Are All Wireless Earbuds As Evil As AirPods?
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Are All Wireless Earbuds As Evil As AirPods?

Here at iFixit, we’re constantly dunking on Apple’s AirPods. And we’re not alone! Many others have come to realize that they’re a repairability and environmental disaster. And yet the buds and pods beat on. Since AirPods’ 2016 release, the market has flooded with competitors—including our initial favorites, the Samsung Galaxy Buds. But we’re starting to wonder: are most of the popular wireless headphones as bad as AirPods? Are the Galaxy Buds really the best least painful to fix of the bunch? Let’s rip some open and see what we find.

Anker Soundcore Liberty Neo: Almost As Bad As AirPods

Opening up one of the Anker Liberty Neo Buds

First on the chopping block: Anker’s Soundcore Liberty Neo wireless earbuds—the budget buds in this otherwise rather expensive category. Like the Galaxy Buds, they pop open with a bit of pressure from our friendly vise. Unlike the Galaxy Buds, we’re immediately met with a mess of wires and bare PCB. We trace those wires and are disappointed to find that everything inside these buds is soldered together.

On the upside, the construction is extremely simple, and getting everything back together is a breeze. (Non-destructive disassembly is pretty rare in this category, so this is nice to see.) That same simple, compact construction means that battery or board swaps will require soldering skills, however. And to top it all off, the cylindrical 4.2 V battery does not look like it will be easy to find a replacement for. Though Anker does claim to make batteries from recycled components, they don’t sell spare batteries as of the time of this post.

Tweezing out the strange cylindrical power pack inside the Anker Soundcore Libery Neo buds
The strange cylindrical power pack inside the Anker Soundcore Liberty Neo buds

The Liberty Neo charging case is a similar story: a battery and a board, bound with soldered wires. The case’s clips are a bit obnoxious, but nothing out of the ordinary for this category.

All the bits and pieces of the Liberty Neo buds.

All in all: there’s definitely some room for improvement here … but they could be a lot worse, too! Now on to the next buds:

Powerbeats3: First-Class Mediocrity

The rectangular battery inside the right bud of the Powerbeats3

Up next: The Apple-owned Beats Powerbeats3. We’ll keep this one short since we’ve already torn down their newer, wireless-er siblings. We throw a bit of heat at the right bud and the plastic cover comes right off! Right away we’re met with the battery, which is—once again—soldered to its board. The good news though is that this battery is a much more common form factor (a rectangle), so they should be easier to find a replacement for when you inevitably need a new one—provided you have the soldering skills to replace it.

Bose SoundSport Wireless: Not Quite Clippy Enough

Opening up the left Soundsport Wireless earbud

In the wired-wireless category, we have the Bose SoundSport Wireless. (Bose does make a true wireless version, known as the SoundSport Free, which we expect to be similar.) These tethered buds, like the Powerbeats3, require heat and finesse to pry apart. They don’t appear to have any official IP certification, but Bose does claim that they are “sweat- and weather-resistant.”

Inside the left bud, a Varta button-cell battery is soldered to some circuitry. The solder we could do without, but the button-cell battery is alright! Varta seems to be manufacturing quite a few of these wireless-earbud rechargeable button-cells. One year ago, when we tore down the Galaxy Buds, they seemed pretty easy to find online. But in 2020 they seem to be a bit less ubiquitous—if only there were a legislative solution to that problem

The VARTA rechargeable Li-ion button-cell inside the left Bose Soundsport Wireless bud
The VARTA rechargeable Li-ion button-cell inside the left Bose Soundsport Wireless bud

Back to the task at hand: these SoundSport buds are held together with a combination of clips and adhesive, but unfortunately the clips don’t hold them together well enough to really be functional again after the adhesive seal is broken (ingress protection has its pros and cons). So if you’re attempting a battery transplant procedure, you’ll need to do some delicate adhering to reseal them afterwards.

Amazon Echo Buds: Alexa, Teach Me How To Solder

Amazon’s new Echo Buds are up next. We’ve recently written about how obnoxious Amazon’s disposable tech is. TL;DR: Amazon has spent the last few years pumping out random, low-budget, unrepairable products and it’s time we hold them to a higher standard. These buds are certainly cheaper than AirPods, but inside they’re built a little more like the Galaxy Buds.

The Echo Buds' battery and motherboard sandwich
Like the Galaxy Buds, the Echo Buds’ motherboard is folded around a plastic housing where the button-cell battery resides.

Before you get too excited, though: they may be built like our favorite buddies, but not in the ways that count. The motherboard folds around a plastic battery housing, but instead of using contact pins to suck the battery’s juice, Amazon opted to solder the battery in place—which is lazy, especially considering the ZIF cable they use elsewhere inside the bud, which indicates they have the design chops to implement a tiny disconnectable cable, they just chose not to use one here. Again, a soldered connection isn’t impossible to work around, but it does add significant complexity to any repair, especially in tight quarters like these. The good(-ish) news is the battery is another Varta button-cell. The two halves of each bud use clips and light adhesive to stay together, and as long as you’re patient as you open them, they should clip back together during reassembly, leaving no cosmetic damage.

Lifting the lid off of one of the Echo Buds after some careful squeezing
Once the investigation is complete, the two halves of the bud clip right back together.

The Echo Buds charging case is too wide to fit into our vise, and despite our poking and prying, we can’t seem to get an opening pick in. We’re guessing there’s a mess of glue in there (like the Powerbeats Pro case), and our PTSD prevents us from proceeding. We’ll update this post if we ever feel intrepid enough to break into them! If you’ve ever pried open an Echo Buds case, share your secrets in the comments below.

Jabra Elite 75t: One Seal Short of Greatness

Levering open a Jabra Elite 75t bud with a blue pry tool
Not pictured: 60 pounds of pressure from our vise

Just two more. Our fingertips are getting sore, but we can do this! Jabra’s Elite 75t were recently named Best AirPods Alternative by The Verge, as well as Wirecutter’s Top Pick for wireless earbuds. Since we review technology on a different set of criteria, we have to say that we would not call these the best AirPods alternatives.

While all their electrical components (battery included) are connected with contact pins and press connectors, the two halves of the buds’ casing are held together with some sort of superglue or stiff epoxy—a bond that can be broken with enough pressure from a vise, but not a bond that will re-form during reassembly. With enough determination you could probably re-bond them, but the buds likely won’t ever look as perfect as they did in their original form.

Disconnecting the battery housing inside the Elite 75t
The ironic use of modular componentry inside an epoxy fortress.

We should note here that this troublesome seal undoubtedly contributes to the Elite 75t’s IP55 rating, the highest official IP rating of any of the buds in this teardown blitz. Durable product design is important and we love to see it, but we’d definitely prefer that durability not come at the expense of repairability, as it does in this case. Jabra even offers a full two-year warranty against water or dust damage, though you’ll have to download their app and probably jump through a few hoops to take advantage of it. Regardless, it’s a nice thought.

The perplexing thing about the Elite 75t is that apart from the buds’ sturdy seal, they are just about a fixer’s dream, including the charging case: The upper assembly of the case is made of some sort of rubberized plastic, meaning any prying you do won’t leave marks; and the whole thing is held together with clips. Once you release the first couple clips, the whole thing can come free with some careful squishing. Below the upper assembly is a board held in place with a couple Torx screws, connected to the rectangular 3.8 V battery.

Layout shot of the Jabra Elite 75T buds and case

Sony WF-1000XM3: The Repairable Buds You’re Looking For

Last but not least, we have Sony’s majestically-named WF-1000XM3 noise-cancelling buds, the most expensive buds in our roundup today, coming in at $229—just shy of the $250 AirPods Pro. These are also the biggest buds of the bunch, which might seem obnoxious if you actually wear them, but if you’re just taking them apart, it’s great!1

Using an opening pick to pop open the clips holding the Sony WF-1000XM3 bud together
This looks easy because it is easy

More purchase for your fingers and bigger, easier gaps to split with an opening pick (which unfortunately means no IP rating). Speaking of opening pick, that’s all it takes to pop these open! The Sonys are held together with delightful clips. Inside, two Phillips screws hold down an antenna frame under which the button-cell battery lives. The battery connects to the brains of these buds with contact pins (yay), and putting everything back together is, quite literally, a snap.

Removing the button-cell battery from a Sony WF-1000MX3 earbud
The surprisingly-not-VARTA button-cell battery inside the Sony WF-1000XM3

The WF-1000XM3 charging case is more of a tough cookie in the opening department, but its clips eventually give way to our prying without any cosmetic damage. Inside, the case reminds us of a less-gluey AirPods Pro charging case (this is, oddly, a good thing).2 One strange thing, though: all the indicator lights attach to the main board with disconnect-able cables, while the (very common) 14500 3.7 V battery is soldered to the board. Seems a bit backward.

Layout shot of all the pieces of the Sony WF-1000MX3 charging case and earbud

At the end of this teardown speedrun, we’re actually pleasantly surprised. Based on this small sample of the market, we’re pretty confident in saying that some of these popular earbuds are somewhat possible to repair, but only if you’ve got the patience to work in very tight spaces, and potentially some soldering skills—which is better than we expected after our first couple AirPods teardowns.

The wearables market is rapidly growing, which means the monstrous wave of impossible-to-recycle electronic devices on the horizon is only going to keep growing, too. Though it feels inevitable (and in a lot of ways, it is), there are some things you can do to make a difference, like considering the repairability of all the tech you purchase—including wireless earbuds!

If you’re looking to buy wireless earbuds that will last longer than the consumable Li-ion batteries inside them, we recommend picking up a used (or refurbished) pair of Sony WF-1000XM3 or Samsung Galaxy Buds (just be sure you get replacement tips…yuck!). If you already have a pair of buds you’re looking to replace, try a battery swap or sell them for parts before you send them off for electronics recycling.

After this post was written, Samsung announced a new version of their Galaxy Buds, the Galaxy Buds+. Ours just arrived and we’re anxious to see how they compare to their predecessors. We’ll update this post with a summary of our findings, but be sure to subscribe to our YouTube channel to catch the full teardown, coming soon!

[1]: What a fun job we have.

[2]: The AirPods Pro charging case was a real baby & bathwater situation—our single-number repairability scale is somewhat ill-fitted to earbuds since they are technically three different assemblies. We had to score the whole gang a 0 thanks to the ‘Pods’s inability to be reassembled, but the charging case is pretty respectable! It’s a little glue-y in there, but everything is connected with press connectors, and the whole thing went back together and still works with our one surviving Pro Pod.