AirPods Noise Cancellation: Separating Fact from Fiction

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Since Apple released the first generation AirPods in December of 2016, many improvements have been made to the original design. The latest AirPods models boast many additional capabilities that weren’t featured on the originals.

Are AirPods noise canceling?

AirPods Pro and AirPods Max, have noise cancellation. This feature was welcomed by AirPods users, as it made the listening experience more immersive, and also allowed them to block out unwanted background noise.

All of the other AirPods models apart from the AirPods Pro and AirPods Max don’t have the active noise cancellation mode installed, and therefore these earbuds are not able to minimize background noise.

It’s speculated that the reason Apple didn’t include ANC on the 3rd generation AirPods was to conserve battery power and ensure that the AirPods Pro included some exclusive features so that that model continued to be popular amongst consumers.

In this guide, we’ll take a close look at AirPods’ noise-canceling capabilities.

How Much Noise Do AirPods Cancel?

AirPods Pro is the only in-ear version of Apple’s AirPods that have noise-canceling capabilities.

The AirPods Max are over-ear headphones, which are also capable of noise canceling. If you need to block out background noise, you’re probably wondering how much noise AirPods can cancel.

This is a slightly complicated question because it depends on several factors.

Firstly, the way that AirPods Pro fit inside your ear will impact the amount of noise that they can block out from outside. If they fit loosely in your ear, more background noise will be audible, but if they are a tight fit, the noise canceling will be more effective.

Likewise, over-ear headphones like the AirPods Max are better at noise cancellation if they fit the user well. In general, these headphones will provide more noise cancellation than earbuds or in-ear headphones, as they shield the ear from outside noise.

The AirPods Pro reduces background noise by 23dB, and the AirPods Max reduces it by 26dB.

This is a good reduction for headphones, but it doesn’t come close to the capabilities of earplugs or ear defenders. Therefore, AirPods should not be used in place of proper ear protection.

A reduction of 26dB may seem like a significant amount, but the way that decibels work can be misleading if you don’t understand the basics.

Rather than being linear, the decibel scale is logarithmic. Put simply, this means that a reduction of 3dB would be a 50% drop in the sound pressure level that remains.

The table below demonstrates the way that dB reductions work.

dB Reduction AmountPercentage of noise that remains
1 dB reduction79%
3 dB reduction50%
6 dB reduction25%
10 dB reduction10%
20 dB reduction1%
dB reduction table showing the percentage of the remaining noise

As you can see from this table, the 26dB reduction that AirPods’ noise-canceling mode achieves will result in less than 1% of the background noise being audible.

This is a pretty impressive amount for earbuds and over-ear headphones and demonstrates the quality of the feature.

It’s important to keep in mind that the louder the background noise, the more likely it is that you will still be able to hear it while using the AirPods’ ANC mode. This is because they simply reduce the background noise, leaving less than 1% remaining, which is relative to the original volume.

How Do I Activate Noise Canceling on AirPods?

A large part of the success of AirPods Pro is its excellent Noise Control features. to get the best performance from AirPods’ Noise Control, you need to know how to activate the noise-canceling feature.

Thankfully, one of Apple’s strongest attributes as a manufacturer is its ability to keep its devices simple and easy to operate. This is evident with the iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch, and of course, the AirPods.

Turning on the noise-canceling feature on AirPods Pro is very easy. It is only possible if you’re using AirPods with an Apple device, and will not work if you’re connected to an Android device.

The first thing you need to do is ensure that the AirPods are connected to your Apple device via Bluetooth. If you’ve paired them previously, they should connect automatically. If not, you’ll need to place the AirPods inside the charging case and establish the connection by placing them close to your device.

Once they’re successfully connected, you need to open the Control Center on your Apple device. Depending on the exact model of iPhone or other Apple device you’re using, you can do this either by swiping upwards from the bottom of the screen or swiping down from the top of the screen.

Next, press down the volume slider in the Control Center until an AirPods icon pops up. If the AirPods icon doesn’t appear, there is an issue with the connection and you may need to check whether they’re paired with your device.

You then need to tap Noise Control, which is located in the bottom left of your Apple device’s display. This will turn the noise-canceling feature on, which will be indicated by the icon turning blue.

You can also turn on noise-canceling using the settings menu on your iOS device.

Simply open Settings, then tap Bluetooth. You should see a small circled “i” next to AirPods Pro, and when you tap this, it will open the Noise Control menu. You can then turn on the noise canceling by tapping the icon.

Finally, thanks to Apple’s innovative design, it is also possible to turn on noise cancellation using only your AirPods. This is useful if your iOS device is in your pocket or bag, and you want to quickly turn on the feature without having to remove the device.

  • To turn on noise-canceling, simply press and hold the stem of one of your AirPods. You should press on the same area that is used to play and pause audio, or to answer a voice call. After holding it down for a few seconds, you will hear a bell chime, and this indicates that you have toggled one of the Noise Control settings.

Are AirPods 3 Noise Canceling?

Apple released the AirPods 3 in October 2021. These much-awaited earbuds boast some impressive features and capabilities, including Apple’s spatial audio.

They also deliver excellent sound quality, thanks to the Apple-designed dynamic driver, which is powered by a specifically designed amp.

The spatial audio feature results in a more immersive listening experience which enhances the stereo field of the music you play with AirPods 3, and this significantly boosts the panning effect used in music recordings.

Unfortunately, despite the 3rd generation AirPods including all of the aforementioned features, they don’t have onboard noise cancellation. This feature is exclusive to the AirPods Pro and the AirPods Max.

Many Apple customers were left disappointed by the lack of active noise cancellation on the AirPods 3, as this feature was such a success in the previously released AirPods Pro.

However, it makes sense for Apple to make this an exclusive feature of their AirPods Pro, as it differentiates them from the 3rd generation AirPods and makes them a unique variety of earbuds.

Check out this YouTube video for more information on setting up noise canceling on Airpods.

Which AirPods Have The Best Noise Cancelation?

The two AirPods models that have active noise cancellation capabilities are the AirPods Pro and the AirPods Max. AirPods Pro is the only in-ear earbuds that Apple manufacturers with noise-canceling capabilities and AirPods Max is their only over-ear headphones that have this feature installed.

In terms of the effectiveness of the noise-canceling of these two AirPods models, the AirPods Max is capable of reducing the volume of background noise the most.

This is mainly because they have an over-ear design that cups the ear and blocks out external sounds.

AirPods Pro, on the other hand, are in-ear devices that don’t cover the ear of the user, and therefore are more prone to allowing background noise to enter.

However, the AirPods Pro’s onboard noise-canceling capabilities are still impressive for in-ear headphones. They can reduce external noise by up to -26dB, which is marginally less than the AirPods Max.

Related Questions

Do AirPods mics pick up background noise?

The onboard AirPods mic amplifies background noise when you’re making phone calls. This is because the mic needs to boost the volume of your voice so that it is audible from a distance, rather than needing to be placed in front of your mouth.

Why is AirPods noise-canceling not working?

If you suspect that the active noise cancellation feature isn’t working on your AirPods, this is most likely because of a build-up of dirt, earwax, or debris on the speaker. This causes the noise cancelation to be less effective, and can usually be solved by cleaning them.

What is AirPods transparency mode?

The transparency mode featured on AirPods causes external noises to be played through the earbuds along with the audio from the device that is connected to them. This allows the user to hear the noise in a room or other environment, while still hearing the audio from their smartphone or another device.

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