Apple’s AirPods are earbuds that have quickly risen to popularity due to their ultra-portable size, wireless capability, and great sound. However, even these state-of-the-art Bluetooth headphones can malfunction, causing sounds or music to become muffled or distorted.
Why do AirPods suddenly sound muffled? The most common cause of muffled sound in your AirPods comes from dirty speakers. Since they sit directly inside your ear canal, earwax and other material can build up over time, reducing the quality of the sound. Other reasons could include Bluetooth interference or the fact that your AirPods need to be reset.
The rest of this article will give you a step-by-step guide on troubleshooting and fixing muffled or distorted sound for your Apple AirPods.
About Apple AirPods
Apple’s AirPods are Bluetooth headphones reimagined. According to Apple’s website, AirPods work by using “optical sensors and motion accelerometers to detect when they’re in your ears.” Their voice detection feature includes an additional “speech-detecting accelerometer that works with beamforming microphones to filter out external noise and focus on the sound of your voice.”
Their standard charge lasts for 5 hours of listening time or 3 hours of talk time. If you are looking for a quicker charge, just 15 minutes in their specialized case will give you 3 hours of listening or 2 hours of talk time. The accompanying cool case also holds multiple charges for convenience.
To see all the features of Apple AirPods, check out their listing on Apple’s Website.
Apple’s AirPods are designed not only for convenient use but also for high-quality sound. AirPods produce a sound that’s clear in the mid-tones and is excellent for listening to podcasts and most music. Fully functioning AirPods should retain this clear sound quality throughout their life, so if you find that the sound is muffled or distorted, you may need one of the below fixes to adjust it.
How to Fix Muffled Sounds in AirPods
The most common issue with the AirPods’ sound quality is a muffled or decreased sound. The leading cause of this distortion is likely to be dirt in your AirPods themselves.
Even if you clean your ears daily, it is inevitable the open crevices in your AirPods will collect ear wax, dirt, or pocket lint over time if they are not stored properly or cleaned regularly.
Cleaning Your AirPods
It is recommended that you clean your AirPods every three to six months to maintain good sound quality. Cleaning will also help extend the life of your AirPods, so you can have many years of use!
Since cleaning should be a regular maintenance practice for your AirPods, do this first before moving on to other solutions. The following easy steps will help you quickly clean your AirPods:
1. Wipe Down Exterior with a Microfiber Cloth
This step will ensure that the outside of each unit is as free of loose particles as possible and give you a basic clean. It will also help prepare the AirPods for a deeper clean, as will be mentioned in later steps.
You should do this step frequently, even after every use. It will not hurt the AirPods and will prevent some amount of dirt buildup over time.
2. Clean the Speaker Ports
This process will help you get the crevices clean and free the speakers of buildup. It is essential for you to use the right tools as the indents are fairly small and hard to get into.
Tools you will need to begin cleaning the crevices are:
- Microfiber cloth
- Paper towel
- Screen cleaner (such as an optic cleaner for DSLR cameras)
- Rubbing alcohol (90% or higher) if you don’t have screen cleaner
- Compressed air (optional) or small air pump
Once you have all your materials ready, you can follow these steps to deep clean your AirPods. You will want to do this full process on one earbud at a time.
- Spray screen cleaner/rubbing alcohol on one end of the Q-tip: This will soften the wax and dirt that is built up in the crevices. Rubbing alcohol will help sanitize the units as well.
- Spread the cleaner on the grill: Use the Q-tip to apply the cleaner to each part of the earbud that has a dark mesh grille (there are three of these). These areas are where the sound comes out of, so it will be the most affected by gunky buildup. Be careful not to apply too much pressure to these areas; the grill is only a mesh screen and is delicate!
- Let the alcohol do its work: You only need a few moments for the alcohol to soften the wax and dirt buildup.
- Use the toothpick to remove the buildup: Now is the time to use the toothpick to gently remove the softened buildup from all the crevices. A paper towel can help you clean the toothpick for optimal gunk removal.
- Wipe again with a microfiber cloth: Once you are satisfied that all the buildup is removed, you can use your microfiber cloth to get rid of the remainder of the particles. Spraying this cloth with a bit of screen cleaner or alcohol will provide you with extra cleaning capability.
- Use compressed air for added effect: If you have a compressed air canister or other small air spraying device, you can use this on the dry earbud to remove dust and particles from behind the grill. This step is optional but can provide an additional benefit.
- Let them dry thoroughly: Once you have cleaned one unit, you want to make sure it is completely dry before use. Rest them on the table so that the large part of the speaker is facing downward; this will ensure that any liquid which may have gotten inside migrates outward to keep from damaging the inner workings of the earbud.
- Repeat with the second earbud: Once you have done this on to both of your AirPods, you will instantly be able to tell how much cleaner they are. It’s almost like you have a totally new pair!
3. Clean the Charging Case
You have probably also noticed that the charging case has collected quite a bit of dirt and pocket lint from daily use as well. Before putting the AirPods back in the case, you will want it to be clean and ready for your newly scrubbed headphones.
The steps to clean the case are similar to that of the AirPods; they are as follows:
- Spray screen cleaner on Q-tip: Spread it around the case anywhere you see dirt or build up.
- Use the toothpick: This removes excess buildup. Make sure you get into the tiny crevices where the case was assembled as well inside the mold where the AirPods are stored.
- Wipe with a microfiber cloth: You can use more screen cleaner on the cloth if necessary. Make sure the case is dried thoroughly.
- Use the compressed air: This gets the remainder of the dirt out of the tough to clean parts.
Once your AirPods and case are freshly cleaned and dry, go ahead and test them out by listening to your favorite tunes!
By the way, have you ever wondered if someone can use your AirPods if they’re ever stolen? I wrote an article answering if there is, actually, a possibility and what you should watch out for that I highly encourage you to read!
Make Sure You Have a Stable Bluetooth Connection
Sometimes cleaning doesn’t solve the problems you are experiencing with your AirPods. While this regular maintenance task should be done regardless, there are also some other steps you can take to fix AirPod sound issues.
Bluetooth technology is used for short-distance data transmission. It is very low on battery usage, which makes it a great option for proprietary and third-party accessories like Apple’s AirPods
An unstable Bluetooth connection usually results in distorted or crackly sound. As this is the only way AirPods will connect to your device, it is essential to ensure that the connection is functioning as expected. If it is not, it’s likely due to Bluetooth interference, especially if you have other Bluetooth devices nearby.
It is important to understand what is causing this Bluetooth interference and how to fix it.
Disable Nearby Bluetooth Devices
In today’s high-tech world, it is likely that many of us are running more than one Bluetooth device at a time: printers, speakers, keyboards, or even other wireless headphones. Make sure these devices are turned off or disconnected.
This may not resolve all your issues, but for some, it has worked like magic to solve the problem for good! However, if you have tried this fix or you don’t have any other devices running in the first place, you will want to go on to the next step.
Toggle Bluetooth Off and Back On
Bluetooth is a wireless radio frequency that can experience connectivity hiccups, just like Wi-Fi. Sometimes the answer is as simple as restarting the connection on your iPhone, iPad, or Mac. Follow the steps below to reset your Bluetooth:
- Open the Control Center of your phone or the Menu Bar on your PC.
- Turn Bluetooth Off entirely.
- Count for about 10 seconds.
- After this time, Turn Bluetooth On.
In some cases, this fix will help restore your Bluetooth connection. If it does not, you may need to follow steps to reset your AirPods.
A Note about Bluetooth Issues on Mac Computers
Sometimes the Bluetooth on Macs can be especially finicky, depending on the age and version of your computer. While the problems you may experience with external devices usually are a result of the device itself, your Mac could also be the culprit.
Here are some steps you can try with your Mac to repair the Bluetooth capability:
- Turn the Bluetooth Off and On Again: This is the simplest solution and may be an easy fix, as we have noted above.
- Remove any USB devices: Apple has stated in previous support documents that sometimes Bluetooth may become unresponsive if you have USB devices connected to your computer. Sometimes, if you remove these devices, the Bluetooth issues will be corrected.
- Remove potentially corrupted files: Sometimes, Bluetooth issues can appear when data become corrupted. Even though this is not a common occurrence, it does happen from time to time due to a system or file error. However, if this does happen, the easier way to fix it is to delete those files and let macOS create some fresh new ones.
- Reset your Mac’s Bluetooth module: This should be your last resort since you will have to reconfigure all of your Bluetooth devices (not just your AirPods) when this step is finished.
For more information on how to implement the final two steps above, check out this article on iDB.
Reset your AirPods
Resetting your AirPods can help you with multiple headphone issues. In addition to a potential sound quality fix, it has also reportedly solved battery issues for early versions. To see more information about fixing charging issues, see this article on iDB.
Once your AirPods are fully reset, keep in mind that they will need to be repaired to your iPhone, Mac, or another device.
- Reset Using the Setup Button: First, you need to press and hold the setup button. This button can be found on the back of the AirPods. Do this for approximately 15 seconds.
- Watch for a flashing white LED: The indicator light on your case will first turn white. Then, it will flash amber several times. Finally, it will settle on flashing white again.
- Pair your AirPods with your device: Once you see the flashing white light, you can now pair your AirPods with your iPhone, iPad, or Mac again.
- Listen to Something: Once your headphones are paired, try listening to something from your device; this hopefully has fixed your sound issue, but if not, you may need to check your iOS device for updates.
Check your iOS Device for Updates
If you are experiencing this issue while trying to connect to an iPhone, iPad, or iPod, you may not have the latest iOS installed on your device. Periodically (every year or so), Apple releases major updates to their iOS, which usually come as a new version of its operating software. The latest big iOS update is iOS 13, which was released in September of 2019.
If you are using an earlier version than this, it is crucial to update your device to ensure that you are always running the latest version of the iOS; this is especially true if you have multiple other Apple products you like to use.
Your AirPods should always be kept up to date as long as they are connected to a device running the current iOS. However, if you are concerned that this is not the case, check your iOS version.
To do this for the iPhone, iPod, and iPad:
- Open the Settings app
- Go to Settings > General > About
- The version number is to the right of the Version entry on the About page
If your Apple device does not have the latest iOS, you should have a notification in your Settings saying you need to update. If you do not have this update, give Apple a call, and they can help you troubleshoot.
Even if you feel that your AirPods were working fine on an earlier version of iOS, you are not benefiting from the latest fixes Apple may have released that affect your headphones directly. These updates are pushed through usually in the new version of iOS, so running an earlier version may prevent this fix from being passed on to your headset.
If you own a device with a jailbreak or have an older device that is no longer supported, keep in mind that updating the iOS may be the only way to fix your issue. If an update is not possible, it may be time to upgrade that ancient device for something that will grow with you for the near future!
What if the AirPods Are Still Muffled?
Sometimes, even after this thorough cleaning of your AirPods and reconnecting to Bluetooth, you will find that one of them is still lower/more muffled than the other. Within the community of Apple and AirPods enthusiasts, there is one slightly alternative recommendation that many users swear by.
They suggest that sucking on the affected AirPod can help clear up any residual loss of sound. If you plan to do this with your mouth, you definitely want to clean them thoroughly first! And make sure they are fully dry before use.
Speaking of making sure AirPods are fully dry…. I recently wrote an article going in depth on whether the AirPods can withstand various sweat and water scenarios, as well as important ways to keep your AirPods in absolute peak audio condition. Be sure not to miss this!
What Do I Do if None of these Fixes Work?
We know that having great sound in your AirPods is important for those with an active life who are always on the go. If you are still experiencing issues, it may be time to contact the professionals.
If you have gotten to this part in the article, you may already have done everything in your power to fix your AirPods’ sound issues. Get in touch with Apple Support or visit your local Apple store to troubleshoot.
If there is still a warranty on your product, Apple may be able to fix or replace a defective unit for free or at a low-cost. Due to the high demand for Apple’s AirPods, you may have trouble getting a replacement if a new version has recently been released, so some waiting may be required.