Whenever possible, I prefer to use FaceTime Audio or WhatsApp instead of making regular phone calls. The people I call see it like a regular phone call, but the audio quality is leaps and bounds better than a good old-fashioned phone call.
But! Turns out I didn’t even get my internet calls right. Today I learned that there’s a new feature buried in Control Center that will instantly improve the quality of your microphone during calls, whether you’re only using audio or video.
It’s called Voice Isolation, and it works on most iPhones, iPads, and Macs in recent years, as long as you’re running iOS 15 or macOS Monterey. (Anything that supports spatial audio also seems to support voice isolation.) It’s oddly hard to find, and you can only access the setting if you’re already in a call: you swipe down from the top-right corner ( (or click in the top-right corner on a Mac) to go to Control Center, then tap the button that says Microphone Mode. By default, it’s set to Standard, but there are two other options: Voice Isolation and Wide Spectrum. Wide Spectrum lets the other person actually hear your call more Background noise, which I find useful when you’re holding your phone up at a concert, but mostly sounds like a terrible thing to the other people on the line. But language isolation? Voice isolation is where the magic happens.
I had no idea that a) Voice Isolation was a feature available on the new iPhones/Airpods and b) it worked so well. On the other end, it’s amazing – you hear nothing but the person you’re talking to. Surprised it doesn’t turn on automatically!
— can duruk (@can) May 16, 2022
Basically, when you enable voice isolation, your device starts to aggressively process the audio coming into your microphone to remove background noise. When I turned on the setting on my iPhone 12, my dog barking 20 feet away completely disappeared — and with it almost all traffic noise. When I turned it on on my MacBook, the noise from both my laptop fan and keyboard input stopped completely.
In the process of isolating the voice, Apple seems to be bringing it closer too; There’s a lot less echo and room tone, making it sound like you’re holding your phone to your face even when you’re not. The downside is that your voice will definitely sound more processed, but it always sounds processed by apps like FaceTime or Zoom.
In my testing, there was a moment when two cars simultaneously revved their engines just a few feet from my location when the AI seemed overwhelmed, outputting complete silence for just half a second. But it’s not like you could have heard me over the roaring anyway, right? And in general, a bit more processing for a lot less background noise is an easy compromise for most calls.
There are only two issues with voice isolation. First, it’s not a universal setting, so you’ll need to turn it on in every app you use for calls. Second, it doesn’t work everywhere. Apple makes voice isolation available via an API on iOS, iPadOS, and macOS, but not every app supports it. On mobile devices, the track record is pretty good: Snapchat, WhatsApp, Slack, Signal, and Instagram all support it, but TikTok doesn’t. Zoom had it on iOS but not Mac, and as far as I can tell there’s no way to enable it for in-browser apps, ruling out Google Meet and a handful of others.
But the most glaring absence? Regular old phone calls. There aren’t any mic modes for phone calls at all, although that’s probably where you could use a bit of improvement the most. I’ve asked Apple why that is, but the company hasn’t commented.
To be fair, even in normal mode, Apple does some noise-cancelling work. If you ever want to test it, hold a fan up to your phone and listen as the device takes a few seconds to identify and suppress, but it doesn’t go far enough. I’ve now heard voice isolation, which means I’ve heard how better it can sound. And I want it everywhere, and I want it on all the time – for my sake and for everyone I speak to.