Jaybird Run review: The perfect truly wireless earbuds for workouts

Completely wireless earbuds are everywhere this year. Call it the Apple AirPods effect, or perhaps it’s just a matter of the right components being available at the right time. But now that completely cordless designs are less novel than they used to be, companies have to work harder to stand out. Jaybird, which has had years of experience in wireless audio, is taking a stab at the increasingly crowded field with its $ 180 Run earbuds. They’re comfortable, sound great for their size, and offer solid reception (for the most part).

Hardware

The Jaybird Run don’t look particularly distinctive, aside from a small logo on the outside. At this point, most companies seem to be settling on a similar style for fully wireless earbuds. They generally try to make them as small as possible — a departure from the clunky Bluetooth headsets you might be used to. One unique element here is the metal ring around the outer edges of the Run serves as the antenna, which should technically give it a leg-up on reception over competitors with internal antennas. They’re about as subtle as the earbuds from Her — noticeable, but they don’t call attention to themselves either.

The differences between wireless buds really come down to the earpiece design. They need to stay in your ears reliably — there’s no cord to save them from falling on the ground, after all — and ideally, they should be comfortable enough to wear for hours at a time. This is one area where the Jaybird Run excels: It features the “fin” typically found on the brand’s headphones, which fits into the upper groove of your ear to hold them in place. Once you get them in, it’s hard to notice you’re wearing them.

Jaybird gives you four sets of silicone tips: small and large round options, as well as two different oval-shaped tips. There are also three different types of fin accessories, along with a finless one if you have very small ears. And, as you’d imagine, the Run are both sweatproof and water resistant. Jaybird says they feature a “double hydrophobic nano coating” to deal with sweat, which is much tougher on gadgets than plain water.

The Jaybird Run also comes with a chunky carrying case, which adds another eight hours to their advertised four-hour battery life. The case is too large to fit comfortably in your pocket, but it’s easy to chuck into a messenger bag or backpack. It can also give the Run earbuds one hour of juice with just a five-minute charge. The case could use a more secure latch, though. It popped open in my bag on several occasions, which made my iPhone automatically connect to them. That was particularly annoying when it was causing my phone to de-prioritize my other devices.

In use

Setting up the Run earbuds was a cinch. Within 30 seconds of tearing open the packaging, I had them securely in my ears and paired with my iPhone 6S. I was lucky enough to have a perfect fit with the default buds. It was definitely the fastest setup period I’ve seen with any pair of wireless headphones, even my BeatsX.

The right Run earbud handles all of the connectivity with your phone. You can choose to wear it by itself if you’d rather keep one ear open (which is how I typically walk around New York City). The left earbud automatically connects to the right one over Bluetooth when you turn it on, and the sound carries over without any interruption. Everything sounds a bit compressed when you’re just using the right earbud, but the audio field expands seamlessly once you turn on the left bud.

You don’t have many options for controlling the Run. Each earbud has just one button. Powering them on and off takes one long press, but you can also skip forward to the next track by double-clicking them. The buttons are easy enough to find, but they’re difficult to press. Pushing them simply felt painful, since doing so also jams the Run deeper into your ear. Because of that, I avoided the buttons entirely while wearing the earbuds.

Devindra Hardawar/Engadget

When it comes to sound quality, the Run delivers far more than you’d expect, given its tiny frame. My usual round of test music tracks, including “Like A Dog Chasing Cars” from the Dark Knight soundtrack, and Little Dragon’s “Klapp Klapp,” all sounded great, with a healthy amount of detail and a surprising bass. The JayBird Run unfortunately had trouble with complex high notes; cymbals sometimes sounded like a distorted mess. They certainly didn’t sound as good as the BeatsX or the Jaybird Freedom, though, both of which deliver quality that’s almost on par with wired headphones.

The Jaybird Run were especially great for podcasts. Dialog sounded rich and natural, with none of the tinniness you get from some wireless headphones. And since podcasts are usually recorded at a much lower fidelity than music, they ended up being ideal for the Run’s more limited audio range. I caught up on a big chunk of my podcast backlog while testing them, simply because they were so convenient to wear.

If you like to customize your audio experience, you can also use Jaybird’s mobile app to tweak the Run’s sound profile. It’s flat by default, but the company provides a variety of options like “Bring the bass,” which boosts the low-end, or “Extended listening,” which cuts down harsh high notes. There are also custom profiles from athletes like Nick Rimando and Kerri Walsh Jennings, and you can find profiles from other Jaybird users as well. If you want, you can also adjust your levels manually. (I opted for the “Signature” settings, which boosts bass and high notes a bit.) The app changes the Run’s sound at the firmware level, so any tweaks will apply no matter what you’re listening to. If you need help finding exercise tunes, there’s also a curated selection of Spotify playlists within the app.

With no wires in the way, the Jaybird Run made listening to just about anything feel completely seamless. It takes just a few seconds to pop it out of the case, and they paired with my phone quickly too. Since they’re so comfortable, I occasionally forgot I was even wearing them. At times, too, it felt like they were simply an extension of my hearing. They didn’t fall out of my ears once after hours of testing, and after a while my low-level anxiety about dropping them on a New York City sidewalk evaporated.

My honeymoon with the Jaybird Run almost ended abruptly during my first jogging session. They simply couldn’t stay synchronized in stereo mode while I was moving, a problem multiple reviewers have brought up over the past few weeks. When I asked Jaybird for comment, a spokesperson said that the unit I was testing were pre-production, and not the final hardware consumers would get. Typically I’d find that answer suspicious, but since the Run aren’t actually shipping to customers until later this month, all I can do for now is take the company at their word.

So that’s the story of how I received a second Jaybird Run pair to review. I immediately took them out for a two-mile run around Brooklyn’s Prospect Park , and thankfully didn’t experience any further synchronization issues. My podcasts and exercise playlist all played without incident. Compared to the Jaybird Freedom, which are wirelessly connected to your phone, but still have a thin cable attaching the earbuds, the Run offered a completely different experience.

It’s one thing not to have to worry about managing a headphone cable, but running through the park unencumbered by any cables felt truly liberating. I still experienced minor synchronization issues when walking around Manhattan, but that’s something I’ve also noticed with other wireless buds. Extreme radio interference is part of the cost of living in a dense urban environment.

Jaybird’s four-hour battery life claim for the Run was close to what I actually saw. The buds would typically last for around three hours and 45 minutes during my testing. As you’d expect, that timing changed a bit if I was listening to quiet podcasts, or loud music most of the time. Together with the battery case, the Run typically lasted around two to three days, depending on if I could fit in a jogging session. As our resident marathoner, Engadget’s executive editor Dana Wollman notes that the Run’s battery life should be fine for most runners. But you’d probably want a wired pair if you’re hitting the pavement beyond four hours.

Pricing and the competition

At $ 180, the Jaybird Run are slightly more expensive than competing wireless earbuds. Apple’s AirPods go for $ 159, while Bragi’s “The Headphone” comes in at $ 149. If you want to cut the cord mainly for exercise, though, the added cost will likely be worth it for the Run’s sweat and water resistance. Jabra’s Elite Sport are another solid workout alternative, but they’re a lot pricier at $ 250.

If you’re considering wireless headphones, it’s worth taking a step back and considering how you plan to use them. If you’re a fitness fanatic, it makes more sense to forgo wires entirely with the Jaybird Run. But if you care more about having higher audio quality, and only need headphones for occasional exercise, you might be better off with something like Jaybird Freedom or BeatsX, which still have short cables.

Wrap-up

Jaybird didn’t disappoint with the Run. They’re everything I’d want in a pair of truly cord-free headphones. While they still require sacrificing a bit of audio quality, that’s true of everything else in this category. Losing a bit of fidelity is worth it, though, if you’ve ever dreamt of going for a run while losing yourself to music and not worrying about any annoying cords.

Engadget RSS Feed

The Pixel 2 proves headphone jacks are truly doomed

As usual, Apple started a trend. Last year, it dropped the standard 3.5 millimeter headphone jack from the iPhone. The industry was quick to respond. Motorola, even before the iPhone 7 was announced, also removed the port from the Moto Z (though curiously, it remained on the cheaper Z Play). HTC followed suit with the U Ultra this year, as did the geek-friendly Essential phone. Now that Google’s Pixel 2 is confirmed to be headphone jack-less, it seems as if the port’s survival, at least in the mobile world, is a lost cause.

The truly sad thing? A year after this trend began, we still don’t have a good explanation of why we’re better off without headphone jacks. Removing the port opens up a bit of precious internal space, which allowed Apple to stuff in a bigger 3D Touch module in the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus. But did that actually help make 3D Touch more useful? And what have other phone makers gained, exactly, by jumping on this bandwagon? The additional room isn’t enough to significantly improve battery life, and aside from the Moto Z, it hasn’t led to an influx of ultra-thin designs either.

With the Pixel 2 and its larger companion, in particular, we’ve gained very little by losing the headphone jack. Sure, they’re much more water and dust resistant than the last models. But the Pixel 2’s IP67 certification is something several Android phones have offered for years — and they didn’t need to lose the port to achieve it. Typically when we move away from legacy hardware, we’re headed to something better. But in the case of the 3.5mm headphone port, the tech world seems to have forgotten that. Apple’s joking explanation — “courage” — isn’t enough.

I’m not blind to the benefits of wireless. My trusty BeatsX earbuds are the first pair I’ve used that sound almost as good as great corded headphones. And I truly appreciate being able to use them on the subway without getting tangled up in cables. But here’s the thing: You don’t need to remove the 3.5mm port to enjoy the benefits of Bluetooth headphones. In fact, I’m running my BeatsX on an iPhone 6S — the last iPhone to include the 3.5mm jack. I just like having the flexibility to freely connect my phone to auxiliary cables in cars and corded headphones without carrying around any dongles. It’s 2017, that doesn’t seem like too much to ask.

And not to be too cynical, but it’s hard not to view the move away headphone jacks as a way for companies to push their own expensive wireless headphones. It’s no coincidence that Apple’s $ 150 AirPod’s debuted alongside the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus (as did the BeatsX). Today, Google also showed off its own offering, the aptly named Pixel Buds. It’s almost as if tech companies realize consumers would shell out a bit extra for wireless headphone, rather than live the dongle life.

Chris Velazco/Engadget

As someone who’s chosen this hill to die on, the future looks bleak. Some manufacturers, like Samsung and LG, stuck with the 3.5mm port with their latest devices. Indeed, the the LG V30 appears to be the ideal new phone for audio fanatics, thanks to its powerful HiFi DAC. A headphone jack could just end up being a niche feature that some manufacturers use to entice geeks. But that doesn’t help iPhone users who want to upgrade this year, or Android fans who want the purest experience possible with Google’s Pixel phones.

It was easy for me to skip the iPhone 7 last year, as it was only a minor improvement over the 6S. But with the new design of the iPhone X, as well as its improved cameras, it’ll be hard for me to stay away. And even if I were to make the leap to Android, I’m just as tempted by the Pixel 2 as I am by the Galaxy S8. As much as I’d like to stick with the headphone jack, it’s only a matter of time until I’m tempted away. I just wish we had a good reason for moving away from the most widely supported port ever. No dongle will stop me from being resentful over that.

Follow all the latest news from Google’s Pixel 2 event here!

Engadget RSS Feed

Truly wireless earbuds are coming for your headphones

One of the dominant trends of IFA 2017 was the sheer volume of companies, both known and not-so known, that launched Bluetooth earbuds. The “truly wireless” revolution that was kickstarted by Bragi and embraced by Samsung and Apple is now a bandwagon that everyone is jumping on.

A recent Wirecutter roundup listed more than 20 companies making truly wireless earbuds, and we can expect that number to increase exponentially soon. At the show we took a closer look at offerings from mid-lower-end players like Philips and higher-end ones like B&O Play.

Speaking with representatives at the show, it’s clear that the advent of the Bragi, back in 2014, sparked a flurry of internal discussions at many audio companies. But many didn’t begin working on their own product until the launch of AirPods and the iPhone 7, which did away with the headphone port.

The slow (and contentious) demise of the smartphone’s headphone jack is prompting a wave of interest in wireless audio. And that, as consumers are gently encouraged to ditch the wire connecting them to their phones, they might as well abandon the ones that you’ll find in traditional Bluetooth headphones.

The numbers back it up, too, analysts NPD believe that around 900,000 pairs of wireless earbuds have been sold in the US since the start of the year. Of that figure, however, it’s thought that 85 percent of them were sold by Apple, with the rest fighting for the remaining 15 percent.

One of the smartest things that Bragi did was to embrace what could have been the fatal flaws in its design. These earbuds are super small, with limited battery space and it’s far, far too easy to lose them — all points that would dissuade plenty of wary customers from purchasing them. But by offering a charging case, supplied alongside the earbuds, Bragi solved both problems by forcing users to develop a habit of only ever moving their earbuds from their skulls to the dock.

SONY DSC

The case is just as important as the earbuds, which is why B&O made a big deal of making theirs look like a scaled-down sunglass case. You could easily plonk it down on the table in a restaurant and no-one would bat an eyelid.

There’s also the issue of sound quality, which requires some elegant audio engineering to get around how cramped these devices are. By and large, most of them that we tried at the show didn’t sound too bad, although it’s clear that — for now — they’ll never be as expressive as a pair of larger cans.

But being good enough, especially if users are only listening to low-resolution Spotify streams while they navigate a crowded subway station or office, will probably suffice. And the convenience of wire-free listening is probably enough to allay concerns from all but the snootiest audio snob.

What’s likely, however, is that as more companies build their own entrants to the market, that we’ll see prices crater. And since there still seems to be some room for innovation, expect to see plenty of nuanced takes on the form — and yeah, a million and one copycats as well.

Follow all the latest news from IFA 2017 here!

Engadget RSS Feed