Home Tech Fairphone Fairbuds review: Ethically made earphones with replaceable batteries

Fairphone Fairbuds review: Ethically made earphones with replaceable batteries

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Fairphone Fairbuds review: Ethically made earphones with replaceable batteries

Fairphone, the pioneer of ethical and repairable electronics, is back with a pair of some of the first Bluetooth headphones to make replacing batteries so easy and affordable that you can do it at home in minutes.

Bluetooth headphones have become a ubiquitous part of life, fueled by the success of Apple’s AirPods. Until now, they have all compromised sustainability by being very difficult to repair, making them, in effect, disposable.

The Fairbuds cost £129 (€149) and are designed from the ground up to be as sustainable as possible, combining recycled and fair trade materials with replaceable parts that can be swapped out with a standard small screwdriver.

On the surface they look like any other mid-range headphones. The case has a flip lid, a pairing button, and magnetic charging slots for the earbuds. The earbuds have a familiar shape with silicone tips and an oval exterior that points toward your mouth.

The top of the headphones are touch-sensitive panels for playback and volume controls. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

It’s just the outline of a battery and a small screw at the bottom that sets the Fairbuds apart. Unscrew it to release the inside of the case from the translucent outer shell and take out the battery like on the Fairbuds XL or Fairphone 5.

The earbuds have a small door hidden behind a silicone case, which opens to reveal a small button cell battery ready to be replaced once it wears out. The design seems so simple that you wonder why no one has tried it before.

The oval top of the earbuds has a touch-sensitive surface for a good set of controls. Tap once, twice, or three times for playback controls, swipe up and down to control volume, or tap and hold right to change noise cancellation modes or left to activate noise canceling assistant. voice from your phone. He pulls out an earbud and the music stops.

Replacing the battery in the case takes less than a minute and only requires unscrewing a small Phillips screw. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

The earbuds feel lightweight and fit well, staying secure and comfortable in my ears during long listening sessions. They’re sweat-resistant, but they don’t have wings or hooks to keep them in place, making them less suitable for exercise than general use.


  • Waterproof: IP54 (splash)

  • Connectivity: Bluetooth 5.3 (SBC, AAC)

  • Battery duration: Six hours of ANC off (up to 26 hours with case)

  • Headphone weight: 5g

  • Headphone dimensions: 28.7×24.6x21mm

  • Driver size: 11mm

  • Charging case weight: 68g

  • Charging Case Dimensions: 65x65x27mm

  • Case loading: USB-C

Solid battery life for Android or iPhone

The Fairbuds app for Android or iPhone shows battery life, handles updates, has a full equalizer, and guides for the various batteries and modular parts of the earbuds. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

Replaceable batteries don’t mean the headphones have short life. They last between five and six hours with noise cancellation active and can be recharged a little more than three times per case, which is competitive with major rivals.

The Fairbuds are standard Bluetooth 5.3 headphones, supporting the common SBC and AAC audio formats, ready to work with Android, iPhone, Mac or PC. They also have multipoint to connect to two devices simultaneously, which is useful for making calls compatible with watching videos. The Bluetooth connection was strong for a number of devices, but experienced a slight skip here and there in areas with the most interference, such as the crowded concourse at St Pancras train station.

Call quality is quite good, it sounds clear and natural in quiet environments and does a great job of blocking out unwanted noise on busy streets while still being clear. However, you have to talk a little for the headphones to pick up your voice.

Sound and noise cancellation.

Standard silicone tips, of which three sizes are provided, produce a good seal for music and noise cancellation. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

The Fairbuds have decent noise cancellation, but not class-leading. It handles low-end noises well and muffles the general bustle of an office, but has trouble with higher-pitched noises, like tire roar on the highway or announcements on a train. Ambient mode sounds pretty natural, but it’s pretty quiet and has a constant hum of white noise in the background.

The Fairbuds won’t win any awards for audio quality but overall they have an easy-listening sound that’s decent in detail with reasonable tonal separation. They can be a little flat in certain parts of the tracks and work better with rock or grunge tracks than with something grand like orchestral music.

As is common with budget headphones, the noise cancellation also changes the audio quality, making it a little more direct and energetic but also sounding tighter. There is an equalizer in the Fairbuds app to alter the balance based on personal preference.

A bigger problem was the latency caused lip sync error, where video and audio are not perfectly aligned, across multiple devices and platforms, including Netflix and YouTube. Fairphone said he was aware of the problem and that he was working to fix it, but not imminently.


Replacing the headphones’ standard rechargeable coin cell battery is a three-minute job. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

Fairphone says the batteries will maintain at least 80% of their original capacity for more than 500 full charge cycles. Replacements cost £9 for a pair of earbuds and £12 for the case. Fairphone offers a three-year warranty, while the replacement earbuds, as well as the inside and outside of the charging case, be available for home repairs.

Fairphone recycles the equivalent weight of electronics for every set of headphones sold, making it e-waste neutral. Uses fair cobalt, gold and silver and recycled plastic, rare earth elements and tin. The company also increases the pay of its contract manufacturing workers to a living wage.


The price of the Fairphone Fairbuds £129 and come in a choice of white or black.

For comparison, the Fairbuds XL costs £219the ear of nothing 2 £109 and the AirPods Pro £229.


The Fairbuds prove that modern Bluetooth headphones don’t have to be disposable and that companies like Apple, Bose, Sennheiser and Sony should do more on this front.

They look good, work and fit well and have most of the modern conveniences of their rivals. They have decent, easy-listening sound and reasonable noise cancellation, which won’t bother the best on the market, but will get the job done.

As with other Fairphone products, you’re paying a little more than expected to be more sustainable and ethical. The Fairbuds have the sound and noise cancellation of lower mid-range headphones costing between £90 and £100, meaning you’re paying around £30 more for replaceable batteries and fairer manufacturing.

There are a few issues that need to be addressed to get an honest recommendation, the biggest of which is the lip sync error. But Fairphone should be praised for showing what’s possible with intelligent design.

Advantages: replaceable batteries, recycled and ethical materials, decent sound, noise cancellation, multipoint, comfortable, good controls, sweat resistance, solid battery life, cross-platform app.

Cons: Lip sync issues, a little more expensive than rivals due to design, noise cancellation changes sound quality and has issues with higher pitches, audio quality can’t match the best.

The case is larger than the best, but is still pocketable and in line with its rivals at this price. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

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