I'm obsessed with wireless headphones. Once you get past the inevitable connectivity conundrum, it's simply brilliant to listen to music comfortably without being tethered to a device. But wireless earbuds never lived up to that promise — until now.
All images: Adam Clark Estes
What Is It?
When an enthusiastic marketing executive first showed me the Jaybird Freedoms, the first words out of my mouth summed up the pitch. "They're so small," I said, eyes wide as I stared down at a Bluetooth-enabled earbud no more than four millimetres thick. I'd never seen earbuds so small!
That's teeny tiny naked earbud in the foreground. In the background is the setup I settled on. But this was a sales pitch.
I was actually looking at the naked skeleton of the earbuds, and I quickly realised that memory foam or silicon tips — as well as some option rubber wings — would bulk up that tiny form in order to ensure that the little things would stay in my ears. Then, of course, there were the electronic guts which were housed in a bulky-looking controller that hung down a wire that connected the two earbuds. So the Freedoms aren't exactly wire-free, but this sort of headband design has become pretty standard for the category. The very popular Beats Powerbeats2 has a similar setup and the confusingly popular LG Infirm feature a set of wires that connect to an awkward necklace.
After gasping in wonder over the Freedoms' size, my cynical side took over. That clunky remote looked like it would tug on your ears, and like every other Bluetooth earbuds I've tried, they'd be impossible to actually keep in your ears. Yet, after spending a week with the Freedoms, I'm amazed to report that I was wrong.
Once you get the fit right, the Freedom earbuds practically disappear. I wore them on my daily commute — barely felt them. I wore them doing yard work — not a bother. I wore them running — just a slight wiggle. The earbuds felt — and I hate to admit — rather freeing. The Freedoms are also water resistant so you don't have to worry too much about sweating all over them.
At most, you'll be using as many as six attachments to get the fit just right.
There are, however, drawbacks. That detail about getting the fit right is not bullshit. The Freedoms come with an assortment of 21 different attachments to ensure that they lock into anyone's ear canal and stay there securely. That includes six sizes of memory foam tips and six sizes of silicon tips and six sizes of rubber wings to provide a little leverage. There's also a little plastic clip to latch the wire to your shirt and two little button-sized attachments to shorten the wire. These admittedly annoying little gizmos were key for me to find the right fit.
See how the rubber wing is wedged up in my ear? It's actually pretty comfortable.
I'd estimate that I spent a grand total of an hour perfecting the configuring for my (big) head. I went with the memory foam tips, since the silicon ones slipped right out of my ears. I also decided to use the button things to shorten the wire so that it could wrap snuggly around the back of my head. Finally, after noticing that the beefy controller weighed one side down, I wrapped the wires around the top of my ear, a process that required a painstaking series of trial-and-error adjustments. It was a huge pain, but once I got it down, it felt so right.
The controller basically disappears when you hide it behind your ear. I can still wear my glasses comfortably, too.
Unfortunately it's not all freedom and comfort. There's the battery life. Jaybird advertises a four-hour battery life for these little earbuds, and I'd say I got a little less. The clever charger dock doubles as an extra battery so that you can charge them on the go, and even squeeze a few extra hours of use if you can stand the extra weight of the dock while you're wearing the earbuds.
For my purposes — commuting, yard work, running — I didn't really need to use them for longer than a couple hours at a time so I left the dock out. But the dock and the dockless should all plan on charging the Freedoms often.
The controller is extra bulky with the charger attached, so much so that I don't think I would want to wear the earbuds like this.
All that said, the sound is impressive for such a small package. Don't expect the Freedoms to offer the same fidelity as, say, a set of Sennheiser Momentums. They're still tuned well and loud enough drown out the sound of your feet pounding on pavement.
A screenshot of the Jaybird app
The Freedoms also come with the added benefit of a free Jaybird equaliser app. "Take Me Over" by Cut Copy sounded bright out of the box but, naturally, not as epic as it would with over-ear headphones. "Doing It Right" by Daft Punk, one of my favourite songs to test bass, lacked the thump I wanted. Then again, you shouldn't expect such tiny earbuds to blow you away with bass. Tweaking the EQ through the Jaybird app definitely improves the sound to a degree.
I'm also stunned by the quality of the Bluetooth connection. This has been an issue with almost every set of wireless headphones I've tried, but thanks to Jaybird's recent acquisition by Logi, the Freedoms feature some of the same Bluetooth technology as the peerless UE Boom, another Logi acquisition. The Freedoms come with fancy Bluetooth 4.1 which allows you to connect to multiple devices at once. When you get them paired, they will connect to your phone immediately after you turn them on, and they will stay connected too, though this will drain the tiny battery if you forget to turn them off. Like all earbuds, they're also small enough that I'm a little worried about losing them. The goofy attachments do help them stand out though.
Should You Buy It?
The attachments and controller make it slightly easier to find these in your bag.
At $US200 ($277) a pop the Jaybird Freedoms are not cheap. You can buy the Beats Powerbeats2 for $US150 ($208), although I can't vouch for those since I haven't tested them. You can also buy two sets of V-Moda Remix Remotes, my longtime favourite for wired earbuds. However, wired earbuds tend to be dreadfully easy to rip out of your head while working out. Competing sweat-proof earbuds that I've tried — namely, the Orcas from Outdoor Technology — still manage to fall out of your ears when you jostle them too much.
Yet the Jaybird Freedoms give me faith that Bluetooth earbuds don't have to be terrible. I've tried many terrible sets, and despite the fitting frustration, these are the least terrible earbuds I've tested. If you want to drop two c-notes on some Bluetooth earbuds, the Freedoms are fantastic — if definitely best suited for an active lifestyle. Securing that fit makes sense if you're going for a run, but it's excessive if you're just sitting at your desk listening to disco.
Now just imagine if that controller didn't exist…
- The fitting process is a pain, but when you get it right, it feels like you're wearing nothing at all.
- The sound quality is good and can be improved with Jaybird's free equaliser app.
- The battery life is very limited (only four hours), though that shouldn't be a huge deal if you're just using them for workouts.
- They're pricey. You could buy forty smoothies at your gym for the same money.