If you’re in the market for high-end wireless earbuds, you’ve almost certainly seen a feature mentioned called “transparency mode.” This earbud innovation may also be known as “hear-through mode,” “augmented hearing,” or something similar.
What Is Earbud Transparency Mode?
When you’re wearing noise-canceling headphones, transparency mode allows you to still hear the world around you. It’s specifically designed for those times when being fully absorbed in a phone conversation, music, or your favorite podcast isn’t ideal. Here are some examples:
- You’re walking around a busy city. You still want to listen to music, but being able to better hear traffic, bike bells, and subway announcements is invaluable for safety’s sake.
- Someone starts talking to you in the coffee shop, and you want to determine if it’s a conversation worth taking out your earbuds for.
- You just want to check if you really did hear someone knocking on your door.
- You want to have your hands free for a short phone conversation without having to dig out your headphone case to store an earbud for a few minutes.
Transparency mode lets you hear as if you don’t have buds in your ears without actually taking them out. You certainly have that option, but it often isn’t necessary.
How Does Transparency Mode Work?
Headphones with active noise cancelation (ANC) use microphones on the outside of the headphone to pick up the noise around you. They then create an inverse wave to cut down the volume of the incoming sound.
Transparency mode operates by going halfway. It uses microphones to monitor the sound but then passes that sound through the headphone, just like any other audio.
How you operate the mode varies somewhat depending on the brand of headphones. For instance, on the AirPods Pro, you can toggle between no processing, noise-canceling, or transparency. With Bose, if you take out one earbud, the other automatically switches into full transparency. You can usually also enable transparency mode manually by cycling through the noise-canceling settings.
Which Earphones Have Transparency Mode?
Apple’s Airpods Pro certainly brought the idea of “transparency mode” to the mass market. However, several innovators in the space offered this feature (under different names) long before Apple did. For example, Nuheara debuted transparency mode technology in 2016.
You don’t need an iPhone to take advantage of the transparency mode feature, as both ANC and transparency mode work with Android (or with any other Bluetooth audio device). Here’s a list of several noise-canceling headphones (in alphabetical order) that feature transparency mode:
- Apple AirPods Max
- Apple AirPods Pro
- Bose QuietComfort Earbuds
- Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700
- Jabra Elite 75t
- Nuheara IQbuds2 MAX
- Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2
- Sony WH-1000XM4
Here’s a link to a review of the best wireless earbuds for iPhone and iPad users.
Transparency Mode: Final Thoughts
If you are a long-time devotee of noise-canceling headphones, and you also like to regularly wander through unfamiliar places, you will probably find transparency mode really helpful. If you decide you want this mode, first check if your current set of noise-canceling headphones already has it. If not, read the reviews to see how well each model works.
Stop noise-canceling the whole world. Try transparency mode instead.