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Jaybird, Bluebuds X Review

It is a recurring theme on the forum where the question is asked, "What are the best sports headphones?" The folks at Jaybird gave us two sets of their wireless Bluebuds X to sound out.

We got the headphones out to forum members "Cranky" and "TenPints" for a male and female perspective on the Bluebuds.

Jo-lene ("Cranky") 

First impressions. They look cool. A bit time consuming to set up, but not so bad if you follow the instructions. Allow yourself 10-15 minutes to set them up and get them going. Not just like a cheap pair that you pull out of the packet, plug in and go.

The sound quality is great. If you turn the volume up, you can’t hear anyone or anything else and it is really easy to get lost in your music.

I like the colours, that flash red/green depending on their meaning (red = charging, green = fully charged, red & green flashing = pairing mode). You can also check the amount of charge in the headphones by pressing the ‘+’ button when it is in standby mode and the lights will tell you if it’s well charged or low on battery.

You get approximately a 15 minute warning before the battery dies. Two hours of charge gives eight hours of play time (30 minutes of charge gives 90 minutes of play time).

I also loved that you can change songs without having to touch your phone. There are three buttons on the cord that adjust the volume, skip songs, turn the headphones on and off and allow it to connect via Bluetooth to your device.

The first time I wore them, the ear attachment that I chose was a size too big and by the end of an hour, my ear was a bit tender. I changed down to the smaller size the following day and although it was better, it still was a little tender. Not painful enough to turn me off them though.

I like that they don’t fall out of your ears when you run. My other pair sometimes only need pushing in every half hour, other days, they seem to need pushing in every five minutes. The longest I have run with the Bluebuds is just over 75 minutes. They were perfect and didn’t need adjusting at all throughout the run. This run was done with them in the ‘under-ear’ position.

This morning I did a short run (30 minutes) with them in the ‘over-ear’ position, for the first time. They were great. Again, didn’t need to touch them at all. They did feel a little more secure in this position and using the cord management clips prevents any loose cord bouncing around.

I love that the only cord on these is the one that is behind your head. This means no ripping the bud out of your ear by accidently getting tangled in the cord, or getting it caught up in your fuel belt when putting water bottles back in their holders. I always plait my hair when I run, so I don’t have a ponytail flapping about, but my hair didn’t get caught up in the cord and I would assume that even if you run with a ponytail, if you have the cord management clips in use, and headphones in the ‘over-ear’ position, you would not have any problems either.

I sweat a fair bit (could wring out my singlet after a hard 90 minute bike session) and this doesn’t seem to affect their position if you leave them alone. However, taking them out and then trying to put back in again (ie between the ride and run in a brick session when changing shirts) proved to be a little tricky, as they were slippery from sweat. Got them sorted with a little fiddling.

Not that you will often need the Bluetooth range to be great, but I had them in one day, left my phone on the kitchen bench, and went downstairs to hang out the washing. They stayed connected and music continued playing (approximately 50m distance).

I think my favourite feature is the volume and skip buttons on the cord of the headphones, so I don’t have to put up with a song I don’t like, or fumble around with my phone to skip it. At $169.95, I’m not sure I personally can justify the cost, but I would certainly put them on my Christmas list!

Rating: ★★★★☆

Stu ("TenPints") 

Training and music is a blend that most of us enjoy, whether it's to fire us up when things are hurting, or to distract us during those long and lonely endurance sessions. Those of us with memories of the 80s will appreciate how far things have come from the days of foam headsets and cassettes loaded into brick-sized devices, especially when you plug-in the Jaybird - they certainly look like they are at the leading edge of the music-and-movement evolution, but are looks the only thing they have?

Three factors stand out for me that must be balanced when looking at such devices. Fit: they're there to distract you, not become the distraction through discomfort or ejection from the aural canal. Form: they need to work under your helmet, around your sunglasses, and allow a hat/visor to be worn. Function: you want to listen to the music, and not some muffled sound coming out of a deep-water well from an ancient gramophone.

Typically the price point gives a hint at how well these three factors are balanced, where a cheaper model for example might offer great fit but compromise on other aspects. There's also a price point within the market, where the headphones cannot be expected to perform only as a training aid; you'd want them to perform for more general use. The Jaybird's are at this price point and I'd expect anyone dropping two hundred notes to want something more than just a plug-and-train device.

Packaging and Portability

The packaging is done well, and I was impressed with the charging cable and the storage box. The box is round(ish) and will easily protect the headphones and the charging lead - an important point if you're going to tour the world with them. The charging lead is short and defaults to a circular form - perfect for fitting inside that case. One minor point: it would be good if the charging cable connected into a true bracelet, offering protection to the USB end-points (micro for the headphones, Type-A to go into a charging device). Any micro USB cable will do for charging, there's no anti-competition shenanigans going on here.

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In the box

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Wrapped-up and ready for transport

 

Construction and Connectivity

The instructions state that the thorns should be placed to cover the light, and the light will shine through them – my tip: put the headphones on charge, or you won’t see the light. Placing the buds and the thorns on the headphones is very easy, just remember to get the thorns facing the right way! The headphones can be worn in two different configurations: around the back of the neck, or over the ear and around the head – the latter option being more secure. Depending on your chosen configuration, will dictate how the thorns fit and whether the in-line switches are on your left or right.

Connectivity to my Samsung Android via Bluetooth was very simple: from off, power the headphones on and keep the power button pressed. Audio clues will tell you how things are going, so make sure they are in your ears. The headphones are designed for music and telephone use (not all such devices are), and once the simple connectivity phase was finished, their use was very straightforward. I connected the headphones to different devices, such as my Surface Pro 3, and even tested them during a conference call – it was all very straightforward and trouble free.
A quick point to remember, is that the headphones don’t turn off if left unattended, so it’s important to remember to switch them off after use.

Fit and Form

This is probably the most important aspect if these things are going to be bounced around on a trail whilst you pour sweat. Two summary points to start: they work when they are fitted correctly; dedicate some time to getting the fit right.

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Thorns and Buds in different sizes for a custom fit.

There are three different sized canal buds and thorns - selecting the right combination is key, as well as the right orientation of the thorns relative to the position of the headphones (forward or backward). I highly recommend experimenting, and trying the different sizes whilst not training. Initially I thought the larger sizes worked well, as they felt welded into my ear. However, after listening to some music at my desk for a while I found that my ears were aching - the thorns were too big and pushing the buds downwards, stressing my ear. Eventually I settled on the small for both bud and thorn, and then headed out. I worked the bike trainer first to get up a sweat, and then ran one of my usual routes. I put the headphones in at the start, and they were still there at the end. I think my left ear is a slightly different size to my right, as I did notice a slight difference in how snug they fitted after building up a sweat. However, this just made the position feel different, neither side ever fell out. After a few Ks, I forgot I was wearing them.

I also headed out on the bike for a longer ride, deliberately picking a day with a breeze so I could test them against wind noise. They fitted neatly, without helmet or sunglasses causing any issues and once again, after I put them in, they stayed in. I did deliberately take them out a few times, to see how easy they were to put back in whilst on the move - no dramas at all - and I even took a phone call during the ride. There was obvious wind noise, which in all fairness is impossible to eradicate, but with the Jaybirds sealed into the ear canal the music was audible and I didn't have to adjust the volume on the downhills. At one point I stopped to help a cyclists with a snapped derailleur and hung them around my neck - after some mechanical efforts bending over, then calling his wife for pick-up and a short freewheeling ride with him, the headphones were still there and hadn't slipped off.

The headphones, of course, need a device to communicate with. My phone fitted easily into my cycle jersey pockets, but on the run I had to wear my race belt in order to hold the phone (has a built-in pocket). Neither caused a real problem, but those with a larger phone (music device) may need to work out a suitable carry method. Also worth remembering ,is that even though the Jaybirds may resist water damage, your mobile phone (music device) may not and need additional protection.

Function

Given the effort placed in the Bluetooth connectivity and fitting options, I was curious to see how they performed audio wise. As mentioned, given the price point I'd want to use these during flights and commutes, so expect them to be an all-rounder. I took them on an internal and international flight, and also sat down and listened to a range of music, comparing the reproduction with a more expensive pair of audio-dedicated headphones. The fit of the buds reduced aircraft noise considerably allowing me to actually listen to the music, and the advantage of not having any cables getting tangled in seat-belts, trays and other passengers was a big bonus. They also sat well around my neck when not in use, such as when working through an airport's administrative requirements.

The Jaybirds seem to place an emphasis on the lower and higher frequencies, somewhat expected for a training device. Bass comes through strongly and heavier tracks provided good listening - Royal Blood's debut album sounded great and didn't fall short when compared with my audio-dedicated headphones. The higher frequency vocal and guitar efforts, exemplified in Muse's Defector from their Drones album were well produced. However, on tracks needing more detail I did notice the mid-tones were a little flat - my marker for this is Wagner's Ride of the Valkyries, where the crescendo and diminuendo of strings lacked depth, but the brass and percussion came through well enough. This is a minor point though - these aren't headphones to be taken into a listening room to help you decide which amplifier sounds best!

Conclusion

The Jaybirds tick a number of boxes well: no cables to your device, size and weight, in-ear stability and ease of Bluetooth connectivity. The sound is good, and unless you want audiophile quality, you won't have any complaints. They also performed well as an everyday headphones, and the fact they use the universally-accepted (minus one particular company) charging standard of micro USB means that you shouldn't be short of a compatible cable. If you're in the market for good quality training-only headphones with no concern about price - the Jaybirds are a good buy; if you're in the market for good quality training headphones with everyday applicability which makes the price more palatable - the Jaybirds are a good buy.

Ed: As this goes to air the X2 is just being released. It is similar in fit and finish to the X1 with some improvements in sound and a tweak to the ergonomics of the ear fins which should eliminate any tendernes such as that which "Cranky" experienced.  The X2 will be available in the the major Co-op Bookshop stores in early September, and in Dick Smith mid October, plus a whole bunch of independents. 

Jordan from Jaybird will be at the Health & Fitness Expo on Oct 16-18, and you can purchase them discounted from the Jaybird stand there. RRP for the X2 is $239.99, but they will be 25% off at the Expo ($179.99).

www.jaybirdsport.com 

Thanks to Stu (TenPints) and Jo-lene (Cranky) fo their time and opinions. 

The generous folks at Jaybird have allowed us to give away these two pairs of hedphones so stay tuned for a competition soon.

©2015 Transitions

 

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