Jaybird X3 Bluetooth headphones give AirPods a run for their money

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Jaybird X3 wireless earbuds
Jaybird's X3 wireless earbuds sing like two birdies in your ears.
Photo: Leander Kahney/Cult of Mac

SAN FRANCISCO — Rene Oehlerking is positively stoked that Apple killed the headphone jack on the iPhone 7.

That’s because, as chief marketing officer of Jaybird, he’s been touting the winning combo of killer audio and wireless freedom for years. With its controversial move, Apple made Bluetooth headphones the new normal virtually overnight.

“We’ve been waiting for this moment for a long time,” Oehlerking said during a demo of his company’s latest headphones, the Jaybird X3. “It puts pressure on everyone to just buck up.”

Apple’s assassination of the headphone jack will undoubtedly be looked back upon as the catalyst that sparked a Bluetooth boom. Cupertino believes in a wireless future, so that’s the future we will inhabit.

Jaybird is poised to swoop in and take advantage of the situation with its line of sporty headphones. The new Jaybird X3, priced at $129.99 and available starting today from Jaybird’s website, costs less than its immediate predecessor (the X2) and its more fashion-forward sibling, the svelte Jaybird Freedom. (The X3 should hit stores in November.)

The X3 headphones deliver eight hours of music on a charge, according to Jaybird. Twin 6mm drivers deliver pounding sound. And the new earbuds measure 34 percent smaller than the ones in the X2, making the updated version compatible with full-face helmets.

Jaybird X3 isn’t ‘one size fits all’

The Jaybird X3 comes in basic black as well as some more vibrant colors.
The Jaybird X3 comes in basic black as well as some more vibrant colors.
Images: Jaybird

The Jaybird X3 won’t fall out of your ears, even if you’re doing backflips on your motocross bike, Oehlerking insists. He also says they are “completely sweatproof” (thanks to a “hyydrophobic nano coating”) so they’re perfect for kicking out the jams while you’re kicking ass at whatever type of sports or exercise you enjoy.

“We want to bring music to where you sweat,” he said.

So, how does Jaybird ensure its sporty Bluetooth headphones won’t pop out of your ears at an inappropriate time? Unlike Apple’s delayed AirPods, a thin wire connects the X3 earbuds to each other, so they won’t go skittering across the floor independent of one another.

And then there’s Jaybird’s patented Secure-Fit system. Each set of the earbuds comes with an assortment of ear tips (silicone and memory foam, in three sizes each). Wild-looking silicone fins, also included, can be attached to the earbuds to wedge themsecurely into your outer ear. And a pair of sizing clips let you adjust the length of the wire for the perfect fit, whether you wear the X3 headphones over or under your ears.

“We really don’t believe in a ‘one size fits all’ approach,” Oehlerking said.

Taking the time to try various sizes of the earbuds, and customize the fit to your preferred way of wearing the X3 earbuds, takes a bit of time investment, Oehlerking admits. But it’s worth it.

“It’ll pay massive dividends,” he said.

An inline mic lets you take calls (or ask Siri for help) as with most headphones these days.

Jaybird headphones: Optimized for sports

The Jaybird X3 headphones: Built with sports in mind.
The Jaybird X3 headphones: Built with sports in mind.
Photos: Jaybird

Founded a decade ago, Jaybird’s approach to design is “always grounded in ‘What’s the best for sports?'” said Oehlerking.

“We really were just a bunch of sports nuts,” he said. The quest to come up with a Bluetooth headset that sounded good — and didn’t make you look like an idiot while you listened to your favorite tunes — led them to the X series, which helped Jaybird become the No. 3 wireless sports headphone maker.

“This has kind of been our iPod Classic,” Oehlerking said.

Testing the Jaybird X3 Bluetooth headphones

I’m no extreme sports junkie, but I did try the new Jaybird headphones in a couple of environments. At home, I paired them to my Apple TV and got on the elliptical. They stayed snugly on my head and delivered decent sound (although at 15 feet away, I got a little bit of Bluetooth crackup).

In the office, paired to my Mac, they proved scary good: At one point, a YouTube ad started playing and I actually jumped. The lifelike sound of a woman’s voice came through so clearly that I thought somebody had snuck up on me.

Again at home, paired to my iPhone, the X3 headphones delivered satisfyingly great audio, especially after playing around with Jaybird’s excellent MySound app. The free app lets you choose from a variety of equalizer presets so you get the sound you want. You can customize any existing sound-sculpting setting, or create your own, and save the setting to the X3 earbuds so it follows you wherever you connect them.

The free MySound app lets you quickly customize the X3 headphones' EQ settings.
The free MySound app lets you quickly customize the X3 headphones’ EQ settings.
Image: Jaybird

MySound also tells you how much charge your X3 headphones have left — a welcome addition to the cheerful voice prompts you’ll hear when you turn on the earbuds. All in all, it’s a beautiful little app that makes EQ intuitive and fun. You can even share your settings with others.

Bottom line: The Jaybird X3 sounds great. And once you’ve got them dialed in, they feel comfortable and surprisingly secure, even after hours in your ears. They lack some of the advanced features AirPods promise, but really the only negative is a slightly fiddly Micro-USB charger that attaches to the inline control pad.

If you’re into sports, or even if you’re just into music, these Bluetooth headphones will let you cut the cord and soar into the wireless future.