AirPods Max active noise cancellation pared down by newest firmware

Posted:
in General Discussion edited October 2022
There have been only anecdotal reports about AirPods Max having less effective Active Noise Cancellation since May's firmware update -- until now.




In May, Apple released firmware for the AirPods, AirPods Pro, and AirPods Max, which didn't add new features but tweaked the firmware of the personal audio devices. It appears that the firmware update has made the AirPods Pro's ANC system slightly worse.

Testing performed by RTings.com on how the AirPods Max handles noise isolation was updated on Friday, warning that the introduction of firmware 4E71 has changed ANC. After the update, the report found the system "blocks out a bit less noise between the mid-bass to high-bass range than the previous firmware."

RTings confirms that Apple has nerfed the effectiveness of noise cancellation on AirPods Max with firmware 4E71. This is the iPhone throttling saga all over again. There may be a good reason; if so, SAY SOMETHING!

Else there needs to be a class-action. https://t.co/am29MojmGc

-- Quinn Nelson (@SnazzyQ)


The range found by the report spans low rumbling sounds, such as vehicle motors, train travel, and plane engines. Following the update users could expect to hear those more post-update than before -- but this will vary per individual user based on hearing.

Even so, the report adds that while the update did slightly change the level of isolation it delivers, it's still a "relatively minor difference." ANC still reduced sounds such as ambient chatter and AC units "extremely well."

While there has been some low-level chatter about the ANC difference since the firmware's introduction, there hasn't yet been any official confirmation from Apple about the change. Research by AppleInsider also indicates there hasn't been an increase in service requests since the update, connected to the firmware or otherwise.

Read on AppleInsider

Comments

  • Reply 1 of 20
    They did this with the AirPod Pro. They made the ANC worse in it after a firmware update. Why do they keep doing that?
    williamlondonelijahgdewmeappleinsideruser
  • Reply 2 of 20
    They did this with the AirPod Pro. They made the ANC worse in it after a firmware update. Why do they keep doing that?
    To improve battery life?

    Damned if u do and damned if u don’t? Apple losses both ways?
    edited October 2022 williamlondondewmewatto_cobra
  • Reply 3 of 20
    RTings is pretty good at the TV comparisons but the headphones stuff is not all that convincing. For example, 1 lb of clamping force is considered "comfortable" while 1.2 lbs of clamping force is considered to be too much. Why? They don't really have an explanation for that one beyond one number is higher than the other. And the ear temperature rating? That's just pointless and arbitrary. And why is the 'Virtual Soundstage' rating a 2.9? They have a very lengthy paragraph underneath that rating that has absolutely nothing negative to say about it. 
    edited October 2022 baconstangwatto_cobra
  • Reply 4 of 20
    crowleycrowley Posts: 10,453member
    And isn't it so great how Apple pushes this firmware to you and doesn't allow the user to manage upgrading it at all?
    elijahgmuthuk_vanalingamdewme
  • Reply 5 of 20
    Apple should provide more data in AirPods update notes
    elijahgxyzzy01gilly33grandact73watto_cobra
  • Reply 6 of 20
    MarvinMarvin Posts: 15,362moderator
    It would be best having a user control for how much ANC to apply. Wireless ANC buds make really good ear plugs when you just want to block ambient noise like in the following video:



    This could be controlled in the iPhone settings. If someone is drilling, banging, using a hedge trimmer, vacuuming and you don't want to be listening to music, strong ANC can block it. If the ANC isn't strong enough, it needs music playing on top to block out the noise.
    baconstangwatto_cobra
  • Reply 7 of 20
    elijahgelijahg Posts: 2,775member
    They did this with the AirPod Pro. They made the ANC worse in it after a firmware update. Why do they keep doing that?
    To improve battery life?

    Damned if u do and damned if u don’t? Apple losses both ways?
    If the AirPods aren’t reaching the claimed battery life from factory, and it requires a derating of ANC to make it so, then that’s very much open to a class action suit over misselling. Similarly if it can be proven decisively that ANC has been made worse since the AirPods were released, that’s likely also open to a class action suit. 

    When people buy a product they buy it on the merits of what features it has at the time. Removing or modifying a feature to the detriment of the customer after the purchase is not okay. You can’t sell a product with a certain feature only to remove it later on, especially as a result of a compulsory software update. 
    beowulfschmidtgrandact73
  • Reply 8 of 20
    elijahg said: If the AirPods aren’t reaching the claimed battery life from factory, and it requires a derating of ANC to make it so, then that’s very much open to a class action suit over misselling. Similarly if it can be proven decisively that ANC has been made worse since the AirPods were released, that’s likely also open to a class action suit. 
    A. RTings doesn't make any claims about battery life increasing/decreasing with firmware 4E71

    B. RTings only makes a vague claim of reduced ANC performance..."blocks out a bit less noise between the mid-bass to high-bass range than the previous firmware."

    C. Unlike the other headphones in the same category (like Sony XM4), RTings didn't bother to retest other categories for the AirPods Max with 4E71 firmware. 

    ^^^ That last part is another reason RTings credibility on headphones takes a hit. You can't be cherry-picking which firmware updates to test extensively. 
    edited October 2022 gilly33watto_cobra
  • Reply 9 of 20
    elijahgelijahg Posts: 2,775member
    elijahg said: If the AirPods aren’t reaching the claimed battery life from factory, and it requires a derating of ANC to make it so, then that’s very much open to a class action suit over misselling. Similarly if it can be proven decisively that ANC has been made worse since the AirPods were released, that’s likely also open to a class action suit. 
    A. RTings doesn't make any claims about battery life increasing/decreasing with firmware 4E71

    B. RTings only makes a vague claim of reduced ANC performance..."blocks out a bit less noise between the mid-bass to high-bass range than the previous firmware."

    C. Unlike the other headphones in the same category (like Sony XM4), RTings didn't bother to retest other categories for the AirPods Max with 4E71 firmware. 

    ^^^ That last part is another reason RTings credibility on headphones takes a hit. You can't be cherry-picking which firmware updates to test extensively. 
    A. That was @obiwanbill 's suggestion not mine. 

    B. It has been widely noticed that ANC has got worse over time with the APPs. There was a professional study someone did a while ago comparing the pre and post update APPs, in which they found a marked difference in ANC performance. 

    C. Okay? So? A regression in one category isn't balanced out by a potential improvement elsewhere. If the ANC is worse, it's worse. 
    beowulfschmidt
  • Reply 10 of 20
    I've noticed that the high end of sounds are less blocked now by my AirPods Max and especially my 2nd gen AirPods Pro. Treblely sounds like voices and the whine of vehicles are leaking in more, and I don't like it. Overall, my new Pros are more effective at noise cancellation, but this seems to have been done on purpose. Maybe they have been sued a lot by people who have been injured while using noise cancellation, so they backed off to let some noise in?

    I don't want to hear tinny, whiny noise leaking in.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 11 of 20
    dewmedewme Posts: 5,427member
    This is kind of a gray area, especially if someone is looking to accuse Apple of degrading a product’s performance in such a way that would violate even an implicit performance guarantee. 

    Unlike headphones that are tested and verified to provide a certain level of noise reduction (in decibels) with a given set of “noise” sources, like active noise reduction gun range hearing protection headphones are required to meet, Apple’s noise reduction performance does not appear to be tied to any specific performance guarantee. Apple’s only measure comes down to meeting the vast majority of user’s expectations. 

    As such, I would be inclined to prefer that users have some level of control over not only the level (strength) of noise reduction but also the types of “noise” the ANR is focused on reducing. All ANR is not created equal because not all noise sources are the same. Blocking out harmonic and narrowband sources is different than blocking out impulsive and broadband sources. The ability to reduce the overall sound intensity level compared to a desired source like music or speech or ambient background noise is also a major consideration. 

    Without having the ability to perform instrumented measurements before and after Apple changed something in the firmware we don’t know what changed, much less why Apple made a change. They could have tweaked the ANR to improve noise reduction for impulsive sources like gunshots or added processing to allow things like ambulance and police sirens to pass through. We really don’t know and have no objective way to measure the before and after performance. 

    Some more transparency and user control over the ANC processing may be something to consider, even if it’s dumbed down to a few basic controls like a level control and a few basic pass/block filters. 
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 12 of 20
    dewme said:
    This is kind of a gray area, especially if someone is looking to accuse Apple of degrading a product’s performance in such a way that would violate even an implicit performance guarantee. 
    Airpods Max are made for listening to audio from music or TV/movies. I can believe that some people might be able to discern a difference in ANC between firmware updates if they weren't listening to audio. But that isn't the way the product is marketed. Yes, there are standard home/office sounds (i.e., not a gun range) that you can still hear softly with the AirPods Max on your ears and only the ANC running. But once you start listening to audio then those faint sounds are gone. That's one of the dopey aspects of things like RTings where they don't even talk about it in relationship to the primary function. If they did, they would have to admit that the difference between the XM4's 9.6 ANC and the APM's current 8.3 is largely meaningless when it comes using the headphones for audio.

    If anything, Apple is the company doing the customers a favor if they're lowering ANC is order to improve other characteristics for the actual audio reproduction.
    edited October 2022 baconstangwatto_cobra
  • Reply 13 of 20
    dewmedewme Posts: 5,427member
    dewme said:
    This is kind of a gray area, especially if someone is looking to accuse Apple of degrading a product’s performance in such a way that would violate even an implicit performance guarantee. 
    Airpods Max are made for listening to audio from music or TV/movies. I can believe that some people might be able to discern a difference in ANC between firmware updates if they weren't listening to audio. But that isn't the way the product is marketed. Yes, there are standard home/office sounds (i.e., not a gun range) that you can still hear softly with the AirPods Max on your ears and only the ANC running. But once you start listening to audio then those faint sounds are gone. That's one of the dopey aspects of things like RTings where they don't even talk about it in relationship to the primary function. If they did, they would have to admit that the difference between the XM4's 9.6 ANC and the APM's current 8.3 is largely meaningless when it comes using the headphones for audio.

    If anything, Apple is the company doing the customers a favor if they're lowering ANC is order to improve other characteristics for the actual audio reproduction.
    What you say makes perfect sense. Removing the noise that’s overlaid on top of music that has a preponderance of harmonic tones is bound to be easier for the ANC-DSP to handle than removing noise that’s overlaid on top of whatever ambient noise is present when the music is not playing. The most challenging task I’d imagine is beating down impulsive noises (extremely short duration bursts) without music playing because the corresponding frequency response is very broad. The primary strategy here is probably just to temporarily attenuate all sound to a much lower amplitude, which is basically what passive noise protection devices do. 

    I’ve wondered whether ANC headphones designed for music would work for hearing protection for firearms and construction (power nailers) use. It sounds like they do work. I’d still trust purpose built protection products over AirPods any day, but the AirPods are obviously much better than using no hearing protection at all. 
    edited October 2022 watto_cobra
  • Reply 14 of 20
    :D dewme said:

    “As such, I would be inclined to prefer that users have some level of control over not only the level (strength) of noise reduction but also the types of “noise” the ANR is focused on reducing. All ANR is not created equal because not all noise sources are the same. Blocking out harmonic and narrowband sources is different than blocking out impulsive and broadband sources. The ability to reduce the overall sound intensity level compared to a desired source like music or speech or ambient background noise is also a major consideration.”
    Best suggestion so far! Whatever AAPL’s reason for changing the ANC, they should give the user control and then they avoid ALL issues!
    Better for AAPL, they don’t get bad press or sued (class action, whatever) and better for the user, we get an opportunity to customize ANC for our particular use case!  Everybody wins! A negative is turned into a positive!

    If AAPL has both MCP and Tron working for them, they should listen to Tron, he fights for the users!

     :D 
    edited October 2022 watto_cobra
  • Reply 15 of 20
    clemynxclemynx Posts: 1,552member
    They did this with the AirPod Pro. They made the ANC worse in it after a firmware update. Why do they keep doing that?
    To improve battery life?

    Damned if u do and damned if u don’t? Apple losses both ways?
    🙄

    anyways… 

    I love my Bose because they remove a lot of rumble noise in the plane and that makes the trip a lot less tiring. Too bad that Apple is letting in precisely those frequencies more. 
  • Reply 16 of 20
    omasouomasou Posts: 592member
    Marvin said:
    It would be best having a user control for how much ANC to apply. Wireless ANC buds make really good ear plugs when you just want to block ambient noise like in the following video:

    <snip>

    This could be controlled in the iPhone settings. If someone is drilling, banging, using a hedge trimmer, vacuuming and you don't want to be listening to music, strong ANC can block it. If the ANC isn't strong enough, it needs music playing on top to block out the noise.
    AirPod Pro noise reduction is NOT designed as hearing protection. Serious shooters that want to protect their hearing use both plugs and muffs. I tired using them to cut the lawn and quickly determined that they are not appropriate.

    Noise cancelling is NOT noise reduction. https://www.bang-olufsen.com/en/us/story/active-noise-cancellation

    AirPod Pros do not reduced the dB enough.
    AirPod Pros  are not fast enough to react to sudden sounds, i.e. gun shot
    AirPod Pros  do not seal well enough.
    AirPod Pros are NOT NRR rated.
    AirPod Pros  are not OSHA approved noised reduction device.

    The only thing the AirPod Pro noise reduction is capable of is getting someone killed while driving, riding a bike or running. I cringe every time I see some one wearing them while driving, riding a bike or running.

    As the younger crowd start to approach 40-50 they will unfortunately find that having worn headphone 24x7 will have resulted in a reduction of their hearing, I believe specifically the midrange frequency and once lost, it is NOT going to improve or come back.


    Where do does it say that the level of ANC is adjustable? https://support.apple.com/en-us/HT210643

    Youtube is not a reliable source of education.
    edited October 2022 rob55
  • Reply 17 of 20
    clemynx said: I love my Bose because they remove a lot of rumble noise in the plane and that makes the trip a lot less tiring. Too bad that Apple is letting in precisely those frequencies more. 
    Lower dB rnumbers don't actually mean the user can perceive the difference in noise cancelling when listening to audio. You'll notice that RTings never claims that they could hear a difference with the 4E71 firmware when using audio, only that their method of testing dB reduction produced lower numbers than the previous firmware. Apple doesn't market the AirPods Max as something where you just turn on the ANC and nothing else. First gen AirPods Pro did a good job of cancelling commercial airline engine noise for me and those didn't even have cups or a dB rating as high as what RTings says the 4E71 firmware produces with AirPods Max. 
    edited October 2022
  • Reply 18 of 20
    dewme said:
    This is kind of a gray area, especially if someone is looking to accuse Apple of degrading a product’s performance in such a way that would violate even an implicit performance guarantee. 
    Airpods Max are made for listening to audio from music or TV/movies. I can believe that some people might be able to discern a difference in ANC between firmware updates if they weren't listening to audio. But that isn't the way the product is marketed. Yes, there are standard home/office sounds (i.e., not a gun range) that you can still hear softly with the AirPods Max on your ears and only the ANC running. But once you start listening to audio then those faint sounds are gone. That's one of the dopey aspects of things like RTings where they don't even talk about it in relationship to the primary function. If they did, they would have to admit that the difference between the XM4's 9.6 ANC and the APM's current 8.3 is largely meaningless when it comes using the headphones for audio.

    If anything, Apple is the company doing the customers a favor if they're lowering ANC is order to improve other characteristics for the actual audio reproduction.

    Except that there's no evidence that any other characteristic was actually improved, is there?  And it would be irrelevant at any rate.  If I buy a set of AirPods Pro, it would be for the feature set present at the time of purchase.  If they then make one of those features, in fact the main feature, less effective than when I bought it, that's not OK.  You can postulate hypothetical improvements elsewhere all you want, it doesn't excuse nerfing the main feature that I would have bought them for, the noise cancellation.

    This is the second time Apple has been confirmed to lessen the effectiveness of noise cancellation in one of their products using an automatic, non-discretionary update to the product's firmware.  Makes me think buying Apple audio products isn't a good idea.
    elijahg
  • Reply 19 of 20
    macguimacgui Posts: 2,375member
    omasou said:
    Marvin said:
    It would be best having a user control for how much ANC to apply. Wireless ANC buds make really good ear plugs when you just want to block ambient noise like in the following video:

    <snip>

    This could be controlled in the iPhone settings. If someone is drilling, banging, using a hedge trimmer, vacuuming and you don't want to be listening to music, strong ANC can block it. If the ANC isn't strong enough, it needs music playing on top to block out the noise.
    AirPod Pro noise reduction is NOT designed as hearing protection. Serious shooters that want to protect their hearing use both plugs and muffs. I tired using them to cut the lawn and quickly determined that they are not appropriate.

    Noise cancelling is NOT noise reduction. https://www.bang-olufsen.com/en/us/story/active-noise-cancellation

    AirPod Pros do not reduced the dB enough.
    AirPod Pros  are not fast enough to react to sudden sounds, i.e. gun shot
    AirPod Pros  do not seal well enough.
    AirPod Pros are NOT NRR rated.
    AirPod Pros  are not OSHA approved noised reduction device.

    The only thing the AirPod Pro noise reduction is capable of is getting someone killed while driving, riding a bike or running. I cringe every time I see some one wearing them while driving, riding a bike or running.

    As the younger crowd start to approach 40-50 they will unfortunately find that having worn headphone 24x7 will have resulted in a reduction of their hearing, I believe specifically the midrange frequency and once lost, it is NOT going to improve or come back.


    Where do does it say that the level of ANC is adjustable? https://support.apple.com/en-us/HT210643

    Youtube is not a reliable source of education.
    First, I would never wear anything but actual shooting protection at a range, either passive or active. I've never tried active shooting 'muffs, just standard MM with earplugs underneath.

    Second, the video looks like it compared AirPods Pro in Transparency mode with and without ANC. This is the same as wearing and not wearing any hearing protection at all. Turning the them completely off would give more protection than wearing them with the Transparency mode on. In fact, the reports might be louder with Transparency on, depending on the volume setting, ie amplified louder than without AirPods Pro at all.

    So they "benefit" with the ANC on because they also provide some very slight protection because of the fitted silicon tips that other AirPods lack. And still not adequate for the range. One day I'll have to try dedicated electronic hearing protection. I've tried bespoke molded earplugs and have not been happy with them.

    Apple should tell us what the wanted to accomplish with the firmware upgrade, but they are historically vague to tight-lipped with a lot of their updates.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 20 of 20
    beowulfschmidt said: Except that there's no evidence that any other characteristic was actually improved, is there?  And it would be irrelevant at any rate.  If I buy a set of AirPods Pro, it would be for the feature set present at the time of purchase.  If they then make one of those features, in fact the main feature, less effective than when I bought it, that's not OK.  You can postulate hypothetical improvements elsewhere all you want, it doesn't excuse nerfing the main feature that I would have bought them for, the noise cancellation.
    RTings didn't bother to retest the other categories with the 4E71 firmware. Like I said earlier, that cherry picking makes their reviews less credible. As for the dB level of the ANC, RTings never claims the change is perceptible by an AirPods Max user. I own a set of AirPods Max and certainly can't perceive a change with 4E71 while using audio. I can stand directly in front of my dishwasher during the  noisiest part of the cycle and not hear a thing other than the music I'm listening to. 
    watto_cobra
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