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Fairphone’s Fairbuds offer a more sustainable alternative to traditional earbuds and AirPods, addressing the environmental concerns posed by these popular products.

Why is battery swapping a big deal?

The battery-swapping nature of the Fairbuds got me excited because it could solve the big sustainability problem of wireless earbuds. Even if a pair is built like a tank, with great water and dust protection and even upgrades over time, battery chemistry is still a Recommended article: Read about the latest tech gadgets problem. As the charge level on lithium-ion batteries goes up and down, they lose their ability to hold as much power. It’s usually reckoned that you can expect two years of good service from lithium batteries (unless you really hammer them), and after that, you’ll see deterioration in how well they last. And earbuds batteries are small, so it doesn’t take much deterioration to have an impact.

And wireless earbuds have batteries in both the buds and the case, so there are multiple places for things to go wrong. Companies can try to mitigate this problem (Apple offers ‘optimized charging’ for its lineup of AirPods, for example, so they charge in a way that protects the battery life long-term if you leave them juicing up overnight), but ultimately chemistry is chemistry.

This all isn’t a problem if you can easily replace the batteries with new ones when they start to drop off, but earbuds are almost always sealed tight, not designed with replaceable parts. When you’re not happy with the battery any more, the only option is to buy a new pair – so the old ones go to landfill (or for recycling, but the amount that actually gets recovered may be limited). It’s not exactly a great situation for the planet.

If you have Fairbuds, you’ll be able to replace the batteries in the buds, as well as in the charging case, with the latter accessed by a single screw.

Fairphone, maker of repairable and therefore potentially longer-lasting and more sustainable phones and headphones, has revealed its first wireless earbuds, called Fairbuds. They cost £129 (about $165 / AU$245) and are available to order in Europe now from Fairphone’s website. The unique thing about Fairbuds compared to all the rest of the best wireless earbuds is that the batteries in both the earbuds and the charging case can be swapped out easily by the owner – that means they could last much longer than most of their rivals because the battery is what’s mostly likely to go first in earbuds.

Indeed, Fairphone is offering a three-year warranty with the Fairbuds, on top of the fact that you can just replace the batteries yourself. The company also notes that the buds are designed to be repairable in other ways too, which is not the case for everything else. A large, 11mm titanium driver provides the sound, and there’s active noise cancellation, so these will compete against the best noise-canceling earbuds. There’s multi-point connectivity, auto-play/pause for when you put them in and taken them out of your ears, volume and playback control on the buds, IP54 sweat- and dust-proofing, and an app for iOS and Android that lets you customize the sound and update the buds in the future.

It’s a pretty great feature-set, and the only things notably lacking are higher-res support such as aptX and Bluetooth LE Audio and Auracast support. Those aren’t dealbreakers at this price, though, and we hope LE Audio and Auracast might be added in the future (Bluetooth 5.3 support is on board, so they theoretically can support this tech). Add it all up, and these look set to be a strong rival to the Sony WF-C700N, which is our first pick at this kind of price.

Fairphone already offers the Fairbuds XL headphones, which we found to sound pretty good, which bodes well for these new Fairbuds. (You might have assumed that the company would have released these two products in the opposite order, but life is strange.)

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