Crackling problems with the Apple AirPods Pro have been reported by users for a few months now, and the issue is apparently widespread enough for Apple to take action – it just launched a free replacement program for the premium earphones.
Apple offers these free repair or replace programs from time to time, when it identifies that there's a genuine manufacturing problem that impacts the performance or reliability of its hardware, but this is the first we've seen for the AirPods line.
According to the AirPods Pro Service Program for Sound Issues support page, "a small percentage" of AirPods Pro models are experiencing audio glitches. Any units manufactured before October 2020 might be affected.
Apple says "crackling or static sounds" might appear in your ears and increase in loud environments, while you're exercising, or while you're talking on the phone. In addition, the Active Noise Cancelation feature may malfunction by losing bass or increasing background noise.
As usual with these sort of programs, you can return your AirPods Pro to an Apple Store or a repair shop officially authorized to carry out Apple repairs. After examination, your earphones will be replaced if they're found to be faulty.
You might get one or both of the earphones replaced if they've developed a problem, but apparently the AirPods Pro case isn't affected, so you won't need a new one of those. Any replacement doesn't affect your warranty.
Your AirPods Pro are covered by the program for two years after you bought them, so bear that in mind if you're not hearing anything untoward at the moment but something develops later. For instructions on getting replacements, see the support document.
The mention of October 2020 suggests Apple has identified the problem and fixed it, though it isn't sharing any technical details with the wider world. Still, it's reassuring to know you can get your earphones swapped if a fault does emerge.