JayBird Freedom 5th generation headset hands-on: Perfect for the trail and the road

JayBird continues its premium Freedom Bluetooth headset line with the fifth generation model that offers a slim attractive design and unique battery solution.

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Back in 2011 I tested and enjoyed using the third generation JayBird Freedom Bluetooth wireless headset. Earlier this year at CES 2016, JayBird announced the fifth generation JayBird Freedom and today you can pick them up at all Best Buy retail stores or via the JayBird website for $199.95.

On Friday, I spoke with Judd Armstrong, founder and CEO of JayBird, and Rene Oehlerking, chief marketing officer, and discussed the four pillars that JayBird established as it designed and built the latest version of Freedom earbuds. These four pillars and some of the results include:

  1. Size: JayBird was able to reduce the size of the earbud by 20 percent over the X2. The new small size, as clearly shown in my embedded image gallery as compared to the X2, means that the JayBird Freedom can be comfortably used by people with smaller ears. The earbuds are so small that you can use them under a helmet in comfort, which makes these great earbuds for snowboarding, skating, and mountain biking.
  2. Sound quality: JayBird headphones have always been known for excellent sound quality. The new JayBird Freedom is promoted as a wireless headset to rival wired headphones. JayBird developed a unique solution where you use the iOS or Android JayBird MySound app to customize sound profiles to your specific preferences. The profile is then synced to your Freedom headset and then that same sound profile is used by all devices, including smartwatches, computers, tablets, phones, and more. This innovation in a wireless headset is compelling.
  3. Signal strength and wireless performance: JayBird designed the Freedom with a metal housing on the earbud and all of the electronics stored in the inline controller positioned several inches below the earbud. Having the electronics and antennas positioned all within the controller allows the Freedom to stay connected to your Bluetooth devices without worrying about cross-body interference or any drop in signal.
  4. Battery life: JayBird created a rather interesting solution to long battery life by providing a headset that provides up to eight hours of playback. You get four hours with the earbuds themselves and then another four hours when the rechargeable base is attached. The base clips on and charges up the headset first so you can use the headset continuously while charging the base, via microUSB, then charging the headset and then charging the base again. You will be able to purchase extra charging bases so you could use the JayBird Freedom for extended periods of time without even charging up more bases.

Hands-on with the JayBird Freedom earbuds

I spent the weekend running with a black pair of the JayBird Freedom earbuds and will continue to test them out during my workouts and daily commutes. The unique solution to battery life means that you can use the JayBird Freedom as your only headset for work and play. In the past, I usually left my workout headset at home charging up while I used another headset for my commute and calls during the work day. With the JayBird Freedom, you should be able to more easily keep the headset charged up at all times, ready to go hit the road when you want.

In the past, every JayBird headset I tested came with a rather bulky carrying case. Given the unique portable charging cradle design, JayBird understood users will want to carry the base with them to use the headset all day long. A very nice slim profile case is included so you can easily carry the charging base, small microUSB cable, and JayBird Freedom in the pocket of your gear bag, shirt, or even your skinny jeans. The top of the case closes securely and can be opened by pressing the two edges together.

The JayBird Freedom earbuds have Bluetooth 4.1 so you can pair the headset to two devices simultaneously, pair and connect two Freedom headsets to enjoy media content from a single device, and pair with up to eight devices. So far I tested using the JayBird Freedom with a Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge, Huawei Nexus 6P, and Samsung Gear S2 3G. I ran with music streaming from the Gear S2 3G smartwatch to the Freedom and playback was flawless. After returning from my run, I was even able to take the watch off and continue to listen to music while I performed yard work some distance away.

While I enjoyed using the JayBird X2 headset, I could never get it to stay deep in my ears while running in all environmental conditions. You get three pairs of silicone eartips, three pairs of Comply memory foam eartips, and three pairs of ear fins so there are a number of ways to wear the Freedom. You can combine the ear fins with either the Comply or silicone tips while also choosing to route the cable over or under your ears. The small size of each earbud is designed to fit right into your lower outer ear opening. I've never been satisfied using JayBird earbuds by routing the cable over my ear and so far have found the medium Comply eartips and an under the ear solution to be perfect for me.

The default sound profile was excellent and my music sounded great, but I look forward to creating and testing custom profiles when the MySound application is released. Volume has been great so far, which is often an issue for me during my commute on a train with lots of ambient track and crowd noise.

The buttons on the inline controller are well spaced and raised enough to make it very easy to reach up without looking to control your music and phone calls. On my Gear S2, I found that a press and hold of the volume up button skipped me forward to the next song while the middle button served as the power/play/pause button. While there is an indicator light, the voice prompts on the headset are the better way to manage your connections and actions on the headset.

I will continue to test the JayBird Freedom headset and plan to use it as my only audio solution for the next few weeks, testing the battery life, volume, sound quality, and more. The headset looks more like a fashion accessory than a piece of tech gear so it's a headset you will like being seen using.

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