Review: Jaybird Freedom Wireless Bluetooth Headphones
If there’s one thing unique about the new Jaybird Freedom ($200), it’s that it demands customization from its owner. Though the Freedom is currently being sold alongside Jaybird’s very good X2, it feels like a successor in every way. In the Freedom we find a number of major design changes – evidence of choices that Jaybird has made about how Bluetooth sport headphones should fit, feel, and sound. While these might not be ideal for all users out of the box, there is ample room for tweaks and adjustments. If music is an indispensable part of your workout, we think the Jaybird Freedom is worth checking out.
The first and most striking change we see in the Freedom’s design is the substantial reduction in size from the X2 and the switch to metal construction. The increase in build quality is undeniable, and the low profile of Freedom is a substantial upgrade from the X2, which was reported to fall out of some users’ ears. Jaybird practically dares you to not to find a good fit with the Freedom — included are three sizes of silicone ear tips, three sizes of Comply foam tips, three sizes of ear wings, a set of cable shorteners, and a small alligator clip for added insurance. The cable is about two inches shorter than that of the X2, but still long enough to fit most heads. The hard carrying case and stiff USB charging cable previously provided with the X2 have been replaced by a soft pouch and flexible cable.
The only part of the headphone that has grown is the control pod, which has nearly doubled in size from that of the X2. We can’t fault Jaybird for this, since the electronics and battery have to go somewhere. Still, the control pod has gained a small but perceptible mass that can be felt as it hangs from your right ear. Battery life is also affected, cut in half at about 4 hours. The charging adapter can be clipped onto the control pod for an added 4 hours of battery life, but not without tripling the size of the already-large control pod. It’s not a terribly elegant solution, but we appreciate having the option.
The Freedom’s pairing and controls are as easy as ever, with the same three-button control scheme and pairing process as its older siblings. Call quality and range are excellent. Jaybird has, however, made some questionable changes. Powering the Freedom on and off now includes loud, annoying vocal cues followed by booming bass jingles. Ironically, the useful volume change beeps have been removed, which can cause confusion about whether button presses were actually registered.
In general, we did not miss the extra battery life of the X2. Our workouts generally don’t last 4 hours, and we have been well-trained by Apple Watch to charge our gadgets every night. Carrying the charging clip for extra battery insurance was, in our opinion, not worth the risk — it’s too easy to lose, and the headphones cannot be charged without it. We were also a bit nervous about subjecting the charging pod to the same intense workouts as the otherwise sweat-proof headphones — the exposed contacts and small gaps in its case seem to invite problems.
Despite the wide array of fit options bundled with the Freedom, we had some difficulty getting a comfortable fit and consistent seal in our ears. This might be a result of the new curved shape of the buds that sits in the ear just a bit differently than the X2, but whether this affects your experience will depend on the shape of your ears. This was mildly frustrating for us, since it took many tip swaps, micro-adjustments of the ear wings, insertions and re-insertions to find a fit that would enable us to fairly evaluate the sound of these IEMs. The Freedoms provide a secure and comfortable fit, but they made us work for it.
The Freedom’s sound signature was also difficult to pin down. We thought the Freedom sounded fine out of the box, though it had a noticeably thinner low end than the X2. The free Jaybird MySound app invites you to customize the Freedom’s sound with a graphical equalizer and a series of sports celebrity presets. Settings are saved in the headphones’ memory, so your preferences persist even if you change devices. We were initially turned off by app’s bundled presets, since almost all of them simply buried the treble and boosted the bass. Since equalizers can’t change the innate characteristics of the headphone’s drivers, these presets often resulted in boomy, low-quality bass. If Jaybird thinks that its users will want to boost the Freedom’s bass, we wondered why Jaybird didn’t just make a bassier headphone.
The answer to that question came during our workouts. Like the X and X2 before it, the Freedom truly shines when you’re out in the world burning calories. Regardless of equalizer setting, we found that the smaller size of the Freedom eliminated most of the wind noise that we had experienced in the past when using the X2 outdoors. Less noise meant that we could listen at lower volumes during cycling workouts, which is better for our hearing and overall awareness. It was here that we found a place for those boomy equalizer presets, which brought the beat up to audible levels right when it when it was needed. By the end of our time with the X2, we found ourselves having fun jumping into the MySound app to switch sound presents based on our listening situation.
In mid-2012, it was revealed that the laptops on display in Apple stores had their screens intentionally set at a specific angle. Apple wanted customers to have to adjust the screen while browsing as an “act of ownership” — this small engagement with the product was done to allow users to quickly form a bond. Intentional or not, Jaybird might be doing something similar with the Fredom. With a bundled 21-piece customization kit and a free app that livens up its somewhat thin sound signature, the Freedom requires the user to think about its features and spend time “making it theirs.”
Where the X2 had just minor improvements over the Bluebuds X, the Jaybird Freedom is the clear result of refinement and evolution beyond the original formula. Jaybird may have alienated some users with its choices but, overall, we really like Freedom. We think you’ll like yours — once you make them yours.