AirPods Teardown: Impossible to repair or recycle

AirPods Teardown: Impossible to repair or recycle
Just like with any new consumer electronics product, merely days after they've reached users across the globe, the Apple AirPods got in the hands of the folk at iFixit. And what they did to Apple's newest earbuds might look cruel, but it teaches us a few valuable lessons.

The teardown didn't start smoothly. Plastic had to be cut from the very start, as the AirPods themselves didn't have any obvious fasteners that could provide an entry point. So, the earbuds were ruined even before we got to take a peek inside them.

We won't go into detail about what's inside the AirPods. Let us just tell you that everything is held together by generous quantities of glue. Therefore, removing any component without breaking it (or breaking the body of the earbuds) is technically impossible. The components of the AirPods are very small and fragile, compared to the amounts of industrial adhesive that holds them in place. Therefore, attempts to remove them would cause a lot of damage in most cases, rendering them useless.

This includes the tiny Li-ion batteries too. This creates two problems – first, the AirPods could not be repaired, as any attempt to crack them open destroys them. And second, they can't be easily recycled, since the Li-ion batteries pose a significant fire risk, if put in a shredder.

Disassembling the charging case was no easy task either, as there are no obvious seams that would allow the case to be opened. By the time the iFixit folk finally got inside it, multiple tools and techniques were used, which resulted in the outer shell of the case being completely mangled.

The charging case was completely destroyed before it opens.

The charging case was completely destroyed before it opens.


The battery of the charging case would be easier to remove if you manage to break through to it, though. It actually features a ZIF connector, instead of industrial quantities of adhesive. Still, getting to it would involve hours of breaking, cutting and melting plastic. Not a safe, nor an easy process.

And, on top of all that, one of the microcontrollers inside the charging case appears to be installed under low quality standards. The chip features tiny air bubbles in its solder joints, which could cause problems with its proper operation.

The tiny air bubbles can be seen as white spots on the soldering joints of this X-ray photo of one of the microcontrollers.

The tiny air bubbles can be seen as white spots on the soldering joints of this X-ray photo of one of the microcontrollers.


This definitely explains why the cost for out-of-warranty service and replacement is exactly the same for both the AirPods, and their charging case ($69 for one AirPod or one charging case). Apple probably has no way of repairing them whatsoever and just dishes out brand new units instead.

source: iFixit

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51 Comments

1. yUlek

Posts: 57; Member since: May 14, 2014

How Eco is that?

22. NarutoKage14

Posts: 1297; Member since: Aug 31, 2016

It's not but that's probably the only way they could find to fix the supposed "too much sound" traveling through the airpods. All of that adhesive is bound to block out sound rather effectively. On the plus side it gives them that excuse to sell replacements at an even higher profit margin than a new set.

26. marorun

Posts: 5029; Member since: Mar 30, 2015

What a joke. Overpriced and using cheap part? wtf apple..

45. Leo_MC

Posts: 6386; Member since: Dec 02, 2011

I was excited by Samsung gear earbuds (which are 220€, 60€ more than the Apple's product) until I have used them; 1 hour of usage is enough for my workout but not for the way from/to home too. So, I think a product that's 27% cheaper and it lasts 400% more than what the competition has to offer (in this class) can be called many names but "overpriced" is not one of them.

48. Chrusti

Posts: 92; Member since: Jul 25, 2015

wow this is crazy, but people will but the new ones next years anyways

2. Landon

Posts: 1232; Member since: May 07, 2015

Save your money and buy some decent Bluetooth headphones on Amazon. They'll sound a lot better, stay in your ear more securely, and won't cost you as much.

8. Mxyzptlk unregistered

Riight buy some cheap, Chinese knockoff on Amazon just to save money.

9. maherk

Posts: 6683; Member since: Feb 10, 2012

You do realise those are made in China as well? And cheaper in price doesn't mean cheaper in quality, and vise versa. And this article proves this point.

17. zunaidahmed

Posts: 1182; Member since: Dec 24, 2011

Dude, even me, an Apple lover have to say, these pair of air pods suck. Even the beatX is better than this crap. Apple pushed back the beatX sales intentionally because less people will buy this if the released date was together. Apple should have done better with the design.

18. maherk

Posts: 6683; Member since: Feb 10, 2012

The difference here Zunaid, is that you are an Apple fan, not a blind Apple fanboy. It's like me and Techie, I am fan of Samsung, he is a Samsung's blind fanboy. They are irrational, who believe that their favorite OEM will never ever do any wrong.

38. TechieXP1969

Posts: 14967; Member since: Sep 25, 2013

I don't like beat over the ear headphones, but the urBeat and ibeats would be a far better option for less money.

19. sissy246

Posts: 6959; Member since: Mar 04, 2015

LOL all I can say is, stupid

27. marorun

Posts: 5029; Member since: Mar 30, 2015

So you prefere to pay more for the same cheap crap made in china? i would go with any of those top rated Bluetooth earbuds before buying thats overpriced crap thats got crappy chip thats gonna broke after a few months of use. http://www.bestproducts.com/tech/gadgets/g201/wireless-earbuds-and-earphones/

31. TechieXP1969

Posts: 14967; Member since: Sep 25, 2013

You mean...like these?https://www.amazon.com/Bose-761529-0010-SoundSport-Wireless-Headphones/dp/B01L7PSJFO/ref=sr_1_cc_1?s=aps&ie=UTF8&qid=1482263998&sr=1-1-catcorr&keywords=bose+wireless+headphones I bet those sound way better than Apple's garbage and they wont fall out your ears right away. I think what they are saying...well in fact you know what they are saying. You can buy cheap wireless headphoens with the same or even better qyality for far less money vs what Apple is charging. I dont understand why you act purposely stupid!

20. sissy246

Posts: 6959; Member since: Mar 04, 2015

No, save your money and buy you a good pair of Bose , they are awesome.

23. Landon

Posts: 1232; Member since: May 07, 2015

I've had Bose for the past 10 years. I currently have the QC 20's and yeah...they're amazing. For those who don't want to shell out $250+ for headphones, though, there are plenty out there that will do the trick over these Apple duds.

47. sissy246

Posts: 6959; Member since: Mar 04, 2015

Yes they are. QC 20's are what my husband has. He got them off ebay for $230.

51. TechieXP1969

Posts: 14967; Member since: Sep 25, 2013

Agreed. I just got a pair of over-the-ear BOSE that retail for $220. I haven't opened them yet because I don't liek OTE headphones. But I know BOSE does a good job with sound. But I did over the summer buy the BOSE Sport wired ones and they sound pretty darn good for $129.00. But I know you can get similar quality for half the cost, wired or not. If Apple was giving BOSE or even SAMSUNG quality, I would still say they are overpriced, but I've bought overpriced options before. But I'm not goign to pay Apple $160 for earbuds that sound like their 19.00 wired headphones. Beats was bad enough and I've bough those. Then after buying the Gear Circle and seeing they sound equally the same, catching the lows without making them sound like static, I decided not only would I never buy another pair Beats, I won't even buy from so-called "premium" brand ever again. I found another brand of ear-hooked wireless headphones, that advertised offering Beat quality for $49.00. I can't tell the apart from the beats similar model. -https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B017SGXRQ2/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o03_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1

3. bucky

Posts: 3771; Member since: Sep 30, 2009

I wouldnt expect these to be easily repairable.I can honestly say i have never repaired a set of earbuds. Also, I like the idea of being able to replace a lost earbud even if it is another $70. Atleast the option is there.

4. SIGPRO

Posts: 2810; Member since: Oct 03, 2012

So basically the airpods are just crap.......like many people said before!

6. uzbek-mobile-man

Posts: 118; Member since: Sep 27, 2014

Is it impossible to repair or recycle, feature low-quality chips?

10. Plasticsh1t

Posts: 3090; Member since: Sep 01, 2014

You can't repair q-tips. You have to throw them away and buy new ones.

13. SIGPRO

Posts: 2810; Member since: Oct 03, 2012

Hahahahahahahah well said!

24. Emerax

Posts: 2; Member since: Dec 20, 2016

so i just buy these 160 dollars that has stuff made under very low quality standards, that most likely will need to be replaced very often just because headphones are not meant to be fixed?

28. TechieXP1969

Posts: 14967; Member since: Sep 25, 2013

OVERPRICED GARBAGE. To be fair, I don't know to many headphones that can be repaired, unless they are the huge over the ear kind. Who fixes headphone alike these anyways? NO ONE! They have always just been replaced at a cost. Apple use to give away the older headphones to you, to replace any damaged ones, but they stopped that because they are cheap asses. I've never had to replaced BT headphones for not working. But if they stopped working, I'd toss them and just by another because no one repairs them. So the whole teardown was a complete waste of time to begin with. Oh and the details are simple. They are cheap Chinese made overpriced garbage with tiny drivers that give lame sound. This is typical of most tiny low quality heaphones. Unless you earbuds wireless or not, say BOSE, Beats or similar; then they will all be low quality garabge. I don't know why you PA guys keep expecting more from Apple. When arte you goign to learn. Look at the iPhone. with exception of the CPU/GPU, its all made of cheap low costing components. After all the phone costs just over $200 to make. The phones are assembled in China using cheap labor. The phones are shipped using the cheapest possible shipping method...cargo ships. This is why Apple margins are so high. But the fans won't even say that. Its simple. Apple took their $6.00 to make wired AirPods and attached the drivers to a wireless BT radio. That chip probably added $2.00 of cost to the headphones. They cut the wire which was probably $1.00 of cost. Since there is no headphone connector, that's takes off a 1.00 too. So now we are back to the same $6.00. Nut unlike the corded ones they sold for $19.00, they sell these for $160.00. That si almost 8.5 times the cost of the corded ones. Yet they cost the same to make. That means for every 1M sold, they will make 8 times he amount of money, they would make off the corded ones with the same amount of sales. Now before the heard comes and calls me out. I had radio TV in school. I've taken apart mahy headphones. I have no idea how much money Apple pays for them to be made. Six bucks is actually and in all honesty, being generous. The wired ones probably cost 3.00 in actual material consider China's discount cost one thing begin made by the millions at a time. Which means the wireless ones are no more than double that. Oh and to be fair, BOSE headphones are cheap to make too. Just not $3.00 cheap. BOSE uses better drivers overall and they use a higher grade of wire which don't degrade sound like cheap options. BOSE probably has an overall cost of $10.00. And like Apple, because they pan themselves as a "premium" brand, they get to sell them at more than 20x's their cost. The issue is this rule I made up years ago. Apple and names like BOSE, lead people to believe that "it's better because it costs more". But the fact is"it should only cost more because its better". I love my Beats by Dre. Nothing is better wireless or wired.

42. mixedfish

Posts: 1542; Member since: Nov 17, 2013

Basically a $5 worth of sound quality earphones priced at a premium because Apple included their convoluted W1 technology.

46. jeroome86

Posts: 2314; Member since: Apr 12, 2012

Not paying over 50 dollars for any of these ear buds. The cords always fray even on the 200 dollar ones. No thanks. My co worker just got some high dollar ear buds which was part of the V20 deal. Maybe just a tad better then my cheap Amazon buds. Wasn't really that impress with them at all. Then there's the Beats by Dre. Over rated. Good marketing though.

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