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AirPods 2 Teardown (ifixit.com)
84 points by cheeaun on March 29, 2019 | hide | past | favorite | 97 comments



Side note, this teardown is very well done, and organized. I don't think I've ever seen these before, but I'm a big fan. I love how easy it is to digest, and all the supporting media for it is great. Awesome detail, and very informative!


Agreed. Showing all the tools used, and giving credit to community members who discovered better methods, are particularly nice touches.


I don't think I've ever seen these before

You've...never seen an iFixit teardown before? Much like discovering the alt-text of XKCD years after you started reading it, you've got some back catalog to catch up on.

And if you ever get the DIY itch, they'll sell you every tool they use. Decent quality kit, too.

(EDIT: and to those of today's 10,000 with regards to XKCD, I am so, so sorry. Enjoy the rest of your non-productive day!)


I'm one of today's 10,000 then. I didn't know about alt-text!! Does every XKCD contain alt-text?


Haha yeah pretty much! I think there's one our two where the alt text is just "..." or something like that, but it's always there. A lot of the pictures in his what if posts have an alt text too!


As far as I know, yes they do. The mobile version (https://m.xkcd.com) makes the alt text readable on mobile via click instead of hover btw!


their RSS just shows it below the comic as well.


> Much like discovering the alt-text of XKCD

Wow! I didn't know about this until right now


You're one of today's lucky 10,000. XKCD recursion! https://xkcd.com/1053/


My main interest is in Bluetooth 5. Walking around NYC, in even semi-congested areas of Manhattan, my audio cuts out with my phone in my front pants pocket. I literally have to hold it in my hand or coat pocket in order to cut through the interference. Has anyone experienced improvement when upgrading in this regard?


I constantly had this problem, especially at intersections, and actually read recently on twitter (I wish I could dig up the details!) that transmitters the MTA uses to communicate with trains occupy a similar part of the spectrum. This partially explains why the effects seem to be the most dramatic at intersections that happen to have trains beneath them.


It's all 2.4ghz. The 7 train uses 2.4ghz (literally WiFi I've heard) for CBTC. The other lines don't have train communication, but the bluetooth beacons on them and Transit Wireless (station WiFi) are on the same spectrum of course.


> My main interest is in Bluetooth 5

Bluetooth 5 does not help you here at all. Stereo audio is still done over Bluetooth classic which has not been updated since version 2.1

source: i work on bluetooth


Ah, damn. I'd heard from other sources when Bluetooth 5 was first coming out that increased bandwidth was part of the spec, so I was hoping that would resolve my congestion woes. 2.4ghz is unusable at some points in the city. It's rumored that's why the 7 train's CBTC setup took so much longer than planned.


Yes. Bluetooth low energy in Bluetooth 5.0 now supports two megabits per second data rate, up from the previous speed of 1 megabit per second. The problem is, none of that matters for audio, because audio is never sent over bluetooth low energy. It is sent over Bluetooth classic. The specification for audio over Bluetooth low energy is not out yet.


Not arguing with your knowledge, but how does the LDAC codec on Sony headphones work then? Is this a later standard or a crowbar?


A2dp optionally allows multiple codecs. Anyone can make their own. Codecs are negotiated at connection time and if the headphones and device both support a given codec, they can choose to use it. SBC is mandatory, all others optional, including ones you can invent later (even after the spec is final and in use).


Thank you, that's interesting.


I only have experience with original AirPods, but at home I've often made it really really far away before I realized my phone is on the other side of the house. It only seems to cut off when I go outside with the phone left inside and walk away from the house. I haven't had patience enough with previous BT headphones to see if this is unique, but with AirPods+iPhone the audio pauses when it loses signal, which is much preferable to just the audio cutting out.

Conversely, when I power on the microwave within a few seconds audio will cut out repeatedly until it's unlistenable with the phone in my pocket if I'm anywhere in the kitchen. I'm not sure of a workaround and I'm sure if this was common I'd find them unusable.

I feel like there are a few times when walking around a busy place I get what you're talking about. Thankfully, it's not a common scenario for me.


Airpods 2 do not cut out when the microwave is turned on now :D. I've also found the signal stronger and passing through walls a bit better.


You just made a great point for wired headphones that I have never considered...


Audio cutting out? Isn't that the automatic #1 consideration point for wired vs wireless headphones?


Maybe its luck, but I finally found a wireless mouse and BT headphones that I haven't got anything to complain about. Around 5 years ago I made the same test and came back to wired versions.

I suppose AirPods, with that price tag, must be much better.


What are they?


Logitech G305 and JBL 450BT. (Cheap stuff, but I live in LATAM so those things are quite costly...)


I have the same issue in semi-congested Seattle — it's the biggest downside to the AirPods, imo. I'm very interested in how the new ones perform.

I've heard anecdotally that the problem is not only interference, but physical surroundings: http://www.iphonehacks.com/2018/04/heres-why-your-airpods-or...


I received some first-gen Airpods as a gift recently.

I haven't really had problems downtown Toronto. I have had the odd blip, but no real cutting out or anything like that.


I have this exact problem all the time in downtown Toronto. There's a even a few intersections where I know it's going to be bad (University/Richmond, Yonge/Adelaide, Front/George). So obviously some signals at intersections interfere, but I've wondered if a replacement would help.


I'm usually on a bit of a different circuit than yourself, so there are a few variables in there as is.

I'm in Liberty Village where I never notice any issues and bus from there, up past King/Shaw, Queen/Ossington, Dundas/Ossington to Ossington Station. I debark at Sherbourne/Bloor and walk to Jarvis/Bloor. I think that stretch on Bloor is the only time I notice blips.

Last weekend I rode the King streetcar to Peter and walked north to Queen and didn't have any issues there, either.

Might be some hotspots around town, though.


Not sure if it's the same phenomenon, but I have to keep my phone in the front pocket on the same side as the BT receiver to completely avoid choppy audio, and that's when I'm walking completely alone with no one in visible distance.

EDIT: I'm referring to the BT 5 protocol in general, and not specifically AirPods. I've tried a few devices where I've experienced this.


How does that work with AirPods? My understanding is that both are receivers and they communicate with each other for sync.


Oh, sorry, I should have been more clear. I was referring to the BT 5 protocol, specifically, as that's what the comment I was replying to mentioned. I have this problem with all the BT 5 devices I've tried.


Does it matter what side the phone is on?

I keep my phone in my right pocket, but my bluetooth headphones have the transmitter on the left side. Even in my suburban backyard (mowing the lawn), they'll occasionally cut out when my body interferes too much. Every now and then, it'll get bad enough that I'll move my phone to my other pocket.


This ^. I've come to the same exact solution. which is weird as you'd think apple would have run into this issue themselves and fixed it before release


I'd guess that max bluetooth transmission strength is less than the maximum allowed by the FCC's spec for the 2.4ghz band (bluetooth and many other things use this). We'll probably just end up in an arms race of transmission strength until we hit legal limits.


Basically already done in Manhattan. If you want working internet in an apartment building, it has to be 5ghz at this point. Everyone's WiFi transmitters are cranked up to max to try to punch through the noise floor, plus all the city infra (7 train CBTC, the train bluetooth beacons, commercial/public WiFi, LinkNYC, etc)


That sounds awful. How do they not have problems with people boosting above maximum allowed signal strength? I probably would have tried that by now.


Never had this problem in a whole other city though (another continent actually, but iphone in front pants pocket too + airpods).

So the comment below about MTA signals might be on to something...


[flagged]


I know you're sarcastically talking about earpods, but that isn't 100% true. The cable can act as an antenna and transmit sounds unintentionally. One example of this is GSM phones causing a buzzing sound in nearby speakers/headphones that aren't properly filtering interference. Another are portable radios that use the headphone's cable as an antenna to receive FM signals.


This happens so much less frequently that I don't think it's all that relevant.


Why reddit allows jokes like this but HN is so unforgiving?


It takes a surprisingly small density of lazy jokes to completely derail constructive conversation. Derisive sarcasm is especially pernicious because it prompts reprisals.


Agree in general, although the joke in question actually makes a strong case in itself, albeit not an original one. I'm surprised it got downvoted so harshly.


There are times when sarcastic/combative comments contain sufficiently good material that they are upvoted in spite of their flaws, but I think in this case the content was pretty minimal/obvious. The comment by swah

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=19522802

contains essentially the same content, and it did fine.


HN is probably a better place having downvoted me. That said, I think Airpods are completely ridiculous.


If you want Reddit, post on reddit. Not every site has to devolve into a meme cesspit.


It's not the end of the world. Just consider it a joke tax!


How can anyone in their right mind claim that Apple is a 'green' company?

In 5-10 years we will have 10s of million dead and useless AirPods due to degraded and broken batteries. So much unnecessary e-waste!


I don't know if this applies to AirPods, but Apple is aiming to have a "closed loop" product line where they get a lot of the material they need for new products from old ones: https://www.apple.com/environment/resources/


In 5-10 years we'd have the same number of "million dead and useless AirPods" even if they had replaceable batteries, because by that time we'd have the next model with new features, design, etc.

The green thing is not to expect a company like Apple to merely add batteries, but to not consume as much, and to get stuff that works long term and is not prone to such improvements (e.g. a good old pair of high quality wired cans you keep for decades). Of course they keep removing stuff like the headphones jack too. In my idea government, that move would incur a hefty environmental fine by itself.

The "Apple is Green" etc, is environment-theater, as is "recycling".


> In 5-10 years we'd have the same number of "million dead and useless AirPods" even if they had replaceable batteries, because by that time we'd have the next model with new features, design, etc.

Earbuds aren't cell phones—there's not a lot you can add. You can improve audio quality but that happens at a slow pace, and much of the public doesn't care.

I don't think all that many people would rush to replace a $200 product after two years if the original had a longer usable life.


>Earbuds aren't cell phones—there's not a lot you can add.

I can think of enough stuff. New Bluetooth standards, longer lasting charge, better audio drivers, health monitoring, embedded connection-free translation (babelfish-like), eSIM and calling/receiving directly from the AirPods (like you can do from the Apple Watch, but using Siri for the dialing). And those are just off the top of my head.

Heck, just the same model available in black too, would make tons of people replace their AirPods 3-4 years after they got them.


> New Bluetooth standards, longer lasting charge, better audio drivers, health monitoring, embedded connection-free translation (babelfish-like), eSIM and calling/receiving directly from the AirPods (like you can do from the Apple Watch, but using Siri for the dialing).

Most of these hinge on the earbuds becoming more self-sufficient computing devices, rather than pure audio devices. I think we're a long way off from that becoming practical, because battery tech is improving at too slow a pace.


Yeah, but we're talking 3-4 years between each step. Those are enough features for 4 such iterations, or 16+ years.

Let's consider phones 16 years ago and today (or watches, for that matter).


They're mostly one step.

> Embedded connection-free translation (babelfish-like), eSIM and calling/receiving directly from the AirPods

This all fundamentally requires a powerful computer in the Airpods, which in turn fundamentally requires a longer laster battery. Apple may try to roll them out over time, but they can't begin the rollout until battery technology fundamentally improves, which it isn't doing in the near future short of some breakthrough.

The one big improvement I could see them doing more near-term is health monitoring, though I'm not sure what it would add compared to the watch, which is more likely to be always on your person. Bluetooth upgrades and audio drivers are "easy" (relatively), but hard to sell to consumers by themselves.


It's a good point. And the concomitant packaging and freight requirements.

It'd be good to see a "10,000,000 AirPods is the equivalent of" various other things.

How many AirPods would you need to recycle to have enough metal / plastic / battery material to build an electric car, for example.


well, the roughest possible back of napkin math:

A pair of Airpods and their case weigh 46 g. And the curb weight of the standard Tesla 3 is 1611 kg (all numbers from wikipedia)

So you would need 35022 sets of Airpods just to make up the mass of a Tesla 3, and you would have to recycle at least that many Airpods (likely far more) to get enough material to manufacture a Tesla 3

I wouldn't be surprised if it took more than 100000 sets of airpods to get enough battery and metal for a car. With lots of extra leftover plastic.


There's an article an a thread on that from a week ago -- https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=19455467


Were people not going to use wireless headphones had Apple not given us AirPods? They all have batteries limiting their lifespans and are generally not easily repaired.


Apple has put a lot of marketing behind its particular brand of wireless headphones. This almost certainly has had an effect on adoption of wireless earbuds as a category.

It isn't a foregone conclusion that wireless earbuds would become popular. The wire isn't all that annoying, and going wireless is much more expensive and requires recharging.

Consider also the alternate "neckbud" solution, which removes the most annoying wire while also leaving more space for a longer (and possible to remove) battery. Without the AirPods, maybe those would have become the standard.

Apple removing the headphone jack from the iPhone undoubtably helped, too.

But yes, the entire category is environmentally questionable. Although, I'm not clear that they are all truly impossible to repair like the Airpods are.


Earbud holder is a strange place to put a wireless charging dock -- I always thought there are two prongs that get magnetically attached to charging ports.

Inductive charging is only about 60% efficient, so in theory you only get 398*0.6=238.8mAh of charge, which is a little bit more than a single full recharge of 2x93mAh earbuds.


It's never been the buds themselves that charge wirelessly. Qi charging can top up the case, which itself then tops up the buds via direct contact while everything is packed up in your pocket.


You are right, wireless charging chip is only present on the case.


You can get good knockoffs ("i12 TWS") for ~$25 delivered from China, these days.

If it's the combination of non-repairability and price that bothers you, a 6x price warp sure softens the blow.


I've had good experience with Funcl AI, they run almost constant deals at $50 on Amazon. Just Google around for the most recent coupon code, e.g. https://m.androidcentral.com/thrifter-deal-funcl-ai-true-wir... now has them at $40


Have you actually tried these?

interesting that these knockoffs claim Bluetooth 5.


Every feature added to bluetooth since version 2.1 has been optional, so you can take any BT 2.1 chip and validly claim it is a BT 5.0 chip (it just lacks all the optional features).

source: i work on bluetooth


Yes, I have a pair in hand. There are multiple products being sold under that same name, though. Some of which aren't very good. So be sure to check recent seller feedback.


How are those battery terminals connected to the logic board - it has no connector header, just flat leads? Hard to keep up with miniaturization of connectors!


Would love to see a teardown of the cheap knockoffs, like the i12 TWS types..


Pointless(And fuck-ugly IMO), but the engineering on display is very impressive.


I agreed with you... before I picked up a pair. As with several of Apple's best products, the reality of using them exceeds what you'd expect from merely reading about them. The iPad was the same way for me when they came out.

I bought an LTE iPad a couple of years ago, and had been using Sony Bluetooth headphones for some time for conference calls and such. I was at PyCon and my headphones crapped out on me - since I use them for work daily, my employer was reimbursing me anyhow and I decided to go ahead and splurge on AirPods.

WOW. Just wow. I found myself pairing them to my iPad and purposefully leaving it uncovered in my backpack while walking around so I could talk to Siri. I had a Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge at the time, and while I was very happy with it, I went out the next week and bought an iPhone X primarily so I'd be able to access Siri from my AirPods more easily and without having to leave the cover off my iPad.

I've since upgraded my iPad to an 11" iPad Pro - and all because of the AirPods, honestly. I've spent almost $3k in total because of them, and am happy with that.


I bought into the hype as well even with every angle of my headphones covered (JayBird for workouts, Bose SoundSports for all-day/work, Sennheiser Momentum over-ears for quality), probably a drunken buy, but it's kind of replaced my all-day pair. The no-wires thing is kind of nice, but really it's how well they work with other apple products that does it for me. First pair of bluetooth headphones that didn't annoy the shit out of me until I just went back to wired.


And the repairability score is zero.

I am quite concerned about these all ending up in landfills due to battery degradation. Apple claims it can "recycle" them, but that's legitimately hard to believe.

I would not feel morally comfortable owning one of these.


Apple produced a pretty wild video about their iPhone-recycling robot. “True innovation means considering what happens to a product at every stage of its life cycle.” Even has a name, Liam.

It would do a lot to put my mind at ease if Apple produced a similar video showing how AirPods get torn down, although it's early enough in their history that Apple is probably just throwing expired AirPods in a shipping container to wait until the numbers make sense.

(Apple accepts all their old products back for recycling; I take most of my used electronics to Staples, but Apple stuff always goes back to Apple, as I assume they can do the best job of getting every ounce of meat out of the pig.)


https://motherboard.vice.com/en_us/article/yp73jw/apple-recy...

> "Materials are manually and mechanically disassembled and shredded into commodity-sized fractions of metals, plastics, and glass," John Yeider, Apple's recycling program manager, wrote under a heading called "Takeback Program Report" in a 2013 report to Michigan Department of Environmental Quality. "All hard drives are shredded in confetti-sized pieces. The pieces are then sorted into commodities grade materials. After sorting, the materials are sold and used for production stock in new products. No reuse. No parts harvesting. No resale."

As the article points out recycling should be a last resort (after reuse). Apple is deliberately obstructive of that.


Thinking back, I've handed down and repurposed so many Apple products. Way more than any other company--especially for tech. I hear so many stories about hand-me-downs with kids, too. There's only a few items I've dropped off to Apple to dispose of...most were part of a buy-back program (I'm curious where those ended up; one was an original Apple Watch they recently gave $25 for and another a few year old iPhone. I wouldn't be surprised if they ended up in different places).

Laptops I can often buy new and resell to recoup a significant part of the original cost...my first few Apple laptops were purchased used. iPods have been repurposed as; low-tier gym music players, sound machines for a baby, full time car music bulk playback.

Due to generally higher build quality, they seem to last longer and being almost a commodity (a relatively small number of SKUs and popular), it's easy to find replacement/new parts many years later.

I did try and repurpose my old Nexus One phone for a RaspberryPi project, but the screen/touchscreen died.


I think the responder was talking about re-use of parts, though, not devices.

On the day of the iPad Mini announcement last week, my iPad spontaneously threw itself off the bed in a fit of grief and shattered on my concrete floor. Battery is a bit old but the logic board is perfectly okay; Apple is just gonna shred it into confetti.


The comment ended with "recycling should be a last resort (after reuse). Apple is deliberately obstructive of that."

My disagreement is that for multiple reasons (build quality, longevity, and small number of popular SKUs), which are because of Apple, there is a much larger secondhand market than most tech products or even non-tech products in general. This also means I can more easily find replacement parts by buying things like your broken iPad on ebay/craigslist.

I also think it sucks Apple gets dinged for their Takeback program. I do have a problem with things that make the consumer feel good without actually materially improving anything and with situations where companies pressure cities to build half-hearted recycling programs when companies should accept more of a burden.

I have a young kid and their toys burn through batteries. My wife has battery recycling at work. After giving up nagging her to take them I remembered Best Buy has a prominent display for electronics recycling. After keeping used batteries in my car for a few weeks I finally stopped by one and found it explicitly did not accept alkaline batteries. I can't imagine the hoops needed to acceptably dispose of rechargeable headphones or laptops.

Sure, these programs make some people feel a little better about consuming these things, but after decades of this I haven't seen any of this consumer energy going to anything more productive. Often, it's the city/waste collection taking the burden instead of the company that produced it.


My iPod Mini still gets use today because my 2013 Hyundai has better iPod integration than bluetooth support. All I've done to it is replace the microdrive with a compact flash card. Shockingly, iTunes has no problem syncing music to a 256GB iPod Mini.


Considering that Apple will send you prepaid shipping label to recycle your devices, I don't expect they would just toss them in the landfill.


So what, plausibly, do you think they might be doing?

I generally operate under the belief that companies avoid outright lying, particularly major ones like Apple. But, they may be stretching the truth, such as by salvaging a neglible amount of material and then chucking the rest. I'm not seeing a clear process on how they could do more than that.

Also, even if Apple is able to extract and reuse the metals or some such, the complete inability to swap out the batteries without destroying the device, combined with reports that battery capacity reaches unusable levels within a couple years, is of great concern.


So what, plausibly, do you think they might be doing?

It's LifeHacker, consider the source:

https://lifehacker.com/how-to-recycle-your-airpods-183357932...

"In a phone conversation, an Apple spokesperson confirmed that these AirPods are then distributed to recyclers who specialize in electronic waste along with instructions on how to break apart the components."


> are then distributed to recyclers who specialize in electronic waste

So, nothing like Daisy. I sadly don't find this encouraging.


Then they appear at Aliexpress with fresh batteries for half the price.


That's fantastic. Reuse is the best form of recycling.


From the teardown, it doesn't seem possible to replace an airpod's battery without destroying it.


Never underestimate Chinese low-fi engineering genius.


As the other user mentioned, hopefully something similar to this(!):

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AYshVbcEmUc



Why? Nescafe happily takes back used coffee pods and then tosses them. It's good PR -- good enough that my GF dumps them in the recycling "because they are recyclable: Nescafe takes them".


> My GF dumps [Nescafe coffee pods] in the recycling "because they are recyclable: Nescafe takes them".

With all possible respect, this is terrible logic. Apple recycles iPhones, but that doesn't mean you can throw iPhones in your household recycling.

Putting non-recyclables into the recycling can contaminate and ruin the entire load. As a general rule, if you're not sure whether something can be recycled, you should err on the side of not recycling it. https://www.vox.com/videos/2019/3/12/18252188/recycling-wron...


I agree with your points, but there is no way to win these arguments :-(.


There's one.


Probably only in US.


I'd be interested in seeing data about what the average ecological impact of buying Apple products.

I used to be of the opinion that as long as you recycled, everything was just fine, but the recent recycling horror stories about sorting and costs have made me more reconsider that. Apple has (insofar as I can tell) an excellent recycling program, but realistically speaking, is a good recycling program enough? I don't know how it balances against:

A) increased consumption rates (your airpods are basically guaranteed to need replacing in 2 years max).

B) the limited number of consumers that are actually going to the trouble to send airpods back in to get recycled instead of throwing them in the garbage bin.

This is something I'd be interested in reading more about.


Had the same feeling reading the article. I hadn't thought what happens when the airpod batteries fail. Will look for something more sustainable going forward.




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