Opinions and Legal Insights

AirPods Pro issue with crackling or static sounds

AirPodsProApple started selling the AirPods Pro on October 30, 2019, and due to limited supplies, many of the early adopters did not receive them for many weeks.  I received mine in mid-December of 2019, and I wrote a review a month later on January 14, 2020.  In mid-April 2020 — about four months after I started using my AirPods Pro — I started to experience a problem with the left AirPod:  every once in a while, I would hear some bizarre sounds.  It sounded almost like I was listening to a traditional speaker and there was something slightly touching the tweeter and occasionally making a vibrating sound.  It was more pronounced when I was moving around, such as using a treadmill.  I would especially notice it if I was eating something crunchy while wearing them — as I would bite down, I would hear a bizarre crackling or static sound.  I was convinced that it was some sort of hardware issue.  It didn’t happen all of the time, but when it did happen, it was annoying.

I finally reached out to Apple support near the end of April, using the feature where you use the Messages app on the iPhone to text with a support professional.  (That process, by the way, works incredibly well and is so much better than talking to someone on the phone and dealing with hold times.  There are often delays between me typing something and Apple responding, but I can do something else at the same time and just deal with the text messages whenever they arrive.  Great system.)  The support professional asked me for my serial number (here is how you find that), asked me to reset the AirPods Pro to see if that fixed it (here is how you do that), and then asked me if the issue persists in all three modes.  I had noticed it in the noise cancellation and the transparency modes, the only two modes that I use, so I enabled the off mode to see what happened.  To my surprise, that “fixed” it.  It was at that point that I realized that this bizarre noise was not a hardware issue but instead a software issue associated with the noise cancellation/transparency modes.

I’ve seem some speculation that the microphone plays a role.  The AirPod seems to think it hears a noise and tries to cancel the noise (in noise cancellation mode) or pass through the noise (in transparency mode) but something goes wrong in doing so.  This would be consistent with my experiences.  I don’t think that the problem ever occurred for me when there was complete silence around me.

But for the pandemic, the next step probably would have been for me to go to an Apple Store.  But with all of the stores closed, the support professional instead sent me a replacement left AirPod via FedEx.  There was no charge for this.  (AirPods Pro have a one-year warranty.  Or you can pay $29 for AppleCare+, at the time that you purchase the AirPods Pro or within 60 days, to increase that to a two-year warranty.)  However, Apple did put a $99 hold on my credit card — the cost of a replacement AirPod — which was removed after I received the replacement AirPod and then used the same box with a self-addressed return label to send the broken left AirPod to Apple.  It only took a few days to receive the replacement left AirPod from Apple.  I’ve now been using that replacement unit for almost four months, and I’ve had no problems with it.

Then I went through the whole experience again with right AirPod in mid-August — about eight months after I started using it.  I started hearing the same bizarre noises, but of course this time, I knew what was going on.  I contacted Apple using the Messages app, and a few days later, I received the replacement right AirPod.  I’ve now been using that replacement right AirPod for about 10 days.  So far, the replacement works great.

Apple has a page on its support website that describes this issue, but it doesn’t say very much other than to contact Apple if it happens.  From my research online, I see that the problem I experienced has been happening to a large number of people.  If it happens to you, now you know what to do about it.  Some folks even say that they went through all of these steps, got replacement units, and then those replacement units had the same problem so they had to get a second replacement.

I use my AirPods Pro every single day, multiple times a day.  I use them to listen to podcasts and music.  I use them when I’m on the treadmill.  I use them connected to my Windows work computer when I do videoconferences in my office.  I use them with my iPhone and iPad when I don’t want to disturb others.  And I really like both the noise cancellation and the transparency features, which are a big improvement over the non-Pro AirPods.  Because I get so much use out of them, it is annoying to have something go wrong.  Fortunately, for now, at least, Apple is making it easy to get a replacement AirPod if this happens to you.  As for what Apple will do after the warranty ends, I’m not sure.