Apple’s AirPods are some of the most popular earphones on the market today, known for exceptional sound quality and comfort. But many users have noticed that some AirPods boxes say “Assembled in China,” while others say “Assembled in Vietnam.” So, where are AirPods assembled? Are some of these models fake, or is there a difference in quality?
As most companies do, Apple traditionally manufactured and assembled its AirPods in China. But, due to strict trade regulations and high taxes for products manufactured in China, Apple moved some manufacturing to Vietnam, though most still happens in mainland China. All AirPods are designed in California.
Apple’s supply chain is complex, and the company doesn’t share all its information, which is understandable. However, through insiders and a few bits of information dropped by Apple, we have some idea of where AirPods are assembled. Let’s look at it a bit more closely.
Where Are AirPods Assembled?
Firstly, we have to understand that there’s a difference between assembly and manufacturing. AirPods consist of many different components, some of which are manufactured by different companies that are not necessarily related. These components are shipped to an assembly plant or factory to be assembled, after which they are ready for packaging and sale.
However, for Apple’s AirPods, many of these processes are managed by the same companies. Though all Apple products, including AirPods, are designed at Apple’s headquarters in Cupertino, California, none of the manufacturing or assembly happens in the United States.
Traditionally, most of Apple’s AirPods were assembled in China by a company called Luxshare Precision Industry Co. They have been Apple’s manufacturing and assembly partner for many years. Some of the assembly and manufacturing was also outsourced to GoerTek Inc. Both companies do this work contractually. Hence, there are no guarantees that Apple won’t switch providers.
Luxshare and GoerTek are both Chinese companies, and Apple’s AirPods were assembled at their factories in China for many years. Luxshare was also closely associated with Foxconn, a well-known Chinese and Taiwanese electronics manufacturer that’s also contracted by Apple to assemble the iPhone. That has since changed, and they’ve become fierce competitors.
All three of these companies and their factories in China have years of experience in manufacturing and assembling Apple’s products, including all generations and models of AirPods. Apple has strict quality control measures in place to ensure that the products are worthy of the Apple logo, so these Chinese factories make excellent quality products.
Post-2020’s Political And Commercial Tensions
Since 2020, the political climate has changed drastically, and the federal government of the United States has implemented strict guidelines and limitations on trade between US-based companies, like Apple, and businesses based in China. This has complicated matters for Apple since the US government currently imposes higher taxes on products imported from China.
The effects of this are felt by most multinational companies, even large ones like Qualcom and Apple. These commercial constraints have caused Apple to re-evaluate its manufacturing and assembly processes since it’s becoming too expensive to be commercially viable.
Because of that, Apple decided to move much of its production to Vietnam. This started with the AirPods 3rd Generation, then the AirPods Pro 2nd Generation, and other AirPods models are also gradually moving away from China.
That doesn’t mean it’s assembled and manufactured by different companies, though. It’s mostly still Foxconn, Luxshare, and Goertek, but now it all happens at their factories in Vietnam.
Apple is also looking at the possibility of manufacturing some AirPods at Foxconn’s factories in India, and a deal was recently sealed for a trial run to start by the end of 2024. Still, it’s currently unclear which models will be manufactured and assembled there.
Is There A Difference Between AirPods Assembled In Different Countries?
There shouldn’t be any difference between AirPods assembled in China and those assembled in Vietnam. The design specifications are identical for both. If you have AirPods Pro 2nd Gen that are made in China, they should not differ in any way from a set of the same AirPods manufactured in Vietnam.
However, some users have found slight differences in build quality. It doesn’t seem to affect sound quality or their shape and size, but a few users have gone to the Apple support pages and online forums like Reddit, stating that they notice a difference in comfort or how quickly the charging cases pick up scratches.
It doesn’t seem to be their imagination, either. At least, not always. One user mentioned that they replaced their AirPods Pro because they stopped working, and then they noticed that the new AirPods weren’t as comfortable as the previous pair. They spotted the words “Made in Vietnam” on the packaging and contacted Apple’s support to ask if those were fake AirPods.
Other users have the opposite experience, finding that the ones made in Vietnam are more comfortable, so it seems to be a matter of personal choice more than anything else.
The most likely reason for such differences is that some materials might be sourced from different companies or regions. While Chinese factories will likely source most of the components from within China, it makes sense that Vietnamese factories will find different companies to source the materials.
However, for the most part, most people should not notice any difference, regardless of where their AirPods were assembled. All factories follow the same design, so your sound quality, comfort, and general experience should be more or less identical.
The AirPods Supply Chain
All AirPods start their journey in Cupertino, California, which is where Apple’s head office is based. There, Apple’s engineers and designers work on the initial design of the AirPods (as with all other Apple products). They take all considerations into account, including technical features, usability, sound quality, comfort, and integration with other Apple products.
After the design is complete, a detailed outline is sent to one of Apple’s manufacturing partners, as mentioned above. They look at sourcing the required materials and assemble a prototype. The process can take some time and involve quite a lot of back-and-forth between Apple and the manufacturers.
Once a prototype has been approved, mass production of the AirPods can begin. Apple usually places a sizeable order upfront, trying to anticipate probable sales in advance. The manufacturers then source the required materials and begin assembly of the AirPods.
After assembly, the products are shipped all over the world as specified by Apple’s distribution and marketing departments.
Most of Apple’s products, including all models and generations of AirPods, are assembled in China. That is gradually shifting to Vietnam and, soon, India for cost savings and de-risking. But there should be no real difference between AirPods made in China and other countries because they are all made according to Apple’s specifications and quality standards.