Jaybird is one of my favorite companies and not just because they send me free stuff to try out. If you recall, I had written a review of the Jaybird SB1 Bluetooth headphones a while ago. The SB1’s had been purchased with my own funds so I felt free to be as critical as I wanted to be. However, I found few flaws with the SB1’s and they have been my day-to-day headphones ever since. I use them on average at least 2 hours a day Monday thru Friday during my commute, so I think I can say fairly that I’d have had a chance to find any flaws in them by now, and I really haven’t.
Well Jaybird recently released the SB2’s, the next generation of the SB1’s and they were kind enough to send me a pair to review. I want to make clear that these phones were provided gratis, so keep that in mind while you read my review. I like to believe that I’m objective enough to say a product sucks even if they send me a free evaluation unit, but I haven’t really faced that situation yet. (I have been given free iPhone/iPad apps for review and I’ve passed up writing reviews in some cases where I thought the app was just bad, but even those cases are few and far between).
I received the headphones on a Friday (delivered in person by the lovely young lady in the packaging, naturally) and I’ve been using them ever since to really try them out in comparison to the SB1’s. The headphones come in (relatively speaking) minimal packaging and the box it was shipped in was big enough to hold the headphones but not a lot bigger. I’ve gotten a bit sensitive to companies that ship their products in way oversized boxes and/or packaging (Amazon, I’m looking at YOU), so it was nice to see some attention paid to minimizing waste. In fact, one of my complaints about the SB1’s was the large amount of packaging that surrounded the headphones themselves. Jaybird addressed this nicely in the SB2.
The headphones come with a minimum amount of accessories – a set of very simple instructions, the USB-based charging plug, and two pairs of replacement foam pads arrived along with the bright red (and I mean BRIGHT) SB2’s. It was really nice to see the extra foam pads included – one of my dings on the SB1’s was the fact that those foam pads looked like they could wear with time, and without them, the headphones are kind of painful to wear. I haven’t had any issues with them in all my wearings, but I tend to be very gentle on my equipment. They’ve fallen off a couple times but I just re-seated them and they were fine. Still, it’s good to see companies thinking about the long term use of their products.
I did a quick size comparison between the SB1’s and the SB2’s as well. They are identically sized, in both thickness and shape. In fact you really can’t tell them apart. The big improvements come on the inside in the Bluetooth firmware, specifically the addition of apt-X. apt-X, when paired with a compatible transmitter, provides CD-quality audio via the Bluetooth stream. Since I am not an audiophile and since the iPhone 4 does not have apt-X built in (heck, we can’t even get Apple to give us skip forward/back controls via Bluetooth), I wasn’t able to test this part of the SB2’s. Jaybird does sell a slim dongle that plugs into the dock port of the iPhone that will provide the transmission portion of the apt-X signal, but I don’t like adding dongles to the iPhone. They almost always don’t work well with the wide variety of cases and protective gear, and the new iPhone is not a device I want to leave naked.
In terms of sound, the SB2’s sound just as good as the SB1’s. I did notice that Jaybird made a slight tweak to the volume controls, because I was able to drop the volume down to a level lower than I had experienced on the SB1’s. This was the other minor ding I had for Jaybird concerning the SB1’s – they didn’t seem to have a low volume that was really low.
I wasn’t able to test the microphone capabilities of the SB2 vs. the SB1. I know with the SB1 I had some slight issues with pickup under windy conditions, but I have yet to use a set of Bluetooth headphones that didn’t have this problem, so that’s not something I would necessarily ding Jaybird for anyways.
The other improvement that I was able to find, and one I’ll be keeping an eye on for the longer term, is that the earpads are much stiffer when extending or retracting. This is good – in my SB1’s, the right earpad was starting to become very loose through the daily wear and tear of extending and retracting it to fit my head. I am hoping the SB2’s will not suffer that issue. The SB2’s seem to be a bit “stickier” to my head as well, though I’m not sure if that’s actual or if it’s just perception because they’re new. I will have to see what happens when the SB2’s are on my head as I am on the weight bench.
Overall, I strongly recommend the Jaybird SB2. They’ve addressed the few minor shortcomings I had with the SB1’s, and the inclusion of apt-X will mean better sound for apt-X equipped devices. At $99, they are in the middle range for Bluetooth headphones, and I’m sure that you will be able to find them for less online. I’m planning to switch to the SB2’s for my day-to-day use, and am looking forward to the many stares I’m going to get as I walk to work in my business suit sporting a set of cherry red headphones shining off the reflected light of my shaved head.
By the way, all these pics were taken using the iPhone 4’s camera. Note the significant yellowing in the bottom two pictures? That’s a beige surface I’m shooting down onto. Part of the issue might be bounceback of light from that surface, since the yellowing isn’t apparent in the top two pictures. Interesting…