What to Do If Your Headphones or Speakers Sound Terrible

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There’s no feeling like turning on your new high-end speakers or noise-cancelling headphones, only to hear static-filled music. But before you start blaming your audio peripherals, it might be the computer or phone that’s to blame. If your audio has a bad case of the snap-crackle-pops, here are a few steps to troubleshoot the problem.


Lower the Volume

You might think that your new speaker is the bee’s knees, but if it’s distorting at loud volumes, it might just not have enough power for the space. Turn the volume down and see if the music still distorts—if it sounds okay, your speaker is probably underpowered for the volume you require. If you still have issues at low volumes, then read on.


Check Your Source Files

Next in the category of “obvious but necessary” tips: check the quality of the music itself. If you’re playing a song you bought from iTunes or Amazon, you can be reasonably assured it’s decent quality, but if you’re listening to an 80kbps MP3 downloaded from KaZaA in the early 2000s—or worse, streaming a YouTube video of a song someone else downloaded from KaZaA in the early 2000s—there are no settings you can tweak to make it sound good. 

Grab songs from sources you trust, and if you’re using a streaming service like Spotify or Pandora, make sure you’ve cranked the audio-quality setting as high as it goes for the best sounding music.


Look for Dirt or Water Damage

If your problems seem tied to that specific speaker or set of headphones, focus your attention on that hardware. It’s possible they have water damage, dirt, or other debris keeping the speakers from producing clear audio. This is especially common when you’re trying to listen on your phone’s built-in speaker, so grab a toothpick and clean out any gunk you see. 

If you dropped your phone in water or ran your earbuds through the washing machine, you may be stuck buying a new pair. Nothing lasts forever—I even had a set of speakers that started making popping sounds, only to find smoke coming out of the subwoofer as they were singing their final song.


Plug Into a Different Port (If You Can)

Desktop PCs aren’t always known for having the best audio quality on the front headphone jack. (That’s why many audiophiles use separate digital-to-analog converters, or DACs.) If things sound less than stellar, try plugging your headphones into the speaker jack on the back of your PC to see if that improves anything. 

If you’re using a laptop, you won’t have another headphone jack, but you could try plugging into the 3.5mm-to-USB-C dongle that came with your phone and plugging that into a USB port to see if you notice any differences. The problem could also be with the jack itself, or with the audio drivers governing the PC’s onboard audio. (Try reinstalling the drivers to see if that helps.) 

If you’re using Bluetooth headphones, try a wired pair, and vice versa. Or, if your Bluetooth headphones support plugging in via wired mode, try that as well to see whether the problem is specific to Bluetooth or the headphones themselves.


Disable Phone Calls on Your Headphones

Let’s assume everything is good on the hardware side: now it’s time to dig into your audio settings. If your earbuds double as a headset for phone calls, it’s possible your device is sending audio using the inferior phone call path rather than treating them as high-quality stereo headphones.

In Windows, right-click the sound icon in the bottom-right corner of the taskbar and select Sounds. Here, you’ll see a list of all the speakers, headphones, and unused audio ports on your machine. Look for the device with a green checkmark—the one you’re currently using—and make sure it’s the correct one. 

If you’re using a set of wireless headphones with a built-in microphone, it may produce two entries in this list: one as a stereo set of headphones, and one as a hands-free headset designed for phone calls. If you play music through the virtual device designed for phone calls, it’s going to sound terrible, so select different items here and click the Set Default button to see if one option sounds better than another. (You can also disable the communications headset option completely.)

This is a common issue on Windows machines, but less so on phones, from my experience. But it doesn’t hurt to check: on Android, you can go into your Bluetooth settings, click the settings cog next to the headphones in question, and turn calls off to see if that solves the problem. On an iPhone, click the “i” next to your headphones in Bluetooth settings and change the Device type to see if that helps as well.


Adjust Your Equalizer and Audio Enhancements

Many phones and PCs have some audio “enhancements” you can add to your music, though these can often do more harm than good. If you’re hearing distortion, make sure all of these are turned off.

In Windows, head back to the Sound Settings as described above. Then, select the device from the list and click the Properties button. Go through the tabs here and turn off any sort of enhancements—from Spatial Sound to Bass Boost, and anything else you see. All of these things can, in theory, cause distortion in the audio. You might even try turning Exclusive Mode on or off, to see if that solves any of your issues.

If your problems are on an iPhone rather than a computer, head to Settings > Music and make sure the EQ is turned off. Do the same for the music app you’re using to listen. Android phones will have similar settings in your music app of choice, though some phones—like Samsung Galaxy devices—may have other audio enhancements in their settings, so dig around and search for features like Dolby Atmos, Equalizers, Adapt Sound, and other improvements that could be causing problems.

You may also want to change the audio codec used for Bluetooth devices: in Android, go back to your Bluetooth settings, click the cog next to your headphones, and if given the option, try the higher-quality AAC or aptX instead of the default setting. (Some phones may call it “HD Audio.”)


Disconnect Other Bluetooth Devices

I’ve noticed a strange issue with Bluetooth on some of the phones I’ve owned in the past. In random cases, my music will sound distorted if I have more than one Bluetooth device connected at a time, like another nearby pair of earbuds, or my smartwatch.

If you disconnect the secondary device, you may find your audio comes in cleaner to your main Bluetooth headphones. (If you’re using a smartwatch, you might be able to solve this by going into the watch’s settings and turning off call and media audio.)

Many of these “solutions” are not ideal, but they’ll at least help you work around the problem until you can find a more permanent, workable option. These are also far from the only causes of distortion—there are so many phones and PCs out there that any number of hardware issues, software bugs, or driver quirks could produce the same behavior. But if you’re lucky, these steps will at least help you narrow down the source so you can focus your attention on the right device.

New iPad Mini, iPad Pro, iPhone SE, AirPods, AirPods Pro for 2021: Apple Rumors Are Flying

What does Apple have in the works for 2021? Rumors are popping up all over in advance of the tech giant’s April 20 “Spring Loaded” event. Will we see new iPads, an AirPods refresh, or an unexpected iPhone SE update? Before we hop into the details, let’s cover the basics.


Apple’s Spring Event Is Set for April 20

March is historically a busy month for Apple. In 2018, it announced the iPad with Apple Pencil at an education-themed event in Chicago. In 2019, Apple Arcade, Apple Card, Apple News+, and Apple TV+ made their debuts at the Steve Jobs Theater. Last year, in lieu of a splashy event, the company quietly announced iPad Pro, MacBook Air, Mac mini, and Magic Keyboard updates.

For months, there has been a battle between journalists and influencers over just when Apple would hold its first event of 2021. Jon Prosser initially said an Apple event would be held on March 16, 2021, but that date came and went without any news from Cupertino. He then tweeted the event would happen on March 23; that prediction cost him his eyebrows. Meanwhile, Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman said the event was on the books for April all along.

After months of false starts and inaccurate predictions, Apple sent out invitations, and the virtual event—with the tagline “Spring Loaded”—will be held on April, 20, 2021, at 1 p.m. EDT.


AirPods 3

Ready for a new spin on AirPods? Well, Apple is reportedly working on a substantial redesign for its next-generation AirPods. 

Apple’s AirPods are long overdue for an update.

The new AirPods will reportedly sport shorter stems along with a smaller case. We also wouldn’t be surprised if Apple adds a magnetic ring for MagSafe charging, though it may be a premium option. Though the upcoming AirPods will likely have a new wireless chip, ANC is probably not in the cards. We also don’t expect spatial audio to make an appearance. 

Pricing is expected to increase from $159 to $199 for the next-generation AirPods. It looks like we may have to wait a bit longer for an update, however, since MacRumors reports Apple will not begin mass production of AirPods 3 until the summer.


AirPods Pro 2

It’s been a few years since Apple first released its AirPods Pro, and it looks like we may be getting an update. Last year, Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman reported that an updated version of the AirPods Pro was scheduled for 2021 and would do away with the stem to look more like other true wireless earbuds on the market. That means the case will likely be slimmed down; 9to5Mac suggests it may magnetically attach to MagSafe chargers. 

MacOtakara, a popular Japanese site for Apple leaks, reports Apple will introduce the latest AirPods in April. This seems on track, but we’re not certain Apple will update AirPods Pro in the coming weeks since third-generation AirPods will likely be announced with the next iPhone, and the fact Apple just started a new AirPods Pro ad campaign.


AirTags

It looks like Apple may finally announce AirTags, its long-awaited long competition to Tile and other tracking devices.

AirTags use Bluetooth connectivity to find lost devices and will be integrated into Apple’s Find My app. They’re reportedly small, round, white discs with a small Apple logo. If you’re too far away from your device to connect via Bluetooth, you can activate Lost Mode for the AirTag, and you’ll be notified any time another iPhone gets close enough to pick up the signal. It also looks like Apple will provide a way for users who find an AirTagged product to contact its owner.

In April, Apple announced that a selection of third-party products now work with the Find My app; we think this announcement comes in advance of an AirTags announcement on April 20. Pricing is rumored to be $25-$35 per AirTag, though we think Apple will offer multi-packs at a discount.


Apple TV (6th Generation)

Let’s face it: Apple TV is way overdue for an update: The last refresh was in 2017. Multiple sources say the next-generation Apple TV has been ready for nearly a year. A product called Apple TV Gen X also made an appearance in Target’s inventory system last year.

According to Israeli tech site The Verifier, the upcoming Apple TV will have major hardware and software updates. We’re really hoping the remote gets an upgrade as well; if you’ve ever used an Apple TV remote you’ll know what we’re talking about.

The new Apple TV is rumored to ship with an A12 and a few storage configurations. The base model will feature 64GB of storage and it’s likely a 128GB variant will be available as well. It’s also rumored to have a U1 processor for tasks like spatial awareness and spatial audio on AirPods Pro and AirPods Max.

The updated hardware provides a few hints as to software features Apple may announce with the next-generation Apple TV or shortly after at WWDC. Expect to see improvements to HomeKit automation and possibly multi-room networking and a Handoff feature when switching rooms. Also expect to see significant improvements to the overall gaming experience when using Apple Arcade. There’s also a chance a new Kid’s Mode and the addition of Screen Time make an appearance.

There’s a good chance we’ll see an update announced at Apple’s Spring Loaded event. A recent tvOS beta suggests an improved remote and FaceTime integration, leading us to think the announcement will come sooner rather than later. If pricing from Target’s inventory system is accurate, the upcoming Apple TV will come in at $179 for the 64GB model.


iPad (9th Generation)

Like iPhones, the basic iPad is updated every year, and this year should be no exception. Rumors for the entry-level iPad are all over the place. We’ve done our best to find credible sources, but you’ll want to take everything with a grain of salt. 

In a research note to investors, Apple analyst Ming Chi Kuo writes that the upcoming iPad will have a 10.2-inch mini-LED display. We believe Apple will ship the tablet with an A13 chipset and increase default storage to 64GB. 

An iPad Air-style redesign is less likely, though bezels may be minimized and the chassis may be thinner. There are a few reports stating the iPad will have USB-C charging, but all appear to originate from a suspended Twitter account, and we’re pretty confident that a Lightning port is in order. We don’t expect MagSafe charging on iPads or an updated Apple Pencil in 2021. 

For the past few years, Apple has announced the iPad in September, and that seems likely to happen this year. Even if the iPad ships with a mini-LED display, we don’t think prices will increase; Apple’s mini-LED order is expected to increase substantially in the second half of the year, and the company is working to bring costs down.


iPad mini (6th Generation)

Apple waited four years before refreshing the iPad mini in 2019. It looks like the wait will be cut in half for the sixth-generation update.

The next-gen iPad mini may look a lot different.

MacOtakura claims the new iPad mini will have a slightly larger, 8.4-inch display. We don’t believe Apple will increase its overall footprint, so there’s a good chance it will get the same redesign treatment as the current iPad Air. It’s a drastic but overdue change that would result in minimized screen bezels, a squared body, and a side-mounted Touch ID scanner. 

As for hardware, Chinese tech site MyDrivers states the iPad mini will ship with an updated A13 processor. We think there’s a possibility of a slight bump in RAM, but storage options are unlikely to change. There’s also a good chance Apple will update the 8MP rear camera on the current model to 12MP for 2021. 

The iPad mini was reportedly on the books for the first half of the year. In April, however, Reuters reported that display component shortages forced Apple to push its release back to the second half of the year. Expect a slight price bump, since Apple will likely use a mini-LED display and may offer a 5G option. 


iPad Pro (5th Generation)

Yearly iPad Pro updates are almost a given, and they’re typically announced in the spring. Despite reports of components shortages, it looks like we will see the next gen iPad Pro on April 20. Details are still pretty scarce, but we can make some educated guesses based on historical patterns, patents, and supply chain news. 

Bloomberg reports the iPad Pro will feature Apple M1 chips, a Thunderbolt port, Updated cameras are on the update list as well. The overall form factor is unlikely to change much this year, though Apple will reportedly use a mini-LED display for better battery life and to make additional room for components.

5G connectivity will likely be an option for 2021. We also expect to see MagSafe charging make an appearance, since Apple used an iPad Pro render as an example of the technology in a patent that published in 2020.

We wouldn’t be surprised to see a small price bump this year to account for more expensive components. 5G connectivity will almost certainly come at a premium.


iPhone SE 3 

Last year’s long-awaited iPhone SE refresh was a massive success, but there are still rumors the midrange smartphone will be updated again for 2021. There aren’t a lot of details on the upcoming iPhone just yet, but we can make some predictions based on supply chain information, consumer pain points, and historical data. 

Expect a much thinner box for the iPhone SE 3.

The biggest rumor at the moment is that the iPhone SE will have a 5.5-inch display. We think Apple may reduce the display bezels and incorporate a side-mounted Touch ID sensor on the phone in order to make room for the larger display while minimizing costs and changes to the phone’s overall dimensions. 

The iPhone SE will likely have an Apple A14 chipset with the same 64GB base storage configuration as the current model. We expect a larger-capacity battery this year as well, since many users found battery life on the current iPhone SE to be underwhelming. 

5G is the big question for the iPhone SE. We think it may limit connectivity to sub-6GHz, but there’s a chance 5G will be an upgrade option, with LTE serving as the standard. 

MacOtakara clams Apple will announce the iPhone SE 3 in April. That falls in line with last year’s announcement. But Kuo offers conflicting information and says we won’t see the refresh before July. Either way, pricing is not expected to change. 


There’s More to Come

We’re focused on mobile products, but Apple has plenty of other surprises in store for 2021. Check out our hardware coverage if you want to learn more about all the new M1-powered computers that should debut later this year.

Mitel MiCloud Connect – Review 2021

We reviewed an earlier version Mitel’s cloud PBX several years ago and it seems time has been good to this business voice over IP (VoIP) platform. The company says Mitel MiCloud Connect focuses on delivering the best voice experience for its customers and bases this claim on its long years of building PBXes for small to midsized businesses (SMBs), though its design shows it’s definitely focusing on midsized or even larger organizations. The platform tries to replicate and improve on the features of traditional, on-premises PBXes. This takes the form of new capabilities, like an easier interconnect between remote offices, though it takes a toll when it comes to feature integration and cost.

For example, even working as a cloud service, MiCloud Connect likes a central office target, mainly because it wants the more robust underlying network. That could be a negative for less sophisticated SMBs. It might also be a problem since working from home is looking like a permanent trend for many companies. Remote work means IT pros will be dealing with a multitude of home networks, not just a single, large office LAN.

Even once you start sending employees back to the office, MiCloud will prove a little pricey compared to other SMB offerings. With so many companies forced to support a large number distributed workers, these drawbacks keep it slightly behind our business VoIP Editors’ Choice winners, Intermedia Unite for small business phone service and RingCentral Office for larger organizations.

Mitel MiCloud Connect: Pricing and Plans

One area where Mitel’s more traditional PBX roots show clearly is pricing. While it does have a desktop softphone client as well as dedicated apps for Apple iOS and Google Android, the service strongly pushes customers towards the physical SIP desktop handsets for which it’s a reseller. Since the exact number of handsets and how they’re configured will vary per customer, there’s no transparent pricing tiers available on the Mitel website like those we found with most of its competitors. Additionally, tacking on fifty or a hundred handsets to your initial installation costs and your ongoing subscription rate will definitely have an impact on overall price.

However, a company spokesperson did share some basic cost data that you can use as a starting point. Mitel has a basic plan, called Essentials, that starts out at $20.99 per user per month. This includes telephony plus collaboration and conferencing capabilities. The next stage is the Premier plan, which costs $26.59 per user per month and adds customer relationship management (CRM) integration plus call recording. Finally, the Elite tier costs $38.49 per user per month and adds top-tier features, like call archiving plus additional operator functions.

Those prices put MiCloud Connect in the middle-to-high pricing bracket when compared to the other competitors we reviewed, depending on which tier you buy. However, those costs could go up once you add desktop handsets, professional services for installation, and any of the other features Mitel sells as extra-cost add-ons, like custom reporting or high-end video conferencing.

The MiCloud Connect User Experience

The MiCloud Connect softphone app is nice and simple on the desktop. According to the company, this is mainly because the app was built using a mobile-first design, so the desktop app is meant to resemble the mobile user interface (UI) as much as possible. Once you’re signed up with Mitel, you’ll have download access to both an Apple macOS and Microsoft Windows 10 desktop app.

Once you’ve installed the desktop client, you’ll find a minimal mode that displays links for Contacts, Recent Calls, Voicemails, Teamwork, and Events. Terms like “Conference Bridge” pay homage to Mitel’s PBX roots. Any user can host a conference call using a dial-in number or a web link. User defaults, like which devices they’d like to ring, are configured by clicking on the gear icon.

The mobile app has basically the same features as the desktop UI. You can even start a call on your desktop handset and then flip it to your mobile device should you have to move while still in conversation. The process is just a simple keypad sequence that works in either direction.

Mitel’s online training provides a comprehensive set of videos to help get administrators and users up to speed quickly. Having a robust selection of training materials will make the onboarding process easier for your staff. We went through the Visual Call Flow Editor training and found it to be well laid out with sections covering all the steps required to create or modify an existing call flow. Using this tool we had an easy time creating a call routing configuration requiring multiple steps in just a few minutes.

System Administration

While it might be focused on replicating on-prem PBX features, Mitel has done a good job designing its web-based administration portal. This has a nicely organized series of function menus and dashboards that are both intuitive and usable with a minimal click count. That said, it’s a little sparse when compared to other products aimed at larger organizations, like Vonage Business Cloud or RingCentral Office.

On the call quality side, we had no connection issues during our evaluation. Then again, our test network was small and dedicated to the testing process. We did notice that the Mitel administrator portal provides relatively few tools for diagnosing and fixing any network-related issues, like jitter, which can definitely impact call quality on larger networks. You’ll need to rely on your own network monitoring tools to detect those issues should they crop up, and if they do, you’ll likely be on the phone with Mitel customer support to fix them.

Still, as far as enabling or disabling features goes, the web portal did a good job when we were setting up our test instance. All user-related functions, such as changing permissions or roles, happens through the web portal. The Phone Manager role is assigned to someone who’ll be responsible for day-to-day system management, and this gives them full access to all MiCloud features. However, these primarily consist of user management, though it also adds MiCloud’s more advanced call routing and reporting features.

We found that reporting is focused mainly on phone functionality with stats like the percentage of calls answered by a person instead of an IVR or simply voicemail. You can also measure total talk time for both inbound and outbound calls among other things. You can export these reports as Excel or CVS files, and if you “subscribe” to one, the system will automatically generate and email it to you on a periodic basis. As part of your web dashboard, Mitel keeps this analytics data for 25 months and then deletes it. That means you’ll need to export your data regularly should you need it for a longer time.

The real downside to Mitel’s reporting is customization. While you can get a customized report, you can’t build it yourself. You’ll need to sit down with your Mitel sales or professional service representative and build the new report together. Mitel will then incorporate it into your account, and charge you extra for the process. Having a customizable reporting template would be a boon here, even a limited one like you get with Dialpad.

Mentioned above, the MiCloud Connect Visual Call Flow Editor is one of the more innovative features of the system. Much like RingCentral Office’s Visual IVR editor, you’ll find a step-by-step UI that lets you add whatever system components you need to build your own, automated response system. This makes it easier to implement some of the more sophisticated capabilities, like a Pickup Group, which just requires an Extension List component. You’ll find a total of nine call flow components for features like groups and schedules, the Auto Attendant, and more.

Mitel Teamwork and Integrations

Mitel Teamwork is a collaboration platform that’s a separate app, but part of the MiCloud Connect platform, so you can opt to enable the integration or not as your needs dictate. Designed similarly to RingCentral’s Glip, Teamwork isn’t quite as robust, but it does add all your basic collaboration features. The app provides direct and group chat plus a task or to-do list for handing out and tracking assignments to team members. You can attach and share files for other team members, and conduct web meetings and video conferencing, too. Together that’s a nice set of team-oriented capabilities. However, we found Teamwork to be missing some key capabilities around granular team thread organization and more advanced collaboration features, like whiteboarding tools or a meeting assistant. So while it nicely rounds out a VoIP platform, this isn’t a one-to-one replacement for a dedicated team messaging app, like Slack.

On the more traditional side, MiCloud does have an email-to-fax feature that lets you send and receive faxes via email. There’s also a browser extension for Google Chrome so you can integrate MiCloud with Google Workspace for email and scheduling. This is a fully bi-directional integration, so you can do things like search through both your Google Workspace and Mitel contacts when scheduling. Mitel Connect for Chrome also gives you the option to add a phone bridge when scheduling a conference call.

Mitel also has a freely available plug in for Microsoft Outlook, but this isn’t quite as deep as the one for Google Workspace. It allows a click-to-dial capability that lets users dial an Outlook contact on their Mitel-provided phone even while they’re inside Outlook.

A PBX in the Cloud

Overall, Mitel delivers a very functional VoIP system, but one that feels a lot like a traditional, on-premises PBX. That can certainly be valuable, but probably more so to larger organizations that are used to what a PBX can offer rather than smaller businesses that have never used anything other than VoIP. While it covers all the basics a PBX administrator might be seeking, more work on its productivity integrations, web-customizable reporting, as well as more transparent pricing are all things that would make MiCloud Connect more competitive with other small business VoIP platforms.

If you’re a buyer for a larger business, however, Mitel MiCloud Connect has a lot going for it. Good support for physical handsets, options for higher-end features like video conferencing for smart meeting rooms, and especially the company’s attention to compliance requirements, like HIPAA, all combine to make this a solid contender for midsized and larger organizations.