Review: JayBird Gear JB-200i Bluetooth Stereo Headset + Adapter for iPod
There's one major reason we're only going to briefly review JayBird Gear's JB-200i ($160) stereo wireless headphones today: when a pair of headphones doesn't fit well, it doesn't matter how good they might sound under optimal circumstances. Thus, despite what appears to be a very solid Bluetooth wireless audio connection between JayBird's bottom-mounting iPod Adapter and the included wireless earphones, this isn't a pair of earphones we'd wear or recommend to our readers.
To the company’s credit, JB-200i comes reasonably well-equipped. In addition to the black plastic and rubber stereo headphones and matching Dock Connector-based receiver, you get three sets of silicone tips to make the headphones more comfortable, plus a carrying case and a docking station with a USB cabled wall adapter. The major issue that we had with these parts was that they didn’t work quite as we expected them to.
In order to fuel the JB-200i headset for what the company promises to be six hours of run time—assuming the iPod on the other end has that much battery capacity with the Adapter attached—you need to dock the headset in the docking station and connect it to power. We found that unusually designed charging pins, the station, and the lack of any feedback from the headphones left us with no knowledge and little confidence that the headset was actually charging; we were surprised that they were working, but never knew for sure how much the docking station had accomplished.
JayBird’s earphone design can be summed up as a bit misguided. The company has borrowed the shapes of monaural Bluetooth earpieces released by companies such as Plantronics, doubled them to fit in both ears, and connected the parts with a black wire. While the wire’s the right length to separate the earpieces between most ears, dangling behind your head, the earpieces themselves are not, and other than the replaceable eartips, they’re non-adjustable. You can’t pivot their swan-like necks, adjust their length, or otherwise make them more comfortable, so if they don’t fit your head properly, they’ll bulge off the sides of your ears—and thus your head—with their audio channeled in the wrong direction.
There are also issues with the microphone and multifunction buttons that are built into the headset’s right earpiece, the former a feature that makes the JB-200i somewhat usable with the iPhone and iPhone 3G. Once we paired the headset, which was unusually easy, callers unfortunately told us that the microphone sounded “muddy” to them. We traced its location to a tiny dot on the front of the earpiece, determining that the only way to improve its performance was to remove the right headphone and hold it closer to our mouths. While our speech was still audible, the quality was lower than that of the free headset included with the iPhones—not exactly a reason to recommend this over other options. JayBird’s lack of a microphone wand appears mostly to blame for this.
Additionally, two multifunction buttons on the earpiece are supposed to change either volume or tracks, depending on how they’re pushed, but we found it too easy to accidentally change tracks when we were trying to change volume. Combined with the facts that the headset defaulted at maximum volume output and doesn’t perform volume mirroring with a connected iPod’s controls, we’d advise prospective users to adjust volume first before placing this headset on their ears, and tread carefully when making future adjustments.
One positive thing to note about JB-200i is its pairing with iPods and iPhones. iPod users will find the adapter very simple to pair for audio purposes—it pairs automatically and fairly quickly after each connection, with a flashing blue light to indicate that the pairing is taking place. But iPhone users should note that it’s not an iPhone-specific accessory, and does bring up the device’s nag screen. To our surprise, however, the JB-200i adroitly handles switching between phone call audio and iPod mode audio once it has been paired with both the Bluetooth settings screen and the bottom-mounting adapter, exhibiting only one idiosyncrasy: once a call starts, the iPhone switches back to the Now Playing screen. This may be a firmware issue with the iPhone rather than the JB-200i.
We would also be tempted to describe the JB-200i’s music performance in somewhat positive terms, but in all honesty, we can’t. Even when the earpieces are stuffed into your ears rather than just hanging awkwardly off your ears, music just doesn’t sound right; highs, mids, and bass all blur together in an odd melange. Consequently, this is neither an audiophile-quality earpiece of a typical consumer-quality one, though we suspect some changes to the positions and tips could fix this going forward.
Though we can’t recommend JB-200i because of its odd, unadjustable fit, unimpressive sound quality, and weird charging system, JayBird Gear could fix these issues through a redesign, and we hope that it does so. The underlying Bluetooth connection between the receiver and headset is solid, as is the pairing performance of the system with either iPods or more tricky iPhones, regardless of whether you want to bring telephone calling into the equation. All the company needs now is the playback, mic, and comfort performance users would expect for a $160 asking price.