Until this week I considered myself to be a total earphone pleb; content to enjoy the tinny rasp of budget sound emanating from my $12 JB Hi-Fi specials.
I was so used to these paltry little bleaters that I'd forgotten how music actually sounded. That all changed when I started using Jaybird's new Vista sport earbuds.
Graduating straight from $12 earbuds to $300 ones opened my ears to a brand new soundscape — and I don't think I can go back going back to my dark, raspy past.
Sony recently dropped its latest offering to the sound gods - the WF-1000XM3 truly wireless noise cancelling headphones. This inner-ear music delivery system is a bold move. It's notoriously difficult to achieve both noise cancellation and great sound quality in non-over-ear headphones. Let's see if Sony managed to deliver.
What are they?
The Vistas are Jaybird's latest 'sports' earbuds. These things are the ear equivalent of Spider-Man — that's how good they'll stick in your ear. They're also sweatproof and waterproof, which is nice for those with sweaty ears. And swimmers!
The Vistas are wireless and connect to your device via bluetooth. They have their own charging case, too. It's small, cute and sporty.
WHAT IS IT?
Wireless bluetooth sports earbuds.
High quality sound and easy charging.
High priced and often finnicky.
What's good about them?
Battery Life and quick charging
When used together, the earbuds claim to last about six hours on a full charge (used separately, the case will allow a longer charge). So far in my experiences, that's proved to be about right.
The case holds a full 10 hour charge, giving the earbuds an impressive 16 hour life between charges, and 6 hours of continuous play. As someone used to the nightly ritual of plugging in every last device in the house to prepare for the following day, it was an extremely welcome feature.
The buds also have a quick charge functionality, meaning that if you're ever in a bind, a quick five minute layover in the earbud case makes a full hour of charge. This is great if you need to juice up quickly for a quick workout or commute.
To charge the earbuds, you stick them in the divots inside the portable case — they're a magnetic snap fit, and they start charging immediately. To charge the case, plug the USB-C connector into a power supply. Simple.
The quick charge functionality is pretty great. I've gotten myself into many a scrape where a device I needed hasn't been charged when I needed it, and with the Vistas there's really no such problem.
As mentioned earlier, 5 minutes in the case will get you a solid hour of charge, meaning they should be fully charged in around 30 minutes.
So, how does the battery life compare with its closest competitors? Sony's latest fancy earbuds, the $400 WF-1000XM3s also have a six hour battery life, but the case goes one step further, giving a total 24-hours of battery. The Vistas just edge out the $249 Apple AirPod 2s, which claim a five hour life, but they're beaten by the additional 24 hours provided via the case, for a total of around 29 hours.
They're also outshined by the $349 Powerbeats Pros, which claim nine hours of earbud battery and another 15 in the case for a total of 16 hours. The quick charge on the Powerbeats is another big flex on the Vistas, with 4.5 hours claimed for a short 15 minute charge. $50 more for that much battery, as well as easy connectivity and Dre-level sound quality is worth thinking about.
The Vistas battery does outpower direct competitor, the $329 Jabra Elite Active 65ts, another sports set, which has five hour earbud life and an additional 10 hours in the charging case for a total of 15 hours.
So really, the Vistas are on the lower end of their field for battery, but not too far from their nearest competitors! There's nothing too fancy for the discerning here, but 16 hours is great for the average punter.
The Jaybird Vistas are easy to get set up on any device, even my 2013 iPod Touch, which is still chugging along. You just open the case lid, press down the bluetooth button and select the Vistas from the bluetooth menu. As someone who, up until this week, was a wireless headphone Neanderthal, the ease of connectivity was extremely appreciated.
A simple tap of the ear will also pause your music instantly, which is a nice feature when your co-worker needs attention. I took advantage of this multiple times, even if it did make me feel like a bit of a wanker.
I'd like to preface this by saying that yes, I was a bit of a sound pleb before this. My crackly $12 JB Hi-Fi headphones were previously serving me well, and I wasn't actively looking to change that — but the Jaybird Vistas have opened my eyes.
Sounds are crisp and neat. Heavy metal is no longer tinny and loud. Dubstep doesn't nuke my sound holes. I can hear violins in songs that I swear wasn't there before? There's even whole drum solos that have appeared out of nowhere to grace my ears.
The leap from $12 to $300 is real, and I'm impressed.
What's not so good about them?
Small and finnicky
The Jaybird Vistas are tiny little babies. So small, in fact, that I thought I'd lost them multiple times when I was dumpster-diving for them in my bag. The case only takes up just as much room as it needs to, and the earbuds themselves are just the right size to fit into your ears without any ugly accessorising or unnecessary flash. The case even has a sporty little rope attached if you want easy access.
There's a balance to be found in earbud cases. They can't be too small or too "chonky", like the Powerbeats Pros, because they need to be portable and convenient. They're about half the width of the AirPods 2 case, but slightly longer and just as flat — comparable to an Eclipse mints tin (they claim to be among the smallest and latest earbud sets on the market).
Losing a tin of $4 mints is fine, but losing a $300 earbud case? Not fine. It also lacks any kind of heft, meaning that while it's light as a feather, it's also easy to forget.
I can just imagine these things being flicked carelessly out of my purse and flung across the street. Carrying them with me makes me feel like I should keep a vice-like grip on them and never let them out of my sight.
Setting them up was also very finnicky because they were so small — and as someone used to pulling out wrapped headphones from around a device and blasting music in three seconds flat, reaching into the case, fiddling with the buds, turning on Bluetooth and hooking them up for every use was tiresome.
I'd like to point out that this was a problem mostly of my own creation. I'd spent so long using wired headsets that the transition to using wireless earbuds was tiresome.
Maybe it was pure laziness, but the process of fishing into my handbag, pulling out a phone, pulling out the Vista case, removing the headphones, starting up bluetooth and connecting the headphones was a lot to get used to. It's easier and much quicker to set up a wired connection and get to grooving. In the end, these were minor teething issues, but other 'digital laggards' may also face them.
I also had an issue with re-pairing the right earbud once or twice. In the attempt to hook them up, I'd get music blasting out of one ear and not the other. Returning them to the case would instantly fix the issue, but as someone who likes to move and shake on the go, fiddling with this while power-walking to the bus became a delicate balancing act. It was a rare problem, but still an annoyance when it did happen.
Jaybird calls these flicky nub things "fins". I call them a pain in my ear, because after even an hour of wearing the earbuds, my inner ear started to ache. When I took them off, my ears felt bruised. I will include a caveat here and say that maybe it's just that my womanly ears are too delicate for these buds, but my experiences weren't completely pleasant on the pain front.
The Vistas come with multiple sizes of earbuds, including multiple sized fins, but even the smallest squashed my sensitive little ears. It's great that the earbuds are secure, and I never did feel like they were going to fall out, but there's a line between secure and comfortable, and the longer I wore them, the more the Vistas crossed this.
It's possible that those with larger ears will fare better than I did - and if you think this would be an issue for you, you could try something like the Powerbeat Pros which hook around the ear instead.
At $300, the Jaybird Vistas are on the mid-tier of the latest in-ear wireless bluetooth earbud spectrum, but with speciality features catering for runners and those with sweaty ears, solid sound and decent battery life, they live up to that price point.
After all, they're competing on the same stage as the popular $249 Apple AirPods, the $349 Powerbeat Pros, the $329 Jabra Elite Active 65ts and the $400 Sony WF-1000XM3s. They share similar features with their competitors and they measure up pretty well in terms of battery life and overall use. Though you're going to get better sound quality and noise cancelling from the Powerbeats and Sonys. That being said, I was impressed enough with these earbuds to say that they're worth it.
That said, it's still a decent investment when you can run down to your local JB and get a workable pair of headphones for 10 bucks, right? The tightarse gene remains strong in me.
Should you buy them?
If you exercise regularly and are looking to invest in a pair of solid, high quality earbuds to jog along with, these might be a good option for you. They're small, well-designed and feature a surprisingly strong ear grip, to the point where I was nearly yanking to dislodge them from my ear.
Comparing them to other earbuds in the market, they're a solid option with a powerful, long-lasting battery, crisp sound and a sleek design — and while $300 is on the expensive side of headphones, they absolutely measure up in their earbud weight class.