Jaybird Run wireless earbuds give runners an AirPods alternative

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With its new Run headphones, Jaybird finally cuts the cord entirely.
With its new Run headphones, Jaybird finally cuts the cord entirely.
Photo: Jaybird

Sports-centric wireless headphone maker Jaybird is ready to make a run at AirPods.

The company just fired the starting gun for Jaybird Run, a set of totally wireless earbuds aimed at runners and other sports fanatics. They’re bigger than AirPods, and differ in significant ways. But for runners and other athletes, they could offer keen competition for Cupertino’s wireless earbuds.

The goal is to make sure users experience “no compromise at all during your run,” said Delphine Donné-Crock, Jaybird’s general manager, during a demo at the Cult of Mac office.

That means a secure fit, something that AirPods fail to deliver for some users. And also comfort: “You can hardly feel you have it in,” said Donné-Crock.

Jaybird made its name with its X3 and Freedom Bluetooth earbuds, which came with wires connecting the twin earpieces.

Jaybird Run earbuds cut they cord but retain the comfort and sound quality of the other models. They come with a selection of silicone tips to make them as comfortable as possible for a variety of ear canals. (Oval tips typically fit better in smaller ear canals, while round ones work better for large ear canals, Jaybird said.)

As with previous Jaybird earbuds, bendy silicone fins “lock” them into the crevices of the ear. That provides extra protection from a pricey earbud popping out on a trail or on a ski slope.

Jaybird Run earbuds: Made for runners

These Jaybird Run wireless headphones don't look anything like AirPods.
These wireless headphones don’t look anything like AirPods.
Photo: Jaybird

Releasing truly wireless earphones is Jaybird’s way of keeping pace with Cupertino’s hit earbuds. Although Apple won’t say how many AirPods it has sold, CEO Tim Cook called them a “runaway success.” And demand remains so high that AirPods shipping times still mean a two-week wait, minimum.

Aside from the customizable sizing, Jaybird Run wireless headphones differ from AirPods on several key fronts.

First, there’s the design. Much like Bragi’s headphones or Nuheara’s IQbuds, Jaybird Run fills your entire earhole with a chunk of metal and plastic the size of a largish stuffed olive. No dangling white ear-fangs here.

Jaybird Run headphones also come in two colors: Drift (white) and Jet (black), both of which have a stainless steel antenna around them and silver metallic accents.

Second, the Jaybird Run blocks out more ambient sound than AirPods. There’s no way to adjust that, either, unlike some competitors’ products. If you need to hear what’s going on around you — say, when you jogging through busy city streets — you can wear the right Run solo, but not the left.

Third, Jaybird Run’s user interface consists of buttons on the left and right buds. You’ll be pressing them in a variety of patterns to invoke Siri (or Google Assistant, if you swing that way), play and pause music, accept phone calls, pair the buds to new devices, etc.

Fourth, there’s the price. Retailing at $179.99, Jaybird Run actually costs more than AirPods.

Jaybird Run battery life

The Run’s battery life falls short of AirPods, at least on paper. Jaybird says each headphone delivers “four hours of music on a single charge” (Apple claims five hours for AirPods). Jaybird says its charging case provides an extra eight hours of juice; Apple claims 24 hours.

A five-minute top-off offers an hour of juice, according to Jaybird, while Apple says 15 minutes will get you three hours with AirPods. (Cult of Mac is currently testing Jaybird Run. Expect a full review later.)

Three tiny lights on the outside of the Jaybird Run case — which is black, and much larger than the AirPods’ dental floss doppelgänger — clearly indicate the charging status.

Jaybird Run app

While no third-party wireless earbuds can compete with Apple’s built-in support for AirPods, the Jaybird app offers cool customizable equalization. A Find My Buds feature mimics iOS’ Find My AirPods functionality. The app even cues up sharing of Spotify playlists with other Jaybird owners.

Jaybird also makes connecting and operating the earbuds quick and easy, with spoken cues that walk you through Bluetooth pairing and other common tasks.

“We try to make it as simple as possible,” said Jaybird’s Donné-Crock.

As you’d expect for sporty headphones, they work with gloves and function in extreme environments. They’re also sweat-proof and water-resistant.

“You can forget it in Alaska in the car and they will still work,” Donné-Crock said.

Jaybird Freedom gets an update, too

While not "truly" wireless, the Freedom 2 earbuds work with Jaybird's cool app.
While not “truly” wireless, the Freedom 2 earbuds work with Jaybird’s cool app.
Photo: Jaybird

Jaybird is also updating its Freedom earphones line. For the Freedom 2, the company focused on improving the original, which is a lightweight version of the popular Jaybird X3.

The main goal seems to have been making fitting quicker and easier. The Freedom 2 comes with ear tips and fins combined rather than two separate pieces that could make for a confusing array of options. The fins are made of softer silicone, and the tips come in a slightly oval shape.

Comfort and security for runners remain the key goals for Freedom 2, which retails for $149.

The easy-fit system of interchangeable tips and fins “really gives you that lock, and you don’t have to worry about it,” said Donné-Crock.

Jaybird Run and Jaybird Freedom 2 earbuds will be available for preorder today from the Jaybird, Best Buy and Amazon websites. The earbuds should ship worldwide in October, according to Jaybird.