Well, it finally happened. After years of true wireless earbuds ownership, I finally put a pair through my washing machine accidentally. It was my trusty AirPods Pro that bore the brunt of my heat-addled idiocy – but they survived! Mostly. With one rather significant quirk spoiled by the headline.
So, it's very hot here in the UK at the moment. Not just "It's summer, it's supposed to be warm" hot, but "record-breaking temperatures way beyond anything we've had in this country before" hot, and also humid. While making a tomato-y, vinegar-y bean salad in a heat-haze yesterday, I managed to throw some tomato-y, vinegar-y sauce down my shorts. I don't own many pairs of shorts, because English weather doesn't require them all that often, so I didn't want this pair to be out of commission. I quickly changed and threw them in the washing machine with some other bits and continued to make lunch.
Once the washing cycle had finished and I'd spun the clothes a couple of times, I decided to put in my AirPods to listen to a podcast while hanging the washing, so I go looking around the house for them. In the movie version of this dramatic story, this is where you'd do a Hitchcock-style push zoom on my face as I realise what I've done.
I grab my shorts from the machine, and sure enough, there's the case and one AirPod in the pocket. The other AirPod has found its way into a sock, impressively.
The moment I flick the lid of the case, the light in it goes on, so I know that this part has survived okay at least – though it's hardly the most important section. I don't want to test the earbuds while they might still be wet inside, so I head to the cupboard, take a second to decide whether to put them in a box of basmati rice or jasmine rice, and then bury them among the grains.
I'm mildly hopeful at this point: mercifully, they only went in on a quick 30-minute wash, so didn't get anywhere near as drenched over time as they might have… but it's still far more water than their IPX4 sweatproofing is designed for. The spinning and sloshing probably won't have helped either. Still, they've gone straight in the rice, and iPhones have survived in water situations far beyond their waterproof rating, so there's a chance. They are Schrödinger's Pods at this point; both alive and dead until I observe.
They live! But they came back… changed…
After leaving my AirPods in the rice overnight, I pulled them out this morning to see how they've ended up. After carefully extracting grains from inside the silicon ear tips, I put them into the case for a few minutes to make sure the buds were ready to connect, and then popped them in my ears without anything playing.
It was a relief to hear the familiar 'bong' sound to say that they'd connected, since it also meant that the speaker part must be working, but then it immediately started. The ocean.
With nothing playing, I could hear what sounded like severe wind noise when you have transparency mode turned on – along with just some other chaotic noises. And it really, really sounds like a combination of the wind and crashing sea on a beach. So much so that I had to check I hadn't played some meditation app's 'Coastal Calm' stream by mistake or something.
I had not. And when I did try to play some music, it's fair to say that the new sea sounds were a bit of an interference with the general audio quality.
But I had a suspicion – it sounded so much like wind noise that I thought it might be a problem with the noise cancellation microphones, so I turned off ANC, and the audio corrected itself. I can still listen to music and everything else just fine without it! Result.
I've put the AirPods Pro back in the rice, because it's possible that the problem is lingering moisture on the ANC microphones, so maybe another night in the basmati will draw it out. Perhaps I'll even try switching to couscous.
But even if those mics are just damaged and that noise is permanent now, I'm actually pretty impressed that I can still use the AirPods Pro for music anyway. Clearly, I won't be recommending them over the best waterproof headphones for swimmers, but at least one moment of forgetfulness hasn't totally written off a good pair of earbuds.
And hey, if I want to imagine myself on a beach during this heatwave, being cooled by the sea breeze and the sea foam, then I can just pop in my AirPods and be transported there…