Jaybird Bluebuds X First Impressions

Jaybird Bluebuds X

I don't usually run with headphones, and when I'm on the bike trainer I usually play something on speakers near me, but every so often I need that extra motivation on a long run or don't want to disturb my wife and son with music in the living room while I'm riding. I've periodically looked around for headphones that fit the bill - wires just get in the way and bluetooth headphones often have a bulky battery somewhere that makes them less of an ideal solution.

I wasn't in the market for headphones when I came across the Jaybird Bluebuds X as part of a 25% of USA Triathlon promotion in early November. I had looked at Jaybird's previous generation of headphones before since they're billed as sweat proof and designed for athletes, but they had a large pod on them for the battery that I just didn't want to deal with. The Bluebuds X have changed this - the headphones manage to have nothing more to them than the ear buds and a very small and slim control pod on the cord while managing 8 hours of battery life. They also include a way to bundle up the wire above your ears and behind your head to get them truly out of the way. They're claimed to be sweat proof with a Liquipel nano coating and are supposed to have a secure fit that won't shake loose.

This all got my attention with winter coming, and with it many hours on the bike trainer as well as some long, dark, cold runs where I need all the motivation I can get. $170 is a pretty steep price, but $127 with the USAT discount was a little easier to swallow, so I decided to take the plunge and give them a try.

They come in a fairly slick package including a hard shell magnetically-closed case to store your ear buds in when not in use. Aside from the headphones themselves they come with 3 different sized ear cushions, and rubber 'wings' that help provide the secure fit. You'll need to try each (and if you're like me, jog around a bit) to find the right fit. You may not use the same size cushion as wing, and you may use different sizes between your ears. I found this video helpful in getting the right fit.

Pairing the headphones with your phone is very straight forward. There are built in voice prompts in the headphones to guide you through and it only took a few seconds with my Android device. Although they suggest using them in the under the ear and chin configuration at first, I opted to go straight to the 'advanced' over the ear and behind the head fit so I didn't have a wire swinging around when I ran. It's well worth the extra few minutes it takes to fit - just make sure they're not too tight as to pull on the ear buds when you turn your head which could loosen them up while running.

My first test of them was on the bike trainer. I'm pretty confident if I'm going to break their 'sweat proof' headphones it will be here where I frequently have a small lake form underneath me. The headphones have decent sound, with a slightly different range than the Bose noise canceling headphones that I use at work. I noticed some things in songs I listen to often that I hadn't before, but also felt like I lost detail in others. For the more upbeat steady cadence songs I listen to while biking and running they worked well - and mostly drowned out the hum of the trainer without the volume being too high. There's also buttons above and behind the left ear wearing them this way to switch tracks or change volume which is pretty handy though takes some feeling around to find which buttons are which.

After a successful round on the trainer I decided to give them a shot running. It's getting cold and gray here in New England and it doesn't hurt to have something more to pass the time than bare trees in a monochromatic world. I had a 15 mile long run ahead of me, and it was cold enough to wear a hat. I couldn't quite pull it down over my ears like I normally would without making the headphones uncomfortable, but otherwise things fit fine.

The other trick is that I don't normally bring a phone with me while running, as I wear a GPS watch. I borrowed my wife's armband which fit my phone and threw that on. It's a little clumsy to get things started, but with the controls on the headphones themselves it's not a problem once you get going. One thing I did run into almost immediately is that with my phone on my right arm the audio was cutting out pretty regularly. Moving the armband to my left arm (and closer to the headphones control pod above my left ear) cleared things up and for the next 14+ miles I didn't have any issues. They play up the range of these headphones so that was a little disappointing, but I'm really not sure if the issue is the headphones or my phone itself. While range may be OK, having my head and shoulder between the phone and the headphones may have just been too much.

The headphones stay remarkably secure thanks to the rubber wings absorbing the vibration while running. I couple of times I instinctively snugged them back into my ears thinking they must be loosening up only to find they were just as snug as when I put them in. It was well worth watching the fit video to get the wings fitting into the right part of my ear. The audio was good with lows great for setting a cadence to. I didn't take the time to set up a playlist first, and the music on my phone in shuffle mode was making some pretty bizarre jumps less than ideal for running, so I'll have to spend some time on that later. I was able to hear enough beyond the headphones to hear cars coming behind me, but I still took extra care when cross intersections and making corners. While you may hear most cars, I think a quiet electric or hybrid might be invisible while wearing these. There's also some sneaky dogs in my neighborhood that like to chase runners without barking that might be a problem.

Overall I'm very happy with them so far. I wouldn't use them as day to day headphones, but they serve a very specific purpose for me and they do it well. We'll see how my ears fair over the winter or if I find a better way to cover my ears without putting so much pressure on the headphones as I do with my hat. They stick out a little further than your typical ear bud making that more of a challenge.

Charging is done via a micro-USB port under a cap on one of the ear buds so there's no proprietary cables needed. The hard case makes them easy to toss into a gym bag for gym goers or just to protect them when stored in a drawer. I'm not sure if I'd spend $170 on them, but if you can find a coupon code to get a discount $130 was reasonable for an athletic headphone that doesn't require many compromises.