JayBird Headphones for Cyclists
BlueBuds X Premium Bluetooth Headphones are the Best Cycling Headphones! And yes, I know that some people react like cats at a brimming bathtub at the very IDEA of cyclists wearing headphones. The idea seems to be that cyclists must focus every ounce of our faculties on watching the road, while it is OK for motorists and pedestrians to do their nails, text their friends, Facebook and eat breakfast. Even Maggie (Mrs. Average Joe Cyclist) does not believe in cycling headphones.
It’s OK if you Only use ONE Ear
However, in my (non-medical and non-legal) opinion, using just ONE ear, judiciously, is fine. Many long distance cyclists could not imagine spending several hours on a country road without at least one ear listening to something. Personally I find with just my right ear plugged, I can still hear everything that is happening on the road with my left ear (I also have a rear view mirror).
I just find that listening to music elevates my bike commutes to a higher level of pure joy. True joy-riding.
They are also ideal if you want to clean your bike, grease your chain or whatever, while listening to music. You can do this with ease, without worrying about getting a cord tangled in your drive train (and yes, this has happened to me, and the headphones lost the fight).
So which Cycling Headphones are the Best?
The first decision to make is:
- Cordless Headphones (Bluetooth Headphones)
The Problem with Corded Headphones
My experience with corded headphones was NOT good. I was always fussing with threading the cord through my jacket. Annoying, but the clincher was when the cord caught on my brake lever, jerking my beautiful iPhone 4s out of my pocket and sending it skidding across the pavement. I was crossing an on-ramp to a highway at the time. I stopped at the other side and was relieved to see that my iPhone still looked fine. But then I looked left and saw an army of cars approaching at increasing speed.
I briefly weighed up the value of my life against my iPhone, and reluctantly conceded that it was not worth throwing away my life – not even for an iPhone 4S.
So I got to watch in horrified silence as the first car clipped my phone, sending it flying into the air, coming down STILL in one piece and near the edge of the street. Amazing phone! I felt a ray of hope – but then a second car clipped it, and a third car crunched it. By the time the army of cars had passed, I picked up my iPhone 4 in 4 pieces (giving a new meaning to the name iPhone 4). And I started to think about buying Bluetooth cordless headphones. (Although first I had to buy a new iPhone – apparently being pulverized by cars is not covered in the warranty.)
So which Cordless Headphones are the Best?
Having decided on Bluetooth cordless headphones, I did a lot of research before buying. I ended up deciding that JayBird headphones were the best.
Comparison of Jaybird Freedom Sprint Headphones and JayBird BlueBuds X Premium Headphones
My first set of Jaybirds was the Freedom Sprint (the ones that were eventually eaten by my drive chain). They were pretty awesome, freeing me from the hazards of wires winding around my body. They also delivered awesome sound. But they did have a couple of flaws, which caused me to upgrade to the BlueBuds X Premium (that, and the drive-train-eating-the-Jaybirds incident). What a difference! Here is a table that compares the Jaybird Freedom Sprint with the Jaybird Bluebuds X Premium. It shows how the problems with the Jaybird Freedom Sprint are solved on the Jaybird Premium:
||Jaybird Freedom Sprint
||JayBird BlueBuds X Premium
||Battery time is only about 4 hours, which can leave you high and dry in the middle of the day with no sound
||These headphones get exactly the time the manufacturers claim on the box: 8 hours. And this is even after months of use. This is a very decent length of time from one charge, and will get most people through the working day
|Bluetooth Connection to your smart device:
||Connectivity problems. Often when walking around downtown with them, I would find the sound cutting in and out
||JayBird has improved the technology, because with the BlueBuds X the connectivity is outstanding. Apparently the improved connection is due to JayBird’s patented system “Signal Plus,” which delivers skip-free connectivity. It definitely works – I only start to lose signal if I leave my phone at my desk and go about 4 offices down the hall. With my phone in my pocket I never get intermittent connectivity, even downtown. Now I can keep my phone safe on bike rides (and out of the rain) by tucking it safely into my pannier (my excellent Arkel Bug pannier reviewed here). Even while my phone is in a sealed pocket of my pannier, I get perfect reception on my headphones
|Low Battery Alert:
||When the batteries got low, my Jaybird Freedom Sprint headphones would warn me with an ear-splitting BEEP. The first time they did that, I almost fell over in shock. Then, to add insult to injury, they continued to BEEP every minute or so for the entire 20 minutes of life left in the battery. DUMB! This basically took 20 minutes off the battery life, because you cannot enjoy music when you keep having a deafening beep in your ear. I understand having a repeating alarm when something potentially catastrophic is happening, such as a wing falling off an airplane. But this level of intense nagging about the fact that your headphone battery is dying is ridiculous
||With JayBird BlueBuds X Premium, instead of a never-ending intrusive beep, a rather lovely, mellow female voice tells you that “Battery is low”, and then she SHUTS UP about it. This gives you another 20 minutes of listening time, before she sweetly says “Power off.” Apparently this voice is called Jenna
||Very tiny on the Jaybird Freedom Sprint
||Much improved on the X Premium – I can even control them with cycling gloves on (summer weight, not winter weight)
||With the Jaybird Freedom Sprint you have to figure out status by trying to see tiny little lights. It is often hard to tell if the headphones are on, or if they are connected to your smart phone. With the Jaybird Freedom Sprint, I was always peering at the teeny lights, trying to figure out what was going on. Not something you want to be doing on a bike
||The JayBird BlueBuds X Premium communicates with you via the voice of Jenna. She tells you “Power on” when you switch on, and then “Headphones Connected” when they’re connected, cutting out the guesswork. VAST improvement
Things I Like about the Jaybird Headphones
Packaging: the packaging feels very premium, with a nice little hard shell case to keep all the bits in.
Size: The manufacturers claim they are the world’s smallest headphones. They are very tiny, yet deliver amazing sound.
Guarantee: They also claim to offer a lifetime sweat guarantee.
Fit: Jaybird claims to have a patented secure fit. I do find that they stay in my ears pretty well, but not perfectly. But then, no headphones do (note that although Jaybird calls these headphones, they are actually earphones, as they fit INTO your ears, not over your head). In fact, the fit is pretty darn good – and a lot better than the new earphones Apple is packaging with its iPhone 5. Have you tried those things? They prove my long-held belief that Apple gets its superior technical products direct from aliens – those earphones were not made to fit in human ears! So whose ears were they tested in? Think about it …
The sound: Bluebird says on their web site: “Through perfecting a custom implementation of the native Bluetooth SBC codec, which we call Shift™, we deliver a level of purity and sound that rivals and challenges the very best in wired headphones.” Their website also tells us this interesting fact:
“Don’t listen to flat music. Surprisingly, that’s what iPhone, iPod and iPad deliver by default. The new operating system from Apple has new Equalizer settings which deliver a greater music experience. Go to Settings > Music > EQ and tune your sound just the way you want it.”
I don’t really know what all this means, but I CAN tell you that the sound is better than any corded earphones or headphones I have used. (I am talking about below $200 ‘phones.)
Phone calls: Occasionally I do actually use my phone for phone calls. With these earphones I can take calls by touching the center button, and when the other person hangs up, my music comes back on automatically. Magic!
One-hand near-the-ear controls: I can adjust sound on my bike with the controls on the earphone, so I don’t have to get my phone out of my pannier. I can also backup one track or go forward one track.
What I don’t like about the Jaybird Headphones
Ear cushions: They come with these funny little gadgets they call ear cushions. They are supposed to hang onto your ear and prevent the headphones falling out of your ears. I found they did not help at all. Worse, I had been wearing them for days before I glanced in a mirror and saw that the gadgets were sticking out vertically from my ears, making me look like a giant demented bat. I threw them out immediately. I had been under the impression that I looked like the guy below who is wearing Jaybirds JF3 with ear tips – but sadly, not so much.
USB Charger: The charger is completely different from the Jaybirds Sprint charger, so I could not use my old charger as a backup. Not only that, but the charger just died on me after a few months, and I had to buy another one.
Website: The Jaybirds website is a bit annoying. It’s one of those websites where you are bombarded with Flash, and struggle to find what you actually need.
Products on the Website: When you have to buy replacement accessories for your Jaybird, you will discover that although Jaybird is very smart about product technology, they are incredibly stupid about accessories. When you get your Jaybirds, they come with three sets of ear tips – small, medium and large. (The ear tips are the littly foamy bits that fit into your ears.) It’s OK to get three sizes with the original kit, because you get a chance to figure out which size fits you best. But when you want to re-order – you have to order another set of small, medium and large! I find that incredibly stupid. Basically you have to buy two sets that you don’t need, in order to get the one set that you do need. WHY can’t I just buy the ones I want (medium)?
Shipping Rip-Off for Non-Americans
Worse still, Jaybird hoses Canadians on shipping. There are no alternatives – you have to pay $30 for ANYthing you order, even a $9 set of foam ear tips that weigh about as much as a dog whisker. I was tempted to buy from Amazon, where the shipping costs are about $7, but then I could not be sure I was getting a compatible brand.
So I ended up holding my nose and ordering from Jaybird USA. I paid $30 for shipping; then to add insult to injury, FedEx billed me $14.65 for GST, PST and something they call an “Advancement Fee” that they claimed to have sent to the Canada Border Services Agency. So, a total of $45 in shipping for a $9 plastic packet of cheap ear tips. And in that packet were two sets I didn’t want (the small and the large) – so I paid $54 for two tiny, foam ear tips. If they ever drop off again while I am cycling, I will park my bike and scour the earth till my fingertips BLEED. So if you see someone on his hands and knees on the bike path, with a magnifying glass, swearing – that’ll be me.
These must be the most expensive ear tips in the world. They cost me so much that I think I should add them to my estate and bequeath them to my children.
But seriously, for this reason alone, when these Jaybirds die, I will never buy another pair of Jaybird headphones again (unless they appoint a local distributor for parts). This was just too ridiculously expensive.
Bottom Line on the JayBird X Premium Bluetooth Headphones
These headphones will give you great hands-free listening with excellent sound. They are quite robust, will go for 8 hours, and take only an hour to recharge from completely flat. So despite the $190 price tag, I would say Jaybird X headphones are good value for money.
But on the negative side, when you need to replace accessories such as ear tips, you will be in trouble – especially if you don’t live in the USA. And if you use them on a bike, you WILL lose ear tips. They fall off occasionally, and are impossible to find. So you will end up either being ripped off by Jaybird’s shipping fees, or having to buy generic from Amazon and hope for the best.
So I would say think it over very, very carefully if you are not in the USA, because the shipping costs are nothing but gouging. Even if you are in the USA – you will still be forced to buy products that you don’t need. For example, if you want medium-sized ear tips or ear cushions, you will STILL have to pay for small and large. Ridiculous! So it is one of those situations where the product is great, but the after sales sucks.
Think about that before you buy.