AirPods Pro noise cancellation spoiled by firmware updates, users say

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Have you noticed a change?
Photo: Killian Bell/Cult of Mac

AirPods Pro’s brilliant noise cancellation feature gives them a huge advantage over regular AirPods. Except when that noise cancellation feature doesn’t work properly.

A growing number of users say their buds aren’t blocking out background noise as effectively as they once did. And testing confirms that to be the case.

AirPods Pro are superior to regular AirPods in almost every way. They look better, they fit better, and they sound better. But their biggest selling point is active noise cancellation, which silences background noise.

Users and reviewers praised noise cancellation when AirPods Pro made their debut. But following a couple of recent firmware updates, they now say it’s noticeably worse than it was at launch.

AirPods Pro noise cancellation woes

The growing list of complaints on social media and Apple’s own forums suggests AirPods Pro noise cancellation simply isn’t as effective at blocking background noise.

“I occasionally get some crackling in my left AirPod when noise cancelling is on, and I’ve definitely noticed the noise cancelling is not quite as effective as it was when I first got them,” writes one user on Reddit.

“I thought my rubber tip was maybe worn out somehow and thinking about ordering a new set, but that explains why I hear more outside noises than when they were new,” adds another.

Some say they noticed a change after Apple’s most recent firmware update, version 2C54, rolled out in December. Others say noise cancellation got worse for them after the 2B588 update rolled out in November.

Test confirms a change

Users have a reason to complain, too. This isn’t a case of one user noticing a difference, and others convincing themselves they hear it, too. A test carried out by Rtings.com confirms there has been a real change.

The site actually carried out two tests — one in December after the 2B588 release, and another earlier this month after the 2C54 release. It found no noticeable change the first time, but a “significant” one the second time.

“After updating to Firmware 2C54, we retested the headphones and our results showed a fairly significant drop in isolation performance, primarily in the bass-range,” Rtings explains.

“This means that with ANC turned on, these headphones won’t do nearly as good a job blocking out the low engine rumbles of planes or buses as they did before this update.”

What’s going on?

Apple has since pulled the 2C54 update for unknown reasons. The company hasn’t acknowledged an adjustment to noise cancellation, and it is yet to respond to our requests for clarification.

It’s clear noise cancellation is working differently, then, but we don’t know why. Apple may have made this change deliberately in response to other issues, or it may be inadvertent — in which case it could be reverted later.

We’ll have to wait and see what the next AirPods Pro update brings. In the meantime, noise cancellation still works, it just might not be as good. Have you noticed any changes?