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Scans reveal how counterfeiters fake AirPods with cheap components

L-R: a real AirPod Pro, a scan of a real one, and a scan of a fake

A series of CT scans of both real and fake AirPods has shown just how well made Apple's ones are, and how poor the counterfeits can be.

It's not like buying a knock-off designer handbag where the difference from the real one is that the fake will only last a week. With AirPods, the instant you put them in your ears, the audio difference is unmistakeable.

Counterfeiters rely on users having not heard real AirPods before buying, or not trying them out before the fakers get away. There are also those buyers who just want to look like they're wearing AirPods and probably never try playing music through them.

While Apple has never once been described as selling anything remotely cheap, it doesn't skimp on its engineering and its components. So it's easy to imagine counterfeiters being able to sell fake AirPods for a lot less than Apple's real ones, by doing exactly tha t skimping.

Now the same company that revealed the intricacy of Apple's Thunderbolt 4 cable has turned its CT scanner onto both real and fake AirPods, to show just how much skimping goes on.

"[An AirPod Pro is] a marvel of miniaturization," writes Lumafield's Jon Bruner at the start of a Twitter/X thread showing the CT scans. "Everything is packed into the curved enclosure efficiently with tightly integrated flexible PCBs."

"The fakes have a lot less going on," he continues. "Components are connected by wires, not flexible PCBs. You won't find wires like this in any modern mobile Apple product."

Bruner points out how how the wires are even soldered poorly in the fakes. The real difference from Apple comes with the sheer number of components.

"A real AirPod Pro has 3 MEMS microphones: one that points outward, one at the base of the stem between the charging contacts that points downward, and one in front of the driver that points into the ear canal and drives adaptive real-time EQ," writes Bruner. "The fakes have just one microphone each: a rudimentary off-the-shelf electret condenser on the stem."

Then there are "the lack of magnets, lower-quality plastic, and smaller batteries," plus fake AirPods are weigh much less than real ones. "To make up for the difference, their cases have weights!"

It's detail like this that helps with spotting fakes in the real world. As interesting as seeing the insides through a CT scan is, in practice it's going to be the weights and the sound quality that will alert a buyer to a fake.

That again requires them to have at least a passing familiarity with the real AirPods. But then ultimately, you don't need a lot of experience to recognize a problem when something is marked as 80% off the Apple retail price.