The Future of Headphones: Exploring the Potential of Repairable Designs

The Future of Headphones: Exploring the Potential of Repairable Designs

Discover the exciting future of headphones with repairable designs. Quite some time, firms like Sennheiser have offered interchangeable parts for their products, and DIYers have been experimenting with their own fixes. With their Fairbuds XL headphones, which combine the right-to-repair campaign with sustainability, Fairphone has adopted a distinctive strategy. Additionally, they perform well in addition to looking good.

The Fairbuds XL active noise-canceling (ANC) headphones are something I recently had the chance to test out for a week, and I must say I’m impressed with the future they represent. When it comes to sustainable and repairable headphones, it’s crucial to understand that there are some trade-offs.

Repairable headphones are awesome:

The amazing initiative performed by Fairphone in the current market is what makes repairable headphones so awesome. They are enabling users to maintain their electronics and increase their usefulness. Other businesses have experimented with modular or repairable wireless headphones, but Fairphone has gone above and beyond by developing a green solution. 100% recycled aluminum, tin, polyester, and 80% recycled plastics make up the Fairbuds XL’s construction. In order to improve the user experience, Fairphone also offers a mobile app. Although there might be a few elements lacking, sustainability is the main concern.

Although the process can be time-consuming, the Fairbuds XL are made to be user-friendly in terms of assembly and disassembly. When you remove the ear cup cover and unscrew the plate to expose the circuitry, it’s almost like doing brain surgery. The battery, however, is the most important feature that Fairphone users may access. Like any battery, it ultimately runs out of power. However, Fairphone provides a straightforward fix rather than requiring you to purchase a brand-new headset like you would with other flagship brands. You can order a replacement battery from their website and have it sent to you. That simple, and it greatly lowers waste.

Easy access to a replaceable battery is crucial if we want to reduce our e-waste:

Currently, Fairphone sells replacement modules that are exact replicas of the originals. However, it’s possible that they’ll introduce ear cup modules with alternative internals in the future. The Bluetooth capabilities and headphone drivers may eventually be upgraded as a result. When we asked Fairphone about future upgrades, they admitted that the modular design might allow for such updates but made it clear that they presently have no plans to produce improved modules. Their primary goal is to make sure that their products last a long time. However, the prospect of being able to upgrade to a new driver or Bluetooth chip is indeed intriguing, and it might be something that DIY enthusiasts might investigate by fiddling with the current circuit board.

It’s crucial to remember that the Fairbuds XL headphones are actually fairly durable despite the lengthy disassembly required. They have the unusually high IP54 rating for water and dust resistance among headphones in general. The future of headphones looks bright because to their strength and capacity to be repaired.

Although the majority of high-end noise-canceling headphones sell for between $300 and $400, the Fairbuds XL’s retail price of €240 (about $260) shouldn’t be disregarded. Your monthly grocery budget may initially be exceeded if you purchase these headphones. But if you only replace the Fairbuds XL batteries ($19.95), ear cushions ($14.95), and three headband pieces ($19.95 apiece), you can save money over the course of five or more years.

The possibilities seem endless for the Fairbuds XL and modular headphones at large:

The majority of headphones often require replacement every few years due to battery deterioration. Even if you choose headphones costing $100 to $150, replacing them a few times over a ten-year period still ends up being more expensive than purchasing the Fairbuds XL and its spare parts. Future environmentally friendly wireless headphones will likely cost more initially, but they will require less upkeep. This is the case with the Fairbuds XL. Although it is an example of the “you need money to save money” issue, this converts to long-term savings.

Depending on how you look at it, the Fairbuds XL has one prominent feature that can be both good and bad. Although having replaceable batteries is a good feature, the process of getting the precious metals for these batteries still harms the environment. However, this method is far better than throwing away the complete product and continually buying new headphones every few years.

Even though Fairphone is doing a fantastic job of caring for both its consumers and the environment, it’s crucial to realize that repairing wireless headphones can never fully be eco-friendly. They are, at best, less damaging to the environment than their competitors. I believe that wired headphones will always be the most sustainable option.

Sustainable headphones will need to improve their performance to draw general consumers away from disposable cans:

The Fairbuds XL’s €240 price tag might not be entirely justified by their performance. The Sony WH-1000XM4 and Apple AirPods Pro 2 provide better low-frequency noise reduction than the Fairbuds XL throughout my metro journeys. The Fairbuds XL’s ANC seemed more akin to less expensive models like the Anker Soundcore Space Q45, which retails for $149 on Amazon. Additionally, you might note that the Fairbuds XL sound somewhat different if you’re used to popular consumer headphones like the AirPods or Samsung Galaxy Buds 2 Pro. Vocal harmonics appear muted in a variety of genres, giving voices an unnatural timbre. Contrary to what might be assumed, cymbal impacts are audibly louder than bass and vocals. The firmware updates, which also include improvements to sound quality and ANC, may be able to address some of these problems. Making a purchase while counting on updates in the future is not a sound strategy, though.

Manufacturers of re-usable and ecological headphones must give priority to core features like comfort and sound quality in order to stand out and draw customers beyond devoted environmentalists. I regret to say that I have not found the Fairbuds XL to be particularly comfortable. Even with contacts, I could only wear them for up to an hour and a half before feeling pain at the top of my head. Wearing them with glasses produced ache in my temples after just 30 minutes. For comparison, even when wearing glasses, I have no trouble wearing my Sony WH-1000XM4 and Shure Aonic 50 headphones for more than four hours. Lagniappe controls and a tiny hissing sound that can be heard when ANC is turned on but no music is playing are two small issues.

Are sustainable headphones worth buying?

Buying headphones like the Fairbuds XL is a potent way to show your support for environmentally friendly devices through your purchasing decisions. Repairable headphones have many benefits. They are environmentally sustainable and not only result in long-term cost savings, but also give the chance for modular improvements as opposed to just replacements. Overall, these advantages provide a strong argument. To be clear, there is still potential for growth in terms of comfort, app features, and performance, especially when compared to well-known brands. It will take time and ongoing work to catch up to the industry leaders.

In response to the doubters, it is true that initially, non-repairable headphones might offer a greater instant value for your money. It’s also true that some listeners might want better audio due to the default sound quality and the lack of an equalizer. The level of comfort could also be raised. But it’s crucial to keep in mind that first attempts are rarely perfect in hindsight. I applaud Fairphone for their efforts with the Fairbuds XL despite the compromises. I really believe that if other businesses followed their lead and made sustainability a priority, we would all gain.

The Fairbuds XL and future repairable headphones could be the last headphones you ever buy:

Today, choosing wired headphones or earbuds with replaceable parts is the way to make an eco-friendly purchase. Some of the greatest solutions are provided by market giants like Sennheiser and Beyerdynamic, which are noted for their repairability. Consider the Beyerdynamic DT 700 Pro X and DT 900 Pro X, two excellent headphones that cost $249 and $259, respectively, at Sweetwater and Amazon.com, respectively. Similar to this, the Sennheiser HD 650 ($325 at Amazon) is simple to maintain and repair. The FiiO FH5 ($497 at Amazon), which I personally use, is one of Sennheiser’s earbuds that have replaceable cables. I intend to do so for many years to come. The most sustainable option is to keep using your functional headphones or earbuds if you currently have them. Recall that the maxim “reduce, reuse, recycle” is appropriate for a reason.

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