Gear Corner: Jaybird Freedom Bluetooth Headphones Review

I had bought these headphones as a replacement to my Motorola S9 Bluetooth headphones (seen here) that had long since broken... beyond all repair.  I had worn them once right out of the box and found that they didn’t stay in my ears well.  The guy who recommended them to me further advised me to try some of the ear hook accessories.  

I tried the ones that are intended for the middle ear (which is how my friend wears them); I did this the night before my run and needed both the illustrated instructions and a bathroom mirror to figure out how to best implement the correct fit.  I went out the next day for a fairly brisk 8 km in the freezing cold; this meant the Jaybirds had the added advantage of being held in place by a hat!

The Jaybird Freedom was easy to pair with my Blackberry.  I wanted to use Endomondo’s (my running and exercise tracking app) built in access to music to play my running playlist, but the audio option for ‘BT Stereo’ didn’t work, and when I used ‘BT Handsfree’ the sound quality was terrible.  Once I accessed the music from the normal Blackberry Music App, things sounded great.  So this is more of an Endomondo problem than a Jaybird problem.  After mucking about with the controls for so long, I finally got going.  The instruction manual requests that you wear your phone/media player on your arm and not in a pocket for best reception.  This is annoying because tucking the thing away would have been one of the benefits of having wireless headphones.  I compromised and clipped the Blackberry to my belt.

The way out (4km) was blissful.  No skips, and the buds stayed in comfortably - I even liked the pace I was keeping (which is neither here nor there).  Things got a little worse on the way back and not just because I had trouble keeping the same pace due to fatigue.  My current theory is that my ear canals shrink due to expanded blood vessels, because in-ear buds always exhibit the same behaviour - they seem to get popped out like a bar of wet soap out of a squeezing fist.  The ear-hooks (and hat) did a decent job of keeping them from falling right out, but having to mind where they were in relation to my ear and occasionally push them back in to secure them became a minor chore.  I also started experiencing some skips... but I think I can say that on that front their better than any other Bluetooth product I’ve run with.

To make the earbuds maximally secure I decided to add the over-the-ear hooks.  One problem: I couldn’t find the ones that were sent with my original package.  Jaybird sells replacements, but I got lucky in that the friend who recommended these said he didn’t want or use his (in fact, he wasn’t aware he had them until he dug through his gym bag) and so I got his.

The next time I took them out on a run was for a quick 5km.  Unfortunately it was cold, so I wore a hat again, but I did get a lot of confidence in the buds' ability to stay in.  The other problem was that I had opted to try an armband I found.  This thing was large enough to hold my Blackberry Bold 9900 as it was designed for an iPhone 4, but I had a lot of problems with sound when I wanted to wear the armband; my suspicion is that buttons were being pushed causing the volume to go up and down, the music to skip ahead to the next track (or back to the previous one).  I ended up giving up on wearing it on my arm and sticking the whole mess into my jacket's back pocket - expressly against the recommended use instructions.  Thus... more skipping.  I would have to try one last configuration on Friday, the day of our company run group's 10km race - not ideal for experimenting with an optimal set-up  but I want to find something that will carry me through this winter's many long training runs.

Well, as luck would have it, everything came together on Race Day.  I had the Blackberry in its holster clipped to a water bottle belt, and I experienced no significant skips.  The ear hooks kept the buds in place and I was able to focus on my pace and not have to fiddle with them... much.  One small exception was that if you look at the photo above, the cord connecting the two buds is draped across the back of my neck, which got more than a little sweaty.  This caused the cord to stick to the back of my neck, and put a little pull on the buds when I'd turn my head, which I have to admit, I did more than the regular amount since it was a race, and I was being chased by someone who is usually just a bit faster than me on training runs (I beat him!).  More on that race in a future post; but at the end of the day I found I could have a great run with wireless Bluetooth ear-buds, and I'd even credit them with a better than expected time, since I was *really* feeling the music.

Beyond their performance, I also like that they came with a hard-shell carrying case, which should spare them the fate of the S9s... being smashed up in my gym bag.  And here's the kicker... my boss just brought me a replacement phone to keep me up to speed with the rest of my team... The Blackberry Bold 9900 will be replaced by a Samsung Galaxy SIII (LTE and Android).  Which is something else I'll address in a future post.  

Looks like this review will have a sequel once I get the new phone up and running (no pun intended) to see how the Jaybird Freedoms play with an Android phone. Still, with the caveats of a steep learning curve and time spent getting acquainted with the product, I'd recommend the Jaybird Freedoms as a pair of running earbuds for those who want to be free of the wires.

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