Apple’s AirPods have achieved incredible popularity in today’s market, reaching a staggering 34 percent of the market, according to one survey. It’s no surprise to many users who love the earbuds thanks to their combination of high-quality sound, ease of use, and great audio quality on voice and video calls.
The stem design has even become a bit of a cultural moment: it was at first viewed with some skepticism but has developed over time into an iconic, desirable look or status symbol.
But none of that matters if your set of AirPods aren’t doing what you need them to do.
One common problem AirPods users run into is with the microphone. While their AirPods work perfectly for listening to music or hearing others on a call, the microphone isn’t picking up or transmitting sound clearly. In other words, the microphone sounds muffled.
Reasons Your AirPods Microphone Might Sound Muffled
The good news is this is usually fixable. Let’s look at a few reasons why your AirPods microphone might not be producing the kind of crystal-clear audio it should.
By the way, you’re going to need to do a lot of testing throughout, and calling up a friend repeatedly to test your microphone might not be an option. To test your microphone without anyone else on a call, just open up your Voice Memos app. If your mics work right in there, they’ll work right on any type of call.
1. Your Connection Isn’t Working Properly
The first and easiest thing to check is your Bluetooth connection. If muffled microphone sounds aren’t a recurring issue for you, it could be that your Bluetooth or Apple W1 connection has gotten messed up.
This doesn’t happen nearly as often with AirPods as it does with your typical set of Bluetooth headphones, but it is still a possibility.
How to Fix This Problem
To rule out the possibility of a connection issue, reboot your phone (or whatever device you’re trying to connect to). When your phone restarts, go to the Bluetooth section of your Settings.
Your AirPods may have already reconnected automatically. That’s OK. First, toggle Bluetooth off on your device. After about 5 seconds, toggle it back on and reconnect.
If you’re still having trouble, try forgetting the device. On an iPhone or iPad, click on the circled “i” on the right side of the AirPods listing under My Devices, then “Forget This Device.”
Reconnect to your AirPods after forgetting them. If your problem was a Bluetooth or W1 issue, it should be resolved now.
Still having issues? On to the next potential problem!
2. Debris Is Covering One or Both Microphones
If you’re having no trouble hearing clearly but people can’t hear you well, there may be nothing wrong with your AirPods at all— they just need a good cleaning.
At the end of the stem of each AirPod is a microphone. These mics are pointing down toward your mouth, and they are the primary way your AirPods pick up your voice.
If the holes at the end of one or both pods get clogged or covered over (often with dust or earwax), you’re going to have problems with muffled sound.
By the way, there’s a second microphone in each earbud, located higher up in the earpiece. Apple uses these secondary microphones to detect ambient noise, which it then rejects, making your voice clearer on calls.
This microphone isn’t very accessible, so if there’s an actual mechanical problem with it, you’re going to need to head to an Apple Store for repair or replacement. The good news here is that it’s very rare for this microphone to have problems since it’s sealed inside. And if it does have issues, they probably aren’t going to result in muffled audio. Instead, you’d likely be fielding complaints about tons of background noise when you speak.
(If you reach the end of this guide and still haven’t resolved the problem, that’s when to start considering whether you’re dealing with a mechanical problem.)
How to Fix This Problem
If you suspect your microphone holes are gunked up, a little cleaning could do the trick. Proceed carefully, though, and never forcefully stick anything up those holes, or you’ll risk damaging components inside the AirPods.
Wipe off the exterior with a clean, dry cloth. Usually you’ll be able to un-gunk the mesh at the end of the stems using Blu Tack or sticky tack style products: just press some sticky tack onto the mesh end (gently) and then pull to remove.
Last — and this is a little gross — you can try sucking on the ends of your AirPods. Plenty of people do this and swear by it, but of course whatever junk is clogging up your mic(s) will end up in your mouth. Maybe have some mouthwash on hand for afterward!
If you’ve tried this and it didn’t work or you’re sure your AirPods aren’t dirty, move on to step 3.
3. Your Microphone Settings Are Incorrect
AirPods are fantastic in terms of convenience because of the way you can seamlessly use one bud, both buds, or even share them between two people. Most of the time, whatever you do just works.
But occasionally, your AirPods might get confused about what’s going on with the two (er, four) microphones related to all this switching around.
There’s a setting (accessible in your iPhone settings) that can manually set your microphone to prefer one earbud or the other. If you’re wearing your left bud and the right one’s in the case, that microphone is going to sound pretty muffled.
How to Fix This Problem
Take the other earbud out of the case.
No, but seriously, there’s a settings-based solution to this one. Open your iPhone’s Settings app and go to Bluetooth. You’ll see your AirPods listed there as the connected Bluetooth device.
Click the encircled “i” to get to your AirPods menu. In there, you should see options to either use the microphones automatically or force them to either the left or right bud.
Whatever the setting is, switch it to something else and test if that mode works normally. Then go back to automatic mode (with both buds in your ears) and test again.
For most people and situations, you’ll be back in business by now. If you’re still having trouble, it’s time for a full AirPods reset.
4. Your AirPods Need to Be Reset
Depending on how you look at it, resetting your AirPods could either be the very first or the very last thing you try. We put it last because most people don’t know how to do it, and there are quite a few steps involved.
Resetting can be useful if your AirPods aren’t charging or if they’re having any other weird or unexplained problems.
How to Reset Your AirPods
To reset your AirPods, first put them in their charging case for at least 30 seconds.
Next, open the lid of the case and leave it open — but don’t take out either AirPod.
Now, on your iPhone (or iPad), navigate back to that Settings -> Bluetooth area and click that encircled “i” again. (They may show up in the lower list of devices; follow the same step.)
Next, you want to choose “Forget This Device.”
Now your case lid should still be open. On the back of the case there’s a small, unlabeled button with a ring light around it. That’s the setup button. Hold it down for at least 15 seconds until you see the status light flash amber and then go to white.
Now your AirPods have officially been reset. You’ll need to reconnect to them as if they were a new device, and any settings you’d changed will be lost. (You’ll just need to redo those settings.)
If you’ve tried all four of these methods and your AirPods are still not functioning properly, it’s probably time to head down to your nearest Apple Store or third-party authorized repair shop. While defects and all-out mechanical failures are rare, they can and do happen. We hope you’ll be able to get your AirPods back up and running using this guide, but Apple Support is always available if you need further or in-depth assistance.