Thursday, November 3, 2016

Review: Jaybird X3's kept most of the great aspects of the X2's, added a little more, then handed us a drawback

I am listening to music at all times. Always. Wireless earbuds usually market themselves towards the sporty, sweat-prone types, and until I found the original Jaybird Bluebuds, I’ve yet to find a pair that could also help me tune out the world 24 hours a day when not exercising. That day came one step closer with the Jaybird X2's last year and came ever so closer with this year's Jaybird X3's.

Jaybird’s X2 earbuds launched around this time last year to muted praise—no glaring flaws, but not quite the premium experience a $180 price tag implies to consumers. A meaningful iteration on a popular line needs to be more than a fresh coat of paint, and Jaybird prove that with the X3.

As with its predecessor, there are three tip sizes—in both rubber and foam—and three sizes of rubberized wings to provide a secure fit and a tight seal for most ears. (The foam grips better to the ear canal and silence the outside better in this reviewer’s experience.) Similarly the X3 holds the same eight hour charge, is sweat-proof, and provides the same nearly flawless connectivity. Even in crowded, electronics-heavy areas that reduce many wireless headsets to an expensive pair of earplugs the X3s remained clear.

In short, the best parts of the X2 is retained—so what’s changed?

The most apparent improvement is to the bass. As in, there’s bass, a quality I found largely absent in the X2. Maybe it won’t satisfy the Beats-lovers of the world, but Jaybird managed to pack enough oomph into its 6mm drivers to provide a balanced sound—which can be further tweaked through its My Sound app, which saves EQ setting to the X3's firmware. After that you can close the app forever or delete it.  FYI, this doesn't change the tone of the voice assistant that returns with the X3's giving you prompts and battery notifications.

Looking closer and I noticed the buds themselves have a flatter profile, likely to the delight of helmet-wearing sports folks, and bigger control module.

A larger control module provides a single improvement and two minor inconveniences. First, the X3 did away with the standard micro USB charging port in favor of a proprietary four-pin setup. Supposedly this leads to faster charging, but there is only one so if you lose it while traveling or taking it to work, you are buying yourself a new one. I foresee this being a failure point in the near future for many people.

But the chunky controls are, by virtue of their increased size, also heavier than on the X2s, and slowly but perceptibly yanked the earbud above them out from the side of my head as I walked. Try as I might, the module end never stayed in unless you give those optional rubberized wings a shot.

Just like the X2's, getting the X3's to fit properly and snug into your ear using the ear wings takes time and patience. Once you accept that your right ear is shaped differently than your left ear you will find the right combination of ear tip and wing faster. For myself it was a medium tip and large wing for the right and large tip and medium wing for the left. Just like the X2's, once I got my combination down I could listen to music for hours with no ear discomfort.

Despite launching a full $50 cheaper than last year’s version, the X3's aren’t cheap. But for their comfort, better-than-average sound, and bulletproof connectivity they’re a meaningful iteration of the best bluetooth earbuds on the market.

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