When it released its X2 wireless sports headphone in 2015, Jaybird drew some criticism from some users because -- despite some improvements -- it didn't seem like much of an upgrade over its predecessor. Well, now the company finally has a headphone with a totally new design: The Jaybird Freedom.
Originally showcased at the CES show back in January, the Freedom finally shipped a month after Logitech acquired Jaybird for $50 million. It carries list price of $200 in the US, with international pricing yet to be announced (it converts to around £155 or AU$265).
Some of Jaybird's earlier models were also named Freedom, but this new 2016 model doesn't look anything like them and has a couple of distinguishing design features. For starters, the buds have a proprietary "tapered stepdown" design, which is a fancy way of saying they've been trimmed down and now fit better in your ears. You can also wear a helmet over them without a problem.
Jaybird has built all the electronics into the inline remote, and the company says that the buds and inline remote are made of metal, not plastic, which is mostly true (there is some plastic that's part of the design). The headphones are sweatproof, though not waterproof, and Jaybird expects people to use these not only as a sports headphone but an everyday headphone.
Battery life is rated at 8 hours, which is good for this type of headphone -- but it's a bit misleading because you get 4 hours from the buds and an additional 4 hours with an included charging clip that has a second rechargeable battery inside it. You can continue wearing the headphones with the clip attached, but the package does look a little funny dangling down near your cheek.
You charge the headphones' internal battery and the external battery clip at the same time via a Micro-USB port in the clip. It's a cool concept to have the extra juice at your disposal when you need it, but the battery clip does seem a little easy to lose and is kind of a nuisance. The big problem is if you misplace it, you can't charge the headphone.
Luckily, the headphones -- which are available in five color options -- come with a nice little carrying pouch, where you can store the battery clip and any extra tips and ear fins that come with the headphones. A set of cord shorteners is also include, but they aren't the most elegant solution. Jaybird needs to find a way to integrate a cord adjustment design element into the product, not have you attach something to it.
I found the headphones fit better than 2015's X2 and I was able to get a tight seal and secure fit using the included ear fins. With a tight seal this is one of the best sounding wireless in-ear sports headphones you can buy, with clean, well-balanced sound that's close to what you'd expect from a good in-ear wired headphone. By that I mean it sounds pretty natural, at least in its default mode. The new Jaybird MySound app allows Apple iOS and Android users to tweak the sound profile to their liking.
On a more critical note, the inline remote is a bit too heavy, the price of Freedom is high, and all the little accessories that come with the product might overwhelm some people (it's a little like opening a Lego package).
I went for a few runs on Randall's Island in New York City and had no problem with the left earbud but the inline remote on the right side tugs a little on the cord as you're running; you can feel its presence. There's a way to wrap the cord around the top of your ear and have the remote sit more snuggly against the back of your neck but I'm not a fan of having headphone cords wrapped around the top of my ears.
Monster's Adidas Adistar Sport in-ear wireless headphones have a similar design, but the Micro-USB port is built into the inline remote, which I preferred. The Freedom sounds better than the Monster Adidas headphone, but the Monster costs half the price.
I also compared the Freedom to the Bose SoundSport Wireless, which costs $50 less. I found the Bose more comfortable to wear and it sounds as good as the Jaybird (both headphones sound very good for Bluetooth sports headphones). The Bose protrudes more from your ears, but compared to the Freedom, that's its only disadvantage.
As for additional features, the Freedom is equipped with Bluetooth 4.0 that can pair with up to eight devices, and its inline remote gives you complete control over your wireless music with volume buttons, and allows for phone calls with its built-in microphone. You hold the volume buttons down to advance tracks forward or back and hold the pause/play button to activate Siri on iPhones.
The new Jaybird MySound app for Android and iOS allows you to customize the equalizer settings for both the Freedom and X3, an updated and slightly smaller version of the X2 that will also arrive this spring and cost $150.
Overall, I liked the Freedom and aside from the issues I had running with it and the overabundance of accessories, I think it makes for a very good in-ear wireless headphone that's good for everyday and gym use. But it really needs to come down in price to match the Bose at $150.