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Home / Tips and Tricks / Use your iPhone to hear the world around you better, spy on conversations, troubleshoot strange sounds & more «iOS & iPhone :: Gadget hack

Use your iPhone to hear the world around you better, spy on conversations, troubleshoot strange sounds & more «iOS & iPhone :: Gadget hack



What started as an accessibility setting for hearing aids turned out to be a super useful tool for anyone with a good set of Bluetooth headphones. The problem is that most iPhone users still do not know about it. If you are one of them, you need to see what this underrated gem in iOS can offer you.

The feature is called Live Listen, and it has been around for Made for iPhone hearing aids since 2013. Although it was and is very helpful for people with hearing impairments, Apple really made it a killer feature when it made it compatible with AirPods, Beats, and others. Bluetooth headphones in iOS 12 and later.

The concept is simple: connect a compatible Bluetooth headset, turn on the function and then point your iPhone̵

7;s microphone at a voice or sound that you have difficulty hearing. Immediately, things are much louder and clearer, as the sound is transported to your headphones in any volume range that is comfortable.

Just a few reasons why Live listening is so great

If you are in the back of a lecture hall, in a tour group or in another place where it is difficult to hear the person speaking to the group, the Live List means that you do not have to miss a word.

It is also useful when you hear a sound or sounds that you do not really recognize, such as an unknown animal or a bug in your garden. Even better, a funky or abnormal sound coming from an object (your car engine, refrigerator, inside a wall, etc.) that is definitely there and can cause problems.

When eating out at a restaurant or bar and the ambient noise is so loud that you cannot hear the other person or people at your table, the Live List can help you understand everyone better. And with some headphones, such as a set of AirPods, you only need to have one of them, so that you do not look more awkward or rude than chatting with others in person.

You can even use the Live List on your iPhone as a makeshift stethoscope to see how your or someone else’s heartbeat sounds.

And there are more ominous uses you can play with. Want to know if your friends are talking about you in the other corner of the room? Live listening. Need help talking to someone in a conversation? Let someone else listen to your Live Listen feed, and then they can give you answers.

Partial list of compatible Bluetooth headphones

Bluetooth compatible headphones made for iPhone (MFI) shall be compatible with the Live List. Apple’s wireless headphones will obviously work, as will some Beats, but some third-party headphones can be intimidating depending on the iOS version you’re running.

Some third parties that worked in iOS 12 no longer work in iOS 13 and later, and others that work in iOS 13 do not work in iOS 12, so the best thing you can do is try it and see for yourself. For example, I have a five-year-old set of Soundpeats QY7 earbuds that work with iOS 12 but not iOS 13 or iOS 14.

Here is a small list of wireless earbuds, headphones and earphones that users have reported working over the years. It’s not even close to a definitive list, so if you have something else you just have to give it a try. And keep in mind that some may work in one iOS version but not in another.

Some users have even said that Bluetooth portable speakers have worked for them, but none of the ones we own worked.

Step 1: Add hearing to the Control Center

While built into the system, the Live List cannot be used until you unlock its control. To do so, open Settings and then press “Control Center”. If you are using iOS 14 or later, you should see lists of included and non-included controls immediately. On iOS 12 and iOS 13, you need to tap “Customize controls” to see the lists.

During More controls list, find “Hearing” and tap its plus (+) icon to add it to Included controls list. If you have many active controls, you can drag each of its triangular icons to move it up or down in the Control Center. You can see the updated position of a control by opening your Control Center and then adjusting it accordingly. Press “Back” to save.

Set the hearing controller in iOS 13 (left) and iOS 14 (right).

Step 2: Connect your Bluetooth headphones

Before proceeding, make sure your Bluetooth headphones are connected to your iPhone. If they are already paired with your iPhone, you can use the Bluetooth control in Control Center to connect to them. Just press it for a long time, then press it again for a long time and select your headphones from the list. If you are listening to music or other audio on iPhone, you can also use the AirPlay icon in the media control.

You can also go to Settings -> Bluetooth (you can get there from the Control Center if you want) to find and connect to your wireless AirPods or other headphones. This is also where you would pair the headphones if you have not already done so.

The most important ways to connect to your Bluetooth headphones.

Step 3: See if your headphones work with the Live List

Now swipe your control center and press the new hearing control.

If you do not have compatible Bluetooth headphones connected, the Live List should say “Not available for current route”. But that is if you are using iOS 12 or iOS 13. In the newer iOS 14 it can be said “Connect a compatible audio device to use Live Listen”, which is much more useful.

However, your headphones may be compatible even if they do not look like them. Try turning off your Bluetooth headphones and then turning them on again so that they automatically connect to your iPhone immediately. If it does not work after a few attempts, connect and repair the headphones. Still a no-go? Try restarting or forcing your iPhone to restart.

Below you can see that I could not get my old QY7 headphones that work on iOS 12 (left) or even a set of AirPods on iOS 14 (right). But after turning the headphones on and off again or unplugging and reconnecting them, the Live List would work.

If your headphones still do not work after trying the above troubleshooting steps, they are probably not compatible with the iOS version you are running.

QY7 on iOS 12 (left) and AirPods on iOS 14 (right) do not work – even if they work.

Step 4: Enable Live Listening for enhanced hearing

When you see “Off” for the Live Listening function after opening the hearing control, your headphones work! Congratulations. Now, to actually use Live Listen, press “Off” and it will become “On” as you work. Next to “On” you will see five points that light up when the sound around you becomes softer or louder. On iOS 14 and later, you also get a decibel (dB) reader, so you know exactly how noisy the world around you is. It will even tell you if it is too loud for safe hearing.

Activate the Live List on iOS 13 (left) and iOS 14 (right).

When you leave the hearing control and return to the control center main screen, it depends on the version of iOS you are running. On iOS 12 and iOS 13, the hearing control does not look different than before. On iOS 14, however, the hearing control will show a green check mark when Live Listen is active, along with a thumbnail line with the current decibel readings.

Hearing control in iOS 13 (left) and iOS 14 (right).

When you leave the Control Center completely, you will either see a red pill-shaped background around the time in the status bar (for Face ID models) or that the entire status bar at the top is red (for Touch ID models). This lets you know that the Live List is still active and working.

If you want to display the five-point volume indicator really fast, you can tap the red pill or status bar that opens the Live listening view. By tapping outside the Live Listening window you will return to where you were, with Live Listening still on.

To turn off Live Listen, you can do so from the Hearing Control in the Control Center or the Live Listen shortcut via the red pill or status bar. Just press “On” and it switches to “Off”. It’s so simple.

Use the shortcut to view current readings (left) and turn off Live Listening (right).

It is important to note that the Live List does not record anything, so there is no record of what you heard when the feature was active. The sound is transmitted, and it is. There are ways to record it, but what’s the point of using the headphones for better live listening?

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Cover photo and GIF by Justin Meyers / Gadget Hacks

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