Strange Things Are Happening with Phone Call Audio on the iPhone 13

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There appears to be something different about how Apple is handling audio for phone calls with the iPhone 13. It’s not yet clear exactly what that is, but numerous owners of the latest iPhone models have been reporting problems with call quality and at least one missing setting that was found on prior iPhone models.

We have no idea if these two things are related, but it’s interesting that both of these issues appear to be unique to the iPhone 13.

The iPhone 12 and older models don’t appear to have the same problems — even when running the same version of iOS 15.

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Phone Noise Cancellation

Firstly, it looks like Apple has removed the Phone Noise Cancellation setting for the iPhone 13, which is normally found under Settings > Accessibility > Audio/Visual.

Although this option is normally enabled by default, since it’s not present on the iPhone 13, it’s unclear whether that means those iPhone models don’t support noise cancellation for phone calls, or whether Apple just isn’t letting people turn it off.

This first came to light about two weeks ago in a Reddit thread. The original poster suggested that this is because the iPhone 13 lacks the extra mic used for noise cancellation. This supposition is actually incorrect, however; the microphone is there, but for whatever reason, the setting to control it is not.

iPhone 12 lineup and lower have a front mic that is used for noise cancellation. iPhone 13 doesn’t have it. No noise cancellation at all. If you’re on the street or in a loud bus, the person you’re calling won’t understand a thing. FaceTime has a new noise cancellation feature, called “Voice Isolation”. But it cannot be used for cellular calls.throwawayowl999 on Reddit

The person who posted the original thread suggests that Phone Noise Cancellation is disabled entirely, although others have chimed in to say that it seems to be working fine for them.

Unfortunately, this is one of these things that’s hard to determine, as Phone Noise Cancellation is for the other user, and it’s only necessary when you’re placing a call in a noisy environment, such as walking outdoors on a busy street.

Still, it’s a feature that Apple has offered since the iPhone 4 came along in 2010, so it’s extremely unusual that it would remove it from the iPhone 13. Several reports have suggested that it’s a bug that Apple is aware of, and it’s working on a fix, but the setting still appears to be missing in action in the iOS 15.3 beta released last month.

Call Quality Problems

Separately from the Noise Cancellation problem, many users are also reporting problems with call quality when using the iPhone 13 in speakerphone mode. This is especially of concern for FaceTime video calls, where the speakerphone is the default.

A thread started in October on the Apple Discussions forums has gained over 130 responses from others having the same difficulties.

I have an issue where my iphone 13 pro voice cuts out on speakerphone calls, not for me, but for the person on the other phone. Anyone else having this happen? The speaker grilles are clear.User Datindy on Apple Discussion Forums

Some responses have confused this issue with the Noise Cancellation issue — which Apple is aware of — but most of the people who are encountering the speakerphone problem have been frustrated by attempts to get it resolved, as Apple Support seems to keep denying the problem. In one case, Genius Bar staff blamed it on user backups.

I’ve been to the Genius Bar twice. Once I was asked what exactly I wanted from them. Told her, just a phone that work, preferably not worse than the older model I replaced it for. The second time the guy suggested all the things I had tried. Then said it’s the first he’s heard of it. So it must be my backup. I told him I didn’t restore from backup and he just shrugged. Super frustrating, User cpjames on Apple Discussion Forums

In another, Apple Support insisted the user provide a video to show the problem is occurring.

I’ve contacted Apple support several times and in the end they said can you prove it with a video that what you’re saying is really the case. They said to me that they found no hardware issue after running the diagnostic test. User Niaxi on Apple Discussion Forums

While it’s unclear what’s causing the problem, it really could be connected to the Noise Cancellation issue, since the problem isn’t with the speaker itself; iPhone 13 users can hear the other caller just fine, but they can’t be heard.

We suspect the problem here is related to the Acoustic Echo Cancellation (AEC) mechanisms built into iOS 15 and the iPhone 13. AEC is a feature that’s been used in speakerphones for decades to prevent a caller from hearing their voice echoed back to them, which would obviously be a big problem with the iPhone in speaker mode since the mic would otherwise pick up not only the user’s voice, but also the caller’s audio coming through the speaker.

Our guess is that Apple’s AEC algorithms for the iPhone 13 are being far too aggressive and filtering out more than they should be. This results in the user’s voice getting lost in the mix with the caller’s audio coming through the mic.

The good news is that this should be something Apple can fix in an iOS 15 update, and it may even be related closely enough to the missing Noise Cancellation that Apple can fix both at the same time.

For now, the only way to work around this problem is to avoid using the speakerphone. Normal phone calls using the earpiece work fine, as does using wired headphones or AirPods, and most other wireless Bluetooth headphones shouldn’t pose a problem either.

For FaceTime video calls, which use the speakerphone by default, some folks have also reported success switching the microphone mode to “Standard” or “Voice Isolation” instead of “Wide Spectrum.”

Unfortunately, Apple has no ETA on when a fix may be coming. We’ve reached out for comment, as have other publications, but so far the company has been quiet on the issue, but we’ll definitely keep an eye on it and post an update if we see any improvements in upcoming iOS 15.3 betas.

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