CNET también está disponible en español.

Ir a español

Don't show this again

Headphones

Jaybird headphones land in Oz and there's no place like home

We speak to the Australian founder of Jaybird headphones about finally bringing it home, the true wireless era and the future of biometrics and wearables.

"Everyone told me I was crazy."

This is a pretty standard line from entrepreneurs and founders in the tech industry. But when Judd Armstrong, founder of wireless headphone company Jaybird, says it I believe him more than most. He's Australian, from the Gold Coast, and has a casual, no nonsense attitude that frames him as not being too worried about carefully choosing his words.

And building a wireless headphone company from scratch is a pretty crazy thing to do.

"People were saying, 'What if Apple does something? Or, you're going against Sony? And Plantronics? You're no one!' And I'm like, 'Yeah! I am no one!'"

Judd Armstrong Jaybird

Jaybird founder Judd Armstrong.

Jaybird

Jaybird was founded in 2007 in the USA and has evolved its wireless sports headphone offerings through around 10 different products over that time. Since its success in the USA the brand has now launched into the Australian market. For Armstrong, it's obviously a homecoming.

"We've had a distributor here before but they never did anything with it," says Armstrong. "It was just another thing in their catalogue. So we ended that relationship pretty quickly and just decided to wait for the right opportunity. Being our own backyard, we really wanted to do this right."

Proudly premium

Jaybird's focus is on being a sport and outdoor lifestyle brand that delivers high-end wireless headphones. Starting with designs that "went behind the ear like a hearing aid with a cord between them" that also required Bluetooth adapters, the company has seen the wireless revolution since its beginnings. And for a long time many just didn't trust wireless to deliver good audio.

"It must have been 2013 when you stopped hearing that concern," says Armstrong. "Bluetooth did get better, which was great. But also everyone was moving toward wireless.

"A lot of people sacrificed audio quality for functionality just to get a wireless product. Signal performance is really important to us and that's one of the big challenges of miniaturisation -- an antenna normally needs a large amount of space. Redesigning things like the Bluetooth codec and boosting the signal are really important things. Those little fiddly points on some headphones just destroy the whole purpose of wireless headphones when you're active."

Jaybird Freedom lifestyle photo

Wireless headphones with a total focus on outdoor lifestyle has been the Jaybird pitch against its bigger competitors.

Jaybird

From retailing in USA's Target and Amazon, then Best Buy and Apple stores, Jaybird has carved out its sport and outdoor lifestyle niche in the premium end of the market against the biggest names in the business like Beats, Sennheiser and Bose. CNET's Jaybird reviews have flagged the products as too pricey, but not competing on price is something Armstrong is very proud of.

"If you don't have a massive marketing budget to throw around, you've got to do a lot of your communicating right there in the store and on your website," says Armstrong. "Early on, our packaging didn't actually have the name of the product in any large print like today. The big message was 'secure fit wireless earbuds'. That was a new thing. Then we had lifetime warranty against sweat, and that was good for credibility. The kind of stuff that builds trust."

Today the Jaybird products are slimmer and smaller than ever, pitching for attention with unique features like "infinite" playback (a light clip-on battery pack that can be charged separately so you never have to stop using the headphones to recharge them) and a sound profile app that updates the headphone firmware to directly customise audio settings to your personal taste.

So what about tomorrow?

The future of wireless -- and wearables

The obvious question is Apple dropping the headphone jack and whether Jaybird sees this as a big opportunity.

"Throwing back to when the iPod never had Bluetooth, we were just thinking, man, when iPod gets Bluetooth things are gonna go crazy. But it took a while even then," says Armstrong. "It may be a huge catalyst for a lot of growth, but we've always been wireless so, for those new people, welcome to the party!"

The other side of wireless is, like we've seen from Apple, dropping cables altogether.

Jaybird Freedom accessories

Lots of earbuds and widgets are included with Jaybird headphones to help you get the "just right" fit.

Jaybird

"There's a strong movement toward truly wireless, of course. Everyone is working on one. If they're not, they're a little silly, I guess," says Armstrong. "Truly wireless is interesting. It means you've got two batteries, two sets of electronics. You've got twice the bulk. Just to remove that cord there's a number of downsides. It's got to be just right."

Aside from these direct aspects of headphone evolution, Armstrong suggests there is a lot more ahead for his company's sports lifestyle focus and how to deliver useful technologies to this space in other ways. The biggest being biometrics.

"Biometrics can be pretty boring for a lot of people. It's just too involved. But what we're doing is taking biometrics and converting that to everyday meaning. I can't say yet what we're working on, but there are some beautiful things that just relate back to everyday use cases, using some very sophisticated technology."

As for wearables, Jaybird once had a wristband product in its range, the Jaybird Reign, which focused on monitoring heart rate variability to tell you how ready you were to perform today and manage your training load to focus on being at your peak performance zone for a race day. It tried to do something different, but didn't make enough impact on the market and is now discontinued.

"Having done all that wrist work was still great for us," says Armstrong. "We've got a lot of IP that can be of use on the wrist and I think as Apple develops their hardware platform we can start doing apps that really enhance the athletic experience."

"I think the wrist is going to be a big, big area and we'll be watching it closely."

At its most basic, though, Jaybird is still about listening on the go, and Armstrong can't help but point out one big wearable feature a lot of people aren't taking advantage of right now.

"A lot of people don't even know their Apple Watch can have music on board. You can go for a run and stream music from your wrist and it's pretty awesome."