Jabra Insider: Durability testing

To most people, a headset is just one of the many gadgets they use on a daily basis. Yet it takes an impressive amount of testing and development to get that headset into your hands and make sure it works as expected.

In our “Jabra Insider” series, you get a behind-the-scenes look at the often fascinating journey a headset makes from an idea to your ear. We’ve already covered headset comfort and the sound lab in previous posts.

Today’s final chapter is about durability testing: How do we make sure your headset doesn’t break as soon as you touch it?

Jabra Steel

As you might suspect, Jabra headsets aren’t just hastily slapped together and rushed directly to your nearest retail store; they go through rigorous durability tests to make sure they live up to specifications and last a long time without breaking.

To learn more about how this happens, I’ve spoken to Li Li, Director of Product Quality at Jabra. Here’s what I learned:

There are so, so many tests and tools

Durability tests fall into several distinct categories:

  • Climate: Temperature, humidity, highly accelerated corrosion testing (HACT), etc.
  • Cable: Cable pulling, bending, and connector mating tests fall into this category.
  • Mechanical: Drop tests, vibration tests, soft press, etc.
  • Surface & chemical: Exposure to UV radiation, chemicals, abrasion testing, etc.
  • Measurement: Measuring acoustic parameters, button tactility, torque, etc.

At this point, you might be wondering how all of this is actually tested. The short answer is: With dozens upon dozens of specialized tools and machines.

Jabra test equipment

1.3% of them are seen here

Jabra can perform almost any test in-house. Many of these are done not due to strict legal requirements but as a sort of self-imposed quality control. The quality team’s unspoken motto is, “If there’s a feature that can be tested, we’ll test it.” Does an office headset have a boom arm that you can rotate? You best believe it will be put through a rotation test.

This collection of equipment is constantly being expanded so that Jabra can perform as wide a range of tests as possible. At the moment, there are no fewer than 70 different tests that a Jabra headset might go through. For instance:

Generic tests

These are the tests that apply to any headset, regardless of its features and purpose. They include…

Accelerated life test (ALT)

ALT isn’t a single test but a series of critical tests designed to simulate what would happen to a headset during its useful life. It’s performed on a representative sample of 32 units, which are subjected to all sorts of external hazards like swinging temperatures, stress, strain, corrosion, and so on.

Temp & humidity test chamber

Temperature and humidity chamber

All 32 units must survive unscathed, barring minor cosmetic damage; if just one unit fails, the team looks for the underlying cause, adjusts the manufacturing process, and starts from scratch with a brand new set of 32 headsets. That’s right: Unlike your high school finals, ALT calls for a 100% pass rate.

Drop tests

Gravity doesn’t discriminate, so every headset model must survive a drop test. A drop test is exactly what it sounds like: You drop a headset onto a specified surface – sometimes a concrete floor – and see if it shatters into a million pieces. (It shouldn’t, ideally.) But even with a simple drop test, there are a few variations and machines in play.

In a guided drop test, a special claw carefully drops a headset at a specific angle to make sure it can survive a hit to the side, front, back, etc. In a random drop test, a bunch of headsets are shoved into a glorified tumble dryer, like so:

Virtually all of these units must survive the cycle in order for a test to be considered successful.

Soft pressure

You know how sometimes you pop a headset into the back pocket of your jeans, then forget all about it and end up sitting on it? Believe it or not, but there’s a separate tool that does nothing but test how well a headset can handle that exact scenario:

That’s a soft pressure tester, and the only thing it does is simulate you repeatedly sitting down on your headset. Day and night.

Chemical exposure

This test subjects headsets to a range of chemical substances. That’s a fancy way of saying that headsets get dipped into random liquids – perfume, olive oil, Coca-Cola, ketchup – to see what happens to a headset after being covered in these for a while.

Chemical exposure

I say “random,” but the substances are actually carefully defined. For example, the butter test uses a very specific brand of butter, so that the same conditions can be replicated and compared. Yup: Right now, somewhere out there, a Jabra employee is gingerly applying the finest Danish Lurpak unsalted butter to a headset, so you don’t have to.

There are many more of these generic tests, but I think you get the idea.

Headset-specific tests

Depending on its design and purpose, a headset may also undergo more specialized testing.

IP rating compliance

Headsets like the Jabra sports earbuds must naturally be able to handle sweat, rain, and dust.

These headsets receive a special Ingress Protection (IP) rating, which I’ve covered in detail earlier. To make sure they can live up to these requirements, the quality team puts them through a range of machines, from dust chambers…

Dust chamber
…to salt mist testers…

Salt mist tester
…to giant pressure cookers waterproof test chambers…

Waterproof test chamber
Jabra wouldn’t want to send a headset to a certified IP test agency without first making sure it is actually up to par.

Buttons, cables, boom arms, and more

Specific headset parts – buttons, headbands, cables – will get tested separately. Remember I mentioned a boom arm rotation test? I wasn’t kidding. There’s a machine that does that:

There are tests that stretch headbands, pull and twist cables, and even one that plugs and unplugs the connectors:

Even a tiny button warrants its own test equipment. Here’s a mad machine that keeps pressing five separate buttons like a possessed rat inside a Skinner box:

By now you hopefully have a newfound appreciation of just how many seemingly minor features get a thorough test treatment. Jabra is well equipped to handle a variety of test scenarios…but that’s not to say it’s always smooth sailing.

Overcoming challenges

As in any other discipline, there are many factors the quality team needs to keep in mind. What parameters do we use when drop testing a larger, heavier product like the Jabra Solemate Max? How do we account for the sometimes unpredictable ways people may end up using the product?

Then there’s the fact that Jabra headsets are sold worldwide. A headset may work just fine in France but face nasty surprises in the hot and humid air of Indonesia. What happens if – against all odds and despite rigorous testing – customers experience issues with a headset?

For the quality team, the answer’s simple: You dust yourself off, test the hell out of that headset, find and fix the issue, and do your very best to prevent it from ever happening again.

After all, that’s exactly what the quality team is there for, isn’t it?