AirPods Getting a Cool New Feature That Sony Earbuds Already Have
With a firmware upgrade, the AirPods Pro 2 are getting a new 'conversation awareness' mode along with an adaptive audio mode that mixes noise canceling with transparency.
David CarnoyExecutive Editor / Reviews
Executive Editor David Carnoy has been a leading member of CNET's Reviews team since 2000. He covers the gamut of gadgets and is a notable reviewer of mobile accessories and portable audio products, including headphones and speakers. He's also an e-reader and e-publishing expert as well as the author of the novels Knife Music, The Big Exit and Lucidity. All the titles are available as Kindle, iBooks, Nook e-books and audiobooks.
ExpertiseMobile accessories and portable audio, including headphones, earbuds and speakersCredentials
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At WWDC 2023, Apple may not have announced any new AirPods models but it did reveal that the AirPods will be getting some new features this fall with the release of iOS 17, iPadOS 17 and TVOS 17. These include an adaptive audio mode that mixes noise canceling with transparency and a "conversation awareness" mode that automatically lowers the volume of what you're listening to as soon as you start talking.
When you engage adaptive audio, your AirPods will muffle out unwanted loud outside noise like a leaf blower, while also filtering in sounds you should hear such as a car horn. When activated, if you encounter someone while you're listening to audio and want to have a conversation, you can just start talking and the volume of your audio is automatically lowered and your AirPods enter transparency mode. After you stop talking, the volume of whatever you were listening to returns to its previous level.
If that sounds familiar, it's because conversation awareness is very similar to a feature found on Sony earbuds and headphones called Speak-to-Chat mode.
Apple also noted that it's improved noise reduction during calls and the AirPods' auto-switching feature, making it faster and more reliable. That feature allows you to hear the audio coming from whatever Apple device you're using at the moment, then quickly switch over to another Apple device (on your iCloud account) and hear its audio on your AirPods. It's essentially advanced multipoint Bluetooth pairing -- but just for Apple devices.
It's unclear what AirPods will get the new adaptive audio and conversation awareness modes. We presume only AirPods with active noise canceling like the AirPods Pro 2 and AirPods Max will be able to get adaptive audio, while the AirPods 3rd Generation won't (but the AirPods 3 could get the conversation awareness feature). We also don't know yet whether the new feature will be available for legacy models like the original AirPods Pro. But we'll updated this story as soon as we get more details.