NBS Review: Jaybird Bluebuds X Bluetooth Headphones & Mophie Juice Pack Helium

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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…

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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.

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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.

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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+.

jaybirdsports.com

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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)

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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.

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Volume buttons and camera are easily accessible, even with full finger gloves.

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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.

mophie.com

Comments

Ck - 12/10/13 - 10:56am

Is there enough room on the bottom of the Mophie case around the Lightning port for aftermarket cables like the Amazon Basics one? Pretty much every non-Apple cable has a much bigger chunk of plastic around the connector and some cases don’t play nice with that. The case kinda looks like it might block the mic and speakers on the bottom. Any input on that?

Sideburns - 12/10/13 - 11:34am

With the exception of riding rollers or a stationary trainer headphones have no place being used in conjunction with a bicycle for listening to music. Period. Maybe a single earbud for phone use, but that call can probably wait ’til you arrive at your destination. Seriously, don’t be a menace.

Tyler Benedict - 12/10/13 - 12:24pm

Ck – there’s a good bit of room around the charging port on the case, which is actually a micro-USB, not the Apple lightning port. That means you can charge the case and phone at the same time with a single cable, which I’ve done numerous times using the larger iPad wall wart. There are also metal contacts on either side of the charging port, which I presume are for some sort of Mophie dock (?), but I didn’t receive anything like that to test nor have I looked into it. Micro-USB does the job.

slippyfish - 12/10/13 - 12:46pm

I reference Velominati Rule #62.

Besides headphones are just a dumb idea when combined with bikes. You want music and bikes, go to a damn spin class.

I like that case though.

Tyler Benedict - 12/10/13 - 12:47pm

PS, the things that look like speakers are simply pass through ports for sound coming from the phone’s speakers.

Ck - 12/10/13 - 12:53pm

I don’t know why I thought it was still a Lightning connector. Leftover thoughts from case shopping I guess. That simplifies things. Onto the wish list it goes.

Brian - 12/10/13 - 1:05pm

I’ve got these headphones (used for running, not biking) and they are great. They are the only ones that fit my ears well and don’t come loose, even under the deluge of my sweat!

The customer service is top notch as well. I had an issue with the waterproof coating and the ear pieces staying in place (purchased the older generation unknowingly from a bog box store, even though the newer gen was already released) and they replaced the entire pair after 30 days, no questions asked.

Mindless - 12/10/13 - 1:24pm

This should be illegal. Still stupid. Don’t ride without hearing.

Padrote - 12/10/13 - 1:45pm

here we go again! sorry buddy, I listen to music in places where I’m not putting myself or others at risk and will continue to.

bob - 12/10/13 - 2:34pm

Although I personally prefer not to ride with music, the hysteria over how dangerous it is is silly. People drive cars with the windows up and the stereo blasting all the time, and motorcyclists commonly use earplugs while they ride, but no one argues that those things should be illegal. What about deaf cyclists? Are they incapable of riding safely?

Devo - 12/10/13 - 2:48pm

I go round and round with stuff like this.
I’ve had a set of Bluebirds for awhile and a set of JVC XX earbuds.
Bluebirds attract a lot of wind noise. The typical earbuds attract much less.
Bluebirds around $160
JVC XX earbuds around $20

Bluebird pro’s:
obvious lack of a wire, remote and mic
they are great when working around the house, etc. i also like them for phone calls.
anything about about 12mph the wind noise is a bit much. In my opinion the depth of sound is not like the JVC XX earbuds.

bluebird needs to rework the shape to reduce wind noise.

JVC XX earbuds pros
CHEAP
they sound better than Bluebirds
wired… with an iPod shuffle and routing the wire accordingly, they pretty much disappear anyways.

tactile:
ipod shuffle tactile feedback is much easier to operate than finding the micro buttons on Bluebird

passive vs canceling:
earbuds are pretty much canceling ear pieces, however you can manage to pull them out and at times place them in a different part of the ear, or simply let them dangle above the ear. I tend to like the over the ear routing. I agree that those cool little rubber wing pieces are of great help when it comes to securing earbuds. with that said, they are easily purchased elsewhere, not necessarily a Bluebird commodity.

Mindless - 12/10/13 - 5:55pm

@Padrote: Or so you think. But you are wrong.

Mindless - 12/10/13 - 6:01pm

@bob: Comparing cars and motorcycles on a freeway with cyclist or a skier on a public trail is preposterous. And, yes, deaf cyclists are in danger, and danger to others, they just do not have a choice.

Hikers with earbuds are often worse, but at least they do not run into people. Just get spooked.

bob - 12/10/13 - 7:24pm

Mindless: you’re right; bikes on a trail are different from cars on the freeway. The main difference is that when a car hits something at highway speed, people die. When was the last time you saw the headline, “cyclist loses control and plows into storefront, killing 4?” With cars, though, that headline is unremarkable.

Distracted drivers pose an enormous risk to themselves and others. If we accept that they can listen to music without additional risk to others, it makes no sense to argue that cyclists should be held to a higher standard. Cycling requires slower response times than driving, and the consequences for crashes are much less.

Mindless - 12/10/13 - 8:05pm

@bob: You do not seem to understand basic facts. Cars do not rely on verbal signals. People on the trail do.

Distracted cyclists are a danger to themselves and others. No ifs or buts or excuses about it. Keep trying to justify your irresponsible behavior to yourself, but you are dead wrong.

Sideburns - 12/10/13 - 8:54pm

We’re living an overstimulated existence. While everybody has their own reason for riding the road/trails, for me it’s the opportunity to “unplug”. I carry a phone which remains in my pocket purely for emergency purposes, and never even consider riding/running/hiking with music.

I fail to realize why anybody would deliberately prevent themselves from hearing any approaching hazard, regardless of the venue but especially on the road. Distracted drivers in particular do pose an enormous risk to themselves and others, and the knowledge that somebody’s coming may prompt that cursory glance which saves your life. Who wouldn’t increase the odds of their safety given the opportunity?

As far as illegalizing riding with headphones, don’t hold your breath. The Constitution affords us the opportunity to abandon common sense in the name of personal liberty, and the number of folks rushing headlong toward “freedom” with the throttle wide open these days is staggering. It’s been said “you can’t fix stupid”, though I’ve seen firsthand that two tons of automobile does a pretty thorough job.

swhite - 12/12/13 - 1:13pm

Just ride with one earbud in, on the right side, and call it done. Can still hear everything, and listen to some tunes. You can buy a nice single ear headphone like the “One Good Earphone: or just cut the left one off an old pair of Apple headphones. Get a little ipod, clip it to your helmet, and head out. Easy and safe.

poonam - 12/19/13 - 6:45am

I am thinking to buy between Jaybird Bluebuds X & Jabra Sport. The only cause which is stopping me to purchase it is: it’s curved wings. As my ears have different shape.

doug - 06/17/14 - 9:10pm

As soon as I saw the article I jumped to the comments in order to see how quickly folks started beating the don’t use headphones drum. Thanks mom.

For me, I never use them on the road, but do if I am riding alone on a paved trail. I keep the volume low and keep to the right. I have never, repeat never, experienced not hearing someone coming up from behind me or in any way experienced any danger. Much more dangerous to ride with another person and chatting. I hope the dogmatic no headphone folks make sure you do not talk to anybody while you ride — full attention please.

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