by Johan Hjord
Using headphones to provide a soundtrack to your ride is nothing new. But it’s probably safe to say that many people’s experience with taking standard earphones or earbuds out on the trail is a little underwhelming. They don't fit with a helmet, they fall off, they stop working after they get exposed to sweat, the cables get tangled around your throat, or they sound like a cheap car stereo. Jaybird claims to have solved all those problems and more, so we donned a pair and cranked them up to 11 to see what gives.
Jaybird Bluebuds X Highlights
- Type: In-Ear Style
- Noise-isolation: Passive
- Audio Format: 16-bit Stereo
- Codec: Shift™ custom SBC implementation
- Response Bandwidth: 20-20000Hz
- Connectivity: Bluetooth Class 2.1+EDR (wireless)
- Handsfree & AVRCP profiles
- Play Time: 8 Hrs (claimed)
- Standby Time: 250 Hrs (claimed)
- Charging Time: Less than 2.5 hrs
- 1 Year Limited Warranty
- Lifetime Warranty Against Sweat
- AVRCP Music Controls (play/pause, next, back)
- Call Controls (answer, end, reject call, etc)
- General Controls (volume, pair, power)
- Jenna ™ Voice Prompts
- Signal Plus (interference-free playback)
- MSRP: US $169.95
The Jaybird Bluebud X’s made quite the statement when they first showed up. The packaging is first-class, and there is a general impression of quality to the whole kit. Included in the box are the earphones, the USB charging cable, 3 different sizes of ear channel adapters and in-ear cushions, a neat little carrying case, and documentation.
The earphones themselves are in the in-ear style, which means they squeeze directly into your ear channel. In addition, Jaybird has developed a fairly unique retention system which uses the shape and features of the outer ear to secure the earphones in place. Bluetooth takes care of connectivity with your phone or music player (there is no cable to plug into the audio device).
In The Living Room
After a first top-up charge, we proceeded to work out the proper fit and get the earphones ready for use. It takes a little bit of trial and error to figure out the proper sizing of both the ear-channel adapter and the outer ear retention cushions, but the included instructions are well-illustrated and detailed enough to help get you there as quickly as possible. A mirror is pretty valuable too.
Powering up the earphones, you are introduced to the lovely Jenna™. Jenna is there to offer voice prompts that help guide you through the initial set-up and Bluetooth pairing procedures (as mentioned previously, the Bluebuds are wireless earphones that connect to your phone or music player via Bluetooth, not a cable). This proved to be a simple and straightforward affair on our iPhone 5, and 2 minutes later we were rocking out.
The audio quality delivered by the Bluebud X’s is stunning. The bass is rich and clear, without ever overpowering the rest or becoming murky and jumbled-up. The midrange and high frequencies are delivered crisply, but never become screechy or tiring to listen to. Incidentally, if you feel you need something other than the standard setting on your music player’s equalizer when using these, you should probably consider joining Bass-o-holics Anonymous and following their 12-step program to kick your nasty 50Hz habit.
It is worth mentioning that Jaybird invested considerably in the audio quality aspect, including built-in white noise filtering and the use of a high-bandwidth Bluetooth profile to allow high quality wireless playback (which cannot be achieved with your old Bluetooth hands-free earbud for example, since it uses a much lower bandwidth protocol). The use of high-quality drivers in an optimized shell do their part too.
The cord that connects the 2 earphones together also houses the 3 external controls offered on the Bluebud X’s. These allow you to stop and start playback, adjust volume, and skip tracks. The unit housing the controls also features a small microphone used for phone calls. When in phone mode, the controls allow you to take or reject calls and adjust call volume (the earphones switch automatically between modes when you answer or make calls). Call quality is very good, incidentally, as reported by the people we called to test it.
On The Trail
Having passed the living room test with flying colors, it was time to take the Bluebud X’s to the trail. You can run them in 2 different cord configurations, with the cord either dangling free under the chin or tucked away over the ears and around the back of the neck. We found the latter option preferable for mountain biking, given the amount of snaggy branches and other obstacles we regularly attempt to ride through, but either option will work.
Because the Bluebuds are of the in-ear kind, they offer very impressive isolation against external sound. Without even turning them on, we struggled to hear our tires on the dirt. Power up your preferred playlist, and you’re back in your living room. Forget about ANY external interference, now it’s just you and the band. And the best part is, these earphones will stay right where you put them, no matter what the trail throws at you.
Having conclusively failed to dislodge the Bluebuds with any manner of bike riding, we proceeded to our patented head-banging/hair-model combo test. If they could survive this one, they could survive anything. Well, the Bluebuds didn’t fall out, but more surprisingly, L’Oreal also hasn’t called about our new hair modeling contract. Maybe we’re not worth it after all.
We’ve ridden with the Bluebud X’s for a couple of months now, and their performance on the trail has been flawless. They have never failed to connect to the phone, they have never failed to deliver perfectly smooth playback with awesome audio richness, they do not fall out while riding, and they are to this point unaffected by the copious amounts of sweat we’ve subjected them to (they are backed by a lifetime warranty against sweat-induced damage should this ever cease to be the case). We have not gotten the promised 8 hours of battery life out of a single charge, probably more like 6, which is still incredibly impressive given the small size of the battery and the fact that these are wireless. 6 hours of listening to music is a lot, and chances are your phone's battery won’t make it that far anyway.
Things That Could Be Improved
It is hard to find fault with the Bluebud X’s. Due to their protruding shape, they won’t work with a full face helmet, but addressing that aspect while keeping the overall performance seems like a big ask. You should also note that using these in traffic or in other situations where you might need to hear what is going on around you is not a good idea, because they really do cut you off from everything except the music. This is obviously not something we should be critical of, given that it was the design goal, but something to be aware of. Finally, we should point out that when worn in the over-the-ear-and-around-the-neck configuration, the controls can be hidden under your helmet strap. It's hard to see how to improve on this aspect, and it also didn't prove an actual hindrance in operation. It's actually quite easy to find the buttons under the strap, even with gloves.
Other than that, we’ve become a bit infatuated with the lovely Jenna, and we think she should maybe be given a few more voice-prompts to say. And finally, the Bluebuds should come with a built-in anti-dubstep and AWOLNATION filter, but maybe there’s an app for that?
Long Term Durability
After a couple of months of subjecting the Bluebud X’s to on-the-trail abuse, we see absolutely no signs of trouble. Jaybird backs its product with a 1-year general warranty and a lifetime warranty against sweat-related damage, which feels reassuring when you take your $170 electronic equipment out riding. Physically, you need to exert a little bit of care when handling the small lid that covers up the charge port, but no more than would be expected on such a small device. The cover closes with a very solid snap which leads us to believe it will not become prone to falling off with time either.
What’s The Bottom Line?
The Bluebud X's from Jaybird set the bar high for sports-specific earphones. With audio quality that rivals the best audiophile equipment out there, the Bluebuds further up the ante by taking that performance to the trails. They offer secure fit, the freedom of wireless connectivity, and fantastic audio performance. If you’re serious about your music and enjoy listening to it while riding (or during any other physical activity for that matter), you should certainly put these on your shopping short list. They’re not the cheapest solution out there, but in our opinion, you get what you pay for and then some.
More information at: Jaybird
About the reviewer
Johan Hjord loves bikes, which strangely doesn’t make him any better at riding them. After many years spent practicing falling off cliffs with his snowboard, he took up mountain biking in 2005. Ever since, he’s mostly been riding bikes with too much suspension travel to cover up his many flaws as a rider. His 200-pound body weight coupled with unique skill for poor line choice and clumsy landings make him an expert on durability - if parts survive Johan, they’re pretty much okay for anybody. Johan rides flat pedals with a riding style that he describes as "none" (when in actuality he rips!). Having found most trail features to be not to his liking, Johan uses much of his spare time building his own. Johan’s other accomplishments include surviving this far and helping keep the Vital Media Machine’s stoke dial firmly on 11.