environmental pressures, the COVID-19 pandemic may have altered the trajectory of personality across the United States, especially in younger adults, according to a new study published this week in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Angelina Sutin of Florida State University College of Medicine, and colleagues.

Previous studies have generally found no associations between collective stressful events—such as earthquakes and hurricanes—and personality change. However, the coronavirus pandemic has affected the entire globe and nearly every aspect of life.

In the new study, the researchers used longitudinal assessments of personality from 7,109 people enrolled in the online Understanding America Study. They compared five-factor model personality traits—neuroticism, extraversion, openness, agreeableness and conscientiousness—between pre-pandemic measurements (May 2014 – February 2020) and assessments early (March – December 2020) or later (2021-2022) in the pandemic. A total of 18,623 assessments, or a mean of 2.62 per participant, were analyzed. Participants were 41.2% male and ranged in age from 18 to 109.

Consistent with other studies, there were relatively few changes between pre-pandemic and 2020 personality traits, with only a small decline in neuroticism. However, there were declines in extraversion, openness, agreeableness, and conscientiousness when 2021-2022 data was compared to pre-pandemic personality. The changes were about one-tenth of a standard deviation, which is equivalent to about one decade of normative personality change. The changes were moderated by age, with younger adults showing disrupted maturity in the form of increased neuroticism and decreased agreeableness and conscientiousness, and the oldest group of adults showing no statistically significant changes in traits.

The authors conclude that if these changes are enduring, it suggests that population-wide stressful events can slightly bend the trajectory of personality, especially in younger adults.

The authors add: “There was limited personality change early in the pandemic but striking changes starting in 2021. Of most note, the personality of young adults changed the most, with marked increases in neuroticism and declines in agreeableness and conscientiousness. That is, younger adults became moodier and more prone to stress, less cooperative and trusting, and less restrained and responsible.”

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In your coverage please use this URL to provide access to the freely available article in PLOS ONE: https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0274542

Citation: Sutin AR, Stephan Y, Luchetti M, Aschwanden D, Lee JH, Sesker AA, et al. (2022) Differential personality change earlier and later in the coronavirus pandemic in a longitudinal sample of adults in the United States. PLoS ONE 17(9): e0274542. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0274542

Author Countries: USA, France

Funding: Research reported in this publication was supported by the National Institute on Aging of the National Institutes of Health under Award Number R01AG053297 to ARS. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.


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