Apple popularised a feature called “transparency mode” in their tight-fitting AirPods Pro earbuds. The feature was later added to Apple’s pricey over-ear headphones, too. So what exactly does transparency mode do, and how do you use it?
Transparency Mode on the AirPods Pro and Max
The AirPods Pro is Apple’s first pair of noise-canceling earbuds. Active noise cancelation (or ANC for short) uses microphones to monitor the ambient noise around you. The earbuds then do their best to mask these frequencies or “cancel” out the noise.
Noise-canceling earbuds are usually of the in-ear variety since a better seal with your ear means that less noise will get in passively. When you turn off ANC, you hear a lot more noise making its way into your ears, particularly low frequencies that travel further, like traffic noise or an engine hum.
Silicon ear tips are quite good at passively blocking noise, which means that it can still be hard to hear the world around you, even when you turn off ANC. This is where transparency mode comes in.
Using the microphones already located on the AirPods Pro and AirPods Max, Apple’s solution pipes the outside world into your ears at a comfortable volume. It does this with an imperceptible delay, which was an issue with an earlier implementation of this technique for the original AirPods called Live Listen.
How to Use Transparency Mode on AirPods
You can switch between ANC and transparency mode on Apple’s AirPods Pro by squeezing and holding an earbud (the default configuration), or by pressing the noise control button on the AirPods Max. You can leave transparency mode on all the time, but it doesn’t necessarily work well this way.
To be able to hear people talk, for example, when paying for an item in a shop, you’ll probably need to pause music even at moderate volumes to hear what’s going on. If you’re listening to spoken-word audio, like a podcast or a YouTube video, it’s much easier to hear people without pausing the content first.
Some AirPods owners swear by transparency mode as a safety feature, since it allows them to enjoy music and other content at low volumes without being oblivious to threats around them, such as when walking at night or using public transport alone.
Best of all, you don’t need an iPhone to take advantage of the feature, as both ANC and transparency mode work with Android (or with any other Bluetooth audio device you connect them to).
Other Earphones Also Feature Transparency Mode
While AirPods Pro introduced many users to transparency mode, many other wireless earbuds now support the feature, including the Jabra Elite 75t and the Sony WF-1000XM4, two of our top picks for the best wireless earbuds for iPhone and iPad users.