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Why Do AirPods Pick Up Background Noise?

AirPods are amongst the most popular earbuds on the market. Their main qualities include mobility, comfort, sound quality, and functionality.

However, some people report minor issues that can adversely affect their experience when using them.

Why do AirPods pick up background noise?

There are several potential reasons for Airpods picking up background noise. Firstly, it may be due to the noise cancellation settings on your AirPods, or it could be due to the Live Listen feature being enabled on your Apple device. Both of these can cause background noise to be picked up.

The inbuilt AirPods microphone is fairly sensitive. This is advantageous when making calls using AirPods, but it can lead to the microphone picking up background noise and amplifying external sounds.

Thankfully, some simple solutions can rectify this issue.

In the following guide, we’ll explore the potential reasons that AirPods can pick up background noise, and how to solve the problem.

AirPods & Background Noise

Hearing background noise when using your AirPods can be a frustrating experience, particularly when making phone calls and listening to music or podcasts. This issue is quite common, especially amongst users of AirPods 1st or 2nd generation models.

  • AirPods Pro and AirPods Max are equipped with noise-canceling modes, which make it easy to minimize any background noises.

Earlier models lack this feature. Nevertheless, there are steps you can take to prevent these AirPods from amplifying external sounds.

If your AirPods are picking up a lot of background noise when making phone calls, this is likely due to the amplified gain of the inbuilt microphone.

Compared to other headsets and earbuds, the microphone in AirPods has a higher gain setting, which consequently means more background noises get picked up when making calls.

Unfortunately, there is no way to lower the gain amplification setting of the microphone on AirPods, regardless of which model you own. However, there are other measures you can take to improve this issue, which I’ll cover in later sections.

It is worth testing your AirPods with several devices, both Apple-designed and made by other manufacturers to see whether the background noise problem persists.

If the problem only occurs when you use a certain device, then this indicates that there is no issue with your AirPods, but rather the settings on the phone, tablet, or another device.

Can You Mute Background Noise with AirPods?

The first two generations of AirPods didn’t include noise cancellation capabilities. With the release of the AirPods Pro in 2019, Apple addressed the issue of external noise interfering with voice calls, or listening to audio when they added Noise Cancellation to them.

Noise-canceling was added to the AirPods Pro so that users could focus on the audio being played through the earbuds without being distracted by people talking, the noise of traffic, or any other external sounds.

Airpods Pro is now available, I have written a comprehensive guide to help you decide if you should choose AirPods or AirPods Pro. There are various pros and cons to both.

This guide will help you decide if AirPods Pro is worth it for your circumstances and needs.

You can read this guide here.

Activating this noise-canceling feature doesn’t completely mute background noises, but it does significantly reduce their volume. This is achieved through Apple’s innovative approach to noise cancellation, which differs from many other manufacturers.

AirPods Pro includes a pair of microphones, one which faces inwardly, and another which is outward-facing. The latter scans for a sound that is coming from outside of the AirPods, which triggers them to respond by formulating a noise-canceling waveform.

The microphone in the AirPods Pro which faces inwardly detects and minimizes any sound that leaks from the external microphone, to prevent it from reaching the listener’s ears.

The outside noise reduction of Apple’s AirPods is due to them switching to using an H1 chip in their Pro models.

This chip makes noise reduction of 200 times per second possible, continuously. With that being said, this will not completely block out external noise, as it is based on lowering the volume of background noise rather than eradicating them.

Check out this YouTube video that shows you how to activate the noise-canceling feature of your AirPods.

How to Eliminate Background Noise with AirPods

Activating the noise cancellation mode when using AirPods is the most effective way to prevent them from picking up unwanted sounds when making calls, or listening to audio.

This feature is only available on AirPods Pro or AirPods Max, so unfortunately users of 1st, 2nd, or 3rd generation AirPods cannot benefit from it.

When you are listening to the audio on your AirPods Pro or AirPods Max, activating the noise cancellation mode will reduce the volume of external noises so that you can zone in on the audio playing through the AirPods.

Activating this feature is very simple if you are using an Apple device such as an iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch. Here are the steps you need to take:

  • Open the “Control Center” on your device
  • Press the volume slider until additional control appear
  • Select the “Noise Cancellation” icon situated in the bottom left corner
  • Turn on “Noise Cancellation” mode
  • Apple’s innovative approach to noise cancellation on their AirPods Pro allows you to also check that the ear tips you use are the correct fit for your ears.

This is an important feature, as no matter how effective the noise canceling is, it will be limited if the ear tips don’t fit the shape and size of your ear.

To test whether the ear tips on AirPods Pro are correctly sized to promote effective noise-canceling, you need to be using them with an Apple device such as an iPhone or iPad. In the settings menu, open the Bluetooth tab, and select the small (i) icon alongside the AirPods.

This will provide you with several options, such as renaming your AirPods, enabling active noise canceling, changing the tap and hold settings, and finally, undertaking the ear-tip test. 

After you’ve selected the test feature, you will be provided with information on whether the ear tips are adequately sized for active noise canceling to be effective.

If they are, this will significantly improve the AirPods’ ability to eliminate background noise.

Can You Hear Background Noise with AirPods (Safety Concerns)

One of the main concerns surrounding the safety of noise-canceling earbuds and headphones is that they can prevent the user from hearing external sounds which signal danger.

The most common example of this is traffic noise when a person is crossing a road and doesn’t hear the sound of an oncoming vehicle or the bell of a cyclist.

While these concerns are certainly justified, AirPods do not completely block out external noise and therefore the user should be able to hear them to an extent.

If the user is listening to music at exceedingly high volumes, then of course this will increase the risk of background noises being inaudible.

AirPods Pro reduces the dB of external sounds by around 23dB, with noise-canceling mode turned on. AirPods Max, the over-ear model, reduces it by around 26dB.

While this reduction is significant in terms of making the audio from the AirPods clearer, it still allows for external noises to be heard.

To illustrate this point, here is a table showing the average volume (dB) of some important everyday sounds:

SoundLoudness (dB)
Conversation60 dB
Car traffic70 dB
Trucks and large vehicles80 dB
Police sirens120 dB

As you can see, even with the significant reduction in dB that AirPods Pro and AirPods Max cause when active noise canceling is turned on, all of these everyday sounds should still be audible providing the in-ear level is set to a responsible volume.

Another measure that Apple has taken to make their AirPods Pro and AirPods Max safer is the introduction of “transparency mode”.

This feature essentially represents a middle ground between the more extreme active noise canceling, and listening to audio without the feature enabled.

The transparency mode on AirPods works by maintaining a specific part of the active noise canceling. This causes the AirPods to eliminate internal sound, rather than reduce the loudness of external sounds.

Using this model offers two key benefits.

Firstly, it prevents you from turning up the volume of your AirPods to drown out background noise. Secondly, it prevents you from not hearing an important sound, which would be possible when the active noise canceling feature is being used.

It’s important to always ensure that you can hear background noise when you are in a situation where not hearing them could cause harm to you or others.

Do AirPods leak sound?

AirPods, like all headphones or earbuds, do leak some sound. This is due to the sound waves produced by the inbuilt speaker, which is caused by air pressure escaping from the listener’s ears. Closed-back headphones are the most effective at reducing sound leakage.

How far can AirPods operate?

AirPods have a maximum operation range of around 30ft or 9.1 meters. This is because they use Bluetooth connectivity which is limited, in most cases, to this range of operation.

Why does my AirPods sound muffled?

If you find that your AirPods sound muffled and unclear, this is probably a sign that the speakers have dirt on them. The dirt prevents the sound waves from exiting the speaker, which therefore creates a muffled tone that can be frustrating.

Can Reset AirPods Be Tracked?

I have written a separate article on this subject. You can read it here.