Get notifications for door bells, alarms: Sound Recognition on iPhone

Your iPhone can alert you to breaking glass, smoke alarms and other dangers

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Get alerts for alarms, door bells, dogs, appliances and more.
Get alerts for alarms, door bells, dogs, appliances and more.
Photo: D. Griffin Jones/Cult of Mac

The other day I was walking with music blasting through my AirPods when I almost stepped in front of a speeding ambulance.

Luckily, the magical Sound Recognition feature on my iPhone was turned on and my AirPods recognized the wailing sirens. They silenced the music and piped the sirens into my ears instead, saving my bacon. It was amazing and quite magical.

Your iPhone can also listen and alert you for crying babies, running water, knocks on the door, barking dogs and more.

Here’s how to use it.

How to use Sound Recognition on iPhone

When Sound Recognition is enabled, your iPhone will continuously listen for certain sounds and will notify you when certain sounds are recognized.

If you have trouble hearing, you might miss the sound of a knock on the door, a barking dog, or even worse — a smoke alarm. With Sound Recognition, you can get a notification and a buzz on your Apple Watch or iPhone when your phone hears the sounds you choose.

How to turn on Sound Recognition

Keep in mind that enabling Sound Recognition disables Hey Siri. Evidently, the part of the iPhone that passively listens for noises must be tuned for either one or the other.

Enable Sound Recognition in Accessibility Settings.
Enable Sound Recognition in Accessibility Settings.
Screenshot: D. Griffin Jones/Cult of Mac

To turn on Sound Recognition, go to Settings > Accessibility > Sound Recognition (near the bottom). Turn on Sound Recognition and confirm that Hey Siri will no longer work by tapping Turn On Sound Recognition. Your phone may start a small download.

Enable individual sounds and customize the vibration pattern and alert sound.
Enable individual sounds and customize the vibration pattern and alert sound.
Screenshot: D. Griffin Jones/Cult of Mac

Tap Sounds to pick a sound from the list to listen for. For every sound, you have an option to turn it on, set a vibration pattern and pick an alert noise. Tap Vibration > Create New Vibration and you can even create your own vibration pattern, a feature that has surprisingly stuck around since iOS 5. Tap Tone Store for the option to buy a short piece of music to play instead. Otherwise, you can pick from the default and classic iPhone sounds.

The iPhone can recognize:

  • Alarms
    • Fire
    • Siren
    • Smoke
  • Animals
    • Cat
    • Dog
  • Household
    • Appliances
    • Car Horn
    • Door Bell
    • Door Knock
    • Glass Breaking
    • Kettle
    • Water Running
  • People
    • Baby Crying
    • Coughing
    • Shouting

Sound Recognition is not… entirely perfect

What a Sound Recognition alert looks like. Or, in this case, a whistling alert.
What a Siren alert looks like. Or, in this case, a whistling alert.
Screenshot: D. Griffin Jones/Cult of Mac

While Sound Recognition can pick up the sound of an ambulance or police siren, I’ve also been notified of siren noises every time I caught myself passively whistling along to music.

Sound Recognition on iPhone is far from perfect. This feature is still pretty new, having only been introduced with iOS 14 in fall 2020.

For many people, the benefits of being alerted for things they may not be able to clearly hear far outweigh the downsides of a few spurious notifications. As Apple’s machine learning acumen and chip design continues to improve year-over-year, future iPhones may be much better at detecting sounds.

Although being hit an ambulance is perhaps the best possible vehicle to be hit by due to the prompt medical attention I would receive, I would prefer to not be hit by any vehicle… again.