When a big speckled green pair of wireless and sustainably designed headphones (made from 100% recycled plastics and 100% recycled aluminium) lands in your lap, the climate conscious music lover puts those things around their head and gets to steppin’.
And Fairphone’s latest release marks its first ever foray into the over-ear realm. The Dutch electronics manufacturer is perhaps best known for its eco-conscious Fairphone smartphone lineup, now into its fourth iteration (imaginatively called the Fairphone 4) which launched in 2021 alongside the company’s first ever earbuds.
As it happens, I am the music lover and I did receive a set of these new cans. So here are my first thoughts plus a few key specs. It’s also not a full review, but – initially at least – it’s also resoundingly positive news.
The joystick truly is a joy to use
Pairing and use is a breeze, aided by a 100% recycled aluminum coppertone joystick on the right earcup for power, volume (if you nudge it up or down) and playback where a simple push pauses and resumes playback or a nudge left or right either skips to the next song or goes back a track. If you push it twice, you also get a vocal battery life reading. It makes those little plasticky line of three buttons found on even some of the best over-ear headphones for volume and playback seem somewhat substandard.
You also get a pill-shaped button on the right earcup for initial Bluetooth pairing and scrolling between your ANC options – a soothing voice announces “ambient sound”, “noise-canceling off” or “noise canceling”. There’s seemingly no app support (although it remains to be seen whether one might arrive soon) which is a shame.
I’m tempted to knock the external orange cable loops, which pop out from the earcups and back into the headband on either side and do feel alarmingly ripe for snagging. But this is Fairphone: everything is modular and, so the firm says, easily repairable with the aim of lowering the industry’s environmental footprint.
The earpads are beautifully cushioned and if the clamping force feels a little strong upon first use, it does ease after an hour or so of wear and is ultimately comfortable. And the speckled green colorway (also available in black) with orange accents
– including that gorgeous joystick – makes for a distinctive and likeable aesthetic.
Solid specs, solid ANC, decent battery life, meaty sound
You’re getting 40mm dynamic drivers, ANC (limited to on, off, or ambient – and only accessibly by physically scrolling to the profile you want, rather than any smart or adaptive capabilities) but during my limited time with these cans the noise cancellation eliminated the extraneous office chatter I’m used to, as well as the hum of the AC unit not far above my head.
You’re also getting an IP54 splashproof and dust-resistant rating and up to 30 hours of stamina.
It’s a relatively bare-bones approach with no app, no auto-off when you remove them, no EQ tweaks, no sound zones (look to the excellent Sennheiser Momentum 4 Wireless for those) and no personalized hearing tests or profiles, but if the sound is good enough you won’t really need them, right? And with aptX HD onboard, they’re going in the right direction there.
Sonically, things are looking good. The sound is meaty and expansive, with decent separation between each of the the musical strands in Jess Glynne’s Rather Be, all of which hang together in an energetic and cohesive mix.
Fat Freddy’s Drop’s Wandering Eye might just reveal a minor shortfall in terms of dynamic nuance (these things are energetic and forthright, rather than refined and analytical) with the track coming over more forceful at the outset than it might through more cautious cans, but the XLs are clear and accurate across the frequencies, with crisp leading edges of notes.
Again, these are initial thoughts and should not be taken as a full review. But the Fairphone Fairbuds XL are available now, priced €249 (which is around $270, £215 or AU$400 before any duties). That puts them up a little cheaper than the likes of the Sennheiser Momentum 4 Wireless, which is a sensible decision.
Then again, it’s tough market out there. Consider that the splendid JBL Tune 750BTNC cost just $130 / £120 / AU$200 at launch (in 2020) and can now be found for far less than that.
But if you like the eco-friendly and super-repairable nature of the Fairbuds XL, you might be happy to pay the premium.