The active noise canceling (ANC) in my week-old AirPods Max has gone soft. After updating to the latest firmware, version 4E71, I am convinced that the ANC is no longer as strong or effective as it was originally out of the box. If you are one of the people who have experienced this frustrating problem (It’s been talked about on Reddit for months), I now understand the problem first hand.
Both my wife and I often work from home, and for a few days my AirPods Max made her business calls superbly inaudible to me, dispelling the corgi barking coming from under my desk to the lower realms and audibly shutting out the high-rises. construction site outside the window of my apartment. But now the ANC sounds like what I’d describe as a librarian’s transparency mode: it lets me hear my surroundings clearly, but reduces the volume for everything. I now hear everything I don’t want, and I’m convinced it’s because of that firmware update.
Now the ANC sounds like what I would describe as a librarian’s transparency mode
I did not rush to this conclusion. I found a reduction in ANC strength after an overnight charge in the middle of the week. That’s probably where the AirPods did the update automatically, which they still do secretly for some reason. Resetting the AirPods Max by holding down both buttons and fixing it didn’t bring back what I just remembered as the best work ANC rest I’ve had.
However, not all AirPods Max owners are convinced that there have been changes, with some pinning on false perceptions pulled from just know there was an update – the placebo effect. For some, that could be a plausible explanation, as ANC as a function can be difficult to decipher and may be perceived differently by different ears.
In 2019, Bose QC35 II owners similarly complained of degraded noise canceling performance after a firmware update. The feedback was important enough for Bose to investigate the issue closely. But the company insisted there was no regression. For some users that is Bought AirPods Max for accessibility reasonsa perceptible change could be much more apparent.
In my case, I’m sure this isn’t a placebo. I wasn’t thinking or paying attention to anything to do with firmware. And you might be thinking, well, firmware 4E71 came out in May, so my AirPods Max most likely shipped with the latest firmware! Not so fast, because when I tried to buy Apple Care, I found that my brand new AirPods Max had an older stock and was shipped to the retailer (Verizon) for the first time in April based on warranty information.
Apple software change logs are usually fairly informative. For example, iOS 16.0.2 was released just this week and includes all the fixes, including a fix for iPhone 14 Pro camera shake. But when it comes to firmware updates for all AirPods models, Apple is not that thorough. Before the latest update, the only information Apple shared was “Bug fixes and other improvements”. I’ve contacted the company about the changes to the latest firmware and whether ANC was really affected but haven’t heard back. I only wish Apple added different levels of ANC so that people can find one that suits them best.
This isn’t the first time people have noticed a performance downgrade after the update of Apple’s AirPods products. Many users complained that their AirPods Pro ANC was less effective after a November 2019 update, and then more people experienced a similar effect with update 2C54 in 2020. Apple would later withdraw the 2020 update without explanation.
This situation leaves me in a difficult position: I really like my AirPods Max. It feels really comfortable to wear all day, fits me perfectly and my head doesn’t get hot. But since it doesn’t sound as good as it did out of the box, I’m not sure I want to keep them. I don’t listen to music while I’m at work, so I just relied on the ANC to help me focus. What I’m doing now is playing various rain and thunder sounds on Apple Music, and that, combined with the current ANC, works well enough for me.
Now I’m weighing my other options while in my return period, including the Sony WH-1000XM5 or even the older model for better portability (and either way, I’d save some money too). Alternatively, the improved ANC in the new AirPods Pro (2022) is also on my radar. But given Apple’s silent and automatic way of updating firmware, I’m afraid the same could happen again.