Apple Beats Powerbeats Pro: Not a Repair… Just a Teardown!

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If you’ve ever read any of the posts from last month, you know that my fellow engineer Huan Nguyen was unable to resuscitate my set of Beats Powerbeats Pro Headphones. Again following my long standing mantra”When life gives you lemons, make lemonade“, however, I decided to go ahead and do a full teardown of one of them, as the extensive set of stills and video of Nguyen he took during the “surgery” and which he later shared with me (and I later shared with all of you) only got as far inside as the battery. I won’t be retracing its already documented steps, so be sure to consult Nguyen’s previously published written and photographed play-by-play before continuing.

Here are Apple’s “stock” images of the standalone headphones again (same color as mine):

and with one of them placed in the charging case (the white color variant):

The charging case still works fine, so I’m keeping it intact as a spare for the replacement Powerbeats Pro set I bought (fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me ?). I will re-incise and further disassemble the right earpiece, which Nguyen had originally cut with an ultrasonic blade. To be precise, however, my cut will not be from scratch, because at my request he left the cover detached on this earphone to make it easier for me:

Here’s the standalone cover, front side first, showing the feature activation button:

And now the back side, showing the “spring” button:

The button-activated switch, located at the top of the battery cover, is now evident:

Also, correct me if I’m wrong, readers, but I’m pretty sure it’s the MEMS microphone to the left of the battery cover, at the top of the assembly. Remember that this particular model of headphones, the introduction of which start date 2019, does not implement ANC, only PNR, so there is no need for multiple mics per ear. That said, there is of them vents feeding sounds from the outside into the mic, which I’ll show you shortly.

Take this piece of black plastic on the left:

To be honest, I’m not sure what the purpose of this piece is. It is not metallic, so it cannot provide any electrical shielding capability, nor act as a heat sink for the SoC H1 (the successor to Apple’s initial W1 chip for wireless headphones) under. It may simply provide additional structural integrity and protection against damage from impact, moisture, etc. to the circuits below. Also note that I have never found a Bluetooth antenna, neither discrete nor integrated into the PCB (Neither does iFixitas far as I know), so maybe it’s embedded in this piece as well.

Time to remove the PCB:

It turns out to be a multi-PCB “sandwich”:

From this vantage point, you can see the “pins” that mate with the charging contacts on the bottom edge of the headphones:

And this perspective shows you the switches corresponding to the two-button control rocker along the top edge of the headphones:

Now take a closer look at the two external shots and you’ll see a small hole next to the charging contacts and the two-button toggle. These are the two vents that feed the microphone, which I talked about earlier. And if you look really up close you can see the inner mesh paired with one of the outer holes, designed to prevent dust and other particles from getting inside. I will show additional images of the holes and their meshes later.

Let’s completely unfold this “sandwich”:

One of the frustrating aspects of dismantling Apple products is that many ICs don’t have any markings on the tops at all, and for those that do, they’re Apple’s proprietary stampings that give no clue as to what’s inside the package. The previously mentioned SoC H1 (succeeded by the more recent H2) is obvious despite its attempt at anonymity. And I could assume that the IC near the charging “pins” handles the headphone battery power and refresh functions. But other than that…🤷‍♂️…

And here’s what’s left after extracting the PCB sandwich:

You can see that I cut a ribbon cable routing in the earpiece during this part of the procedure. We already know there’s a speaker there, as well as an infrared sensor that detects if the earphone is actually inserted into the ear (pauses playback when earphones are removed, for example):

so I guess we will find not only a transducer, but more chips. But first, what’s with that piece of metal to the left, under the now-extracted PCB?

It’s done of them pieces of metal, the bottom one a fairly strong magnet. It took me a minute to realize its main objective; this is how the earphones “grip” the charging case when inserted into it (plus it adds structural rigidity, of course):

To access everything inside the earphone, I combined a cutter and a thin flat-head screwdriver acting as a chisel:

There is in fact of them several mini-PCBs, linked together by another ribbon cable, with another ribbon cable coming out of the second mini-PCB (the one glued to the back of the loudspeaker) and even deeper in the earpiece:

After cutting the first ribbon cable to separate the two mini-PCBs, I used the flathead screwdriver to dive deeper into the structure of the earphone:

Inside, unsurprisingly, was the dynamic transducer with the IR sensor underneath:

But another goodie was still waiting for me. See the mesh in the foreground that follows?

Hold this thought for a minute. Now let’s go to the other mini-PCB, both sides of which you have already seen (albeit somewhat obscured) in the previous pictures arranged in chronological order:

Once removed, this is what remains:

What is it in the background… more mesh? Yes! When I first encountered it, I wondered if there might be (apart from previous reviews without ANC) another mic deeply embedded in the earpiece. But that didn’t make sense, because the only thing he could “hear” was what was coming out of the speaker. Then I realized what I was really looking at was a bass reflex port for enhanced low-frequency reproduction, which doubles as a pressure reduction in the ear for improved long-lasting listening comfort. Apple/Beats marketers call it “micro-laser barometric air ventis a bit hyperbolic, but still, smooth!

Speaking of microphones, I’ll end with, as previously promised, a more focused look at the two air holes and their (micro-laser?) meshes:

And on this, it’s up to all of you to give your opinion in the comments!

Brian Dipert is Editor-in-Chief of Edge AI and Vision Alliance, Principal Analyst at BDTI, and Editor-in-Chief of InsideDSP, the company’s online newsletter..

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