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Jaybird Releases the SB2

July 15th, 2010 1 comment

IMG_0019[1]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.

IMG_0022[1]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.

IMG_0032[1]IMG_0033[1]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…

Jaybird SB2 Bluetooth Headphones

Jaybird SB1 Bluetooth Headphones Review

February 10th, 2010 3 comments

I have a problem.  I am totally addicted to Bluetooth headphones.  I have no idea how I developed this addiction or what deepseated child neuroses my constant updating of my BT headphones collection is satisfying, but I can’t get enough of the silly things.  My wife is very patient with my obsession, despite how much money I spend on it.  The Jaybird SB1 is the latest addition to my collection.

My previous experiences with Jaybird left me a bit leery of ordering these.  I had purchased a set of their Freedom headphones when those had first come out only to realize when I got them that they were not compatible with glasses.  Which basically meant they were useless to me, even when I was wearing contacts (cause, you know, I have to look cool by wearing shades).  I can’t believe that no one on the Jaybird testing team had this problem.  I don’t know about you, but I use wireless headphones as much as possible.  Years of listening to Air Supply and Barry Manilow at glass-shattering volumes have left my ears unable to discern much of anything, so I don’t miss the ultra-high fidelity that wired headphones bring.  And I’m willing to give up that fidelity anyways because I hate being tangled up in cords, especially at the gym.

I ordered the SB1‘s through Amazon, where they were marked as pre-order status (and cheaper than on the Jaybird site itself).  They actually arrived within their customary 2 day window, much to my surprise.  So here are my first set of unboxing pics.

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(Man, that guy could be my twin.  Well, at least in terms of the chrome dome anyways).

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Nice plastic wrapping.  Could the electronics industry use any MORE plastic?  I mean, I know we have infinite oil supplies, but still.  Sheesh.

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Nice and new out of the box.  The manual, by the way, is a marvel of simplicity.  I think there are only fifteen sentences in the manual.  Everything is done through colored pictographs.  My wife was unable to figure out what said pictographs meant, which goes to show you who the target audience might be.

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This is the power/control portion of the headphones.  Five buttons.  That’s it.

Pairing was very straightforward.  The phones arrived with sufficient power to turn on and connect to my iPhone without any issues.  Charging took about three or four hours.  It has a nice touch in that the power indicator only glows red until it’s charged up.  When the SB1’s are fully charged, the red charging light goes off.

There is about an inch of extension to the drivers, and the foam is fairly thick.  The controls are covered in a matte rubber, and are easily manipulated even in gloves once you’re used to them.  The big silver power button serves as a play/pause button and the iPhone only allows volume control through BT anyways, so it’s not like I had a lot of choices to make.

The Jaybird people make a big deal out of the fact that the headphone pads swivel in two dimensions.  The amount of play in that swivel is not huge, so I don’t know that I got a lot of additional comfort because of this.  The foam covering the headphone drivers is a thicker version of the foam that come with earbuds.  Jaybird must be expecting that these things will last, because they didn’t provide a spare set of foam covers.  I can see them being torn over time and Jaybird would be well advised to make sure they have replacements available.

Sound quality was good.  Like I said, I’m no audiophile, but I had no issues with the sound level reaching my ears, even compared to my previous Sony BT headphones, which plug directly into my ears.  Phone quality was also good.  Folks on the other end had a bit of trouble hearing me but I chalk that up to the fact that I’m not a yeller – I speak at a normal volume no matter the environment and expect the headphone mic to pick me up.  The SB1’s did that just fine.

In terms of downsides, I had three main issues with the SB1’s.  First (and this will vary based on user), the headphones are TIGHT against your ears.  My ears were sore after an hour or two of use and I don’t think I have a very big head (small brain, you know).  For the more cranially endowed, the SB1’s might be way tight.  I’m sure the plastic headband will expand and loosen over time, but it’s something to keep in mind.  Second, I experienced weird volume issues as the power on the headphones drained down.  It was very difficult to reproduce, so I couldn’t tell if it really was a problem, but for some reason, the volume refused to drop down below a certain (very loud) level.  It was bizarre.  Finally, I noticed that the rubber underside of the plastic headband had started pulling away from the headband at the edges.  It wasn’t horrible, but it was enough that I was concerned.  I ordered a replacement pair from Amazon and this time I’m going to check the edges right upon opening the packaging.  I wasn’t sure if the edges had always been this way or if it had developed over the two weeks I’ve had the headphones.

Overall, the SB1’s are a good set of BT headphones.  They did slide around a bit on my head, which I really kind of chalk up to the fact that I have no hair.  The sound quality is good and the microphone seems to work just fine.  Controls are easy to use, charging seems quick, and overall I’m pretty happy with these.  The specs indicate that these are pairable with up to two devices but when I tried to pair them with my PC, I got all kinds of errors.  Contacting Jaybird support indicated that this was a Windows limitation rather than an SB1 issue.  I will ding them on support though – I asked them another question and I have yet to hear back from them.

I’ll update the post when I get a replacement pair from Amazon.  I’m hoping that these will be my primary BT headphones for the foreseeable future, but I’m sure I’ll fall in lust with another pair.

UPDATE: I received my replacement pair of SB1’s in the aftermath of the East Coast Snowpocalypse.  This time I took a careful look at the edges of the headband where the rubber and plastic meet.  They seem to be just fine, so it makes me think that either I got a defective set or it might be a problem that develops over time.  I’m hoping not because I do like these headphones.  I’ll post another update if I notice that they are starting to pull apart again.  Jaybird does offer a year warranty so you do have some level of recourse.

REVIEW: Sony DRBT160AS Bluetooth Stereo Headset

July 24th, 2009 No comments

I have been on a quest.  A quest for a pair of Bluetooth headphones.  I have a deep and abiding hatred of wires between my head and my music device.  When I had just an iPod, it was an annoyance I learned to live with until I found Bluetooth dongles and true freedom.  When I found out that the iPhone wasn’t going to have a Bluetooth headphone profile, I railed at the cold, uncaring gods.  With the release of OS 3, the iPhone is halfway to freedom.  I can live without the ability to skip forward/back – I’m just happy to have the wireless option again.  Which brings me back to my quest.

Bluetooth headphones are even more difficult to fit than normal headphones.  That whole wireless thing really confuses manufacturers.  I’ve tried expensive sets and cheap sets.  My best set to date were a pair of wiREVO S300‘s that I used until I beat them into the ground.  I’ve since tried at least five different makes/models in my quest for the perfect set.  (the wiREVOs were a bit too loose on my ears without the headband and too tight against the back of my ears after a couple hours with the headband).

Today, I picked up a pair of Sony DRBT160AS headphones from a Sony Style store in my future employer’s shopping plaza.

31B6AIDXX4L._SL500_AA280_I was a little skeptical of these initially.  The CNet review was OK – not great, not bad.  Of special concern were the weight of the housings containing the electronics, plus the ability of the earbuds to fit my ears and ear canal without being annoying.

I popped the package open, pulled out the phones, and tried them on.  The default set of earbuds were too small, so I replaced them with the biggest pair.  The earbuds are color-coded so that you don’t mix up your pairs, a nice little touch.

IMG_0257It’s hard to get a sense of scale with these.  They look bigger than they really are.  And they are surprisingly light.  The headband is definitely flexible but you can’t adjust the loop diameter, so if you have a very large or very small head, that can be an issue.  I’m also curious how they would work in winter, when you’re wearing a jacket.

The electronics casings do make the headphones a bit wobbly, and the first few times you handle them, they almost feel like they’re going to snap.  Long term wear and tear is a bit of a concern, and I’d be afraid to just throw them into my bag for transport.  I’ll probably end up wearing them around my neck when I’m not using them.

With the modification to the earbuds, I found that they did an excellent job of sealing my ear canal.  Ambient noise was diminished and the earbuds fit nicely into my ear.  The casings aren’t terribly heavy and they don’t really impact your experience.  It didn’t take me long to get used to them to the point where I could ignore them.

I then charged them for about an hour or so before taking them out for a test walk.  Grabbing my trusty test canine, I headed out into the world.  During my 30 minute excursion, I found myself pleasantly surprised.  The transmission was strong, with none of the stuttering I’d experienced with other headphones.  The weight was negligible and the volume levels were more than acceptable.  Coincidentally, a call came in while I was walking and I was able to test the headset functions.  My caller did note some wind noise (partly from my walking while talking and partly because there was a storm moving into the area), but the conversation was fine otherwise.  I was able to hear him just fine and he didn’t mention any level issues from his end.

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The left casing holds the battery and has a plug for the charger.  No USB-based charging plug is included – you have to plug the power cord into an outlet directly.  So if you plan to travel with this gadget, plan on bringing its charging device with you.

The right casing holds the controls.  Power button and microphone on the outside, phone control button on the bottom, and a five direction toggle on the back of the casing to control the music.  Once you figure everything out, the controls are intuitive and easy to manage.

For those of you with glasses, you’ll be happy to know that they seem compatible with most frames.  I tried them with both my sunglasses and my eyeglasses and didn’t notice any conflict.  The lack of frame compatibility was why I had to return the Jaybirds I’d tried out earlier in the year.

After trying them out in the gym and on the run, I will give these a solid B+ rating overall.  The band does get in the way at the gym, especially when using benches.  However, they didn’t fall out of position on my head when I was laying against the bench and they didn’t move around much while I was working out.  The left side definately felt lighter than the right side, which made my head feel like it was off-kilter.  Running with them was fine – they do bounce a bit, but nothing too terribly distracting.  I wasn’t running all that fast though, so speedy peoples’ mileage may vary.  For power walking they would be fine.

Good on ya, Sony – finally a product I can get behind.

I’m wearing a HALO

April 7th, 2009 No comments

You all know how I love slim.  Women, toys, phones, furniture – if it’s sleek and minimal, I usually want it.  This new product from Jabra is right up there in the slim-o-sphere.  So of course I want it.

jabra01The HALO is Jabra’s first stereo Bluetooth headphone.  It’s due in May (gee, the timing wouldn’t have anything to do with a certain product that will be releasing stereo Bluetooth streaming by any chance would it?) and is one of the few Jabra products designed for two ears, not just one.  It folds in upon itself to minimize its storage requirements even more and will play for six hours between charges.  Of course, being a Jabra, it will also let you take calls as well as listen to your new iPhone 4G sans wires.  Man, I’ve been asking for that since iPod 5G.  About FRAKKIN’ TIME Apple!

Course, this slim beauty isn’t cheap (slim beauties rarely are), so if you want it, it’ll set you back 130 bones.  Gotta pay to be pretty, baby.

via DVICE