Wireless earbuds have come a long way in a short amount of time, and they're only getting better. New models on display at CES 2020 boast further improvements to battery life, sound quality and connectivity.
But for all the advancements in these areas, truly wireless earbuds can't prevent lithium-ion batteries from degrading over time. As a result, all wireless earbuds are destined to become paperweights after a few years. Worse yet, they become paperweights that can't be recycled and shouldn't be thrown away.
Audio startup Acouva thinks it has a solution: swappable batteries. The company's Acouva One earbuds feature a modular battery that can be easily removed and replaced when it runs out of juice after roughly 5 hours.
The Acouva One earbuds will ship in the third quarter of 2020 at a starting price of $155.
Why swappable batteries are the future for wireless audio
With swappable batteries, you can remove the button cell battery from the housing of the Acouva earbuds when they wear out. This is important for a few reasons. The obvious being that the Acouva One earbuds won't become unusable after the original battery inevitably dies.
Additionally, sliding the dead battery off and popping a new one is much faster than placing the earbuds in their case and waiting for them to recharge. So as long as you're carrying a spare set of batteries, the Acouva One will get you back to your music in a matter of seconds instead of hours.
Arguably just as important, the dead batteries can be recycled because they separate from the earbuds' plastic housing. Apple's AirPods have been criticized for being the worst kind of e-waste (it's worth reading Wired's article on the subject). But it's not just Apple --- every wireless earbuds with a built-in battery is guilty.
I went hands-on with the Acouva earbuds, and have mixed feelings about them. While I'm a big proponent of replaceable batteries, the product itself --- especially the case --- needs some refining. The Acouva looked cheap compared to other earbuds in the price range, and the case feels like a prop.
On the other hand, the ovular nozzle should allow for long-term comfort, and Acouva boasts that its bone-conduction microphone will eliminate background noises during voice calls.
Acouva is taking a risk by selling an earbud with a potentially expanded lifespan. If the housings outlast the batteries, then consumers won't be forced to buy a new pair of earbuds every few years. That's great for us, but is it an economically viable solution? We'll find out soon when the Acouva ships later this year.