How to Set Up Your New Headphones

Tips on pairing Bluetooth headphones, using newer noise-canceling features, and adapting the audio to help with hearing loss

detail of hands holding wireless ear bud and case Photo: Vasilev Kirill/Getty Images

Getting new headphones can let you hear music in a whole new way. If your headphones are wired, you may be able to just plug in and start listening. But with Bluetooth headphones there’s some setting up involved, and we’ve got some tips to make it go more smoothly.

No matter what type of headphones you have, we’ve also got some tips for making your listening experience better. 

Tips for Easy Bluetooth Pairing

Setting up Bluetooth headphones can be more challenging than it should be, but following these steps can help you troubleshoot.

First, put the headphones in pairing mode. Usually, you do that by holding down the power button; the headphones often need to be turned off first. Many pairs trigger a blinking light after a few seconds to indicate the pairing mode is on, and sometimes there’s also an audio cue.

More on Headphones

True wireless models can be an exception. Usually, you turn them on just by opening the case, and there’s a dedicated button on the case or the headphones themselves that you hold down. Apple AirPods should pair automatically with Apple products just by turning them on and holding them near your device. If that doesn’t work, or you aren’t pairing AirPods with an Apple product, open the case, leave the headphones inside, and hold down the small circular button.

Next, navigate to the Bluetooth menu on the device you’re connecting. Find the Bluetooth tab in the device’s settings menu. Make sure Bluetooth is turned on, and find the button with words like “Pair new device” or “Look for new Bluetooth devices.” Tap it and then select your new headphones. If you’re having trouble, make sure your device isn’t already connected to another Bluetooth product.

You may need to turn your headphones’ pairing mode back on if it has taken a while for you to find the setting on your phone. After that, you’re good to go. Once you’re paired, your headphones will often connect automatically as long as your device has Bluetooth turned on, though you may sometimes need to go into the menu and select them again.

When all else fails, head to Google. Search for how to pair your model of headphones with a specific device. For example, "Pair 1MORE ComfoBuds Pro with iPhone 13."

Apps and Features

Newer Bluetooth headphones often come loaded with extra features. Familiarize yourself with them early on when you have the product manual handy. For example, some pairs will automatically pause your music when you take them off and restart it when you put them back on. Some, including Sony’s WH-1000XM4, let you temporarily pause your music by holding you hand up to one of the ear cups.

Noise-canceling models often let you adjust the level of sound blocking so that you can let in more of less of your environment. Many also have a “transparency” or “monitor” mode that will pipe in outside sound on purpose when you don’t want to be cut off. Some headphones that aren’t noise-canceling also come with a monitor mode. Check the manual for features you might not be aware of and instructions for how to activate them.

The real fun starts with customization. A lot of new models have free smartphone apps. It’s worth playing with these. Usually, you just have to download the app and open it while the headphones are connected. You may be able to choose which buttons correspond with which features. In some cases, the app is also the only way to adjust noise-cancellation settings.

A lot of these apps include equalizers you can use to adjust different parts of the audio spectrum (think bass or treble). You can take whole classes dedicated to the use of EQ, but the most important thing is that you enjoy the way your headphones sound. Pick a song you know really well, then try tuning the different EQ settings up or down to see if the sound is more satisfying. You might even like different equalization for different types of music, or you might prefer the way your headphones sound out right out of the box—there’s no right answer.

Some of these headphone apps are notorious for privacy issues, collecting lots of data without providing much benefit beyond letting you update the software. Don’t grant these (or any apps) permissions that seem unnecessary. You can also make the adjustments you like using the app and then uninstall it.

Have Hearing Loss? Try This.

There are a couple of free tools for smartphones that can help people who have hearing loss. One is a feature that lets you use your phone as a microphone that pipes sound to your headphones. You can set your phone down near something you’re trying to hear better—perhaps a dinner companion in a noisy setting—and sit farther back.

On Android phones, the feature is usually called Sound Amplifier, and Google has simple instructions for how to use it. A similar feature on iPhones is called Live Listen. There are easy instructions for Apple users online as well. (On an iPhone, this feature may not work with all headphones.)

A lot of smartphones let you adjust the volume so that it’s louder in one ear. On newer Android devices, find the Audio adjustment control under Accessibility in the settings menu. The instructions may vary depending on which phone you have. On older Android phones, you might have to download an app called Accessibility Suite. And iPhones include a set of adjustments you can make with certain headphones.

Apple and Android have other features to assist people with hearing loss and other disabilities. But none are a substitute for an evaluation by an audiologist and for hearing aids, if you need them.

Focus on the Fit

One of the most important factors to consider is how your headphones fit. Of course, that affects your comfort, but it also has a big impact on sound quality and noise cancellation.

With over-ear headphones, you want the cups to fit securely against the side of your head and form a seal around the ear. This may be difficult or impossible with certain hairstyles.

As the name implies, you want in-ear models to form a tight seal inside your ear, or at least fit snugly.

Do a little test. Put your headphones on and note how they’re fitting, and then move your head around rigorously, simulating the most movement you expect based on your plans for using the headphones. Ideally, they should stay more or less in place.

In-ear models often come with extra ear tips of different sizes. Even if you think you’re getting a good fit, it’s worth experimenting with all the options. If none of them work, you can find aftermarket headphone tips that work with most models. One brand that audio pros turn to is Comply. Its memory foam ear tips will also help block outside sound. You can also try earbud wings, those little rubber or silicone pieces that fit on your headphones and help keep them in place. Try to find a pair that’s made for your particular model.

It’s tougher with over-ear models. Some have replaceable ear cups, and a different design could improve the fit. Usually, they’re only available for popular models. But if they’re available, they’re usually cheap.

If none of that is helping after a couple of days of experimentation, it might be worth returning your headphones and trying a different pair.


Headshot image of Electronics editor Thomas Germain

Thomas Germain

I want to live in a world where consumers take advantage of technology, not the other way around. Access to reliable information is the way to make that happen, and that's why I spend my time chasing it down. When I'm off the clock, you can find me working my way through an ever-growing list of podcasts. Got a tip? Drop me an email ( thomas.germain@consumer.org) or follow me on Twitter ( @ThomasGermain) for my contact info on Signal.