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1 Dec 2021

Want headphones that last? Make sure your next pair is a Which? Eco Buy

Our new Eco Buy badge reveals the headphones that are not only great to use, but also likely to last longer, saving you money and making your listening more sustainable

We've just added Eco Buy recommendations to our headphone reviews. This reveals the headphones that have not only done well in our tests, but also do more to help extend their lifespan - saving you money as well as reducing your impact on the planet.

Headphones are unlikely to top the list of products you'd consider to be green. Cheap wired headphones that come bundled with phones are often treated like throwaway products, while the batteries in wireless headphones present their own environmental challenges.

Our new Eco Buy badge helps make your listening more sustainable. Read on to find out exactly what a pair of headphones needs to do in order to be Eco Buy - plus we reveal a couple of Eco Buy headphones you can buy right now.

Best AirPods and headphone deals 2021 - find out what are the best deals right now on popular headphones in the run up to Christmas.

What is an Eco Buy?

Our new Eco Buy recommendations are based on factors Which? members tell us are most important to them when they want to make sustainable buying decisions.

To be an Eco Buy, headphones must perform excellently in core Which? tests and also be:

  • Repairable should something go wrong
  • Made by a brand with a proven track record for long-lasting products you can rely on (based on our feedback from our headphones surveys of owners)
  • Rated by our experts as being as durable and built to last

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Eco Buy headphones

Just like our Best Buy headphones, those that earn an Eco Buy must be great to use - so they're pairs you'll use again and again. This means you can be confident that all our Eco Buy headphones have excellent sound quality and are comfortable to wear.

To be more sustainable, Eco Buy headphones need to last many years - and that means you should be able to repair them if something goes wrong. Not every repair will be possible, but some headphones give you more options than others.

Wired headphones can be seen as a more sustainable choice. The fact they don't contain batteries not only limits their environmental impact, but also means you don't need to worry about having to recycle the headphones when the batteries die. When we investigated in late 2020, we discovered very few manufacturers offered battery replacement schemes that let you send your headphones in for repair.

However, wireless headphones are very convenient and increasingly popular. The fact you don't have to physically plug them in also means you don't have the cable wear and tear issues that are common with wired headphones. Our Eco Buys therefore span both wired and wireless headphones.

We've also found additional challenges for over-ear headphones. In our latest reliability survey of owners, 15% of faults reported from wireless headphones owners were due to deteriorating fabric, and 21% for wired headphones. When we looked into how available these replacement parts are, we found a patchy picture.

You can buy replacement earcup fabric for some headphones, but very few also offer replacement headband fabric. Daily bumps and scrapes can damage the headband fabric just as much as the earcups, so both will wear with time. And if you can't repair your shabby-looking headphones, you're more likely to bin them and buy a new pair.

Most headphones have a long way to go to be genuinely considered sustainable products. By highlighting the headphones with the best current sustainability offering in our assessments, our Eco Buys offer a first step in holding manufacturers to account.

Many manufacturers are working to improve the environmental footprint of their products, so we will be periodically raising the requirements needed for headphones to be an Eco Buy as they become more sustainable.

As it stands, we've tested over 250 headphones that are currently on the market and only 11 do enough to earn an Eco Buy, two of which we've listed below.

Apple AirPods (2021), £169

Apple's AirPods are truly wireless headphones - in other words, they don't require a wire to link the two earbuds. While this is convenient, it also means each earbud requires its own battery. However, Apple is one of the few brands to offer a battery replacement scheme, which means your AirPods won't be limited to the lifetime of their batteries.

For any AirPods or AirPods Pro, this costs £45 per earbud or £45 for the charging case (see Apple's servicing page).

But are the new AirPods worth the money, or do the cheaper second-generation AirPods perform just as well - both for sound and sustainability?

Find out in our Apple AirPods (2021) review and Apple AirPods (2019) review.

Sony MDR-XB50AP, £25

Sony's MDR-XB50AP are an affordable pair of wired headphones, and you can buy replacement eartips should you lose or damage one (see Sony's support page). They also come with a soft carry pouch to protect them when you're not listening.

Find out if this could be the ideal pair for you in our Sony MDR-XB50AP review.

u00adu00adu00adu00adu00adu00adu00adu00adu00adu00adu00adu00adu00adu00adu00adu00adu00adTo discover the other 9 headphones that get an Eco Buy, go to our headphones reviews, click the 'Best Buys' filter menu and select 'Eco Buys'.

Why sustainability matters

Tech products like headphones are everywhere, and are often replaced every few years. This has a big environmental impact. According to data from the Environment Agency, just under 11,000 tonnes of consumer equipment waste was collected under WEEE regulations in the first half of 2021 in the UK - that's more than the weight of the Eiffel Tower.

This only accounts for items that have been disposed of correctly - not the countless products that end up in landfill. Putting tech products in the rubbish can cause pollution as materials leak out into the ground over time, particularly from the batteries.

That's why choosing a long-lasting pair of headphones can make a real difference - both for your wallet and the planet.

Recycle Now's recycling locator lets you check the most convenient way to dispose of your electrical goods based on where you live.