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How to Fix Bluetooth Pairing Problems

Author: Alice

Dec. 06, 2023

Machinery

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Updated on 12/30/2022 with USB-C conflict information and additional multipoint pairing information.

Bluetooth is a popular method of wirelessly transferring data between two devices, such as your phone and your headphones, your media player and a speaker, or your iPad and a keyboard. It’s one of the most widely used wireless technology in the world, according to the Bluetooth Special Interest Group. More than 4.6 billion Bluetooth products are expected to ship this year alone, and that number will likely increase to more than 6 billion per year by 2024.

Bluetooth is all great when it works. But if you’re someone who likes to play around with these kinds of connected gadgets, you know it can be frustrating when there’s a hang-up pairing the two. Here are some common causes of pairing problems, as well as advice on what you can do about them.

Why Bluetooth pairings fail

Bluetooth depends on both hardware and software to work properly. So if your devices can't speak a common Bluetooth language, they won’t be able to connect.

In general, Bluetooth is backward compatible: Bluetooth devices supporting Bluetooth 5 or higher should still be able to pair with devices using, say, the ancient Bluetooth 2.1, launched back in 2007.

Devices also come with specific Bluetooth profiles. If Bluetooth is the common language connecting devices, you can think of a profile as a dialect associated with a certain use. For example, you probably aren't going to be able to connect a mouse and your car because your car doesn’t support the Human Interface Device Profile. But a phone and a wireless headset should both support the Hands-Free Profile, you should be able to pair them.

Usually, Bluetooth devices connect with one device at a time. However, some headphones support multipoint pairing – a feature that lets one pair of headphones connect to two devices simultaneously.

I take you through the steps you can take to get your devices to happily communicate with each other. And if you have a multipoint Bluetooth device, check out my tips on solving problems with Bluetooth multipoint pairing.

What you can do about Bluetooth pairing failures

1. Make sure Bluetooth is turned on

You should see the little Bluetooth symbol at the top right of the screen if you have an Android device. For iOS and iPadOS, you'll need to go into the settings to enable and disable Bluetooth. Windows users will find Bluetooth in Settings > Devices > Bluetooth (or you may have a shortcut on your taskbar). Mac users will find a Bluetooth status icon on the menu bar.

2. Determine which pairing process your device employs

The process for pairing devices can vary. Sometimes, it involves tapping a code into your phone or computer. Other times, you can physically touch your phone to the device you want to pair it with (you'll see this option with phones and devices that have NFC, or Near Field Communications, as a feature. It's commonly found on Android phones).

If you’re not sure how to pair a device, refer to its user guide; you can usually find one by searching online.

3. Turn on discoverable mode

Let’s say you want to pair your phone with your car’s infotainment system to enjoy hands-free calling, texting, and navigation. First, go into your phone’s settings and tap on Bluetooth; doing so makes the phone visible to the car. Then depress the buttons on your car's infotainment system, usually on the steering wheel or center stack, to get it looking for the device.

Once it finds your phone, the car may ask for a numeric code that you'll need to confirm or input on your phone. After you do so, the devices should be paired. Remember that your phone or car may only stay in discoverable mode for a few minutes; if you take too long, you’ll need to start over.

If your device is new, it will often be in pairing mode when you first turn it on. A good indicator that a device is in pair mode is if it blinks.

You'll need to turn on pairing mode if the device has been paired with another device. To find instructions search for: put [product name] into pairing mode. We have guides for Jabra, JBL, JLab Audio, Onn, Mpow, and Sony.

4. Make sure the two devices are in close enough proximity to one another

While you wouldn’t think someone might try to pair an iPad with a keyboard if the two weren’t sitting right next to each other, it’s probably worth noting that you should make sure any devices you're trying to pair are within five feet of one another.

5. Power Bluetooth off and back on

A soft reset of Bluetooth can sometimes resolve an issue. With phones, an easy way to do this is by going into and out of airplane mode. For other devices, turn off the power and restart them.

6. Remove old Bluetooth connections

If you're having trouble pairing your phone with the speaker, it could be because the speaker is trying to connect with another device. While your laptop, tablet, or phone may be the obvious choices, there are other possibilities. For instance, you may have paired your speaker to your TV or streaming media player.

Some older speakers and headphones are very simple; they just try to connect with the last thing they are paired with. If your headphones or speaker were previously paired with another phone, laptop, or tablet, turn off that other device or turn off the device's Bluetooth. And if you are no longer planning on using your headphones or speaker with that device, unpair it to prevent future issues. In iOS settings, you can remove a device by tapping on its name and then Forget this Device. In Android settings, tap on a device’s name, then Unpair. After removing a device, start at step 1 on this list.

Some speakers and headphones can store pairing for multiple devices (this is different from multipoint when they connect simultaneously to devices). However, there is a limit to the number of devices' pairing information that they can store. If you're having trouble pairing headphones or a speaker that have been paired to many devices in the past, you may need to reset your headphones or speakers to clear out all of the pairings so you can start fresh. For instructions from the manufacturer on your specific model, search: reset [device name].

7. Charge up both devices you're trying to pair

Some devices have smart power management that may turn off Bluetooth if the battery level is too low. If your phone or tablet isn't pairing, make sure it and the device you're trying to pair with have enough juice.

8. Delete a device from a phone and rediscover it

If your phone sees a device but isn’t receiving data from it, sometimes it helps to start from scratch. In iOS settings, you can remove a device by tapping on its name and then Forget this Device. In Android settings, tap on a device’s name, then Unpair.

If you're deleting the device from your car, you may need to turn off your car after deleting the device, open and close the car door, and wait a couple of minutes before trying to pair the device again.

After removing a device, start at step 1 on this list.

9. Move away from the WiFi router

Another potential obstacle to successful pairing is interference from devices that use the same spectrum, such as your WiFi router. WiFi has been designed to cope with this, but it might not be a good idea to have your devices next to your router.

10. Move away from your smart home devices

Some smart home devices use a wireless technology called Zigbee. You find Zigbee in smart home hubs, including Amazon's Echo Show and Echo Plus, as well as a wide range of smart door locks, light bulbs, in-wall switches, open/close sensors, plugs, and more. Like WiFi, Zigbee devices use the same spectrum as Bluetooth devices and can interfere with pairing. Move away from your Zigbee devices when attempting to pair.

11. Move away from a USB 3.0 or USB-C port

Interference between Bluetooth and USB 3.0 Type A or USB-C is also possible. Newer laptops often have higher-speed USB-C and USB 3.0 Type A ports, so if the connection isn't happening, try pairing your Bluetooth gadgets away from the computer.

12. Make sure the devices you want to pair are designed to connect with each other

Whether it’s a headset, speaker, mouse, keyboard, or something else, your device has a specific profile that spells out what it can connect with. If you’re not sure, check the user manual.

13. Download a driver

If you’re having problems pairing something with your computer, you might be lacking the correct driver. The simplest way to figure this out is to do an online search for: [product name] driver.

14. Update the hardware’s firmware

Some automotive audio systems have been known to not pair with phones because the Bluetooth drivers in these systems didn’t work with later versions of Bluetooth. If you’re not sure how to get the latest firmware for your hardware, check with the device manufacturer.

15. Limit data shared between devices

Android and Windows devices let you choose the information you share between devices. So, for instance, you can choose to share phone audio, media audio, contacts, and text messages with your car. If you don't need to share all of the data, deselecting one or more of the types of information may enable the devices to pair.

For Android 10 devices, go to Settings > Connected devices and select the device. If there are options to select, they will appear. For Windows, go to Control Panel > Hardware and Sound > Devices and Printers > right-click on the Bluetooth device in question and select Properties. Then select the Services tab to choose which types of information to share.

16. Clear the Bluetooth cache

Sometimes apps will interfere with Bluetooth operation, and clearing the cache can solve the problem. For Android phones, go to Settings > Apps > and tap the sort icon (the triple bars to the right of "Your apps."). Toggle on "Show system apps" and then select "Bluetooth" from the list. Select "Storage" and then "Clear cache." For iOS and iPadOS devices, you'll have to unpair all of your devices (go to Setting > Bluetooth, select the info icon and choose "Forget This Device" for each device), then restart your phone or tablet.

Solving problems with Bluetooth multipoint pairing

Multipoint is a Bluetooth technology that enables a Bluetooth device to be actively paired with more than one device at a time. That means your headphones could be simultaneously paired with a phone and laptop, or two phones could be paired to a hands-free car kit.

Even though multipoint has been part of the Bluetooth standard for years, there aren’t many products on the market that support multipoint. So if you’re having issues with setting up a multipoint connection, the first thing to do is double-check that your device supports multipoint by searching for “[product name] multipoint Bluetooth” or consulting your product’s manual. Once you’ve confirmed that your device supports multipoint, try these steps.

Trouble adding multipoint devices

If you’re having trouble adding a second device to your multipoint product, follow these steps to ensure you’re adding it correctly.

1. Pair with the first device the way you would with a single-point Bluetooth device. (If you’re having trouble pairing your first device, consult the list of tips above.)

2. Turn off the first paired device and pair the second one.

3. Once you have successfully paired with the second device, turn on the first device. For some products (like the Lenovo Smart Wireless Earbuds and JLab GO Work and PlayPro headphones), that’s all there is to it. Other products (like the Sony WH-1000SM4 headphones, Bose QuietComfort II Earbuds, and Soundcore Liberty 3 Pro earbuds) require installing an app and turning on the ability to connect two devices.

If you can’t connect to a previously paired multipoint device

Multipoint Bluetooth devices can connect to two devices simultaneously but can be paired with many devices. If your multipoint Bluetooth product isn’t automatically connecting to your usual two devices, it may be paired with a third device.

If you use an app to select multipoint devices, go into the app and toggle on the two devices you want to be simultaneously connected.

If you don’t use an app to select your multipoint devices, you will need to re-pair the device that has lost its connection. Follow these two simple steps.

1. Use your multipoint device with the Bluetooth device that is still actively paired with multipoint.

2. Re-pair the device that has lost the connection.

Not all wireless devices use Bluetooth

Keep in mind that not all wireless devices use Bluetooth. Alternatives include the Wireless Gigabit specification, Wireless HD, ANT+, ZigBee, NFC, and Wi-Fi Direct. These other technologies typically won’t work with your phone, tablet, or computer without some kind of additional hardware.

I hope this guide has helped you with your Bluetooth pairing problems. If you know of any tips I've missed, share them in the comments below!

[Image credits: Bluetooth headphones with phone via BigStockPhoto]

For the past 20+ years, Techlicious founder Suzanne Kantra has been exploring and writing about the world’s most exciting and important science and technology issues. Prior to Techlicious, Suzanne was the Technology Editor for Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia and the Senior Technology Editor for Popular Science. Suzanne has been featured on CNN, CBS, and NBC.

Most major flagship phones have done away with the headphone jack in 2022, and Bluetooth headphones are as popular as ever. Even though it’s nice that there’s no cord to catch on the doorknob when I’m leaving the house, Bluetooth has its own share of quirks. Here are some of the most common issues you may encounter, and how to fix them.

First: Narrow Down the Problem

Before you start pressing buttons and tweaking settings, see whether you can find the source of the problem: It could be your earbuds, sure, but it could also be your phone or even the app you’re using to play music. Pair your headphones with another device and see whether they work better—I find my Android phone can be a bit finicky, so I’ll often test headphones on my wife’s iPhone to see whether something on my phone is the culprit.

You might also try a wired pair of headphones, or plug your Bluetooth headphones in with a cable (if they support that). Finally, try another pair of Bluetooth buds if you have them lying around. If you can determine the source of the problem, you might have a better idea of where to focus your troubleshooting efforts.

If the Headphones Won’t Pair

If you can’t get your headphones to connect to your phone at all, don’t despair—in my experience, this is usually the easiest to fix (provided the headphones aren’t dead entirely).

  • Check the manual. Many headphones go into pairing mode automatically when you first use them. As a result, most users can easily pair headphones the first time, says Win Cramer, CEO of JLab Audio (makers of WIRED’s favorite budget wirefree buds)—but the second time leaves them scratching their head. So if your headphones aren’t appearing with a new device, you may need to hunt down that manual for instructions on putting them in pairing mode. Most brands require you to hold down the power button for a few seconds, but some earbuds—especially those with touch controls instead of buttons—have their own method.
  • Disconnect other devices. If you’ve already connected these headphones to a device—like an iPad—they may not connect to your phone. Some headphones can connect to multiple devices at once, while others can’t. “Turn off the Bluetooth settings of the originally paired device,” says Cramer. “That disconnection will then automatically force the headphones back into pairing mode.”
  • Disconnect other headphones. In a similar vein, make sure your phone hasn’t connected to your spouse’s earbuds across the room—if you’ve ever used them before, they’ll automatically connect when turned on and within range. You might even clear out old Bluetooth devices from your phone’s memory—from the Bluetooth settings on iOS, tap the “i” next to a given device and tap Forget This Device. On Android, tap the Settings cog next to a paired device and choose Unpair (or Forget, as it’s labeled on some phones).
  • Recharge the battery. If your headphones’ battery is low, it may have trouble pairing—and I’ve even found some Bluetooth headphones stay turned on when in the case, meaning they’ll drain down to 0 percent faster than you expect. Try plugging them in and charging them fully before pairing, even if they say they have some battery left.
  • Make sure both devices are compatible. Like most technology, Bluetooth has gone through many revisions and improvements over the years. Most devices use Bluetooth 5.0 or newer, and while a Bluetooth 5.0–capable phone should be able to connect to most devices you own, certain modern Bluetooth headphones may not connect to very old phones, tablets, or laptops. Check the supported Bluetooth versions on both devices and ensure they’re compatible with each other.

With any luck, you should be able to get the music going in no time.

If the Audio Distorts or Stutters

If you’re able to pair your headphones but something doesn’t sound quite right—maybe the music sounds lower-quality than it should or it cuts in and out—it could be a problem with your wireless connection.

  • Check your source. Before you jump to troubleshooting Bluetooth, make sure that static isn’t inherent in the source of your music—maybe you’re listening to a low-bitrate MP3 from your Napster days, or maybe your streaming service has defaulted to a very low-quality setting. Check another pair of headphones—which you should have already done earlier!—and see whether it’s really Bluetooth’s fault. Similarly, says Cramer, make sure your Wi-Fi or cell signal is good. If your internet connection can’t keep up with Spotify, it’ll cut in and out through no fault of your headphones.
  • Re-pair the headphones. As with all troubleshooting, the “turn it off and turn it on again” mantra should be your first line of defense. Unpair the headphones, turn them off, reboot your phone, and pair again from scratch before continuing.
  • Bring the headphones closer to your device. If you’re listening to music on an iPad that’s sitting across the room, you might be too far away—or have too many obstructions in its path. “While most Bluetooth headphones can be apart by 33 feet to 100 feet, it must be noted that this is in plain sight and without a bunch of other Wi-Fi or Bluetooth signals also crowding the airwaves,” explains Cramer. Get closer to the device and move away from other signal-generating electronics to see whether that helps.
  • Pair individual buds properly. If you have “true wireless” or “wirefree” earbuds, many let you listen on just one earbud at a time—but you need to do it a certain way. If you pair both earbuds and just pop one in your pocket, you’ll cause a bad connection between the two, and you may experience stuttering. Check the manual to see the proper procedure for single-bud listening.
  • Disconnect other devices. I’ve found, on some phones, that Bluetooth audio will distort if my phone is connected to other Bluetooth devices at the same time, like a smartwatch or other set of headphones that isn’t active. Try disconnecting other devices or turning them off to see whether the problem goes away.
  • Update the firmware. I know, I know, you hear this all the time—“Maybe you just need a software update!”—but it’s really worth a shot. When my Bose SoundSport Wireless were having audio issues a few years ago, downloading the official app and updating the firmware fixed everything. See whether your headphones offer a companion app that may be able to help.
  • Turn off any audio processing. Speaking of companion apps, if you already have the app for your headphones, try turning off its extra features. Equalizers, noise canceling, and other processing could cause distortion or other quirks, so better to eliminate them from the equation while you troubleshoot. If your phone has its own processing (like Samsung’s Adapt Sound features), turn those off too.
  • Adjust your Bluetooth audio codec. In the Bluetooth settings for your device, tap the “i” or the Settings cog next to your headphones in question and see which options are available to you. Some headphones may offer HD Audio or other similar codecs, which you can switch on and off to see whether the audio improves.
  • Deselect hands-free mode in Windows. Similarly, if you’re trying to connect to a PC, your headphones may have two entries in Windows’ sound settings—one for stereo music, one for phone calls. Click the speaker icon in the bottom right corner, select the audio source along the top, and make sure to select your headphones from the list, not a headset or hands-free option. (You can turn off this behavior entirely by going to Control Panel > Hardware and Sound > Devices and Printers, right-clicking your headphones, and choosing Properties. Under the Services tab, uncheck Handsfree Telephony.)

If You Hear Music in Only One Earbud

Finally, the rise of true wireless or wirefree earbuds has caused a new phenomenon: You can pair properly, but you hear music coming out of only one earbud.

  • Reconnect the earbuds to each other. Often, with true wireless earbuds, one will pair to your phone, then the earbuds will pair to each other, which can cause confusion if they lose that second connection. “Reboot your earbuds by putting them into the case, closing the door (if one exists), and waiting 10 seconds before trying again,” says Cramer. “By powering down and back on your earbuds, it gives them the opportunity to “find” each other once again and reclaim the parent-child relationship between the left and right earbuds.”
  • Re-pair the earbuds. As I mentioned above, true wireless models often have specific pairing methods for single-bud listening, and it’s possible you accidentally paired the secondary bud on its own. Try unpairing the earbuds entirely and re-pairing them. Some earbuds may have a fail-safe hard reset mode if you still can’t get them paired, Cramer says, so check the manual to see what it recommends in this scenario.

With any luck, one of the many troubleshooting steps above should get your Bluetooth headphones jamming again. If all else fails, though, look through your headphones’ manual and see whether there’s a way to reset them entirely—or, barring that, you can reset your device’s Bluetooth settings from scratch.

On iOS, head to Settings > General > Reset > Reset Network Settings, which will wipe all your saved Bluetooth and Wi-Fi devices. On Android, head to the Settings and search for “Apps” or “Apps & Notifications,” tap Show All to see a list of all your apps, then tap the three dots in the corner to Show System Apps. Scroll down to Bluetooth, tap Storage, and clear its data and/or cache. These are slightly more nuclear options that’ll require you to re-pair all your devices, but if nothing else works, they’re worth a shot. Otherwise, the problem may lie with your phone or earbuds, fixable only by the manufacturer—or by buying a phone with a damn headphone jack.

Reece Rogers contributed reporting.

How to Fix Bluetooth Pairing Problems

How to Fix the Most Annoying Bluetooth Headphone ...

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