Nobody can argue with the fact that Apple’s AirPods Pro is an incredible device, but several people have noticed an irritating thumping noise if they wear the earbuds while walking or running. Every step is accompanied by a thump over the AirPods. What causes the so-called AirPods Pro Thump, and can you do anything to solve it?
The most common reason your AirPods Pro makes thumping noises as you walk or run is occlusion. The AirPods seal your ear canal, which amplifies the impact of your steps through your bones and into your inner ear. Microphonics (also called the “stethoscope effect”) could also play a minor role.
People perceive audio differently. Some barely notice the thumping noise, while it’s so overwhelming for others that they can’t use earphones. The phenomenon isn’t limited to AirPods Pro; it happens on most modern earphones, especially high-end models that seal the ears. Causes are also varied, and so are the solutions. Let’s study the thumping noises and how to solve them.
Thumps In Your AirPods Pro Caused By The Occlusion Effect
The occlusion effect, combined with bone conduction, is the most common reason we hear thumps when we walk or run with our AirPods Pro.
What Is The Occlusion Effect?
The occlusion effect happens when an ear canal is blocked. Sound waves that usually escape through an open ear canal, but can’t, will rebound into the inner ear, distorting the sound we hear. It’s the same reason our voices sound strange when wearing earplugs or why we can hear ourselves chewing when we have a cold.
Why Does The Occlusion Effect Cause Thumping Noises?
The thumping noises we hear over AirPods Pro are a combination of the occlusion effect and bone conduction.
Bone conduction happens as sound waves vibrate through the bones in our bodies. Some dense materials are better at conducting sound than airwaves, and our bones are exceptionally effective soundwave conductors, to the extent that bone conduction is fast becoming a popular way to use earphones.
If you want to know more about this topic, you can read my article on Air vs. Bone Conduction Headphones
When we walk or run, the thumps travel up through our bones and into our inner ears through bone conduction. The seals that the AirPods Pro creates in our ear canals mean the sound is trapped inside, causing the loud and often irritating thumping noise.
You can see this phenomenon when you stick your fingers in your ears and walk around. Not only will your voice sound strange, but you will also be able to hear your footsteps very clearly.
Solving The Occlusion Effect
Solving the thumping problem can be tricky since it is related to an essential function of your AirPods Pro: noise filtering.
AirPods Pro earbuds have active noise cancellation but also employ passive noise filtering. This involves sealing your ear canal as completely as possible so that no external noise can enter. Unfortunately, the better your ears are closed against external noise, the less sound will be able to escape from within your ear canal, and the more pronounced the thumping will become.
Audio professionals are actively improving earphones to eliminate the occlusion effect, and active noise canceling won’t do it since the thumping noise isn’t coming from the outside. But the IEEE’s Signal Processing Society is developing a standard called Occlusion Effect Cancellation, which isn’t available yet, but hopefully will be soon.
Meanwhile, you can try two things to solve the thumping problem.
1. Clearing The Air Vents
Since earphones need air to do their work, the AirPods Pro earbuds have air vents, and some people experience that the thudding noise gets worse if these vents are clogged. Especially on the 1st Generation AirPods Pro, the vents would quickly get clogged with earwax. If you have the 1st Generation model, try to clean the vent with a cotton bud and some electronic cleaner.
From the 2nd Generation of AirPods Pro, Apple moved the air vents higher up, so it’s less of a problem, and many people find that the thumps aren’t too bad. However, as mentioned, people experience audio differently, so it still bothers some users.
2. Reducing The Seal
It may seem counter-intuitive since Apple recommends you use ear tips that create a tight fit, which also improves noise canceling. But if you reduce the seal in your inner ear, the occlusion effect won’t be as pronounced, and it could make the thumping noise much easier to handle.
Try to find ear tips slightly smaller than the ones you’re currently using and see if that helps. Some users also had good results when they switched from silicon to foam ear tips since these also don’t seal your ear canal entirely.
Note that this will reduce the efficiency of your AirPods Pro’s noise-canceling function.
Can The Stethoscope Effect Cause Thumps In AirPods Pro?
The stethoscope effect (also known as microphonics) is a remnant from wired earphones. As you move around while wearing wired earphones, the cord brushes up against clothing or other items around you, causing rubbing and thumping noises. There’s no way to eliminate it entirely, but you can reduce the effect, and most people learned to live with it.
The Stethoscope Effect In AirPods Pro
Since the AirPods Pro earbuds are wireless, microphonics don’t have much of an effect, but that doesn’t mean it’s eliminated entirely. The stethoscope effect can happen if any part of your earphones bumps against anything, even the inner ear.
You should check two things in particular:
1. How Loose Are The AirPods?
If your ear tips are too small, the AirPods Pro will move inside your inner ear and bump around, possibly causing thumping noises. If that’s the case, getting ear tips that are slightly larger might be a good idea, creating a tighter fit and reducing the amount of movement. Note that this could cause an increase in the occlusion effect, so you should experiment to find a balance between the issues.
2. Are The AirPods Bumping Against Something?
AirPods Pro earbuds are small, so they shouldn’t typically bump against anything. However, depending on the clothing or jewelry you wear, it could happen.
Likely candidates that could bump against your AirPods include:
- Hats or caps, depending on the type
- Frames of glasses or sunglasses (unlikely, but not impossible)
- High-collared jackets or coats
- Seatbelts, if you’re driving or commuting
It might be easiest to check for any of these factors first. Even though modern AirPods are designed to minimize the stethoscope effect, it could still happen, and it’s always easiest to solve simple things like clothing or jewelry.
To a great extent, the thumping noise over AirPods Pro is something we have to live with for now, as we can’t eliminate it entirely yet. We can do some things to minimize the impact, like cleaning air vents, changing ear tips, and ensuring that nothing can bump our earbuds. Let’s hope the IEEE will have Occlusion Effect Cancellation perfected and on the market soon.