It’s been a hot minute since the folks at Fairphone released a new product category. The company rose to popularity for encouraging the idea that smartphones didn’t need to be solid, welded/glued hunks of metal and glass that couldn’t be opened, repaired, or upgraded. The company was founded in 2013, and Fairphone even announced their 4th smartphone last year, a modular device with support for 5G connectivity, dual 48MP cameras with optical image stabilization, an IP54 rating, and MIL810G drop test certification.
The problem that Fairphone is tackling is a highly systemic one, and doesn’t just apply to smartphones. Lack of user or third-party repairability is real, as is planned obsolescence… and the company’s shifted its approach to the audio industry with the Fairbuds XL, their first-ever pair of wireless headphones that are also designed to be sustainable, modular, and repairable.
Drawing inspiration from their groundbreaking phone design, these headphones embrace the concept of modularity, allowing users to easily replace faulty or worn-out components, thereby extending the lifespan of the product. Notably, the Fairbuds XL takes modularity to new heights, making both a visual as well as ethical statement that hopes to be an antithesis to companies like Apple, who discourage repairability, and Skullcandy, who look to flood the market with cheap audio gear that’s notoriously short-lived and unrepairable.
With the Fairbuds XL, Fairphone aims at showing that making a product modular, sustainable, and top-notch is indeed possible. There’s really no need for compromising anywhere, and it shows with the Fairbuds XL’s design and features. The headphones look all sorts of fashionable, with modern, minimal design cues, contrasting colors, and the use of speckled plastic cups that just scream ‘recycled’. On the inside, the Fairbuds XL promises an immersive sound with clear highs, balanced mids, and deep bass, thanks to its advanced 40 mm dynamic drivers. To enhance the listening experience, Fairphone offers a free companion app that provides EQ settings and personalized audio calibration in collaboration with sound calibration specialist, Sonarworks.
At a €249 price point, you’d be right to expect features like ANC and Transparency mode, and the Fairbuds XL deliver on that front. The headset does boast active noise cancellation, as well as audio-passthrough or transparency, allowing you to either drown the world out or listen in on the world around you for important sounds, cues, alerts, etc. Moreover, an 800 mAh battery offers up to 30 hours of playback on a single charge, ensuring long-lasting enjoyment.
Delving into the construction of these headphones reveals a notable level of customization and versatility. With eleven modular parts, including a headband cover, headband, headband base, speaker-to-speaker cable, left and right speakers, ear cushions, headphone battery, speaker covers, and a joystick, the Fairbuds XL boasts a strong focus on being able to swap out older parts for newer ones in the hopes of extending a product’s life-cycle. Apart from its modular design, the Fairbuds XL prides itself on responsible manufacturing. Fairphone proudly integrates Fairtrade gold into its supply chain, ensuring ethical sourcing, and even offers all its employees a fair living wage. Additionally, the product is crafted from a combination of recycled aluminum, recycled tin solder paste, and recycled plastics, significantly reducing its environmental impact. The inclusion of vegan cushions and a recycled textile pouch for storage and portability further underlines Fairphone’s commitment to sustainability.
The Fairbuds XL comes in two colors (Green or Black) starts at €249 (around US$268), and ships with a 2-year warranty along with the option to replace/repair parts on your own. The price doesn’t include the USB-C 3.2 charging cable, which Fairphone sells separately in a bid to reduce e-waste… and although built for wireless use, the headphones also support wired use along with a USB-C to 3.5mm audio cable, which is sold separately too.