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What is AirPods Adaptive Audio?

WWDC 2023 isn’t just about big OS updates like iOS 17, iPadOS 17, macOS Sonoma and watchOS 10, oh no. As well as updating a whole host of Mac hardware and the long-awaited Apple Vision Pro VR/AR headset at the show, Apple showed off Adaptive Audio, a new feature coming to AirPods later this year.

The question is, what is AirPods Adaptive Audio exactly and, more importantly, which AirPods will get the feature once it’s released later this year? We answer the big questions about AirPods Adaptive Audio right here. 

What is AirPods Adaptive Audio?

AirPods Adaptive Audio is new audio technology coming to AirPods Pro later this year, and though it has one overall name, it’s actually split into three different features.

The first is a new listening mode that blends the best of transparency and ANC modes. Essentially, with the mode active (controlled via the Control Centre on your iPhone) the AirPods will automatically let normal background noise in to keep you aware of your surroundings while also automatically toggling on active noise cancellation when in particularly loud environments or when loud sounds are triggered. It builds on the environmental noise reduction tech that the second-gen AirPods Pro shipped with.

There’s also a new chat mode dubbed Conversation Awareness that, using the built-in beamforming mics of the AirPods Pro, can detect when you’re speaking to someone and automatically adjust the AirPods to help hear them more clearly without removing the buds in the first place. This includes enabling transparency mode if not already active, as well as quietening background noise and enhancing vocal tones. 

The buds can also intelligently adjust the volume of music playback based on your preferences thanks to Personalised Volume tech. According to Apple, the AirPods Pro can learn your habits over time to help provide a personalised experience that should help round off the jarring problem of some songs being louder (or quieter) than others. 

Other improvements coming with the firmware update include improvements to automatic switching and a new mute/unmute features across AirPods Pro, AirPods 3 and AirPods Max that lets you press the stem (or Digital Crown on the AirPods Max) to quickly mute or unmute themselves on a call.

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Which AirPods support AirPods Adaptive Audio?

While Apple didn’t specify which AirPods would get the Adaptive Audio experience during its reveal at WWDC 2023, it’s safe to say that the regular AirPods won’t get the treatment. 

Why? Because the standard buds don’t sport the ANC tech that helps the earbuds quieten the environment – in fact, the open design of the AirPods 3 offers the total opposite.

Instead, it’s exclusive to Apple’s second-gen AirPods Pro, with owners of the first-gen AirPods Pro missing out on the big update. 

When will my AirPods get Adaptive Audio?

Apple has stayed relatively quiet on when the AirPods Pro will get the Adaptive Audio tech, only promising a vague release window of sometime this Fall, or autumn for those of us in the UK.

Though AirPods and iOS updates are independent of one another, it’s possible that Apple will release Adaptive Audio and iOS 17 at the same time, so we could see it appear sometime in September 2023. 

We’ll be sure to update this section if Apple confirms otherwise, however. 

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