In short: Apple Music can sound bad in your car if the head unit’s “Loudness” is set too high, the iOS version is not up to date, or another app is using the microphone causing interference.
Are you wondering why Apple Music sounds so bad (crackly, distorted, or muffled) in your car? Here are 5 of the most common issues along with their solutions.
1. The head unit’s “Loudness” is set too high
One of the most common reasons that mess with the sound quality of Apple Music in the car is your audio head unit’s “Loudness” setting, especially when it is set too high.
The loudness control is simply intended to significantly boost low and high frequencies when listening at low levels so that the ear perceives an overall flatter sound pressure level. (Source)
“Loudness” compensation is intended to deal with the fact that the ear’s response at low and high frequencies drops off at lower sound levels — the bass and treble go away faster than the midrange when the volume is turned down. The loudness control deals with that by turning the bass and treble down less than the midrange.
In simpler terms, it’s sort of like, if you were to walk away from a concert performance, but the bass player and the flute player followed you.
To improve the sound quality of Apple Music via CarPlay, try turning the “Loudness” setting off, especially when the mids, bass, and treble are poorly controlled.
I’ve heard from plenty of CarPlay users that the “Loudness” setting does not affect Spotify’s sound quality, but makes anything that plays from Apple Music sound awful.
Leave the “Loudness” setting alone and turn up the bass and treble controls manually. If you’ve tried to lower the “Loudness” setting but Apple Music still sounds bad, turn the “Loudness” off.
2. iOS version is not up to date
Sometimes, it does not matter whether you are using Apple Music via Bluetooth or USB, both make the sound quality very bad. If this is the case, your iOS version may not be up to date.
To start, make sure your iPhone is up to date with the latest version of iOS. You can check for updates by going to Settings > General > Software Update.
As of the time of writing, the new iOS update (iOS 16) fixed this issue entirely. Once I’ve updated my iPhone X to the iOS 16.1, 2021 Ram 1500 Bighorn, there is no more cracking noise.
Before completing any updates, however, it is recommended to back up your iPhone. You can learn the difference between iCloud backups and backups you make using your computer here.
Remember, if Apple Music sounds bad in your car, but others with iPhones don’t experience the same issue, the most likely culprit is your iPhone which has an out-of-date iOS version.
3. Poor Bluetooth and/or USB connection
It really does kill the mood when the Apple Music sound quality is subpar. In most cases, fixing your car’s Bluetooth static problem is just a matter of simple troubleshooting.
Try forgetting the car stereo from the Bluetooth settings on your iPhone and forgetting the iPhone from the car settings. Then pair them again and see if the same issue occurs.
If your car supports wireless CarPlay, press and hold the voice command button on your steering wheel to set up CarPlay. Or, make sure your car is in wireless Bluetooth pairing mode.
You can find more information about reconnecting your iPhone here.
Alternatively, if you continue to experience issues with Apple Music when connected with a USB cable, make sure to test with an Apple-branded cable to see if the same issue occurs.
Buy a wireless CarPlay adapter
If for some reason you’ve reconnected the Bluetooth and/or USB cable but the sound quality is bad, then I suggest you buy an affordable $50 wireless CarPlay adapter, which works very well.
I simply bought this wireless CarPlay adapter. Now my iPhone connects to CarPlay wirelessly using Bluetooth and so far, it has been working very fast with no cracking sounds.
With the wireless CarPlay adapter, not only does the Apple Music work just fine, but I’m also able to talk just fine while my iPhone lays in the back charging. Maps work too.
It’s a simple fix that is worth $50.
I do agree that this is a workaround, not a solution. Apple customers shouldn’t be required to purchase 3rd party adapters to use Apple CarPlay. Apple needs to address the issue.
However, if you want to use your device properly right now and not suffer for who knows how long, then use this workaround because it gives you extra functionality and it works great.
4. Microphone interference
Is there another app in the background that is currently using your iPhone’s microphone? If yes, then that particular app could be causing interference, causing Apple Music to sound bad.
While Apple Music itself may not be using the microphone, another app could be the culprit. For example, Spotify could be using the microphone without you realizing it.
Go to your Settings, locate the app that is using the microphone, and turn it off.
You’ll immediately know the bad sound quality has something to do with the microphone when you adjust the volume, but your car displays a voice icon instead of a music symbol.
Remember, if the sound quality of Apple Music sounds muffled or produces low-quality audio, then chances are it is because an app is using your microphone at the same time.
5. Turn up the volume on the phone
One thing you can do to increase the quality of sound coming from Apple Music is to turn up the volume on your phone to the maximum, then adjust the volume from your car stereo.
This allows Apple Music to produce the maximum sound output and ensure the quality is at its best. If you don’t maximize the volume on the phone, the sound quality won’t be the best.
6. The head unit’s firmware is not up to date
You should also keep your head unit’s firmware up to date. If the issue does not come from your iPhone, it could be that you might need to install firmware updates for your stereo.
“Firmware,” generally speaking, refers to the programs that help a device do what it’s supposed to do. It is basically the background programming that runs the machine. (Source)
Car stereo navigation receiver’s firmware updates are important because it allows the manufacturer to make improvements to the programs that run the device (firmware).