JayBird Gear’s BlueBuds X are the company’s top-of-the-line Bluetooth wireless in-ear headphone model, and they’re one of the better pairs of wireless sports headphones I’ve used. Outstanding? Well, that depends on how good a fit you get, but I have no doubt that the folks who do get a great fit will rate these very highly.
Design What’s impressive about the BlueBuds is how small and lightweight they are in comparison with other Bluetooth in-ear headphones. They share some similarities with the compact Plantronics BackBeat Go earphones, which cost less than $100 and have the same tangle-resistant flat-cord design with an integrated remote/microphone. However, the Plantronics’ battery life isn’t as good as the Jaybirds’ and they aren’t sweatproof (Jaybird offers a lifetime warranty for any sweat-related issues the earphones may encounter).
The one complaint I had is that despite their small size, they’re still bigger than your average earbuds and depending on the size of your ear – mine aren’t particularly big – I found that they had a tendency to create some irritation after extended use. For some people this won’t be a problem, but when you jam the tips in your ears, the base of the bud (the hard part), which is a bit larger, might feel a little bulky. This wasn’t a huge deal, and you can make adjustments to relieve any annoying pressure, but I came away thinking these earphones were comfortable but not supercomfortable.
To help you get a better fit, the BlueBuds come with three different-sized silicone buds and three “wings” that are designed to keep the earphones in place during workouts. There are a couple of different ways you can wear the earphones and it takes some experimenting to come up with the right combination to get a secure fit.
You can go with an over-the-ear fitting and then shorten the cord length so the cord ends up resting very close to the back of your head. You can also just let the cord dangle down from your ear as you would with typical wired earphones. You can choose to have the cord sit in front of your neck or behind it (most people will wear the cord behind their necks). This setup is better if you plan on making calls because the microphone sits closer to your mouth, rather than on the back of your head just behind your ear.
What’s a little kludgy is the way you shorten the cord. There’s no built-in shortening mechanism; you have to manually shorten them to the desired length using the two sets of tracks or guides that ship along with the silicone eartips. These almost look like tiny Lego pieces, so if you’re into Lego, you’ll have no problem setting this all up. But as I said, the pieces are small, and should the cord get yanked on really hard, the piece could very well pop out and get lost. While the whole thing works, it seems like the design could be better and easier for the average consumer to grapple with.
To be clear, the BlueBuds are designed to be jammed into your ears, and getting a tight seal is crucial to getting better sound with deeper bass; if you lose that tight seal, sound quality dips dramatically. As such, these are a noise-isolating model, and they do manage to seal out a good amount of exterior sound, so if you’re worried about hearing oncoming traffic while you’re running, they may not be for you. (The $50 Plantronics BackBeats 903+ sports earphones let sound in but they don’t sound as good as this model, nor are they as lightweight).
To charge the earphones you lift a cap on the left earbud to reveal a Micro-USB port, which is pretty nifty. A cable is included for charging and there’s an LED on the right earbud that lets you know the earphones are on and when they’re charging.
My only other complaint about the design is that these guys just don’t exude “premium.” They have an all-plastic design with a bit of plastic chrome trim. The earphones also come with the same cheap-looking clamshell case that’s included with Jaybirds’ previous Bluetooth earphones. I’ve never been a fan of plastic chrome, but that’s just me.
Despite their all-plastic housing, the build quality seems decent. However, I only used them for a week, so I can’t really say how they’ll hold up over time. But I would strongly advise stowing them in their case when not in use.
Features The BlueBuds’ biggest feature is obviously their Bluetooth wireless-streaming capabilities. They should work with any Bluetooth-enabled device, including iOS, Android, and Windows smartphones and tablets. I tested them with the iPhone 4S, the Samsung Galaxy Note 2, and the iPad Mini.
To use them on, you simply hold down the call answer/end button on the integrated remote to turn them on and put them in pairing mode. A pleasant female voice (Jenna) then instructs you that the earphones are on and ready for pairing. She’ll also tell you when the headphones are connected to your device and when the battery is low. I liked her better than Siri, but that’s neither here nor there.
If you tap the call answer/end button once while listening to music, it’ll pause it; double-tap and Jenna will tell you that you’re redialing the last number you called. Holding down the volume-up button for a few seconds jumps the track forward. To a skip a track back, you hold the volume-down button.
Performance I thought the BlueBuds sounded very good for Bluetooth headphones. You lose a little something with Bluetooth because you’re dealing with compressed music, but the BlueBuds sound pretty dynamic. They also sound fairly open with good detail and strong bass. They’re clearly superior to the Plantronics BackBeat Go earphones and play significantly louder. And, as I said earlier, their battery life is better.
Do they sound better than Jaybird’s Freedom and Freedom Sprint Bluetooth earphones? Yes, I thought they were a clear notch up, but those models cost significantly less. It’s also worth noting that the Freedom has an off-the-shelf design that other companies such as Outdoor Technology (maker of Tags) use for their Bluetooth headphones. The BlueBuds X are much more unusual – at least for the moment.
Jaybird says you’ll get up to 8 hours of battery life, but your mileage may vary depending on how loud you play your music. At a more moderate listening level I was able to hit the 8 hours.
And lastly, in its marketing materials, the company talks up some technology that is supposed to make your Bluetooth connection more stable. I still encountered the occasional hiccup.
Conclusion I found myself struggling to come up with a rating for Jaybird Gear’s BlueBuds X wireless in-ear headphones. After some tinkering, I managed to achieve a snug, pretty comfortable fit with the earphones. No, they weren’t supercomfortable, but I got a tight seal and the earphones stayed in my ear while I was running. They also sounded very good for Bluetooth headphones.
But as with all in-ear headphones, these won’t fit everyone equally well. Some people will get an even better fit than I did, some a worse one. And, as I said earlier, that tight seal absolutely makes or breaks sound quality.
The big question, of course, is whether these are worth $170. For those who get a perfect fit and are looking for small, lightweight wireless sports earbuds that sound quite decent, they may be. But I think the price is a little steep. They ultimately don’t look and feel like premium Bluetooth earphones, even if they sound like them. I only say that because often people have high expectations for products that cost more than $150, particularly when they’re outside the warped pricing world of Beats and Bose.
That caveat aside, I have no problem recommending them. Just don’t come back and say, David, they’re not worth $170. No, they aren’t – unless you end up loving them.