Apple is using a new voice codec with AirPods

Call quality over Bluetooth can be terrible depending on the codec being used in the HFP (Hands Free Profile). That is why AirPods might sound acceptable on an iPhone but terrible on a PC. It is also one of the reasons for vendors of business headsets recommend using their dongles with PCs, besides integration into softphones. Listen to these two samples:

Low quality Bluetooth codec CVSD
High quality Bluetooth codec mSBC

When I started helping people sound reasonable on Audio Social Networks like Clubhouse, we quickly addressed this issue. Marco Pfeiffer wrote a piece titled “Apple implemented the biggest improvement to bluetooth audio since 2009” which talks about improvements for the AirPods 3 which might also apply to AirPods Max and AirPods Pro. This is what the new Apple codec sounds like:

New Apple codec AAC-ELD

This is an encoding done from an existing recording. It does not take the placement of microphones at your ear into account. Real calls will never sound like this because the voice pickup itself is lacking.

I do not have AirPods 3, but I can test with AirPods Max and AirPods Pro. My AirPods Max sound OK’ish, but the AirPods Pro seem to be partially broken by now. I got mine at the product launch and they make all kinds of weird noises when I put my fingers on the left one. They also report they no longer fit my ears.

Recording myself with AirPods Max
Recording myself with the AirPods Pro
Recording myself with Jabra Evolve2 75

I don’t think that the Jabra sounds any worse, without having access to the Apple codec. In any case, do yourself a favor and record yourself on your PC, Mac or smartphone in a place you usually talk with others. You may be surprised, in a bad way.