I loved my AirPods Pro, until they started to break while I was on vacation. I don't know how it happened — I take proper, delicate care of them — even if they fell out of my grasp and hit the floor at least a few times. I'm only human.
But my enjoyment of the $249 AirPods Pro started to wear off when they inexplicably started clicking. Especially as I was walking around the sun-drenched strip of Las Vegas, trying to relax to the new Lorde album's breezy tunes.
So when I got home, I went online with Apple customer support, and went through a semi laborious set of prompts. And the result of that call was not good.
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After a series of troubleshooting tests (unpairing, resetting, repairing and more), and taking my serial number, the agent began to get me into a repair. Knowing my AirPods Pro were likely out of Apple's warranty plan window, I then asked if the agent could check my warranty status. He confirmed my suspicion, and I began to brace myself for a steep price.
A very high appraisal
This is where things seemingly fell into an alternate reality. The repair cost, he said, was $278.67. And since I knew how much AirPods Pro cost ($249 from Apple and $271.10 after NYC taxes, or currently $189 from Amazon), I responded with a bit of shock. "For one earbud?" I typed back at the rep. "Why wouldn't I just buy a new pair or a new bud ($89) at that point?" I would later learn exactly why — this rep was giving me an incorrect estimate.
The rep replied "I certainly understand [your] concern," before explaining the why of it all. The cost of repairs, you see, entail work for diagnosis and repair, and that adds up. And so I asked about the pricing for the replacement buds, and told the agent I'd sleep on it.
A new hope arrived
Then my friend Chris, who I often run into at the subway platform near my favorite theater, replied online with what might be the answer to my prayers. It turns out that there's an AirPods Pro Service Program for Sound Issues.
If you haven't heard, Apple determined that "a small percentage of AirPods Pro may experience sound issues. Affected units were manufactured before October 2020." And mine were most certainly before that date. There's no real way to check that date online, but you're going to need to give Apple your serial number for them to check. If your AirPods are paired, go to Settings > Bluetooth > tap the 'i' next to your AirPods, and look for the serial number. If you can't pair them, open your AirPods case, and then open the Magnifier app on your phone. Using the viewfinder, look for the serial number inside the lid of your AirPods case.
The program is for AirPods Pro that have "Crackling or static sounds that increase in loud environments, with exercise or while talking on the phone" and/or "Active Noise Cancellation not working as expected, such as a loss of bass sound, or an increase in background sounds, such as street or airplane noise."
And my AirPods definitely qualify for the first of those two issues. So I made a quick call to Apple to explain all of this, setting up a drop-off at my local Apple store later. At said Apple store, the incredibly helpful Lauren cleared everything up and got me out of the store with brand new AirPods Pro that I didn't pay for.
Lauren ran a diagnostic on my AirPods Pro to discover that both buds, not just the right one, qualified for replacement. She then gave me replacement buds, and I was on my way.
Before I left, I inquired about the price of a repair. It turns out that the online agent was incorrect. Lauren told me that a repair of an AirPod Pro earbud is $89 plus tax. You know, the same price as buying a new one.
What you should do with broken AirPods
If you're in warranty, just go to Apple and have it taken care of. If not? Check to see if your AirPods were made before October 2020, and then contact Apple about the service program. And if they claim that repairing one AirPod will cost as much as repairing the whole thing, ask to speak to someone else.
When it costs the same price to buy or repair a product being the same, I start to wonder about waste. Most people might just buy the new one and replace it and move on. I'd wish they chose another option.
Apple will recycle AirPods, though the process of how they do this raises a lot of questions, as Will Oremus discovered. Apple's looking into improving its recycling abilities, and explained so in 2019 with the Daisy recycling robot.
Most impressively, there's PodSwap, which will replace dying batteries from regular AirPods for a $60 fee and send them back to you, so you're not letting them go to waste. But PodSwap only covers batteries, and only for AirPods, not AirPods Pro.
Maybe with products this impossibly small, it's impossible to get things right. I just ask that you think twice (a few times, even) about how to properly dispose of your AirPods if they stop working right. They're really neat, but little things stack up fast when it comes to waste.
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Henry is a managing editor at Tom’s Guide covering streaming media, laptops and all things Apple, reviewing devices and services for the past seven years. Prior to joining Tom's Guide, he reviewed software and hardware for TechRadar Pro, and interviewed artists for Patek Philippe International Magazine. He's also covered the wild world of professional wrestling for Cageside Seats, interviewing athletes and other industry veterans.