NBS Review: Jaybird Bluebuds X Bluetooth Headphones & Mophie Juice Pack Helium
NBS = Non Bike Stuff (aka: the things that make our lives more enjoyable as cyclists)
If you’re a fan of music and long rides, this combo’s for you. I’ve tested both versions of Jaybird’s wireless bluetooth headphones, and the Mophie Juice Pack Helium keeps them pumping tunes from an iPhone for half a day of streaming online music. If you read no further, then consider this the ultimate combo for music loving athletes.
The Jaybird Bluebuds X is a smaller version of the Freedom, which itself went on a diet since the first gen device we tested. For cyclists in particular, the biggest improvement is the buttons’ migration to the cable connecting the left and right earbuds. This makes it much easier to find and use the buttons, particularly with full finger gloves. This also puts the microphone closer to your mouth, which seems to make it a bit clearer for the recipient of your phone calls. What hasn’t changed is the flexible curved wings that nestle into your ear and hold them in place, even during bumpy, aggressive riding. Like the insanely rocky Trans Sylvania Epic…
The connector cord is long enough to allow the mic/buttons to dangle within reach, even when looped through the helmet straps for overall retention. It’s shown above running through the rear part of the strap, but I actually found it better to loop it over the outside of the front part, then under as it heads into your ear. It looks unruly, but I never noticed it bouncing around or tickling my cheek.
While the button placement is better on the Bluebuds X, it’s still not the easiest thing to use while moving. With fingerless (roadie) gloves, it’s not too bad – easy enough to feel around and get it right. But for some reason, with full finger gloves it becomes a good deal more difficult to locate the darned button fob. I know where it should be, but have missed several calls trying to get it between my fingers then accurately feeling which button to press. I don’t answer a lot of calls while riding, but fiddling for the volume buttons is the same. And the center button is also your play/pause button. The other nitpick is that it’s easy to tug the cable a bit while feeling for it, tweaking the position of the buds in your ear. I’m thinking a braided nylon cover for the cable would make it less grabby and remedy that. The other benefit to a less grabby (it’s rubbery) cable is this: When riding with just one earbud in on the road, I tuck the other bud and excess cable into the jersey. It can, occasionally, pull funny as I turn or lower my head, forcing a readjustment of the utilized bud.
Should the buds get dislodged, with fingerless gloves, there’s no problem readjusting. Getting them back into position with full finger gloves? Not easy. The upside is that they do stay in place remarkably well, even after hours of riding over some of the gnarliest, rockiest trail (and I use that term loosely in some cases) I’ve ridden during the Trans Sylvania Epic in PA. Heck, they were even tolerably comfortable after four-plus hours. For normal two-ish hour rides, they’re perfectly comfortable once you get the fit right.
Speaking of four-plus hour rides, the Jaybird Bluebuds X battery can dish it out. It’s rated for eight hours of continuous music playback, and I believe it. Plus, the charge retention is good. I’ve left it sitting for weeks unused and still able to head out for a couple hour ride without premature silence.
It comes with three sizes of wings and three sizes of buds, letting it fit just about any ear. Connection to my phone was quick and painless, and it stayed connected even when the phone was tucked well inside a hydration pack. The mic’s pretty good for general call quality -about 95% of the time people didn’t notice or didn’t care- and can even pick up Siri commands and chit chat at slow (climbing) speeds. Wind noise at normal riding speeds prevents clear communication. They also come with small clips that let the cable fold back on itself to shorten, letting you wear them in reverse, with the buds coming in over the ear. There’s less cable flop but you lose the ability to use the mic.
Last bit: Sound quality. It’s pretty good considering the size, lacks the low end bass of some Beats but that’s expected of any earbud. For music while riding (or running, working out, whatever), the sound is balanced and solid, with enough volume to drown out your surroundings if you want. Or, you can run ‘em low and still hear a little bit of nature. Or hikers saying “Hello there, thank you for sharing our trails“. Retail is $169.99, street price is lower. All in all, A+.
One of the mental blocks against using wireless headphones for longer rides is running out of phone battery. What, with our mobile devices serving as our GPS, emergency beacon, Strava black box and jukebox, there’s no shortage of ways to kill electrons. Fortunately, the Mophie Juice Pack comes in a variety of sizes to accommodate even the longest rides.
I tested the Helium, their smallest and lightest, which provides an extra 80% battery life for an iPhone 5. My torture test consisted of back-to-back days of four-to-five hours of riding in the remote forests marked for the TS Epic while streaming Pandora and pushing the music wirelessly to the Bluebuds. Oh, and Strava was on, too. Heck, I even got a call or two while riding. Each day, I had hours of uninterrupted music…except when there wasn’t enough signal to get Pandora, which meant my phone was frantically pinging everything for service until it kicked back in. Thanks to the Juice Pack, I never came close to draining my phone’s battery. Plenty of power left for the obligatory post-ride InstaFaceTweetagram of the day’s adventures. (I did recharge it and the Bluebuds each night)
Push the button and four lights show how much power you have in reserve. The on/off switch lets you save the boost for when you need it most, and Mophie says it’s best to let your phone’s battery indicator go into the red, then flip it on. That strategy maximizes the total time your phone will be available to you. Bu-uuut, it also works just fine for long rides if you start with a full phone charge, flip it on, then stuff it in a pack and forget about it. You won’t get the same total boost, but it’s plenty. And it can save you if you’re running out the door and realize your phone’s almost dead. Then you can still Strava it. Then it counts. Otherwise you may as well have stayed home.
The headphone pass-through port is large enough to work with most regular headphones.
Volume buttons and camera are easily accessible, even with full finger gloves.
On top of all that, one of my favorite features is just how slim it is. Sure, there’s no screen protection, but it’ll save against mild drops and still look sleek and fit in jeans pockets without making anyone feel uncomfortable.
The other draw is that I use my phone to take most notes at Interbike, Eurobike, etc. This keeps it going for a full day of photographing and documenting bike stuff, with autocorrect goofs, typos and all pushed into the cloud and onto Bikerumor without fear of an untimely power outage.
Retail is $79.99 and worth every penny. Also available for various Galaxy and HTC phones.