These wireless earbuds are designed with active people in mind. You sure get a lot for your money. In the box there is a cable with earbuds at each end and a control pod near the right ’bud, then various types of earbuds, a charge dongle, weird wingy-things … OK, I’d better use the proper terms. There are three pairs of silicone ear fins (does that help?), three pairs of silicone ear tips (small, medium large), three pairs of ‘comply memory foam sport ear tips’ (small, medium, large), a micro USB charging cable, two cord management clips, a cord clip, a charging clip for charging and extra battery power, and for good reason there’s even a cute little bag included to keep all this clobber together.
The first thing to do is charge. When you turn the buds on, they announce their average battery level, and pressing the volume plus or minus button on the control pod without music playing triggers this announcement, so you can check level any time.
To charge — the charging clip presses onto the back of the control pod, then insert the micro USB cable into the pod and the other end into a 5 volt, 500mA charger (5V-1A works too, but nothing above 5.5 volts will damage the buds and void the warranty – in my case, inspecting the small grey print on my iPhone charger revealed it was 5.1 volts 2.1 amps so I decided the USB port on my MacBook Pro was a safer bet, at 5V 900mA).
This charges the buds and the clip at the same time – the clip can be charged separately and carried as a portable battery pack: clip it to the pod for some extra juice. The LED on the clip and pod is red while charging, and green when charged. To remove the control pod from the clip, you lever it apart at the end nearest the earbud – don’t pull on the cord itself. Each component carries a four-hour charge, so you can have eight in total. It takes 2.5 hours to charge both to full capacity; a 20-minute charge gets you about an hour of play.
Pairing — Enable Bluetooth is enabled on your iPhone (or iPad or Mac) and position the buds within a metre of the device you want to pair with. Press and hold the middle button on the controller for at least four seconds. In my case, with my iPhone 6, the pairing worked immediately, but if a passcode is called for, it’s 0-0-0-0 (four zeroes). You can actually pair with two devices at once, like a Mac and your iPhone, so you can listen to music on your Mac but still hear an incoming call from the iPhone. You can also share with another pair of Jaybird buds so two people can listen to the same music at the same quality, played on one device. This is accessed via the Share feature of the Freedom app.
I found that if I walked out of range of my iPhone, they just reconnected (and told me ‘headphones connected’ in a bright and cheery voice) once I was back in the zone.
Watch — You can sync music to a smartwatch and sync that in turn to the Jaybirds and listen to music that way (I didn’t have a smartwatch to try this with). Actually, the Jaybirds remember up to eight devices, so you can use these as your primary listening devices in all modes you listen to stuff, providing they are Bluetooth-equipped.
Wear — Well, we haven’t even tried these on yet. Back to that bewildering array of thingies. Jaybird clearly wants you to have the best possible fit – there are two ways of wearing the buds, and then all those various cushion-tips, not to mention those silicone wingie thingies. This is very sensible, at least compared to the Spanish Inquisition solution of one large tip size and an awl to enlarge your own ear passage to make ’em fit. I can tell you as a dedicated historian, iPhone listening during the Spanish Inquisition is quite different to iPhone listening now!
The under-ear fit option is where those wingie thingies come in. The comply Memory Phone tips are applied to the bud-ends by pushing them on (Jaybird recommends starting with the mediums) and then you roll the foam sideways between your fingertips before popping them into your ear-holes. You hold them in your ear-holes (there’s probably a better term for these) for 30 seconds and the foam expands to form a custom fit which always fits, and creates a seal excluding outside sounds.
I like the way the medium-size Comply MF tips are colour coded to your earbud colour (the large are grey, the small white). All this choice is good – I know a couple of people with different-sized lug-oles so they could have a medium in one and a small in the other.
If you don’t like this memory foam stuff, though, you can always use the standard silicone tips – they also exclude external sound to some extent.
The controller pod is a little heavy. If you’re active, it’s mostly likely this bouncing up and down that will upset you, rather than the cord. The cord should be set snug across the back of your head. If it’s not, it can bounce and this sound of the cord hitting your body can transfer as a bump through the earbuds.
Those wingie thingies — This is for an even more secure fit, to ensure your earbuds never pop out (my Apple In-Ear Speaker silicone tips always work their way out when I’m cycling). These are what Jaybird calls the Patented Secure Fit Ear Fins, so I’m going to stick with my term. Each fin is marked L for left, R for right, plus M, S, L or XL for Medium, Small, Large and Extra Large.
They certainly worked, but I found them unnecessary. Possibly if I was snowboarding or paragliding … Here’s a tip though: get someone to help you fit them the first time.
The buds themselves are worn around the back of the head, but they can be fitted over or under-ear, depending on your preference. Over the ear, it means the controller sits behind the right ear instead of beneath it, so I guess it depends if you wear a hat, helmet or other headgear.
To get the cable to the right length – at least, to shorten it – the two clips let you wind cable through in an S pattern or a loop – using both clips lets you get it even shorter – a snug fit is important for the active. The alligator-style clip is for securing cable to your collar, should you wish.
If all of this sounds daunting, Jaybird have produced excellent – indeed, indispensable – tutorials on the company’s site.
Controls — Volume up and volume down do as you’d thing. The middle button turns your earbuds on if they’ve powered down – hold it in for one second. This button, with a short press, simply stops and starts music and podcasts. Disconcertingly, a double-press doesn’t advance to the next track as it does on most controllers, but redials the last person you phoned! If a call does come in, this button answers and there’s a mic in the controller so you can just talk. If no music is playing, a click-and-hold on the middle button activates Siri. Holding the middle button in for four seconds turns the buds off. To advance a track, you press and hold the volume up button for a second and to go back one, the volume down. Pressing and holding the minus button for a second mutes a call. It doesn’t take long to get used to all this.
Sound — Unfortunately, flat, the buds sound a little scritchy to me. There was enough bass but the overloading of high ends was not pleasant to my ears. Luckily there’s a free app called Jaybird Mysound. You simply have to get this. It turns just-acceptable sounding buds into excellent-sounding buds. With Bluetooth enabled on your iPhone (or whatever device) and the buds connected, you open the Mysound app and your buds will show you they are pairing with your device – you can also check charge in this app.
This is a clever app as it actually saves the profile to the buds themselves, so they sound good whatever you pair them with. There had to be a good reason for that weight in the controller, right? There must be some circuitry in here. Whatever profile you select in the app is loaded into the buds, and you can customise profiles that come as presets, just use them, or start from scratch, dragging around the easy-to-understand EQ handles in the touch interface.
The frequency range is 20Hz–20kHz, pretty standard for earbuds and I’d prefer more in the bass end (Apple’s In-Ear Speakers go down to 12Hz) , so tweaking the bass end up will be preferred by most people, and it makes a big difference.
Conclusion — Having no cord dangling down and flapping around (I normally have to route mine under my shirt and through a belt look when I’m cycling) is a boon. Sound is not really good enough until you set an EQ profile with the app, but this is an excellent, and required, feature. Good on Jaybird for making the app very good, and very free. There’s a lot of fiddly setup and a lot of fiddly bits and pieces to deal with, but once you have done so, you have a tailored, customised device that won’t fall out of your ears. What more could you ask for?
The earbud ends, by the way, are magnetic. I don’t really know why, as the tips are plastic and slip-fit.
What’s great — wireless freedom. Great fit. Great sound once you use the app to set a sound profile. Lots of cool extra features like sharing and multiple device connectivity.
What’s not — Fiddly to set up and get right, but you won’t regret it.
Needs — Active people who love good sound.
Jaybird Freedom wireless earbuds, NZ$299/Australian $244.95/$US$199.95 in black, red, gold and white and ‘ocean’ (as pictured, above)
System — In-ear 16-bit Stereo with 6mm drivers. Impedance 16 Ohm, speaker sensitivity: 96+-3dB at 1KHz, output 5mW nominal, 10mW max, Total Harmonic Distortion <3% (1KHz, 1mW), Codecs AAC, SBC, Modified SBC.
Response Bandwidth 20Hz–20kHz
Bluetooth Version: 4.1, Multi-point, 2.4 GHz with profiles Handsfree , Headset , A2DP , AVCRP and SPP.
Freedom is compatible with any Bluetooth device including iPhone (3, 3S, 4, 4S, 5, 5C, 5S, 6, 6 Plus), Apple Watch, iPod Touch, iPad, iPad mini, the new iPod nano (and Android, Windows, Blackberry, Android Wear Smartwatches, PC, and with Macs and gaming devices.)
MySound App Compatibility: iOS 9+ (except iPad 2), Android 4.4+
Available from — Selected tech and electronics retailers
Contact — Jaybird Sport