REVIEW: JayBird Freedom Bluetooth Headphones (JF3MB)

It’s surprising how long it’s taking for Bluetooth headphones to become the standard music-listening device. I think the two main factors accounting for its delayed adoption are the bulkiness and the limited battery life. The technology simply hasn’t caught up yet to make the headphones an easy purchase for the masses, though I believe I’ve found decent a pair with the JayBird Freedom Bluetooth Headphones (JF3MB).

Before going into the review, I need to stress one potential deal breaker: the range requirements may not work for you. Bluetooth works well indoors because the signal bounces off walls and generally stays within the area. Outside, the signal goes everywhere. It’s important that you understand how it can be used well.

Through my completely unscientific experiences, the headphones work fine in offices, classrooms, and subway cars (those types of enclosed places). Walking on the crowded sidewalks of New York City with my iPhone 4 (the primary device using my set) in my right leg front pocket works fine about 70 per cent of the time.

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The degradation continues in more open spaces. Using them in a empty field (phone in the same pocket), as a point of reference, makes the headphones practically unusable. Holding my phone with my hands just above my thigh or putting my phone in my bag’s shoulder strap pocket/shirt pocket/armband drastically improves signal consistency, with only open fields still occasionally being an issue.

It’s an annoying problem for sure, a problem I wish I read more about before I bought them. Regardless, the headset works for my routine and settings.

 

Usage

The headphones are, of course, in-ear headphones, which seem to be relatively commonplace now as opposed to half a decade ago. If you’ve never worn a set before, it’s definitely an odd feeling. It took me a couple of days to get used to my first pair six years ago. The good thing about the ‘phones is that the sound is isolated, so I barely turn the volume up to 60 per cent in normal use.

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This set also includes the company’s patented secure fit ear cushion fins. JayBird emphasizes the fins for sports, but I use them all the time. They definitely help keep the headphones in place. It’s another odd feeling since it’s another part of the ear that has a squishy thing poking inside, though I adjusted quite easily. The fins sometimes annoy my ears after consecutive hours of use. There are three sizes of fins included in the set.

There are also some one-size-fits-all behind-the-ear clips. I’ve never found ear clips to be comfortable, so I never touch the things. That said, it’s nice to see JayBird include them for those who do enjoy them. And, yes, I did check: you can use these with the fins at the same time (pictured).

My biggest hesitation with these headphones (and similar ones) stemmed from the cord. I was worried it would annoy my neck by bouncing up and down when running, and just the thought of it sticking to my neck when I get sweaty made me uneasy. Luckily, even with my big head, there’s a way to keep the cord from touching the neck by wrapping the cord over your ear (pictured). There is also a clip in the middle of the cord to tighten/loosen the cord’s grip. For the most part,everything stays in place relatively well this way.

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A “luxury hard shell carry case” (that’s really what JayBird calls it) is included, which I never use. The hinge is flimsy, something others have noted online as well, and I can never find a way of actually fitting the headphones easily inside. The case is not the most pocket-friendly, either.

My gripes are quite minor. The first is that the headphones aren’t shareable unless each person has their own eartips (sharing the same eartips with someone else is pretty icky, no?). The other issue is how easy it is to lose the eartips. Amazingly, I’ve only lost one two in the 10 or so months I’ve had them, though there have been many close calls.

Luckily, the eartips (3 pairs, a different size each are included) have coloured insides that make finding them on the ground a little easier than usual. To be fair, they do fit very securely on the headphones. Also, I never use the included case, instead opting to put them in my pants pocket or small compartment in my backpack (the former option being an especially bad idea).

Both gripes are inherent problems with in-ear headphones themselves and not a JayBird thing.

 

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Battery

JayBird promises roughly 6 hours of music play or talk time with 140 hours of standby time (nearly six days). In my battery test with the headphones sitting directly on top of an iPad (no case) in my tiny, studio apartment, the headphones played a little over 4.5 hours at full volume. When the battery is close to death (15 minutes or so left), the headphones play a really annoying, really excessive periodic series of beeps; I’d rather listen to a few final, uninterrupted songs, thanks.

The headphones charge in two hours with the included (and relatively obscure) USB mini 8 pin 2.0 cable. The cable is about a foot long, so I either charge it through my computer’s USB port or use a USB cable extension cord so the headphones are not charging on the floor. I wonder why JayBird chose such a short cord. Also, the cord has to be plugged into the right headphone, which uses that dreaded, hard to open rubbery plastic dust hood thing (<that’s the scientific name, obviously). This hood becomes manageable to open with time, somewhat. (And, yes, I know people reading this 50 years in the future are going to laugh at us for not wirelessly charging all our devices on desks/night tables/other surfaces with charging pad tops.)

Sound quality

As much as I wish I could be, I’m simply not an audio snob. I can’t give a valuable opinion on the sound quality. All I’ll say is that I’ve always purchased headphones in the sub-$150 range for most of my life, and, while Freedom’s sound quality is definitely not the best I’ve heard, it’s adequate for me.

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Room for improvement

I get the point of Bluetooth: make things wireless. Still, would it have been at all possible to have a 3.5 or even a 2.5 mm headphone jack? I know that’s asking for a lot given the size of the headphones (it’s a far more glaring omission for over-the-ear sets), but it would have been nice to make them more universal. Freedom headphones’ left shell feels a little hallow; would it have been possible to put the jack in there? (This is an invitation for any member of Freedom’s design team reading to prove me wrong in the comments!)

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I’ve collected a decent variety of electronics over the years yet I’m not able to find one product of mine that uses JayBird’s USB mini 8 pin 2.0 charging cable. I’m guessing there’s a design reason they used this connector. Still, it would have been nice if Freedom used a more common charging connector.

eartips

While the included eartips are very comfy and fit securely on the headphones, I wish there was some kind of interlocking mechanism (or what have you) that would prevent them from accidentally falling off. I know I should use the included case instead of leaving the ‘phones bare in my pocket, but it’s not always a practical option (the case is bigger than my wallet). Also I don’t understand why the JayBird store only carries replacement eartips in a pack with three sizes; I know my size is large, so let me order just those.

 

Conclusion

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Buying a set of Bluetooth headphones involved quite a bit of research. I wanted them to be in-ear and light while not sacrificing practicality for being wireless, among other mentioned requirements. JayBird Freedom Bluetooth Headphones meet these expectations — one of the few Bluetooth headphones that do at the moment. They certainly live up to their name. Given its faults, it’s a little sad to consider these some of the best of the crop. There is still so much improvement to be done on today’s slate. Freedom is hopefully the start of better things to come.

(Ultimately, the only way to find out if a set of headphones works for you is to try them; often times that means having to buy them. No matter the amount of research you do, if the headphones don’t feel comfortable, they don’t feel comfortable. Keep your receipt and know the store’s return policy.)

 

The competition

Here are some other comparable headphones to check out (I’ve only tried one of them):

BackBeat Go

Music play time: up to 4 hours
Talk time: up to 4.5 hours
Standby time: up to 240 hours (10 days)
Weight: 13 grams

The buttons to control the volume seem much easier to use than Freedom’s. I’m curious to learn how well its stabilizers work.

 

 

 

Jaybird Freedom Sprint

Music play time: up to 4.5 hours
Talk time: up to 5 hours
Standby time: up to 100 hours (just over 4 days)
Weight: 10 grams

Sprint comes in at 10 grams, which is 3 grams lighter than Backbeat and 6 grams lighter than Freedom. Overall, it’s essentially a nicer, lighter version of Freedom with less battery time.

 

 

 

 

 

 


Air-Fi AF12 Stereo Bluetooth Wireless Headset with Noise Isolating In-Ear Headphones

Music play time: up to 4.5 hours
Talk time: up to 5 hours
Standby time: up to 100 hours (just over 4 days)
Weight: 16 grams

With no fins or stabilizers, I wonder how well they stay in place. I haven’t included prices here because they constantly change, though, of the previous three, I’ve found this one the cheapest at $39.99 through Google Offers; the offer has since expired.

 


LG Tone (HBS-700) Wireless Stereo Headset

Music play time: up to 10 hours
Talk time: up to 10 hours
Standby time: up to 360 hours (15 days)
Weight: 32 grams

I’ve never tried these, though I’m sceptical I could ever get used to the neck pods. Again, prices change, but these come in at a much sweeter price point comparative to the other headsets mentioned. Half a month of standby time is impressive.

 

 


Jabra HALO2 Bluetooth Stereo Headset

Music play time: up to 8 hours
Talk time: up to 13 hours
Standby time: up to 13 days (312 hours)
Weight: 80 grams

Nice to see it’s able to fold and that it comes with a mini-USB to 3.5 mm headphone jack connector. Interesting that unfold/folding it turns it on/off.

 

 

 


JayBird Sportsband Bluetooth Headphones

Music play time: up to 8 hours
Talk time: up to 11 hours
Standby time: up to 250 hours (over 10 days)
Weight: 106 grams

I never gave this product much thought because it doesn’t fold, to be honest (though, really, even when headphones of this size do fold, they’re still pretty large).

 

 

 


Air-Fi AF32 Stereo Bluetooth Wireless Headphones with hidden microphone

Music play time: “greater than 12 hours”
Talk time: “greater than 10 hours”
Standby time: at least 100 hours (just over 4 days)
Weight: 115 grams

I bought the black/grey version these for $50 via Google Offers around the time of this review. For the price and features, these headphones are hard to beat. Along with folding abilities, there’s a standard 3.5 mm headphone jack on the right side. I’ll try to review these in the future.

 

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