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Posts tagged with "AirPods"

AirPods and HomePods Will Not Support Apple Music’s New Lossless Audio

When Apple announced that Spatial Audio and Lossless Audio are coming to Apple Music, it wasn’t entirely clear from the press release whether Lossless Audio would work with AirPods or HomePods. Since then, Apple has confirmed to T3 that AirPods Pro and AirPods Max do not support Lossless Audio. In a statement to Chris Welch of The Verge, Apple definitively said:

“Lossless audio is not supported on AirPods, any model,” an Apple spokesperson said by email.

AirPods support Spatial Audio, but if you want to listen to Lossless Audio, you’ll need wired headphones, an Apple TV, or a Mac connected to good speakers.

If you were thinking you might be able to get around the wireless limitations of Lossless Audio with a Lightning cable connected to your AirPods Max, you’re out of luck there too, according to Billboard’s Micah Singleton who raised the question with Apple. The Verge’s story confirms what Singleton was told too.

In addition, MacRumors reports it has confirmed from an unnamed source that the original HomePod and HomePod mini do not work with Lossless Audio either.

AirPods Max Power Management Explained by Updated Apple Support Document

Ever since the release of the AirPods Max there has been confusion about how power management for the headphones works. Apple has clarified the situation with an update to an AirPods Max support page that MacRumors discovered explaining the different power modes and the role the headphones’ case plays.

The bottom line is that there are two low power modes. The first leaves the AirPods Max connected to a device by Bluetooth and discoverable in the Find My app. When you put the headphones into their case, this first low power mode is triggered immediately. If you don’t use the case, the mode is triggered when the AirPods Max have sat undisturbed for five minutes.

A lower-power mode is triggered after 18 hours in the AirPods Max case or 72 hours outside the case. The difference in the time it takes to enter the ultra-low power mode isn’t explained in Apple’s support document, but one possible explanation is that Apple wants the headphones to be discoverable in Find My longer if they are put down outside the case because they are more likely to have been misplaced if not intentionally placed in their case.

Whatever the reason, though, tests conducted by MacRumors have shown that the difference in battery drain in and out of the case is small.

I’m curious about the reasoning behind the choices Apple has made in the AirPods Max’s power management, but mostly, I’m just glad to hear that the difference between using the case or not is negligible. Up to 20 hours of listening time is enough to get me through a few days especially if not using the AirPods Max for a day or two has minimal impact on the headphones’ remaining charge.


AirPods Max First Impressions Roundup

In the wake of this week’s AirPods Max announcement, Apple provided the premium wireless headphones to a handful of YouTubers and media outlets. Nobody had even a full day with the AirPods Max, so none of these are full reviews, but they do provide a closer look at the headphones and some valuable first impressions.

Matthew Panzarino of TechCrunch was impressed with the sound quality but warned of the sturdy design:

There is a tradeoff here that I feel I must mention even in this early review, though: These things are heavy. If you do not like heavy headphones, do not buy the AirPod Max.

All of the reviewers seemed impressed with the sound quality of the headphones, including The Verge’s Nilay Patel:

Sound-wise, I’ve had fun listening to the AirPods Max for a few hours — they’re crisp and bright, with a pleasingly wider soundstage than my Sony headphones, and no distortion at all, even at max volume.

Comparisons to wireless headphones from Sony and Bose were also common, but Marques Brownlee questioned whether that was the right comparison, arguing that contrasting the AirPods Max to higher-end headphones might be more meaningful.

The AirPods Max case was raised as a frequent downside by reviewers who compared to a purse, a bra, and even a butt. Another downside depending on how you might use the AirPods Max is the lack of a cable in the box to connect to airplane entertainment systems and other audio sources. Apple offers a 3.5mm to Lightning cable separately for $35.

Be sure to check out the videos published on YouTube that I’ve linked below too. They’re an excellent way to get a better sense of the design details of the AirPods Max.

I’m curious to read and watch full reviews of the AirPods Max after reviewers have had time to use them for more extended periods and in different settings. For now, though, the first impressions provide a nice introduction to what the AirPods Max can do and what some of their limitations are.

Apple Announces AirPods Max: Wireless Over-Ear Headphones Available Just in Time for the Holidays

Today, Apple revealed the AirPods Max, wireless, over-ear headphones that take advantage of the company’s H1 SoC.

It’s no secret that AirPods have been a big hit. The original model, announced in 2016, has been revised once and in October 2019, Apple released the AirPods Pro adding noise cancellation and transparency mode to the connectivity magic enabled by the company’s H1 SoC. Ever since, rumors have circulated that Apple was developing an over-ear model. With today’s announcements the rumors and speculation have become a reality. Let’s look at what Apple has in store for music fans.

The AirPods Max, which are more expensive than rumored at $549, are initially launching in the US and 25 other countries. Many of the features and specs of the AirPods Max line up with previous rumors and share similarities with Apple’s AirPods Pro. The over-ear headphones feature:

  • Apple’s proprietary H1 SoC (one in each ear cup), which provides a stack of features on top of Bluetooth 5.0 that enables wireless connectivity features like fast device switching across multiple devices
  • Active noise cancellation
  • Transparency mode
  • Nine microphones for noise cancellation and other features
  • Adaptive EQ
  • A Digital Crown that controls volume, play/pause, skipping tracks, and Siri functionality
  • Optical and position sensors in the ear cups
  • A case detection sensor
  • An accelerometer
  • A gyroscope in the left ear cup
  • Ear cushions attach magnetically and can be replaced for $69
  • Lightning connectivity for charging and wired listening with Apple’s optional 3.5mm to Lightning cable
  • 20 hours of battery life and 1.5 hours of charge in just 5 minutes of charging
  • A Smart Case that puts the AirPods Max into an ultra-low power state

Apple also offers a $35 3.5mm to Lightning cable so the AirPods Max can be used wired.

The AirPods Max Smart Case.

The AirPods Max Smart Case.

Regarding the ear cups and Digital Crown, Apple’s press release says:

Each ear cup attaches to the headband through a revolutionary mechanism that balances and distributes ear cup pressure, and allows it to independently pivot and rotate to fit the unique contours of a user’s head. Each ear cushion uses acoustically engineered memory foam to create an effective seal — a critical factor in delivering immersive sound. The Digital Crown, inspired by Apple Watch, offers precise volume control and the ability to play or pause audio, skip tracks, answer or end phone calls, and activate Siri.

Like Apple’s other AirPods models, AirPods Max will also take advantage of automatic device switching. The new over-ear headphones will also feature spatial audio, previously available with the AirPods Pro only.

The AirPods Max, which are available in space gray, silver, sky blue, green, and pink, are over-ear headphones that completely surround users’ ears. The design is striking. According to Apple:

From the canopy to the ear cushions, every part of AirPods Max is carefully crafted to provide exceptional acoustic performance for each user. The breathable knit mesh canopy, spanning the headband, is made to distribute weight and reduce on-head pressure. The stainless steel headband frame provides strength, flexibility, and comfort for a wide variety of head shapes and sizes. Telescoping headband arms smoothly extend and stay in place to maintain the desired fit.

Until AirPods Max are in the hands of users, it’s impossible to know how well they work or how good they sound. Still, I’m glad to see Apple expanding the AirPods lineup. I’ve been spoiled by the unique conveniences of AirPods and AirPods Pro, and with the AirPods Max, I’m eager to see how those features and the new ones announced today translate to an over-ear experience.

AirPods Max are available for pre-order now and will be available beginning Tuesday, December 15th for $549.

Apple has posted two videos on its YouTube channel: one narrated by Evans Hankey, VP of Industrial Design, and Gary Geaves, VP, Acoustics that introduces the AirPods Max and the other an ad titled Journey Into Sound, both of which you can find after the break.

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AirPods Firmware Updated with Spatial Audio for Pro Models and Automatic Device Switching for All AirPods

AirPods Pro firmware version 3A283 is currently rolling out to users with two new features: spatial audio and automatic device switching.

You can check the firmware version of your AirPods by connecting them to an iPhone or iPad and going to the Bluetooth section of the Settings app. Tap on the blue info button next to the entry for your AirPods, and scroll down to the Version number near the bottom of the view. There’s no known reliable way to force a firmware update, but my AirPods were sitting on a Qi charger with the case closed in close proximity to my iPhone for what it’s worth.

First announced by Apple at WWDC, spatial audio creates the illusion of sound coming from your iPhone or iPad as you move your head. Apple describes the feature on its iOS 14 preview page as follows:

Spatial audio with dynamic head tracking brings the movie theater experience right to your AirPods Pro.11 applying directional audio filters and subtly adjusting the frequencies each ear receives, spatial audio can place sounds virtually anywhere in space, creating an immersive surround sound experience. Using the gyroscope and accelerometer in your AirPods Pro and your iPhone, spatial audio tracks the motion of your head as well as your device, compares the motion data, and then remaps the sound field so that it stays anchored to your device even as your head moves.

I tested the feature with my iPhone 11 Pro Max and 12.9” iPad Pro, and it worked with both, even though Apple only mentions iPhone models on its iOS 14 preview page. In my tests, I played the latest episode of Ted Lasso, a TV+ show that supports multi-channel audio. I also tried HBO’s Game of Thrones. It’s going to require more testing, but the feature seems to support any multi-channel audio source, regardless of the video streaming provider.

As Ted Lasso played, I turned in my chair and got up, and walked around my office. With spatial audio turned on, which you can do by long-pressing the volume slider in Control Center in the iOS or iPadOS 14 betas, the source of the sound seemed to come directly from my iPad that was sitting on my desk. Next, I switched to watching on my iPhone and moved it as I walked around my office. The entire time the sound seemed to be coming directly from the iPhone.

While testing spatial audio, I moved around far more than I normally would when I watch a show. Even with exaggerated movement, though, the effect felt incredibly real as though the sound were coming from the speakers of the device playing the video. The effect is so well done that I expect in everyday use, like shifting your iPhone from one hand to the other or turning your head for a moment, I’ll forget spatial audio is even engaged.

The update also enables AirPods Pro and second-generation AirPods to switch between devices automatically. When I switched from watching Ted Lasso on my iPad to my iPhone, which was sitting less than a meter from the iPad, my AirPods switched as soon as I opened the TV app. It’s a small touch, but it felt like magic and I can tell it will make a big difference as I switch between devices throughout the day. Apple says the feature allows switching among iPhones, iPads, iPod touches, Macs, and Apple Watches.

Apple Audio: AirPods Receive Automatic Switching, Spatial Audio on AirPods Pro, and HomePod Integrates with Third-Party Music Services

Apple’s audio products – especially AirPods and AirPods Pro – are becoming major players in the company’s product ecosystem, and as a result it’s no surprise that new features for these products were announced at WWDC. Easily my favorite audio announcement was automatic switching between devices, but there’s a lot of other great audio news too: spatial audio on AirPods Pro, third-party music services on HomePod, audio sharing on tvOS, headphone accommodations, and more.

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How I Modded the Silicone Tips of AirPods Pro with a Memory Foam Layer

My modded AirPods Pro.

My modded AirPods Pro.

I love my AirPods Pro and, ever since I bought them last October, I’ve been taking advantage of their noise cancellation technology to use them in more contexts than the original AirPods.1 They sound better than any other wireless earbuds I’ve tested (obviously, they sound much worse than my Sony IER-Z1R, but that’s to be expected) and they cancel almost as much noise as my Sony WH-1000XM3, which is pretty remarkable for such tiny earbuds. AirPods Pro retain all the magic of the non-Pro line, but they bring the additional freedom granted by noise cancellation and transparency mode. There’s one thing I don’t particularly like about them, though: the default silicone tips.

Unlike others (e.g. my girlfriend), I can use in-ear silicone tips without getting a headache after 20 minutes. It’s not my favorite method of listening to music, however, because I know that memory foam tips are a better fit for my ears since they can better adapt to the shape of my ear canal and, as a result, provide better isolation and a more bass-y response. Over the years, I’ve developed an appreciation for Comply’s popular foam tips (right now, I’m testing their Audio Pro and Comfort tips with my IER-Z1R) and was hoping they’d release AirPods Pro-compatible tip replacements made of memory foam.

Much to my disappointment, the only foam tips designed for AirPods Pro I’ve found so far are these no-brand tips from Amazon US that I can’t purchase from Italy (and which do not inspire a lot of confidence). I’m assuming that since AirPods Pro require tips to have a special clip attachment that secures them onto the earbuds themselves, it’s taking a while for third-party manufacturers to come up with a compatible design. I really wanted to figure out a way to use foam tips with my AirPods Pro though, so I kept looking for ideas or recommendations on how to make it happen.

The solution I’ve adopted isn’t ideal since I still haven’t found complete foam replacements made specifically for AirPods Pro, but, at least for me, what I’m using today is better than using Apple’s default silicone tips. As I shared on Twitter a few days ago, I’ve modded the AirPods Pro’s silicone tips with an extra memory foam layer, which helps the tips fit better in my ears, resulting in a warmer sound and overall more comfortable feel. The best part: I didn’t have to cut the memory foam layer myself – I simply took the foam layer from a pair of Symbio W eartips and fitted it inside the AirPods Pro’s tips. The final result looks like this:

An additional memory foam layer for my AirPods Pro.

An additional memory foam layer for my AirPods Pro.

I love the orange accent.

I love the orange accent.

Allow me to offer some context around how I discovered this method and how you can perform this mod yourself with relative ease. I was looking around for discussions related to AirPods Pro and memory foam tips a few weeks back, and I came across this discussion thread on the MacRumors forums where a few users reached the following consensus: until third-party manufacturers come up with a compatible clip that attaches to AirPods Pro and lets you use alternative tips, for now the best DIY mod involves taking a memory foam insert and sliding Apple’s silicone tips inside it so that the foam layer ends up sitting between the central plastic “stem” of the tip and its outer layer. This is what I mean:

The foam layer sits between the plastic clip and silicone exterior of the tip.

The foam layer sits between the plastic clip and silicone exterior of the tip.

Based on the aforementioned MacRumors thread, I purchased a set of Symbio W eartips from Amazon Japan2 (Symbio also has an official website with worldwide shipping, but I haven’t tried it myself). Symbio’s in-ear tips are well suited for this kind of mod for a couple reasons. First, they’re hybrid tips that feature a silicone membrane with an inner memory foam layer; if you pull out the silicone part, you can access the memory foam “ring” contained inside it and remove it so you can use it elsewhere. And second, the Symbio W’s foam layer is thin and short enough that it can fit in the gap between the plastic stem and silicone layer in Apple’s tips, while matching their height in all three sizes as well (just like AirPods Pro, the Symbio W eartips come in small, medium, and large sizes). This means that, unlike other mods, applying the Symbio W’s foam parts to AirPods Pro’s silicone tips will let the AirPods Pro case close just fine.

Now, if you want to replicate this setup yourself, here’s how you can do it in less than a minute for each AirPod. Grab one of the Symbio eartips (if you’re using the medium tips for your AirPods Pro, use the medium Symbio tip too) and pull out the silicone exterior so that the memory foam portion is clearly visible:

Pull out the silicone part of the Symbio tips to reveal the inner memory foam layer.

Pull out the silicone part of the Symbio tips to reveal the inner memory foam layer.

Next, gently remove the memory foam ring from the eartip:

Remove the foam layer from the silicone tip by sliding it out.

Remove the foam layer from the silicone tip by sliding it out.

Grab the tip of your AirPods Pro and pull out the soft silicone part – again, don’t apply too much pressure because you don’t want to break it – so that it looks like this:

Pull out the silicone part of the AirPods Pro's tips.

Pull out the silicone part of the AirPods Pro’s tips.

Slide the plastic base of the AirPods’ tip into the foam ring, then carefully adjust it so that it doesn’t cover the vents (which help relieve pressure in your inner ear), as pictured below:

Fit the foam layer around the plastic stem of the AirPods Pro tip.

Fit the foam layer around the plastic stem of the AirPods Pro tip.

Lastly, pull down the outer silicone layer of the AirPods’ tip so it covers the newly inserted foam part, adjust the foam again so it doesn’t cover the vents, and voila:

The final product.

The final product.

Now, obviously this is a DIY modification and it’s by no means an absolutely perfect match for Apple’s design – but it’s a close approximation that has helped me enjoy some of the benefits of memory foam tips despite the fact that I still have to use Apple’s official tips.

Another look at the final result.

Another look at the final result.

I’ve been rocking this setup for the past week, and not only do I find my AirPods Pro more comfortable to wear for prolonged listening sessions because the tips fit better in my ears and don’t wobble as much as before, but sound isolation is also better (as confirmed by Apple’s fit test in Settings). Thanks to the extra foam layer, the modded tips “fill” my ears, creating a better seal and ensuring the AirPods stay in place. As a result of the superior fit, I’ve also noticed a slightly warmer sound with a bit more bass than before, which I believe is a pleasant addition. Best of all, my right AirPod always stays in place now (which wasn’t the case before the mod) and the additional foam layer hasn’t been an issue for the case, which still closes perfectly.

I recognize that after spending $249 on AirPods Pro, I shouldn’t have to invest roughly $18 (plus shipping) on a mod that only sort-of lets me use foam tips with them. Apple should provide users with more choice in terms of the materials used in the default tips: ideally, for $249 the company should offer a selection of silicone and memory foam tips in the box. But I also like my AirPods Pro a lot, and I use them for several hours every day, and I wanted to make them fit my ears better today. I’m pretty happy with this temporary mod; until a better solution comes along3, Symbio’s W eartips have proven to be good companions to Apple’s silicone tips, and I recommend them.

  1. Train trips, riding the subway in Rome, or writing without hearing surrounding noises. ↩︎
  2. A tip I picked up from Cabel Sasser years ago: you can register for an Amazon Japan account even if you don’t live in Japan, use the website in English, and take advantage of fast worldwide shipping. I’ve spent more money on Japanese videogame and manga imports than I’m willing to admit. ↩︎
  3. For real, Comply: please make memory foam replacement tips for AirPods Pro that match the size and plastic attachment of Apple’s default ones. Thank you. ↩︎

Stephen Coyle on the Reduced Bluetooth Latency of AirPods Pro

Stephen Coyle has followed up on previous tests he conducted on Bluetooth latency of AirPods. This time, he tested the AirPods Pro using the iOS system keyboard, his rhythm game Tapt, and a shotgun microphone, to measure the delay between triggering a sound on an iPad Pro and playback through the Apple’s wireless earphones and other Bluetooth headphones.

As Coyle explains, latency affects certain use cases, such as user-triggered UI sounds like the keyboard, accessibility features like VoiceOver, and game sound effects, more than others. While delayed keyboard clicks may merely be annoying, delayed VoiceOver responses are a serious usability issue for people who depend on the feature.

What Coyle discovered was that the the latency of the AirPods Pro is substantially less than the original model of AirPods. As Coyle puts it:

If it’s possible for the trend line to continue in the same direction, the next generation or two of AirPods will be very exciting. Not being a VoiceOver user, I’m unsure how much AirPods Pro improve its user experience in real terms, but I think this general trend can only be for the good. Similarly, for mobile gaming and general user experience, this trend means that what is, in my opinion, the primary downside of Bluetooth earphones may be gradually disappearing.

I found Coyle’s comment on using AirPods Pro to make and edit music intriguing too:

Their status as the lowest latency Bluetooth earphones notwithstanding, the AirPods Pro make for a deeply unsettling experience when using them as monitors to play piano in Logic Pro; there’s still far too much delay to make for a comfortable experience (and I’m not alone in thinking similar). They are, however, just about usable when editing music or video, and shaving a few dozen more milliseconds off this each generation would fast make them a preferable option over wired earphones.

As someone who edits podcast audio regularly, I’ve never considered using AirPods Pro because I’ve assumed that the latency would be a roadblock. What Coyle’s test show is that it’s time to rethink old assumptions whether it’s the role of AirPods Pro in accessibility features like VoiceOver, audio production, or gaming. As Apple reduces the latency of its wireless earphones, the use cases for them will only expand further, which is exciting.


NoiseBuddy: Control Noise Cancellation and Transparency Modes of AirPods Pro on a Mac

Earlier this week, Guilherme Rambo released a new Mac utility called NoiseBuddy that toggles between the noise cancellation and Transparency modes of AirPods Pro and the Beats Solo Pro headphones when they’re connected to a Mac. The app can place an icon in your Mac’s menu bar or on the Touch Bar and uses the same noise cancellation and Transparency iconography found in Control Center on iOS and iPadOS. The app’s settings allow you to run NoiseBuddy in the menu bar, on the Touch Bar, or in both places. To switch modes, simply click the icon in the menu bar or tap the Touch Bar button.

The Touch Bar in transparency mode.

The Touch Bar in transparency mode.

This isn’t Rambo’s first time working with Bluetooth headphones and the Mac. He also created AirBuddy, which we covered previously. AirBuddy is a Mac utility that displays the charge status of AirPods and Beats headphones that use Apple’s proprietary wireless chips. The app also allows users to connect those headphones to their Macs via Bluetooth with a single click.

NoiseBuddy’s menu bar app in transparency mode.

NoiseBuddy’s menu bar app in transparency mode.

NoiseBuddy is the kind of Mac utility that I love. It takes overly fiddly aspect of interacting with macOS and makes it dead simple. The free app is available from Rambo’s GitHub repo, where it can be downloaded as a ZIP archive and then dragged into your Applications folder.