Why Does My Voice Sound Like a Robot on Phone Calls?
A story of radios, ones and zeros, and little computers trying to make our calls sound clearer
Every day, innocent people get on the phone and find themselves transformed into a robot by an evil system of telecom infrastructure.
At least, that’s what it sounds like on the other end of the line. It happened a few months ago when I was on the phone with my Dad. In the middle of our call, something weird happened. “Yikes, you sound all distorted and metallic," he said. After a minute we hung up.
I’m not alone. “I have an iPhone 11 and keep getting complaints that I sound like a robot,” one Apple customer wrote on the company’s online forum. I found hundreds of iPhone and Android users complaining about similar problems.
How to Fix Your Robot Voice Problem
There are a few things you can try. If it’s an issue that’s bothering you on one particular call, the easiest fix is to hang up and dial again. “That’s like rebooting—it can create a different path,” for the data, Udani says. If that doesn’t cut it, try moving to a different location, or ask the person on the other end of the line to do so.
It’s a different story if the robot voice is cropping up all the time. That could mean there’s an issue with your device, rather than something going wrong with the signal along the way.
First, try turning off your phone’s WiFi calling feature, which routes your calls over WiFi instead of cellular networks. That feature can help save money by cutting your data usage, but there’s a downside: If you’re in the middle of a call being sent over the internet, and there’s suddenly a bunch of competing traffic from someone streaming a movie, for example, the call can get messed up.
On the other hand, if you’ve got poor cellphone reception at home, it might help to turn on WiFi calling. It’s worth a try. You can find instructions online for how to control WiFi calling for both iPhone and Android devices.
Still having trouble? There could be an issue with your phone’s codecs—the computer programs that convert signals from one format to another. Apple and Google’s PR departments didn’t get back to me when I asked them about this problem. But in an answer to a question posted on Apple’s site last year, a company representative recommended updating your device’s software and carrier settings, and restoring your phone’s default network settings.
As a last resort, you can try a factory reset of your device—instructions are easy to find online. Just back up your data first.
If none of that works, ask yourself if the robot voice only crops up when you’re using headphones, because all these same issues could have to do with a Bluetooth problem. Try using a different pair, and do a little Googling to see if there’s a firmware update for the headphones you’re using.
When all else fails, the problem may lie with your cell service provider. You may want to try getting in contact with them. They might be able to help, and at the very least it’s worth alerting the company in case there’s some broader problem happening in your area. It will help to be prepared for some of questions they might ask. Try and figure out when and under what circumstances the robot voice problem happens. However, the solution could come down to picking a different service provider that has better coverage where you live.
It’s also worth keeping in mind that not all sound distortions can be traced to data corruption. If you’re having consistent audio problems, check to see whether there’s dirt or lint on your phone’s microphone, or if you’re the one hearing the distortions from people you’re talking to, take a look at your phone’s speaker. (Cleaning it incorrectly could cause damage, so you may want to ask a repair professional.)
And, finally, while I didn’t uncover a cyber-army invasion, anything is possible: If you see something, say something.