Love in the time of Bluetooth

Review:

  • SoundPEATS Magnetic Wireless Earbuds
  • Bluephonic Bluetooth DeepbassX
  • Jaybird Freedom 2

About two months ago my beloved Powerbeats died. For nearly two years, I relied on those headphones to get me through runs, bike rides, lifting sessions, solo trips to the grocery store and more plane rides than I’d like to think about. They were always there for me – whether it was in my pocket, the front of my backpack or shoved at the bottom of my gym bag. Through rain, snow or punishing heat, early morning runs and late-night jogs – these headphones set the tone. Then, one afternoon, I reached into my bag to pull them out for a lifting session and, as if giving one last sigh before resigning itself to death, the headphones slipped out of my bag in two pieces. The earbuds, along with their chord, came out wrapped around my finger while the front of the volume box slid off and back into my bag – taking with it the electronic innards. Foolishly, I tried to turn on the headphones as if the electronics were cosmetic and not needed. No surprise to anyone that may have been watching me, the headphones did not turn on. Even after I carefully (at first, then aggressively) pressed the pieces back together, the headphones didn’t even give a hopeful twitch. They were dead.

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The original, clunky, magical Beats

About one year ago, I started noticing a culture shift around PowerBeats headphones as well as the Beats company in general. When I first became a beats owner – a large, clunky pair of over ear headphones that I purchased in 2008 for what equaled close to one week’s pay, they were a coveted item for music fans. At that time, hi-fi gear, especially hi-fi headphones, did not seem to be as readily available or well-known as they are now. Putting these headphones on for the first time and walking around my neighborhood was an awakening. The music I loved felt more open, more airy. There was a separation between the bass and the upper register of sounds. For the first time, I could hear distinct instruments and how they balanced each other out. Music wasn’t one, muddied wall of sound – it was a delicate dance that had with it a sense of danger and excitement. The more space I could feel between instruments the more I felt excited by the idea that at any moment the music could all fall apart. I had those headphones for seven years.

 

Somewhere during year 4 ABE (After Beats Era), I was in a cramped, shared office on Virginia Tech campus grading papers for a class I was teaching. At the time, I was a first-year graduate student and taught three sections of an introduction to psychology recitation class to cover the cost of the program. Hunched over my desk I was, in that moment, staring in disbelief that a student actually wrote the entirety of their homework

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“I’m getting my bachelors in psychology”

in red crayon. The thought never crossed my mind, as a student or later as a professional, to resort to crayon on anything. What could they have been thinking? It was far too early in the semester for this to be a cheeky joke – get it professor? I’m underselling the importance of this assignment worth one point out of 100. Aren’t I edgy? Also, what shocked me was how average the work was. It wasn’t so good that this could have been commentary on the person’s brilliance. But, it also wasn’t so bad that this person was a cartoonishly inept individual. It was just okay. And it was just in crayon. And it made my brain hurt.

It could have been because of that hurt that I missed the comment floated my way. I heard talking-noise behind me but, in a shared off that capped off somewhere around 20 people, I had gotten good at filtering out voice noise that didn’t specifically use my name. Had I had my headphones on, as opposed to around my neck like the bad-ass DJ I wanted to see myself as, I probably would have missed it all together. Luckily, the commenter repeated themselves because their statement as so profound it just had to be heard.

“Oh my god,” they said in a weird, mocking lisp voice, “are those beats.” The lispy character voice they were using got my pronounced as they went on talking, as if this person’s speech impediment was a product of mouth fatigue.

“Yup.”

“Beats suck” they offered to me before slipping on a pair of headphones by a company I had never heard of before (nor have I seen since).

“Okay,” and I started to slide the headphones over my ears, retreating into their sonic sanctuary.

“They used to be good,” this person went on, confusing my apathy for an eagerness to be educated. “They just aren’t now. They are just expensive pieces of junk. These (motioning to their own headphones) are what actual musicians use in studios. They aren’t in stores.” They paused on that last beat to see if I getting hard over their elitism. I was not.

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“Do you even headphone, bro?”

Over the years, I faced similar encounters from time to time. Two years ago, I got my PowerBeats as a baby sibling to my banged up Beats Original. One year later, I joined a running group as yet another attempt at becoming a runner. During the first run, I powered up my headphones and very quickly a man next to me exclaimed, “welp, who’s got the beats?” I turned to him and saw that he was looking at the Bluetooth list on his phone and must have seen my headphones show up. “Someone has got to get better headphones.”

Beat hate kept growing since then and it made me question my own experience. I was being gas lit but I didn’t know by whom – beats or the world. Was I experiencing headphone Stockholm syndrome? Did I know something everyone else didn’t? As the criticisms came I felt the urge to argue less and less.

Then, my Powerbeats died.

I felt a slight betrayal as my saw the electronic guts sitting on top of my change of underwear in my bag. I defended you. I never left you and this is what you do? The beats reply – did you? Did you defend me or did you hide me? After learning via a series of youtube videos that the headphones were beyond repair, I threw them away. All that night, I could hear the Tell-Tale Heart-like call from my headphones in the kitchen trash can. You left me. What did I do?

The next morning, I set out to find new headphones. Diana, my forever loving and patient girlfriend, asked me if I was going to get new Beats. Still stinging with the betrayal and the feelings of doubt and questioning, I told her I was looking to make a change. This is my quest to find my new, official running headphones:

SoundPEATS Magnetic Bluetooth Headphones Q34: The rebound that will break your heart

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After days of reading reviews, I made the decision to try a pair of SoundPEATS. I was drawn to the brand both because of the unique design (an in-ear style that doesn’t have anything wrapped around the actual lobe) as well as the price ($25, $175 less than my PowerBeats). I made my purchase on Amazon and 24 hours later I had them on my doorstep.

 

Suitability for Running: The soundPEATS are rated as an IPX6. IP stands for “internal protection” – a rating system for how well an electronic device can hold up to water and dust. The X means there is no rating for dust which doesn’t mean a whole lot for running. The 6 means that these headphones can hold up to water from a “powerful” hose from any direction without any harmful effects. These tests are done for 3 minutes at 100 liters per minute.

The design of the soundPEATS are unique in that they are an in-ear headphone that wedges itself into the folds of your earlobe. This makes for a very small, light .6 oz. They also feature Bluetooth 4.1 (a rating meaning that these headphones manage their energy better) and a reported battery life of 8 hours. They also have the ability to answer phone calls and a build in mic on the volume box (something I rarely, if ever, use).

Packaging: Opening up the package, I was surprised at how much I got for $25. Not only were there the headphones but there was also a nice, hard shell case and a Noah’s ark of accessories. There were two sets of power cords, two clothing clips for the headphone wire and a series of ear tips. Dedicated to better headphone care – I split up all the accessories and filled the hard shell case with one set and all the back-ups into a case I purchased just for my gym bag. Then, I immediately beamed to Diana how much I got for $25.

Sound: Powering up the headphones, they synced quickly with my phone. I tested them with a series of songs from different genres. I played through a series of Aesop Rock, Andrew Bird, Black Keys, Panda Bear and Pearl Jam. Each wildly diverse song sounded fantastic. I was in love. As I switched over to a podcast, the memory of my beats quickly faded. I found myself talking out loud, exclaiming how good these headphones sounded over the chatter of Pod Save America. “And so cheap too” I yelled to my dogs who were the only ones in ear shot.

Fit: This is where I was totally surprised. The ear buds themselves had no supportive hook for around the ear like I was used to. I had my doubts about how well they could work. Placing them in my ear, they slid easily in and the silicone piece nestled perfectly into the crooks of my ear lobes. I turned my head to the right and then to the left. They stayed in place. I aggressively nodded – still in place. I jogged in place in my living room, a pilot test for actual running situations. The earbuds seemed to fit well and stay put.

Test Run: That day I took them for a test run. Over the course of three miles, they sounded good and felt fantastic. I noticed some small chopping in the playback but not enough to worry. Over the next two weeks, I was satisfied with the fact that I had found my new headphones. I carried them everywhere I went. At work, they helped drown out the sound of hallway chatter. At the gym, they gave me the freedom to listen to a Netflix show playback while Florida rainstorms forced me indoors and onto a treadmill. I was quick to tell others about my new love.

It happened almost exactly at the three-week mark. I was running around my neighborhood while listening to the Orioles lose to the Mariners 5-3. At some point when David Hess was giving up his 5th earned run, my newly beloved SoundPEATS beeps loudly three times. Then, there was silence. My first thought was obvious – my headphones sensed my frustrated disappointment and determined silence was better than then sound of the Orioles dropping to 23-54. What a feature! Then, my mind went to the second most likely option – I may have forgotten to charge them. I ran the final mile in silence, remembering vividly that I pulled the headphones off the charger prior to leaving for the run and trying to rationalize that that must have happened yesterday – or even the day before. When I got home, I saw that the typically blue light (indicated it was on) was now a red/blue mix. I held the power button and they wouldn’t turn off. I googled solutions, tried resets and other tricks only to find a steady, purple pixel. I left the headphones out overnight unplugged and woke up to the light having gone out. I plugged them in and the red light (charging) came back up. This red light turned quickly to blue and then to purple. The headphones wouldn’t turn off, wouldn’t pair and wouldn’t do much of anything. I was confused as to what was wrong and frustrated by how hopeful I had been. After 13 runs and 54.1 miles together – my soundPEATS had left me. After several other tries, I decided to return them to Amazon and get a new pair.

After a quick trip to the post office followed by clicking refresh on my amazon order page until my refund was posted (total time – a bewilderingly fast 2 hours). I placed another order for soundPEATS – this time I royal blue pair. Twenty-four hours later, they were waiting on my doorstep (along with a pack of nipguards and a stick of bodyglide). After a charge and another pilot test, I wore them out for a 4 mile run and felt relief. They were back to life and, although they looked different, I was satisfied to have them back. The next day I ran again, another 4-mile run. Thursday of that week was my return to my typical running group following 7 weeks off to teach a night class. Donning my new headphones, I started my run with the general group before quickly breaking off to keep up with the fastest of the pack. As we closed out the first mile, the calm voice of my Nike run app (a voice I just call Nike) alerted me that we were going at a 7’18 pace. Typically, he and I would keep pace with each other but at that point I started to realize that after 7 weeks he had gotten faster (or I had gotten slower). Rounding out mile two, Nike’s calm voice sounded more concerned – “average pace – 7’11.” I was less certain that my friend had simply gotten faster and more confident in the idea that he was angry at me and this was a very elaborate murder plot. I allowed myself to fade back but, like a persistent fisherman he would not give too much slack between he and I. He gave a half turn and waved me forward. He kept doing this motion until I mustered the energy to catch up the five or ten steps I had fallen back on. At half way, my heart decided to find a better host and was punching against my ribs looking for a way out.

Then, three long beeps and silence. I stopped my running, as did my friend. I told him to go on, that my headphones screwed up and I need to fix them. At that time, Diana was also passing by and stopped, concerned. When I told her that it was my headphones she seemed remarkably less concerned.

It was the dreaded purple light of death. Those beautiful blue headphones left me again and never came back. I didn’t have the heart, or the determination, to order another pair. After three runs and 11 miles, I filed another return and waited the two hours for amazon to give me my money back.

 

Result – Failure

 

Bluephonic Bluetooth Wireless Headphones – DeepBassX: The sound of settling

61rPcIatEdL._SY606_I determined that the cause of the previous failure was due to the significant amount of sweat my body gives off. When I used to live in the north, I was impressed by the sheer amount that I would sweat. Now, however, I live in the humid swamp of Tampa where my sweating has become dangerous. I have been thirsty since the moment I moved here due to how much water loss I suffer from daily. Despite the soundPEATS (R.I.P.) rating of IPX6, my body appeared to overpower the internal coating of the electronics. This is just a hypothesis, based on the fact that two pairs died while I was running (despite using them during non-running activities as well) while on a full charge. Understanding that this is just two data points, I will proceed with caution and use these findings lightly.

 

Going back to the research phase of this project, I began looking into headphones designed for swimmers. This is when I actually learned about the IP rating system (and felt gross that my body may have beaten an IPX6). Unfortunately, due to the nature of Bluetooth and waterproof music devices, there are no swimmers Bluetooth headphones. I debated getting an iPod shuffle to fix to the back of my hat and a short-corded pair of swimmer’s headphones. I decided that wouldn’t work because it would (a) add yet another thing to carry while I run (to go along with my watch and my phone), (b) would be difficult to add new things to it like podcasts and (c) would purely rely on fate for what I listen to (which, if you read the 15k playlist post, you know I am not about). This led to a search for the highest IP rated headphones they make (which would be an 8, a number that is the equivalent of off the charts). I found a few different IPX7-rated headphones and began the process of weighing the reviews, the features and the stats. Ultimately, I landed on Bluephonic DeepBassX – a pair slightly more expensive than my soundPEATS (R.I.P.) at $39. I placed my order and 24 hours later found them waiting on my doorstep.

Suitability for Running: The Bluephonics are rated at IPX7 – which means they can withstand being submerged in water up to 3 feet for a period of time. I pray my body does not prove to be a worthy adversary. They also feature an over-the-ear support system which is something I am more used to. The headphones also advertise a battery life of 8 hours and a working radius (distance of phone to headphone) up to 33 meters (the later information not super important for running but helpful when doing yardwork). On paper, these headphones should have been great.

Packaging: Opening these new headphones, I noticed that their packaging was a slight mix between the soundPEATS (a complimentary, hard-shell case) and my old beats (over the ear design, a series of ear tips, pictures of people running in headphones). However, it all just felt – cheaper. The hard-shell case wasn’t as hard as the soundPEATS case. Pushing gently on the top, I could feel a crinkling of the cardboard underneath the matted black surface. It felt less like a case for headphones and more like a case for an egg McMuffin.  Picking up the headphones, I was surprised as the deceptive lightness compared to size of them. The headphones themselves felt bulky and artificially angular. The look harkened back to early 90’s toy commercials – retro-futuristic children zapping lasers at each other over hard-cuts of safe violence, wraparound sun glasses and angular, plastic weaponry from some dystopian future. Laying in my hand, the headphones felt fragile, almost delicate. As they tumbled in my palm they clicked together like hollow dice. I missed my soundPEATS. I missed my beats.

I practiced some general thought challenging – My beats broke my heart, I can’t go back. My wet body chased my soundPEATS away. I was not made for nice things. These are the headphones I deserve.

Sound: When I powered up my headphones they took a little while to find the signal of my phone. I felt a twinge of disappointment and the soft, warm feeling of resignation as I reminded myself that these are my headphones. After they finally paired, I put my phone on shuffle and played through a few songs. The sound was pretty okay. On a quality scale from small quality to large, these were extra medium. Skipping on the first song, Notorious B.I.G. started talking about how things were back in the day. The bassline he was following rumbled and almost echoed – a seemingly autonomous, sentient being from the overall music. Skip – an indie hipster folk song: extra medium. Skip – Funkadelic urging, almost pleading to hit and then quit it: rumbling, rambling bass. A few more skips showed the same pattern – on low bass songs the blend of sound was pedestrian, on bass-heavy music these headphones sprung to life like a drunken sorority girl the moment the first lyrics of “her song” comes on over the din of bar chatter. These are my headphones. I forced a smile. It’s cute, I rationalized, and the heavy bass will help me keep pace.

Fit: The over-the-ear security bar gave a bit of security the soundPEATS didn’t have (and, didn’t need, R.I.P. soundPEATS). With the bar in place, I at least felt secure that these headphones weren’t going to fall off. Standing still, the bluephonics also felt remarkably okay. I walked around my house as a pilot test. The headphones stayed in place generally well. After a few laps (and a few quick cuts and head shakes), the quality in sound started to fade. The ear tips began to pull away from the opening of my ear under the oddly balanced weight of the headphones. I tapped the left ear back into place and the heavy sound of bass came rushing in. I tapped the right ear and accidentally turned off the headphones (the power is on a button squarely over the ear canal). After some coaxing, I got the headphones back working.

Test Run: The next morning Diana and I made plans to on a slow 8-mile run along Bayshore Blvd. After gearing up (all the essentials: hat, headband, wrist band, sun glasses, water bottles) and slathering ourselves in sunscreen we drove to the bay. It was 7:30am and already the heat was rising and the humidity added a thickness to the air. If I wanted to test if these headphones were able to withstand the power of my sweat, this would be the best time for it.

Full disclosure – I was running a parallel test at the same time I was testing out the bluephonic headphones. It’s bad science but I am impatient. That morning, I learned (after about two years of owning one) that my apple watch can be used for music and GPS independent of my phone. Interested in reducing what I carry during my run, I wanted to see if a watch-only run was viable. I paired my headphones with my watch and turned off Bluetooth on my phone (cutting down on double pairings). Starting my music and telling Nike that I was ready, I took off down along the Hillsborough River towards Bayshore Blvd. Almost immediately, the music became a choppy, chaotic, seizure-inducing mess. There were two seconds of clear music, followed by a drop, another second, another drop and then two seconds of sped up music – as if the watch was trying to catch up to where it was supposed to be. After a minute of this, I stopped and paused the music. Starting it up again, the playback smoothed out. I started to run and the chopping resumed. After quick brainstorming I decided to switch wrists (I’m a classic left wrist watch wearer) to see if closing the gap between watch and headphone helped. This change did nothing.

I turned off my headphones and disabled the Bluetooth on my watch. Walking along Bayshore, I struggled to work the touch screen with my already slick fingers. Finally deactivating my watch’s Bluetooth, I took my iPhone out of my running belt and (after what felt like a lifetime of struggling) unlocked my phone and activated the Bluetooth. I turned my headphones back on, synced the it up with the phone, and restarted my music. The choppiness, while better, was still pronounced. Every few steps the music cut out and my music became a staccato mess. Slowing to a walk, I tried to troubleshoot on the fly. Nothing seemed to fix the choppiness outside of walking slowly with the phone close to my headphones. While this technique improved the fidelity of the headphones, it would certainly have deleterious effects on my running.

I ran for eight long miles with my music dropping out every three to four seconds. Sometimes I would go a full block with uninterrupted sound. At others, my music cut out altogether. The fact that I kept playing my music is a testament to my overreliance on audio-stimulation while I run. Three miles in, I had given up pushing my headphones back into my ears and just allowed them to hang from my lobes. Somewhere between mile four and mile five, the size and odd balance of the headphones started causing pain in my ear. At that point, I had to completely remove my headphones completely from my ear canal. No longer fixed inside my ear canal, my headphones sort of just dangled from their security bar – less aiding and running with me and more hanging on and distracting me from my goal. By mile five I was close to losing my mind – the choppiness, the pain, the jostling on my ears. Six miles in I had forgotten a world where sound was fluid. Closing in on mile seven, an anger rose in me. It started deep in my stomach and rose up through me chest. I felt my pace quicken and, with it, the choppiness increased. As if I was sneaking up on my headphones, I (without conscious thought) extended my left arms upswing all the way to my ear and ripped the headphones out of my ear. The bluephonics whipped around by their connective cable and tangled around my hand. I was free. I ran with the soothing, comforting sound of uninterrupted noise all the way back to my starting point.

 

About an hour later, Diana and I were laying outside by the pool at our gym. While we drank coffee and ate breakfast, I tried to get my headphones to work again. I have no idea why I wanted so desperately for these headphones to work. Maybe it was the dread I had of sending back yet another pair. Maybe I really wanted to find headphones that

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“Not now, I’m playing with my headphones” – A man with questionable priorities

were up to my standards and, with that, I wanted to know my standards weren’t unrealistic. I laid on my back with my phone resting on my stomach and started playing a podcast. The sound was smooth and uninterrupted. I breathed a sigh of relief – they were working again. I paused the music, disconnected the phone-headphones and reconnected again. Starting the podcast back up the success was the same. I switched over to music and similar smooth performance. Maybe the run was a fluke.

 

I put my phone into my pocket and, almost immediately, the entire connection between phone and headphone was lost.  Removing the phone and placing it back on my stomach, the podcast picked back up perfectly. Back into my pocket – back to choppy. These headphones were the neediest things I had ever seen. They constantly needed me to be aware of them. If I wasn’t actively looking at my phone and monitoring what it was playing they stopped working. If I was running and focusing on other things, they started to hurt my ears. That afternoon, while the headphones were comfortably in their carrying case in the other room, I filed for yet another return to amazon.

 

Result – Failure

 

Jaybird Freedom 2 – no rating: The blind date fix up

 

61v86IoMhAL._SX385_I wasn’t heartbroken. I was disappointed. I was also frustrated that I had placed so much hope into something that, from the distance of a day, was so clearly a poor choice. That afternoon I made the plan to go the store and look for a new pair of headphones. I plugged in the address to Best Buy but, half way there, I made the spur of the moment decision to cancel the navigation and reroute to the Apple Store. This was, in essence, the same move as driving past your ex’s house just to see if they are home. I told myself that I was looking at all the headphones Apple had to offer. In that moment, I believed it too.

Once in the Apple Store, I walked to the headphone section and straight to the PowerBeats. I’m such a sucker. Looking at the wall of the new pop beats, I marveled at all the colors. Quickly, one of the non-genius apple workers (team members? I’m not sure their title) came over and asked if they could help. I told him I was looking for a pair of headphones to run with and started going through the long, heart breaking epic of my search for headphones. The look on his face betrayed him and let me know that the amount of shits he gave was dangerously low.

“These are what you’re looking for then,” he interrupted, guided me away from the beats and towards another section of headphones. He pulled down a box -Jaybird Freedom 2. I looked over the box. Brandished across the back was a seal that said “Designed by Runners – Designed for Runners.”

Am I a runner? I need this for running, but am I a runner? Also, does it matter? The Jaybird were the official headphones of Ragnar, American Triathlon and a few other organizations I assumed were real. They had a similar design as the soundPEATS (R.I.P.) – in ear with no security bar. They also boasted better sound quality than the beats. Above all else, they were reportedly sweatproof (although that had no identifiable IP rating).  I glanced back at the wall of beats and then returned to the Jaybirds. I confessed my heart’s conflict to the clerk.

“Well, if you return something in less than 14 days we are not allowed to ask why. Just get the Jaybirds, since they are $100 cheaper, and if you hate them you can come back and change them out.”

Despite the callousness of his demeanor, he was right. I purchased the Jaybirds and took them home.

Suitability for running: Looking online, I saw that the Jaybird brand is a sponsor for a number of elite runners. They also displayed several pictures of people wearing Jaybirds while under extremely wet conditions (e.g., rain, sweat, showering) and smiling – the assumption being that they were still working. Despite not reporting their IP rating, these headphones appeared to be up to the sweat challenge. The headphones were remarkably light at .64 oz. This is largely due to all of the electronics being housed in a unit that is on the connection cord, leaving your ears light. The headphones also advertised as having an 8-hour battery life – fairly standard. It was only later, after opening the packaging, that I realized that they were creative with that reporting. The Jaybird Freedom 2 headphones, as is, only hold a 4-hour battery life (if you are playing music at half volume). The headphones also come with a charging case that clips onto the headphones and can, itself, hold a 4-hour charge. To get the full 8-hours of battery, one has to have this case attached (adding a good amount of weight and bulk) and also play the music at a lower volume. Pretty sneaky, sis. When I found this out, I began feeling skeptical about this blind date. Arjun, my Apple Store match maker, didn’t tell me that. Come to think of it – he didn’t tell me much. What other secrets are you trying to hide?

Packaging: The box itself looked nice and has a lot of people running on the cover. Inside, there were the headphones, along with three additional sets of ear tips, the charging clip and a little leather pouch with a stiff, snappy top to it keeping it closed. Everything seemed standard but, after the battery reveal I was feeling on guard.

 Sound: Jaybird has a free phone app that allows you to manage all of the sound levels. This was a feature that I was impressed by but immediately thought that I would rarely go back to. It is like when a date tells you they know how to ride horseback – it is a cool thing to know but, unless something dramatic changes in our lives, we probably won’t have a need for that skill. After playing around with the preloaded levels, I switched over to the “create-your-own.” The sound of the Jaybird was amazing. Switching around from song to song, everything was crisp and clear. The bass was heavy yet balanced and the highs were soaring without being tinny. I found myself rationalizing that I was find charging my headphones more frequently if it meant this kind of sound quality. 

Fit: Out of the package, the Jaybird was fitted with level 3 out of 4 ear tips. I read the instructions on how to properly insert the headphones into my ears (something I had literally never done before) and found it a little awkward. With the headphones in the “casual” position (their words), the ear tips are wedged into your ears and the cord dangles from the bottom front of your ear lobe, around the pack of your neck and then back up to your other ear. Pretty quickly, in this position, the headphones themselves pulled out of my ear. The Jaybird also encouraged a “sport” position – the wire going forward from the ear, over the top of the ear, straight across the back of the head (pulling the speed-fit tab to tighten the cord) over the other ear, to the front and into the next headphone. This felt more secure and the earbuds didn’t fall out at all but, at the same time, didn’t feel “secure.” I googled around and found encouragement from other Jaybird users to try other ear tip sizes and, from one creative user, to squeeze the tip for 10 seconds then quickly place it into the ear, followed by 10 more seconds of pressure on the ear canal. After testing all four levels I found that the level 2 felt the best and most secure. It was getting late and the clouds of a pop-up storm were circling but I wanted to squeeze in a quick test run.

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This is the hardest I have had to think since I got my PhD

 Test run: About ¼ mile into my test run, the headphones fell out. I replaced them, trying the squeeze method, and then ran again. Another 100 yards or so, the right earbud, jostled by the weight of the control box, pulled out of my ear again. Raindrops started to fall and they were quickly followed by a bolt of lightning coupled with shaking thunder. I turned to run back. The sheer force of turning around pulled the headphones clean out of my head.

The next day, I tested the ear tips again. Level 3 and level 4 both felt a little too big but I suspected that that may be the secret to these headphones working. I did some work around the yard while listening to the headphones with level 3 ear tips in. Early into the work, the headphones worked fantastic. About 20 minutes in (placed in the “sport” mode), however, the speed-fit tab began slipping and the weight of the control box started pulling the ear bud out of my right ear. I went inside and switched over to size 4. After a quick moment to process that I may have size 4 ears, I went back to working in the yard. This switch seemed to work and the headphones stayed mostly in. At times, the tip of the bud itself would pull from the ear and there would be a marked decrease in sound quality until they were pushed back in.

The next day, I decided to go for a real test run. I had a race coming up in five days (the Utica Boilermaker 15k) and would be leaving for it in three. That only left two days to test and possibly return yet another pair of headphones. I wedged my largest gauge headphones into my size four ears and went out for a three-mile run. Quickly into the run, I noticed myself repeatedly pushing the headphones back into place. Every few yards, the sound would fade, I would push, the sound comes back and then fade again. I became frustrated. At mile two, the control box was whipped the side of my head and a little voice in my mind told me I could never get used to that feeling – nor should I. The problem appeared to be that the box is too close to the earbud itself. If it were further back, it would fit more neatly behind the head. Closer to the earbud – it may add some weight but still be more secure to a contact point. The box was at the perfect length to add whip and pull at the bud. With less than a mile to go, the entire earbud fell out of my ear and I said, “fuck this.”

This being all the frustration and the opinions.

This being all of the reviews and promises.

And this not just being these headphones.

To all the headphones.

 

All the headphones – that weren’t beats.

 

Beats by Dre Powerbeats3 – …and if it comes back, it was meant to be

 

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The once and future king of headphones

Twenty-four hours before I was flying out for the Boilermaker, I found myself standing outside the Apple Store. The store was still closed and wasn’t set to open for another 10 minutes. A crowd had already formed which, for a Thursday, was impressive. I paced back and forth, periodically glancing through the gaps in the chain barrier to the back of the store at the wall of Beats. In my hand was the box with the Jaybird Freedom 2. There was no mourning these headphones. There was no ill feeling – no sadness or regret or frustration. There was only firm resolve. These were the headphones that pushed me to the limit and forced me to trust my own instinct.

At 10:00am, sharp, the gate slowly started lifting. Behind the rising chair wall there was a row of 15 Apple employees all applauding. Around me, a throng of disinterested future shoppers meandered towards the slowly opening storefront, seemingly trying to pace themselves to enter the exact moment the gate lifted to their height – not wasting either time nor momentum. I, on the other hand, turned and went the other way. The applause of the workers sparked some social anxiety I had never known within me. I felt awkward, uncomfortable even. It appeared strange to be applauded for being at a mall at 10am on a work day (I took seven days off to book end up trip to Utica) to return their fourth pair of headphones in 2 weeks. Nearing the Dillard’s, I could hear the din of clapping fade and eventually die. I did a large, lazy loop and walked back toward the store.

I went straight to the team member/non-genius near the headphones, handed him the Jaybirds and told him I wanted to return these and exchange them for a pair of beats. He gave me a blank stare; possibly surprised by my assertiveness so early into his shift or maybe just hungover. He took the box and told me to go choose the pair I wanted. I grabbed a blue and neon pair of beats, the one I was eyeing just earlier that week. Over small talk, he processed the exchange. Before taking my card, he reminded me that the difference in price was “significant.”

“I know.”

“..and you’re sure you want to exchange for beats?”

“Yup.”

Suitability for running: The beats3 boast a 12-hour battery life, 5 min charge:1 hour play ratio, water and sweat resistance, ultra-light body, cool color and adjustable security wrap around the ear. These are hella suitable.

Packaging: Perfect. The beats came with a soft shelled, clam style case, multiple sizes of ear tips, charging cable and instruction booklet – which I tossed out.

Sound: Turning them on, I felt a warm comfort as the seven tones play in rhythm indicating the beats were on. After a quick, automatic sync, I played through my running play list. The sound was as perfect as I remembered.

Fit: Straight out of the box, they fit excellent and felt secure.

Test run: After a full charging (and going to run errands) there was no time to test the beats before leaving for the race. These headphones would have the pressure of performing in a race situation completely untested.

And they performed wonderfully. For the race, I synced my headphones with my apple watch where I ran Nike run and my apple music 15-k playlist. No lag, no skips or cuts, just smooth, perfect music.

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One of the many things Lebron and I have in common

Thank you beats. Welcome back.

 

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