- Review Price: £79.00
It’s a strange trend, but even though something’s clearly a great idea it sometimes takes manufacturers years to get right. Take the recent surge in the number of cheap, mini notebooks on the market, sparked by the infamous Eee PC. I’d been desperate for a product such as this for many years, and I’m sure many others were too, but manufacturers just kept missing the mark. Portable computing was either too expensive or too fiddly to use, or cheap and too limited.
It wasn’t until late 2007 that a manufacturer worked out that people wanted small, usable and fully functional laptops at reasonable prices – and the subsequent success of the Eee PC is proof that listening to your customers pays dividends.
Sometimes an obviously good idea just doesn’t catch on simply because it hasn’t been implemented correctly. And it’s a similar situation with Bluetooth music. The technology is there: bitrates are now easily enough to transmit audio streams at a high quality – Bluetooth 2.0 can reach speeds of up to 2.1Mbits/sec. And the demand is clearly there, with even stick-in-the-mud Sony adding Bluetooth to its top-end MP3 players.
But a product has yet to come along to convince me to move from wired headphones. The best efforts, Etymotic Research’s ety8’s, are hands down the best wireless headphones I’ve listened to, but they are unwieldy to wear and expensive. Everything else just seems to sound a little thin. Perhaps the Jaybird JB-200 wireless stereo headphones can change my opinion.
They certainly talk a good game. The manual witters on about high performance sound and goes into great depth on how important achieving the right fit is, complete with diagrams a 1970s biology textbook would have been proud of. To be fair this is probably necessary as it’s quite fiddly to get the Jaybirds into the right position.
The rubbery part of the headphone that goes in your ear looks like it ought to create some kind of a seal, but it’s actually designed to sit in the outer part of your ear. And what can only be described as a ‘nozzle’ then directs sound up into your ear canal. It’s important to adjust this so it points directly into the ear canal as the direction it points in has a dramatic effect on how these headphones sound. Point them the wrong way and they sound absolutely awful, so it pays to fiddle and fettle until you get to a position that you like.
Once adjusted and fitted, the JB-200’s are remarkably comfortable and secure. You can shake your head around all you like, jump up and down, bang your head like a lunatic metal head and they simply refuse to become dislodged. The design of the earband – the part that wraps around and rests against the sensitive top part of your ear – is made of soft rubber so that it doesn’t dig into your ear’s cartilage, and though the bulbous bodies look awkward, they sit unobtrusively behind your ear and you’ll hardly know they’re there once you’ve got the Jaybirds on.
These headphones are designed principally for use while exercising and they’d certainly do the job. They’re sweat and water resistant, so should carry on working fine if you’re out running and the rain comes down. The lack of wires also means there’s much less danger of ending up on the Darwin Awards website in a bizarre “Man strangled by running machine” story.
And set-up is as easy as your choice of device makes it. I connected the JB-200’s with a number of devices, including the recently reviewed Nokia E71, and pairing was mercifully straightforward. You simply hold down the power button until it beeps, and then run through the pairing process on your source device. The JB-200’s, thoughtfully, also have the pairing code stencilled on to the inside of one of the earpieces, in case you forget.
Elsewhere, it’s more a story of style over substance. To charge the headphones, instead of simply plugging in a microUSB cable, you drop them into a rather large and cumbersome docking station (battery life is quoted at 5.5 hours continuous music listening, 6.5 hours talktime and 110 hours on standby). With the headphones in situ this looks more like something Batman would have in his Batcave than a humble charging station. Still, the headphones do at least charge over USB, and the docking station is equipped with a mini-USB socket so that you don’t need to worry too much about losing that ubiquitous cable type. Three small buttons along the spine of the right earpiece provide access to the functions. You can adjust the volume, pause, skip forwards and backwards, but the buttons are tough to press and quite fiddly. I’d have appreciated a touch more give.
Sound quality is reasonably good, but not in the same league as the ety8 headphones. I fired up Ulf Wakenius’ cool jazz guitar to kick off the listening tests with and, mostly, they sounded pretty good. Other light acoustic tracks, such as Green Day’s classic ”Good Riddance” (Time Of Your Life) came across well too. At the top end these headphones sound quite detailed and the mid-range, though occasionally a little boxy, is perfectly acceptable. They’re at least as good as the Cerulean F1 headset I tested last year.
However, it wasn’t long before I discovered the major weakness of these headphones – they lack any kind of bass or body. After queuing up Biffy Clyro’s ”Love Has A Diameter” I initially though I’d got the wrong track, while Newton Faulkner’s cover of Massive Attack’s ”Teardrop” lacked any kind of dynamism or drama. This seems to be a common problem with Bluetooth headphones.
But the Jaybirds aren’t just for music, they also include a microphone so they can be used for making hands-free calls, and here things look up. Disappointingly, sound isn’t piped to both earpieces when making a call, but calls do sound loud and full-bodied, and the microphone transmitted my voice very clearly too. Compared to the Cerulean F1’s call quality the JB-200’s is in a different league.
For those who want a Bluetooth headset that’s as comfortable with music as making and taking calls, the Jaybird JB-200’s do a reasonable job with passable music audio and excellent call quality.
They’re great for anyone who wants a soundtrack while exercising, too, because they’re so light and comfortable to wear. But the lack of bass and a high price of £79, alas, mean I’m going to have to hold off on a wholehearted recommendation.
Score in detail
Sound Quality 6
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