Wire those ears!


Since I had iPhones I have always simply used Apple’s EarPods that come with the phone for casual listening or for sports. I only use my Bose QC15 when I am in a plane (and this is where they are nothing short of a revelation – if you get noise canceling headphones, buy these!).

But then, a few weeks ago, I decided to buy new Bluetooth in-ear headphones. It’s not that my EarPods did not work sufficiently well (though one pair, from my 4S, died just recently and I replaced them with the set from my 5s). They were good enough, I guess, but I did have to crank up the volume when in a noisier environment (like the MRT) or when working out. They just don’t seal that well. And, of course, they are tied to the phone, which is not a big hassle when running but it’s not great.

But then, why now? Well
I picked the headset based on the recommendation at The Wirecutter and they arrived 10 days ago.

I am always quite amazed by the quality of the presentation and packaging for headphones. Very nicely done for the Jaybirds. The same was true for the Jawbone Bluetooth headset I bought in 2011, by the way. But that one I never liked that much and in the end I actually lost it – I have no idea where it ended up, to be honest.

I was a little intimidated by the Bluebuds.
I mean, look at this picture above. This looks like a Build-Your-Own-Borg construction kit. In the end it’s of course simple: mount a fitting set of buds on the headphones and plug those into your ears. Done. I initially skipped the funky wings which are supposed to provide a more secure fit for a heavier workout.

Compared to my EarPods, the Bluebuds do an amazing job in sealing the ears.
For the times when I was listening to my podcasts on the treadmill at near full volume, I am now normally around half and the sound is way better. I also like the voice-over that gives little information like “Headphones connected” or “Battery low”. I do not like so much that there’s a little beep for every press on the volume button of the cable remote. This beep also interrupts whatever I am listening to. From a logical point of view I guess this makes sense, especially because now I do not need to quickly jump to the maximum volume anymore. But it still feels wrong.

I am still using my EarPods when I am commuting, so the key question is what about wearing the Jaybirds during a workout?
Let’s say I had a difficult start. I put them in with and without all variations of the wings and buds for added stability but I did not get as secure a fit as I would have expected based on the cocky claims on Jaybird’s website.

My problem was that when I was running, even when I adjusted the strap that connects both headphones, it was still moving too much and the one of the headphone buds would eventually wind itself out of my ears (or just loosen enough to feel funny). So, this is not how you should wear them:

It does not matter whether the strap hangs to the front below your chin or whether you put it behind your neck (i.e. “under ear”). It does not work (for me). What does work, however, is something that I saw as a little illustration on the packaging and initially quickly discounted as not-for-me: “over ear”.

“Over ear” looked funny to me and sort of cumbersome, but it is a great way to wear headphones. You can shorten the strap to a minimum and then the headphones fit snuggly around your ears and the back of your head. If you turn your head to the left or right it won’t matter – the strap is not in touch with your neck or your clothes, so the headphones won’t be pulled out of your ears. Very nice.
I would lie if I’d say the headphones did not loosen at all during my last workouts, but they feel very comfortable now and better than the EarPods. It also feels liberating to not have a leash connected to the phone in my pocket (actually, there is no reason why I would not put the phone somewhere on the side – it does not need to be in my pocket anymore).

The sound quality is great and better than what I got from my EarPods. I am not sure this is because the processing of the sound is so much better or simply because the improved sealing of the ears is resulting in a better overall sound. Regardless, this is a huge improvement.
I have to say that I hear little audio “cracks” once in a while which I sort of believe come from the fact that this is a wireless transmission. This could also come from me only listening to podcasts when working out, however, and these cracks might stem from the source material. It did not bother me enough to check, to be honest. Even with this I consider the Bluebuds superior to virtually any in-ear headphone I have ever used.

Finally, what about the battery?
Well, this is normally the reason why Bluetooth headsets never get as much love in reviews as other, wired, headphones: when the battery’s dead, the game is over. In my use case that’s not a problem. I also love that a separate battery symbol appears on my iPhone’s status bar. Jaybird claims the Bluebuds deliver an 8 hour battery life. I have not used them long enough to confirm this, but it seems to be about right. 6-8 hours would be fine for me. Recharging is solved very elegantly through a simple USB connection and happens very quickly.

So, that’s it: a very nice and useful piece of technology, though it requires a bit of work to figure out how it best works for you. I do not expect these will go the same way as my Jawbone headset, especially given The Watch is coming.

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