Apple AirPods have been the dominant force in earbuds since they hit the scene in 2016. They’re wildly popular, they’ve taken niche true wireless earbud technology and made it the norm almost overnight, and there are now four different versions available for different needs.
You have the regular AirPods (2nd Gen), which are the most affordable option and have the same design as the originals – and you have the AirPods (3rd Gen), which look a lot like the 2nd Gen, but with better sound spatial audio quality and support.
The AirPods Pro add ANC and even better sound, and still rank among the best noise canceling headphones. And you have the AirPods Max, which were (and remain) the first over-ear AirPods, and are some of the best wireless headphones on the market for pure audio quality.
Whichever one you buy, you might not realize how many hidden little tricks there are for the AirPods, many of which can help improve the sound for you. Here we go over six key things that could help your AirPods feel as fresh and exciting as the day you bought them.
1. Switch to Apple Music or Tidal to get AAC music
We all know that AirPods use Bluetooth to receive music wirelessly from your phone. What you might not know is that the way AirPods use Bluetooth means that different types of music files are handled in different ways, which can affect audio quality.
To get the best results from AirPods, you want your music to be in the AAC file format, and this is used by many streaming services, including Apple Music and Tidal, but also Google Play Music. Spotify only uses AAC on the desktop – in apps it’s a different file type called Ogg Vorbis. Deezer uses MP3.
The reason you want AAC music is that AirPods are able to stream those files over Bluetooth without any conversion – what you hear is what your phone downloaded. Other types of music files need to be converted live when you play them in order to be streamed via Bluetooth (in a format called SBC), and this process means that already compressed music files are digitally cut up and compressed again, which which means that the edges of the details are often sanded.
If you’re listening in AAC, you’re more likely to retain the little details that give the music real personality.
2. Find the secret EQ options
Unlike something like the Sony LinkBuds S, the AirPods don’t have a control app where you can change their global EQ settings to customize the sound. The best you can do is go to settings in Apple Music (or whatever music app you’re using) and adjust the app’s equalizer instead, although that will keep those settings the same. if you switch to another Bluetooth headset or speaker. .
But here’s the thing: we just lied to you. There is a secret EQ option! Like so many of the iPhone’s best-kept secrets, it’s hidden away in Settings > Accessibility. From there, go to “Audio/Visual”, then “Headphone adaptation”. Here there are a few presets you can use: “Balanced Tone” is the normal setup, “Vocal Range” boosts the mids and slightly dampens the bass impact, while “Brightness” prioritizes the highs and flattens more. low.
You can even do a “Custom Audio Setup” feature, which will play sounds and ask you questions to create a hearing profile tailored to you, which aims to help you hear more details in songs and hear voice more clearly. people on calls.
3. Disable Noise Cancellation
This one is for AirPods Pro and AirPods Max users, but if you’re somewhere that doesn’t require Active Noise Cancellation to be turned on, turn it off! It colors the sound, so if you don’t need it, you’ll get more accurate sound by turning it off.
And we don’t want to switch to Transparency mode to be clear, because that also applies a lot of additional processing. just go Natural.
You can do this easily in the Control Center. Swipe down from the top right corner of your iPhone if you have one with Face ID, or swipe up from the bottom if you have one with a Home button. Press and hold the volume slider, then tap “Noise control” and choose “Off.”
4. Disable Spatial Audio… or maybe enable it
This one applies to AirPods 3rd Gen, AirPods Pro, and AirPods Max, all of which support Spatial Audio. And first of all, a caveat: we think you should always keep spatial audio on when watching movies, as it’s surprising. But it’s a bit more controversial in music.
Last year, Apple Music added Dolby Atmos music tracks, which you can hear in 3D Spatial Audio. But something you should know about these Atmos tracks is that they’ve actually been remastered, which means they often don’t sound quite like you remember them from the originals. And when a track is Spatial Audio, it tends to be quieter than regular tracks, and the overall sound reproduction changes quite a bit.
In a playlist, this can be quite strange, because all of a sudden a track will be quieter and 3D, and then you’ll get loud again. However, you can correct this inconsistency in two ways:
1) Disable Dolby Atmos music completely. Go to Settings > Music and scroll down to “Dolby Atmos”. Change it from ‘Automatic’ to ‘Off’. Now you will only get the classic versions of the tracks.
2) You can do everything sounds like it’s Spatial Audio, if it’s not a Dolby Atmos track, using special processing. Open Control Center on your iPhone by swiping up from the top right (if you have Face ID) or bottom (if you have a Home button), press and hold the volume slider, then tap “Spatialize Stereo” . If you want, tap “Fixed” (we don’t recommend the “Head Tracked” option; it’s boring for music). That means everything sounds more cohesively like a Dolby Atmos track, even though it’s not.
Now, we mentioned above that Spatial Audio sounds slightly different on your AirPods compared to regular tracks, so whether you think you’ve turned it on or off, the audio quality improvement is up to you. We like it – it adds a little more expansiveness to leads and extra brightness in the midrange. But it’s less accurate, no doubt, so you might want to keep it pure.
5. Check AirPods Pro Fit
AirPods Pro are the only AirPods with in-ear tips, and it’s important that they fit you properly because if they’re too big or too small, you won’t get the best seal. A good seal ensures that sound from the outside doesn’t leak in, so you not only get the best noise cancellation, but also hear your music as clearly and cloud-free as possible.
You can test to check the fit of your AirPods Pro at any time. Go to Settings > Bluetooth while they’re in your ears, find them in your device list, and tap the “i” icon on the right. Now choose “Ear Tip Fit Test”.
It only takes a few seconds and your AirPods will emit a short sound. It uses a mic facing inside your ear to listen to its own sound and detect if the seal is good based on that. It’ll give you a nudge or suggest a change – either adjusting how the AirPods sit in your ears or changing the tip you’re using.
And if you’re having trouble with the bundled AirPods Pro tips, remember that there are companies that make memory foam tips for AirPods Pro, which could give up a huge sound-blocking upgrade.
6. Use Conversation Boost for better mic quality
Now that’s an audio upgrade for other people rather than yourself, but what’s wrong with being generous, huh? There’s a hidden feature for AirPods called Conversation Boost, which does an amazing job of picking up your voice more strongly and suppressing background noise.
We’ve already written a separate guide here, but to find it you need to go to Settings > Accessibility > Audio/Visual > Headphone Accommodation > Transparency Mode. Now activate the Conversation Boost option you see here – your friends and family will thank you!
We featured it in our recent AirPods tips article – there’s more than just audio quality advice we’ve given here, so check it out!