Friday, November 4, 2022

Reduced AirPods Noise Cancellation

Sami Fathi:

Apple’s $550 over-ear AirPods Max headphones are less effective at blocking out outside noise when using Active Noise Cancellation (ANC) following their latest firmware update, according to results from a detailed audio test.


The decrease in ANC effectiveness was highlighted in an article by The Verge last month following months of discussion and complaints from AirPods Max users on Reddit and other discussion forums.

M. Brandon Lee (via Scott):

Some interesting research shows that the reduction in ANC quality on Apple’s products is not planned obsolescence but the result of a Patent Troll.

Apple cannot talk about it as it is an ongoing case.


It appears that Apple is quietly replacing or removing the noise cancellation tech in all of their products to protect themselves in an ongoing patent lawsuit.

There’s a detailed timeline.

I have no way of doing an A-B test, but my general sense is that noise cancellation with my AirPods Pro has been less effective for about a year, and that accords with this test by Rtings:

After updating this [AirPod Pro] firmware, our results showed a fairly significant drop in isolation performance, primarily in the bass range. This means that with ANC turned on, they won’t do nearly as good a job blocking out the low engine rumbles of planes or buses as they did before this update. Our latest retest uses firmware update 4A400, released in October 2021, which shows that their overall noise isolation performance has been further weakened.


Update (2022-11-09): scubidubidu:

I bought my AirPods Pro 2 on launch day. This was my first set of ANC earphones coming from AirPods 2nd gen. At first I was amazed, and after finding out you can see on the Noise app in the AppleWatch how much noise was being cancelled, it would usually be a 30dB reduction on average (If ambient noise was at 70dB, my APP2 with ANC on would give me about 40dB. If ambient noise was 65dB, my APP2 with ANC on would give me about 35dB) I would check that every time I went to a noisy environment to check due to the products novelty.

Many weeks later I started noticing sounds that would be blocked before (the voices of the people on the table next to me, clacking of dishes in the kitchen, the restaurants music although relatively quiet). So I started monitoring the results on the AW noise app and found that the reduction I had in the exact same environment was increased by 6dB, now I get a 24dB reduction in an environment with 60-70dB where before I used to have a 30dB reduction.

Update (2022-12-02): Dennis:

Man this pisses me off. I used to work in my Kitchen with a pair of AirPods Max while the washing machine was running and I started noticing it a while ago.


It’s the kind of string on a corkboard post that Reddit loves to upvote, full of intrigue and conspiracy, but its conclusions are not sound.

The patents in question are not related to noise cancellation. They are for microphone arrays and voice recognition.


Adaptation is the very straightforward phenomenon that easily explains why we perceive soft sounds to be louder after some time—our brains get used to it.

Yet the measurements do seem to show more noise after the firmware updates.

Update (2024-05-15): Ryan Jones:

AirPods Max and Pro noise cancelling has definitely gotten worse.

For blocking and voice isolating. I’m having to look for new headphones. :(

7 Comments RSS · Twitter

That would definitely fit my feeling as well. I had noticed that mine got worse about a year ago too. I figured its just because they were older.

I hate patents with a passion, and even more so patent trolls. I very much believe that patents should only be enforceable if you actually have products in the market place.

That sounds criminal.

Bad enough that the hardware itself seems to be flawed, with the under-earcup condensation and headband corrosion issues. And I don't think ANC is the only thing the software changed: I'm fairly sure the amplification of AirPods Pro's transparency mode has suffered, too. Damn the patent system, to be sure, but damn Apple for not letting us control firmware updates. Ironically the second-gen AirPods Pro have weird issues with inter-pod synchronisation leading to strange reflection effects that come and go, and now that I want a beta update to fix it, I can't receive it! This is now my second AirPods Max, but even though it's under Apple Care, if I can't return them when they break down again, I'm definitely exploring the Sony XM5s. It's a great shame; I do like what Apple is going for here, but they clearly aren't doing the QC needed, and all the convenient Apple ecosystem features in the world can't make up for that.

Imagine you bought a car, and over time they disabled or degraded the various features you bought, like the steering wheel, until it became unusable, due to "patent issues". Would you have been defrauded? I'd say so, and I don't see what the difference is here.

Probably too late now, but... in theory is there any way to prevent the firmware from being updated?

I guess that if you never connected them to another Apple device, they wouldn't update.

"is there any way to prevent the firmware from being updated?"

Switch to an Android phone.

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