AirPods Max 'devastatingly overengineered' but repairable, demonstrates teardown

Posted:
in General Discussion
Repair specialists at iFixit have completed a teardown of AirPods Max, demonstrating Apple's "obsessive craftsmanship" that makes other offerings look "like toys, by comparison."

Credit: Andrew O'Hara, AppleInsider
Credit: Andrew O'Hara, AppleInsider


For example, the headband portion of the AirPods Max appears to be easily removable with a simple SIM ejection tool. As iFixit puts it, "a little poke in just the right place compresses two tiny springs ... freeing the clamp that secures the headband."

That ease of disassembly runs counter to the complexity of some AirPods Pro components. The electromechanical hinge is described by the repair site as "both intricate and overbuilt." It even adds that the engineering and design may justify the steep price of the headphones.

Credit: iFixit
Credit: iFixit


Other components are not as easily disassembled as the headbands, but user repairs are still possible. Getting into the actual ear cup portions of the AirPods Max requires some specialized screwdriver bits and the melting of some adhesive, but tearing it down is still user-achievable.

Although not for the faint of heart, it's possible to access key components like the battery and Lightning port by disassembling the earphones. The latter component is responsible both for charging and listening, since the AirPods Max lacks 3.5mm auxiliary cable compatibility.

The teardown concludes by likening the design of AirPods Max to a mechanical watch. Its components are "intricate," "precision-engineered," and its design is more complicated than other headphones on the market.

Credit: iFixit
Credit: iFixit


However, the AirPods Max is still surprisingly repairable despite the complexity. Some parts, like the easily-removable ear cushions and headband, are even described as "DIY-friendly."

"And after tearing down some of the competition, we're more understanding of that $550 price tag. Sony and Bose both charge less, but internally, the AirPods Max's obsessive craftsmanship makes those other extremely capable devices look like toys by comparison," iFixit writes.

As a result of those service-friendly touches, iFixit has given the AirPods Max a repair score of six. It's the first non-zero score assigned to an AirPods product.

Credit: iFixit
Credit: iFixit


Of course, users should take care before carrying out any repairs -- even if they're easier than expected. It isn't clear at this point if removing the headband, as an example, voids the device's warranty.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 25
    It turns out that a solid piece of aluminum is not very well ventilated. Hot electronics + a hot ear + a humid day in the summer = one dripping moldy mess.
    rinosaur
  • Reply 2 of 25
    foljsfoljs Posts: 390member
    It turns out that a solid piece of aluminum is not very well ventilated. Hot electronics + a hot ear + a humid day in the summer = one dripping moldy mess.
    Compared to what? Plastic headphones?

    And what "hot electronics"? It's a pair of headphones, hardly gets any hot.

    Some people will complain about anything....

    right_said_fredking editor the grateStrangeDayswatto_cobra
  • Reply 3 of 25
    cpsrocpsro Posts: 3,140member
    Is the case overengineered?
  • Reply 4 of 25
    It turns out that a solid piece of aluminum is not very well ventilated.
    It turns out closed-back headphones made of any material from any manufacturer is not "well ventilated." By design. Because it turns out that "ventilating" headphones kinda defeats the purpose of headphones.
    bageljoeyfastasleepdrdavidright_said_fredking editor the grateStrangeDaysRayz2016watto_cobra
  • Reply 5 of 25
    If the headband is that easy to remove, it could also allow for silicon or cloth sleeves to cover the ear cups for more protection and customization.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 6 of 25
    MplsPMplsP Posts: 3,813member
    "after tearing down some of the competition, we're more understanding of that $550 price tag"

    The real question is is the (over) engineering justified and necessary? On one hand one can argue that the AirPods max are better built than other headphones and the price is justified. On the other hand one could say that other 'less engineered' headphones have good sound and the extra design and construction costs of the AirPods Max's are not justified. Like everything with these, it is the eye o the beholder.


    Oferbala1234muthuk_vanalingamavon b7watto_cobra
  • Reply 7 of 25
    OferOfer Posts: 205unconfirmed, member
    MplsP said:
    "after tearing down some of the competition, we're more understanding of that $550 price tag"

    The real question is is the (over) engineering justified and necessary? On one hand one can argue that the AirPods max are better built than other headphones and the price is justified. On the other hand one could say that other 'less engineered' headphones have good sound and the extra design and construction costs of the AirPods Max's are not justified. Like everything with these, it is the eye o the beholder.


    AGREED 100%. At the end of the day, if you have a pair of headphones that provides the same level of sound quality and comfort but at a far more reasonable price, then I would say it’s not really justified.
  • Reply 8 of 25
    mobirdmobird Posts: 739member
    @MplsP and @Ofer ;

    I think you both are dialing in to some of the reasons and sounds similar to the original HomePod and it's original MRSP and the lack of adoption.
    edited January 2021
  • Reply 9 of 25
    coolfactorcoolfactor Posts: 2,141member
    It turns out that a solid piece of aluminum is not very well ventilated. Hot electronics + a hot ear + a humid day in the summer = one dripping moldy mess.

    "Turns out" from actual real-world experience? Do share! :smiley: 

    Ventilation of "noise-cancelling" headphones is a difficult catch-22. The headphones need to fully control air movement in order to cancel out external sounds.

    watto_cobra
  • Reply 10 of 25
    foljs said:
    It turns out that a solid piece of aluminum is not very well ventilated. Hot electronics + a hot ear + a humid day in the summer = one dripping moldy mess.
    Compared to what? Plastic headphones?

    And what "hot electronics"? It's a pair of headphones, hardly gets any hot.

    Some people will complain about anything....

    Edit: Never mind. I agree with you. 
    edited January 2021 watto_cobra
  • Reply 11 of 25
    With all that engineering, they could have accommodated a power button. The battery drain is too fast. The factory reset workaround is a bit of a pain. 

    I remember someone telling me that the iPod was badly engineered because it could only go to sleep and could not be switched off. However, the iPod never had such a severe battery drain. 

    It is pure bliss when I put them on and listen to my music, but the battery drain and case are legitimate complains, IMO.
    muthuk_vanalingamwatto_cobradewme
  • Reply 12 of 25
    flydogflydog Posts: 1,110member
    It turns out that a solid piece of aluminum is not very well ventilated. Hot electronics + a hot ear + a humid day in the summer = one dripping moldy mess.
    You have no clue what you’re talking about, and it’s clear you’ve never actually used these. 

    Aluminum has relatively high thermal conductivity, which reduces the internal temperature compared to plastics, which have low thermal conductivity. Plastics act as an insulator, thereby retaining any heat generated by electronic components.  



    StrangeDayswatto_cobra
  • Reply 13 of 25
    flydogflydog Posts: 1,110member
    With all that engineering, they could have accommodated a power button. The battery drain is too fast. The factory reset workaround is a bit of a pain. 

    I remember someone telling me that the iPod was badly engineered because it could only go to sleep and could not be switched off. However, the iPod never had such a severe battery drain. 

    It is pure bliss when I put them on and listen to my music, but the battery drain and case are legitimate complains, IMO.
    If it doesn’t go to sleep fast enough that can be tweaked with a firmware update. Power buttons require the user to remember to turn the device off. 
    StrangeDayswatto_cobra
  • Reply 14 of 25
    StrangeDaysStrangeDays Posts: 12,610member
    It turns out that a solid piece of aluminum is not very well ventilated. Hot electronics + a hot ear + a humid day in the summer = one dripping moldy mess.
    What on earth are you talking about? You haven’t seen any dripping moldy AirPods, you’re just making that up. 
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 15 of 25
    StrangeDaysStrangeDays Posts: 12,610member

    MplsP said:
    "after tearing down some of the competition, we're more understanding of that $550 price tag"

    The real question is is the (over) engineering justified and necessary? On one hand one can argue that the AirPods max are better built than other headphones and the price is justified. On the other hand one could say that other 'less engineered' headphones have good sound and the extra design and construction costs of the AirPods Max's are not justified. Like everything with these, it is the eye o the beholder.
    I prefer more expensive, quality items that last a lifetime than cheap junk. I bought a pair of Razor gaming headphones I barely used, and they’re literally disintegrating. 
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 16 of 25
    StrangeDaysStrangeDays Posts: 12,610member
    With all that engineering, they could have accommodated a power button. The battery drain is too fast. The factory reset workaround is a bit of a pain. 

    I remember someone telling me that the iPod was badly engineered because it could only go to sleep and could not be switched off. However, the iPod never had such a severe battery drain. 

    It is pure bliss when I put them on and listen to my music, but the battery drain and case are legitimate complains, IMO.
    AppleInsider staff have not encountered excessive battery drain during regular use, even when pairing to multiple devices and using auto-switching.”
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 17 of 25
    MplsPMplsP Posts: 3,813member
    With all that engineering, they could have accommodated a power button. The battery drain is too fast. The factory reset workaround is a bit of a pain. 

    I remember someone telling me that the iPod was badly engineered because it could only go to sleep and could not be switched off. However, the iPod never had such a severe battery drain. 

    It is pure bliss when I put them on and listen to my music, but the battery drain and case are legitimate complains, IMO.
    AppleInsider staff have not encountered excessive battery drain during regular use, even when pairing to multiple devices and using auto-switching.”
    Have you seen this article?
    chemengin1
  • Reply 18 of 25
    MplsPMplsP Posts: 3,813member


    MplsP said:
    "after tearing down some of the competition, we're more understanding of that $550 price tag"

    The real question is is the (over) engineering justified and necessary? On one hand one can argue that the AirPods max are better built than other headphones and the price is justified. On the other hand one could say that other 'less engineered' headphones have good sound and the extra design and construction costs of the AirPods Max's are not justified. Like everything with these, it is the eye o the beholder.
    I prefer more expensive, quality items that last a lifetime than cheap junk. I bought a pair of Razor gaming headphones I barely used, and they’re literally disintegrating. 
    Foam rubber is notorious for breaking down with age. Making the ear pads easily replaceable on on the APM’s was smart.

    I think you are confusing well engineered with over engineered. I completely agree with you in that I too would rather spend a bit more on a quality product that will last. (iPhones and Macs are a good example of this.) If the design becomes excessive such that it wastes material and money with little to no benefit then there’s no point. The relatively ‘under engineered’ sony and Bose headsets seem to hold up just fine, which would argue against the theory that APMs are worth the money solely because of their construction.
    muthuk_vanalingam
  • Reply 19 of 25
    With all that engineering, they could have accommodated a power button. The battery drain is too fast. The factory reset workaround is a bit of a pain. 

    I remember someone telling me that the iPod was badly engineered because it could only go to sleep and could not be switched off. However, the iPod never had such a severe battery drain. 

    It is pure bliss when I put them on and listen to my music, but the battery drain and case are legitimate complains, IMO.
    AppleInsider staff have not encountered excessive battery drain during regular use, even when pairing to multiple devices and using auto-switching.”
    I have. Hence my comment.
    watto_cobramuthuk_vanalingamavon b7chemengin1
  • Reply 20 of 25
    dewmedewme Posts: 5,041member
    MplsP said:


    MplsP said:
    "after tearing down some of the competition, we're more understanding of that $550 price tag"

    The real question is is the (over) engineering justified and necessary? On one hand one can argue that the AirPods max are better built than other headphones and the price is justified. On the other hand one could say that other 'less engineered' headphones have good sound and the extra design and construction costs of the AirPods Max's are not justified. Like everything with these, it is the eye o the beholder.
    I prefer more expensive, quality items that last a lifetime than cheap junk. I bought a pair of Razor gaming headphones I barely used, and they’re literally disintegrating. 
    Foam rubber is notorious for breaking down with age. Making the ear pads easily replaceable on on the APM’s was smart.

    I think you are confusing well engineered with over engineered. I completely agree with you in that I too would rather spend a bit more on a quality product that will last. (iPhones and Macs are a good example of this.) If the design becomes excessive such that it wastes material and money with little to no benefit then there’s no point. The relatively ‘under engineered’ sony and Bose headsets seem to hold up just fine, which would argue against the theory that APMs are worth the money solely because of their construction.
    I agree with your “well engineered” versus “over engineered” distinction. I actually have a rationale for making such a distinction. Product design should be very intentional. There are functional requirements that must be met, for example the ability to control the volume and the required frequency response. There are also the non-functional requirements that define the quality attributes the product designer intended to address, such as ease of repair, ease of upgradability, build cost, and material selection. A well engineered product is one that exactly satisfies all of the functional and non-functional requirements, or intentions, that were established by the designers, no more and no less. Anything less is under engineered and anything more is over engineered. 

    Determining that a product is under engineered is usually an easy task. Over engineered products aren’t always so easy to detect unless you truly know the full set of intentions of the designer. It’s very common for engineers to include “engineering margins” in their functional designs so their products can survive stressful situations that temporarily exceed the guaranteed application tolerances they advertise to customers. This is a form of over engineering that can pay dividends and build customer loyalty, but only to a certain degree. You don’t want your customers to think you’re simply sandbagging on your specs. Likewise, there are cases where one attribute of a product overwhelms the design decisions. For example, it’s easy to say that a one time use plastic straw that takes 50 years to decay is over engineered, but the fact that the plastic straw does not collapse after 5 minutes of use, like a paper straw might, is what drove the design.

    The most egregious cases of over engineering that I’ve encountered, and even been guilty of, involve applying intentional design, i.e., “Design for X” - where X is some quality attribute like modular upgradability or high load tolerance, that ended up being a non factor in the final product. Going to great lengths to accommodate a product quality that is never realized is over engineering. Is it bad design? I guess if you are paying for something that returns less business value than what you anticipated it should, you could say it is bad design. But “over engineered” is a less harsh sounding assessment, and if you learned something from it, it’s not all bad. Besides being intentional, product design is often anticipatory and the rules of the game can change during the development cycle. Engineering choices that made perfect sense when you were targeting a system that was intended for 3000 units may suddenly not make as much sense when the order is cut too 30 units. 

    As a customer I have much more tolerance for over engineered products than under engineered products, as long as I can live with the excessive costs that are involved, but only to a certain degree. 
    MplsP
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