Bragi The Headphone review: This new AirPods competitor fits and works well but doesn't sound great
It sometimes feels as if the tech world is obsessed with the AirPods , the first-ever wireless headphones to be released under the Apple brand. But the iPhone maker was not the first company to release a so-called "truly wireless" headphone -- models that feature standalone left and right earpieces, unencumbered by a connecting wire, and charge up in an included battery case. Such pioneers in the category as Earin, Kanoa and Bragi were showing off models as early as January 2016, eight months before the AirPods were unveiled alongside the iPhone 7 by Tim Cook .
Bragi was arguably the nascent category's first flagbearer. The German startup had a highly successful Kickstarter for its first totally wireless "smart" earphone called The Dash that shipped in early 2016. The $300 Dash (roughly £225 or AU$395) was also laden with sensors, so it could double as a fitness wearable. It got off to a rocky start, garnering some critical reviews, but has improved with subsequent software upgrades.
The company is back with a second headphone that it simply calls "The Headphone." (OK, then.) It, too, is completely wireless and consists of two wireless earbuds and a charging case. It's much more affordable than The Dash, carrying a list price of $149 (roughly £110 or AU$195).
The Headphone is essentially a stripped down version of the $300 Dash -- both in terms of features and materials. Gone are the Dash's fitness tracking functions, on-board MP3 player and waterproofing. The Headphone is all plastic, and its included charging case is made of plastic instead of metal. It also doesn't have a built-in battery for recharging the earphones, which is a bit of a problem.
But let's start with the positives. The Headphone works -- and by that I mean the two earbuds maintain a steady connection and they also paired and re-paired with my phones without a problem. (I use an iPhone 6S and Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge in my tests.) They're lightweight and fit in my ears well and stayed there.
I also thought the integrated microphone worked pretty well for making calls -- at least in quieter environments.
With the step-up Dash, which has upgradeable firmware and touch controls, there's an app to control a set of advanced features, but these wireless earphones have no app and their firmware isn't upgradeable.
There are three tiny control buttons in the right earpiece for controlling volume, advancing tracks forward and back. Holding down the universal control button gives you access to Siri (on iPhone) and Google Now (Android) for voice commands and holding that button a little longer activates a hear-everything mode that allows ambient sound to leak in so you can hear the outside world (it also helps to lower the volume of your music, of course).
Battery life is rated at "up to 6 hours," which is decent for this type of headphone, but you won't get that if you play your music at higher volumes. You charge the earpieces in the case, but -- again -- the lack of a battery in the case means you need to be tethered to a wall outlet while juicing up.
Ultimately, the biggest issue I have with The Headphone is that it doesn't sound that good, which seems to be the case for similar styled wireless earphones in the same "more affordable" price range. The Sol Republic Amps Air, for example, also sounds mediocre.
The Headphone's sound is a little recessed, the treble's a little harsh, and it's just not that pleasant a Bluetooth headphone to listen to, particularly when you throw bass heavy or more complicated music at it. You can find $15-$20 wired earbuds that sound as good or better.
That's too bad, because there's a lot to like about The Headphone. But as it stands, you're probably better off with Apple's AirPods, which cost slightly more.
Here's a look at The Headphone's key features, according to Bragi.
- Can be connected to any Bluetooth device.
- Users can switch between listening to music tracks, take phone calls, activate Audio Transparency (allows ambient noise in) and deliver voice commands, all without having to look at a second device.
- Three different FitTip size tips are included to help get a secure, tight seal.
- Just over 6 hours of wireless battery life per charge