Confirmed: Latest AirPods Max‌ firmware update worsens active noise cancellation

AirPods Max firmware labeled “4E71” has reduced the strength of active noise cancellation, blocking less noise between the mid and high bass.

Apple's AirPods Max over-ear headphones set against a warm-colored gradient background
Not blocking much noise, are we? | Image: Ervo Rocks/Unsplash
  • What’s happening? Testing has confirmed that the most recent AirPods Max firmware has made the noise-canceling feature less effective than before.
  • Why care? Software updates usually fix broken things, not reduce functionality.
  • What to do? Hope that the next update will improve the feature’s performance.

Why has AirPods Max’s active noise cancellation gone soft? recently updated its wireless test of Apple’s $550 over-ear headphones which measures parameters like the amount of noise isolation, leakage performance, recording quality, noise handling and many more. The site discovered that the most recent AirPods firmware has made active noise cancellation a bit worse than before.

As MacRumors notes, it’s not really unclear why Apple has adjusted the active noise cancellation performance in the latest update. Does the company plan to restore the feature’s effectiveness in a future update?

We don’t know yet. What we do know, however, is that it’s not unusual for AirPods software updates to adjust the amount of blocked noise as Apple continues to perfect its computational audio algorithm.

That doesn’t sound OK at all

The Verge brought the reduced effectiveness of active noise cancellation on the AirPods Max to light in September 2022, with writer Omar Shakir observing that the active noise cancellation feature “has gone soft” after installing the firmware.

Both my wife and I often work from home and for a few days my AirPods Max excellently rendered her business calls inaudible to me, banished the corgi barks emanating from under my desk to the nether realms and audibly shut out the high-rise construction site outside my apartment window.

Yes, that sounds like Apple’s noise-canceling feature.

But now, active noise cancellation 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’m hearing everything I don’t want to now and I’m convinced it’s because of that firmware update.

Well, that doesn’t sound OK at all.

The next firmware could improve noise-cancellation

Before The Verge highlighted this problem, Reddit was talking about it for months, with one user complaining they could hear themselves typing and other outside noises that they couldn’t hear before the update.

Apple released the AirPods firmware version 4E71 on May 10, 2022.

Apple is currently testing a new AirPods firmware. When it launches publicly, we’ll have a chance to test whether there are any changes to the performance of active noise cancellation. Read: How to view release notes for AirPods updates