Tweak these settings for better-sounding phone calls

Summon all the help you can get to make your calls sound loud and clear.
Person holding phone to their ear in a phone call
There are several variables you can control to improve the quality of your phone calls. Zen Chung / Pexels

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You’ve probably had to ask  “Can you hear me?” more than once while on a phone call. One of the most vexing frustrations of the modern age is that, despite the rapidly evolving technological landscape, we still have a hard time clearly getting words across during a voice conversation.

Fortunately, your phone is here to help. While your device can’t magically improve your connection, it can help you get more out of it and deploy a few tricks to ensure that you and the person on the other end of the line can hear each other properly.

Phone settings to improve the audio quality of your calls

With iOS 16.4, Apple introduced a new voice isolation feature for phone calls. The smart tech prioritizes the sounds coming from your mouth and automatically blocks out the ambient noise around you. When on a call, activate it by swiping down from the top right corner of the screen to open the Control Center, and then tapping Mic Mode and Voice Isolation.

This feature doesn’t just work in calls made through the Phone app: You can access and apply it in the same way if you’re making voice calls in FaceTime, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, or any other calling app on your device.

[Related: How to make voice calls from any device]

When it comes to properly hearing the person you’re speaking to, there’s a volume slider on the Control Center as well, which you can also access simply by using the buttons on the side of your iPhone. Switching to speakerphone might help: On the call screen, choose Audio then Speaker. If you’ve got other Apple devices like iPads or Macs on the same Wi-Fi network and logged into the same Apple ID, you’ll be able to switch to these too via the Audio option on the call screen—a bigger device might have better mics and speakers than your iPhone.

You can also boost call volume on Android via the buttons on the side of your phone, and switching to speakerphone is as easy as on iOS: just tap Speaker on the call screen. If you’re using a Samsung Galaxy phone, you can also head to Settings, then Sounds and vibration, and Sound quality and effects to access two useful features: Dolby Atmos and Adapt sound. The former optimizes voice audio, while the latter tunes the sounds from the phone to your specific hearing abilities.

Pick the Adapt sound option, then tap Adapt sound for and make sure to select either Media and calls or Only calls to make sure you get the benefit on phone calls. Further down you can pick from one of the presets to better match your phone to your hearing—Under 30 years old, 30 to 60 years old, or Over 60 years old—or you can tap Test my hearing to create a customized profile through a series of tests your device runs through connected headphones.

Android has a similar feature to iOS’s Voice Isolation to reduce background noise on calls, but at the time of writing it’s only available with the latest Android 13 update and on the Pixel 7 and Pixel 7 Pro. To access it, head to the Sound & vibration section of Settings, and then tap Clear calling.

Audio quality doesn’t only depend on the settings or hardware on your phone. If cell reception in your area isn’t great, your call won’t sound crisp and could even drop out. If that’s the case, you can make calls over Wi-Fi instead, as long as your carrier supports it (most do). To turn it on on iOS go to Settings, select Phone, and then Wi-Fi Calling.  On Android, go to Settings and tap Network and Internet, Calls and SMS, and then the name of your carrier. Just make sure you’re already logged into whatever Wi-Fi network you want to use before placing the call.

Set up calling apps to improve audio quality in your calls

Most messaging apps can make voice calls now, and if you dig around in the settings for your favorite platform, you may find a few features to optimize the audio on it. We can’t cover every app here, but we can highlight a few.

Some apps have audio optimization on by default. For calls made through Zoom, for example, echo cancellation and background noise suppression are the standard: If you think the feature is interfering too much or the app is applying it too aggressively, you can disable it by going to Settings, Meetings, and turning on Use Original Sound.

Messaging apps often have data-saving features that can reduce the bandwidth audio calls use. If you’re in an area with a strong signal, you’ll want to turn off this option to maximize audio fidelity. However, if your phone has a spotty connection, turning these features on can help. They work exactly like lowering the quality of a YouTube video while on a bad Wi-Fi signal—you don’t get an HD image, but at least the footage doesn’t stop to buffer every 3 seconds.  When you turn on data-saving features, your phone will compress and optimize the audio to get it through entirely, albeit in a lower quality. This will allow you to hear more of the conversation instead of having the audio constantly break up, improving the overall quality of the call.

In WhatsApp, for example, tap the three dots (top right) and go to Settings (Android), or tap the Settings button at the bottom right of the screen (iOS). From there, choose Storage and data to find the Use less data for calls toggle switch. Meanwhile, on Signal, tap the three dots (top right) and then go to Settings, Data and storage, and Use less data for calls.

[Related: How to fix spotty cell service in your home]

Signal also has a call relay feature that protects your privacy by rerouting audio calls through Signal’s servers. This makes it harder for someone to tell where you’re calling from, but it also reduces call quality. It’s not on by default, but if you’ve turned it on for any reason, you can disable it by going to the Settings menu and tapping Privacy, and then Advanced.

Microsoft Teams has a noise suppression option that cuts out unwanted background noise from voice calls. Inside the mobile app, tap your avatar (top left), then choose Settings and Calling. You’ll see under the Noise suppression heading there are several options to pick from, depending on how aggressive you want the suppression to be.

As always, keeping your apps and your mobile operating systems up to date is important in terms of making sure you have the latest bug patches and audio optimizations, which often run in the background without you even noticing. To check for Android updates go to System and System update from Settings. Apple users can check for iOS updates by going to General and Software Update from Settings.