Noise-cancelling headphones can bring you peaceful, private listening in crowded places like buses or help you focus on work while posted up in a coffee shop or noisy office. They’re great when they work, but some AirPods Pro users are finding that a recent firmware update affected the performance of their earbuds’ noise-cancelling feature.
Some noise-cancelling headphones use passive noise cancelling—physically sealing your ears away from ambient noise with stuff like memory foam or other barriers. Others, like the AirPods Pro, use active noise cancellation (ANC) to filter away outside noise by blasting your ears with inverse sound waves. Apple’s broken firmware update boosted the AirPods Pro’s audio performance, but diminished the ANC in the process.
According to MacWorld, Apple has since pulled the firmware, but plenty of users have likely installed it. Apple pushes firmware updates automatically while the headphones are charging, and there’s no way to pause or opt-out of installing them ahead of time.
If you’ve noticed some strangeness with your the noise cancelling capabilities on your AirPods Pro, or you want to double-check if you’re affected, connect your AirPods Pro to an iPhone or iPad and visit Settings > General > About > AirPods Pro. Check the version number. If it’s 2C54, it’s the bad firmware update
Annoyingly, there’s no way to rollback to the previous AirPod firmware, so you’re stuck with the under-performing ANC until Apple releases a new update that fixes the issue. In the meantime, you could try adding memory foam ear tips to the AirPods Pro for (potentially) better passive isolation. You could also switch to another pair of noise-cancelling headphones for the time being if you’re eager to regain your quiet commutes.