Review: Bragi Dash Pro Wireless Earphones | iLounge

Review

Review: Bragi Dash Pro Wireless Earphones

B-
Limited Recommendation

Company: Bragi

Model: Dash Pro

Price: $329

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Guido Gabriele

In February 2016, we reviewed the Bragi Dash, one of the first — if not the first — "true wireless" headphones. It was an extremely ambitious product, though that ambition may have partly been its downfall — despite a long-delayed launch, Bragi seemed to have over-promised on features and, sadly, the Dash's core functionality was lacking. Despite the Dash's extremely thoughtful and sharp design, it was plagued by connection issues that were only partially addressed in future firmware updates. Bragi hasn't given up; instead, they're back with an upgraded version of the Dash — the Dash Pro — that promises better basic functionality and the introduction of many of the features that were part of its original vision for this product. Though the Dash Pro still isn't perfect, it has come a long way.

If you owned the original Dash or read our review, much about the Dash Pro will be very familiar. The earbuds are visually identical to the Dash, and use the same magnetic cradle for charging and computer connection, except that the Dash Pro cradle’s stiff metal sleeve is now a gray metal color with a cool blue felt interior. When inserted into the ear, the Dash Pro’s sensors activate; they spring to life, connecting to the iPhone via Bluetooth and to each other via near-field magnetic induction (NFMI). Nearly all of the Dash Pro’s functions can be controlled with taps and swipes; both earbuds are sensitive enough that gestures are recognized with a light touch or, if you prefer, touch controls can be completely disabled in the Bragi app. Like the Dash, the Dash Pro can store up to 4 GB of music on-board; navigating through music files through touch controls is just as clunky as it was on the original Dash, but remains useful for those who want to exercise without having to bring their phone. Also like the Dash, the Dash Pro is water resistant to three feet, making swimming and showering with the Dash Pro a possibility.

The Dash Pro’s full potential is unlocked through the Bragi iOS app, and many features have been added since our last visit. The Activity tab allows you to track heart rate and running, cycling, and swimming workouts — now integrated with Apple’s HealthKit.  Touch and gesture controls can be customized, including the addition of shortcuts — for example, we like the ability to have the Dash Pro automatically toggle Audio Transparency when music is played or paused. There’s also a screen for “Routines”, that currently offers only the ability to have the Dash Pro speak the time once every full hour. All these new interfaces and functions are useful, but still feel limited, as if they were (like the original Dash) placeholders for future expansion. Bragi has also added some unique new ways to interact with this type of device using its internal accelerometers. A “Sneak Peek” gesture can be set to activate Siri, play/pause music, or skip a track simply by tapping your right cheek. The Bragi app also offers a “4D Menu” option, whereby the Dash’s functions can be navigated through nodding, shaking, and turning the head. Though we admire Bragi’s willingness to experiment with new interfaces, we had trouble getting these to work reliably.

One of the most innovative features of the original Dash was its Audio Transparency mode, although on that device it was held back by oversensitive microphones that would clip terribly when high-frequency sounds like jangling house keys were present. This feature is far better on the Dash Pro; higher frequencies are still amplified, making them sound a little sharper than real life, but the microphones are less aggressive. In addition, the Bragi app now features a “Windshield” mode that does a great job to reduce buffeting outdoors. Unfortunately, however, the Dash Pro uses the same volume control scheme as the Dash — rather than integrate with iOS’ volume level, the Dash Pro’s volume must be set independently, either with swipes on the right earbud or within the app. The Dash Pro warns you when you’ve reached the “safe” volume limit (perhaps due to European regulations on device volume), but will go a few steps higher if you persist. This might be something we could overlook, but the Dash Pro’s volume resets down to a medium volume with every use. We understand that Bragi may have had reasons for using this volume scheme — the Dash Pro’s volume also regulates things like the Audio Transparency and system prompts — but we find it unnecessarily frustrating and wish we could switch to a simpler volume control.

If there’s one thing we wish Bragi had changed for the Dash Pro, it’s how they fit. Like the Dash, the Dash doesn’t use traditional silicone ear tips — instead, it uses “fit sleeves.” The different sizes of fit sleeves don’t change the size of the silicone tip that goes into the ear canal, but rather vary the amount of silicone material on the outer portion of the Dash Pro’s housing. This makes them fit more securely in the outer ear, but does nothing to improve their seal in the ear canal. As such, we found it impossible to get an adequate seal for optimal isolation and bass response — with the Dash Pro, at least for us, music always sounds thin and we were always near the top of the volume range. Two sizes of foam tips are included, but we didn’t find them to be large enough to solve this problem. We think the Dash’s sound could be substantially improved with the simple addition of more traditionally-shaped silicone tips.

New features are important, but let’s get back to the basics. Perhaps more important than all the above are the Dash Pro’s connection quality and battery life. The most disappointing part of our experience with the original Dash was that it couldn’t seem to stay connected outdoors, despite being sold as ideal for cycling, running, and swimming. We’re happy to say that the Dash Pro exhibits none of the skipping and dropouts that we experienced with the original Dash. The Dash Pro also supports AAC over Bluetooth; music through the Dash Pro can sound good, assuming your ears are capable of a good seal with this device. The Dash Pro’s battery life is also improved at about 4–5 hours per charge. Bragi has, through software and hardware updates, at least made the Dash a device that can be reliably used daily for its core functionality of music and phone calls (though, according to those on the other end of our calls, sound quality was not good). Even Amazon Alexa is now integrated with the Dash Pro (we couldn’t get her to do much more than play The Shins and offer to order products on Amazon.com, but experienced users might get more out of it).

With the Dash Pro, Bragi has improved and expanded upon the original Dash in almost every way. There’s a tremendous amount of technology and design in this device, and even more features in its app than we were able to cover in this review. Now, more than ever before, Bragi’s original vision of the Dash as a truly wireless digital companion seems within reach. However, Bragi’s not the only one to have improved over the years — since our original review, many other companies, including Apple, have come out with “true wireless” headphones that cost far less — the AirPods lack many of the Dash’s features, but integrate directly into iOS and cost less than half the price of the Dash Pro. Even Bragi offers a scaled-down version of the Dash for just $149, called “The Headphone.” At $349, the Dash Pro needs to have killer hardware and software that’s far ahead of the competition. Instead, the Dash Pro feels more like a firmware update bringing the original Dash up to what it promised to be at launch. The original Dash was funded, in part, by people like us (backer #775 of almost 16,000!), excited by Bragi’s vision for what the Dash could be. Though we’re not sure customers will be willing to pay a premium for the Dash Pro’s ambitious but still experimental features, that doesn’t mean we don’t believe in Bragi. Keep at it, guys.

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Editors' Note: iLounge only reviews products in "final" form, but many companies now change their offerings - sometimes several times - after our reviews have been published. This iLounge article provides more information on this practice, known as revving.

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