Fairphone, a company known for its sustainable and repairable smartphones, has launched its first pair of repairable headphones, the Fairbuds XL. The over-ear wireless noise-canceling headphones are designed to be easy to repair when parts break or wear out over time, with spare parts easily available via the company’s website. The headphones feature a typical list of specs, with battery life rated at 26 hours with active noise cancellation enabled, or 30 hours without. Despite being modular, the headphones look like a typical pair and have a sleek design made from 100% recycled aluminum and 100% Fairtrade Gold. Although the headphones are initially only available in Europe, they mark a significant step forward in the headphone industry, where companies often struggle to repair older models due to their complexity.
Wireless headphones are an ideal consumer tech product to receive a repairability overhaul. Unlike smartphones, they don’t run on an ever-evolving operating system that needs continuous updates to deal with security vulnerabilities. The relatively minor improvements made to headphones year-on-year mean that models that are several years old can still be competitive with their modern equivalents. Despite this, repairing older headphones can be frustrating, with some manufacturers reluctant to repair older models. Fairphone is taking a proactive approach with the Fairbuds XL, making spare parts easily available and creating a modular design that’s easy to repair and upgrade.
Fairphone calls its headphones very mechanical products, making them even more challenging to design compared to smartphones. Unlike Fairphone’s smartphones, it isn’t possible to pop out individual circuit boards or charging ports to disassemble the Fairbuds XL. Most of the electronic components in the headphones are contained within the two main speaker units, which will be provided as complete components by Fairphone. Spare parts such as batteries, ear cushions, and headband components will be available from the company’s website. Unlike other headphone manufacturers who restrict the availability of spare parts, Fairphone isn’t making any firm predictions about how long it’ll have spare parts available for the headphones beyond the two-year warranty.
Fairbuds XL is the company’s first attempt at producing a pair of repairable headphones. The headphones feature a sustainable design with a cover made from vegan leather, 100% recycled aluminum, 100% recycled tin solder paste, and 100% Fairtrade Gold in the supply chain. The company offers a living wage bonus to factory workers, emphasizing the importance of ethical manufacturing. Like its phones, Fairphone doesn’t plan on selling the Fairbuds XL in the US.
Fairphone’s next challenge is to produce a pair of repairable true wireless earbuds. The company hopes to address the criticisms faced by other popular models, such as Apple’s AirPods, which feature such an unrepairable design that not even Apple replaces their batteries when they fail. By making products that are repairable and sustainable, Fairphone is paving the way for a more eco-conscious approach to technology. While it remains to be seen how the Fairbuds XL perform in the long term, they represent a significant step forward in the repairability of consumer electronics, and we can expect to see more technology companies following Fairphone’s lead in the future.