They’re not headphones! Bragi describes its Dash and Dash Pro as wearable computers, which means before you dive into our Bragi Dash Pro review, a little background is in order.
Bragi’s first “hearable,” last year’s fully wireless Dash, promised to track exercise, respond to gestures, and even had a “transparency mode” that selectively lets outside sound in. With multiple sensors, “micro components,” and a waterproof design that was both flashy and elegant, they were unlike anything we’d ever tested. Unfortunately, as our Dash review concluded, they also came with some serious limitations, including buggy functionality, poor call quality, and connection issues. To quote Spaceballs, “Even in the future nothing works!”
But Bragi didn’t bail. Promising a better connection, flashy new features, and nearly double the battery life, the Dash Pro are Bragi’s second shot at evolving headphones. Are they finally ready to deliver?
Out of the box
Inside a black and yellow box, the Dash Pro come packed in a drawer alongside containers for their accessories. Like the original, the Dash Pro arrive nestled within a sturdy metal charging case, the beaded black buds mounted on magnetic chargers.
Those who have ponied up for the Dash Pro Tailored by Starkey ($499, plus a visit to a Starkey-authorized audiologist for gooey imprints of your ear) will get a few added perks, including a monogrammed shell for the charging case, monogrammed nameplates on the buds, and of course, custom-molded earpieces.
Both the tailored and standard Dash Pro ($329) ship with a tiny microUSB charging cable, but the two deviate in other accessories. The standard Dash Pro come with removable FitSleeves and tips to conform to your ears and keep out water. The fitted pair come with tiny replaceable earwax guards called Hear Clear filters – Starkey uses the same style in its hearing aids. They require cleaning with a toothbrush (never a Q-Tip, according to Bragi) and replacement over time, and they’re hell to put back in if you drop one.
Hang on to that manual
With so much tech, you might think setting up the Dash Pro would be complicated and challenging — and you’d be right. Bragi promises “a simple one-touch setup” for the Dash Pro, but the instruction manual and experience say otherwise.
Getting started requires charging the headphones and case in your computer, downloading the Bragi updater, installing the Bragi app for Android or iOS, and even jabbing a paperclip into the case, all leading up to that “one touch.”
These are the most complicated to configure wireless earbuds we’ve ever encountered.
We were then finally able to connect to the Dash Pro in our phone’s Bluetooth menu, but there’s a snag there, too. The Dash Pro connect to your phone in two ways: The left bud connects to Bluetooth LE (Low Energy) to send sensor data to Bragi’s app, while the right connects via your phone’s Bluetooth menu directly for audio. If you connect to the wrong one, you’ll see an “X” after the “Dash Pro” in your phone’s Bluetooth menu.
Whoops. We got it wrong the first time, but after some more paperclip pin-holing to reset and re-pairing, we were finally ready to jam! But no, it turns out we weren’t. Our first pair was a dud, and Bragi had to send another pair.
Even setting aside the defect, the Dash Pro are just too finicky to setup. These are the most complicated to configure wireless earbuds we’ve ever encountered, and we have tested dozens.
On the road
Taking the Dash Pro out and about is the best way to understand their appeal. They turned plenty of heads on the bus, and we even ended up giving a tutorial to one fascinated rider. With the phone in our pocket and control at our fingertips, we really got that futuristic feeling.
To start with, you never need to turn the Dash Pro on or off, the buds simply rest in the charger when not in use, and turn on when inserted. A familiar female voice tells you when they’ve connected, and announces other alerts.
You control the headphones with taps, swipes, and in a futuristic twist, head movements. The sensors pickup head movements for fielding calls with just a nod or shake, and after calibrating it in the app, you can add other functions like skipping songs or navigating menus. There’s even a “Virtual 4D Menu” that’s all gestures. While it’s definitely cool in theory, accuracy wasn’t always consistent in practice. At times, we had to head-bang pretty hard to get the Dash Pro to read movements.
If you would prefer not to violently nod in public, the Dash Pro also have tiny touch panels. Swiping forward or backward on the right earbud controls volume quite well, though the max volume is lower than we’d like, requiring you to turn up your phone often. Swiping on the left bud controls Transparency mode, which conveniently allows you to monitor the world around you while you rock out. It’s especially useful for the custom pair, which offer excellent passive noise isolation. Swiping down on the left bud initiates a “wind shield,” but it’s hard to activate, and it pops and clicks in heavy wind. If wind is fierce, you’re better off just leaving Transparency off. It isn’t great for busy locales (or windy streets) where sharp exterior sounds tend to bombard your ears.
While a bit less accurate, the tap controls also work relatively well: Single, double, and triple taps control playback, while a quick hold calls up Siri. The app also allows you to add in more functions. Tapping or holding the left bud is less relevant, used mostly for hearing workout data. There’s also a “cheek tap” feature which can call up Siri, among other things, but we only ever got that working once.
Running the company’s new Bragi OS 3, the updated app is more functional than ever, from customizing controls to reviewing workout stats. It’s a big improvement, though we still wish it was a little easier to find the basics — specifically the full list of controls, which can only be accessed by clicking outside the app.
Smarter than your average earbuds
Controls are novel, but the Dash Pro do much more than give you cute ways to pause your tunes.
Bragi’s new translation feature, a partnership with iTranslate, theoretically allows you to speak and understand up to 40 foreign languages in real time. It’s a very cool concept, but there are some serious hurdles at present, not the least of which is the fact that whomever you speak to will need their own Dash earbuds to carry out a conversation.
You’ll appreciate the Dash Pro more while working out, where the dozens of sensors prove their mettle.
Barring that, you can still use iTranslate with the buds, but you’ll need to pass your phone back and forth to communicate. Even then, iTranslate is spotty. A quick convo with our Spanish colleague was as frustrating as it was illuminating, with sentences frequently being misread or mistranslated.
You’ll appreciate the Dash Pro more while working out, where all those dozens of sensors prove their mettle. The system automatically catalogs stats like heart rate, distance, step count, speed, calories burned, and more with relative accuracy.
The coolest part is Auto Tracking, which can be set to turn on whenever you begin running, biking, or swimming (the Dash Pro are waterproof up to three feet for 30 minutes), and it actually works. The buds knew exactly when we started our workout, pausing and resuming at our whim, and they could sense our speed when we get on a bike within the first few pedals.
Audio performance and phone calls
Bragi has touted audio improvements for the Dash Pro, including bigger bass, but to our ears the boomier sound is a step back. We enjoyed the original Dash’s sound signature, which offers relatively impressive detail and well-balanced sound. In the new version, bass takes center stage – especially in the fitted version.
Bass heads will no doubt appreciate the added oomph, and it certainly brings some unbridled power to hip hop and rock tracks. However, it’s more bloated and forceful than we’d like, at times dominating the lower midrange. This may well be exaggerated in the Starkey model, as the custom seal affords little room for frequencies to escape, naturally enhancing the lower register. The result is sometimes akin to listening to a brass band with the tuba section lined up out front.
When bass is held in check, though, the lighter upper register does offer solid detail for wireless earbuds, providing a clean and relatively tight midrange, and some pleasant stereo spacing for subtler moments, like acoustic guitar slides or reverb splashes from side to side.
Call quality, which was dire on the Dash, has improved, especially for outgoing calls. Oddly enough, though, incoming voices were relegated almost entirely to the right earbud during testing. The left earbud also seemed to partially disconnect and reconnect between songs, or whenever volume got extremely low, emitting an audible clip. The bug eventually caused Bragi to send us yet another pair (that’s three if you’re counting), but due to supply issues we haven’t received it yet. We’ll update this review if they change our mind, but even owners of this flawed pair will only notice the blips if they’re listening very intently.
Despite this hiccup, we still experienced far fewer wireless disruptions than with the original Dash. But they’re not perfect. We heard a few signal cutouts walking outside with with the phone in our back pocket, as well as a few instances of the left earbud cutting out entirely.
The Dash Pro’s five-hour battery runtime is perhaps its biggest improvement, requiring us to charge the case only once during testing. They won’t display a battery icon on your phone like most new wireless buds, but instead Bragi offers a novel solution: You shake the buds to activate lighted rings on the outer shells, with blue, green, and red representing full, medium, and low. The charging case has its own LED indicator, too.
The Dash Pro have a one-year limited warranty, which the company says may differ by country and does not apply to accessories or “alterations due to normal wear and tear, or any other damages caused solely by the customer,” including failure to follow instructions. You can find out more at Bragi’s website.Our Take
Bragi’s new Dash Pro packs in even more features than the company’s original “wearable computer,” including nearly double the battery life, new gesture controls, and impressive workout functions. However, an extremely finicky setup process and bugs in the system cancel out many of the new benefits.
Is there a better alternative?
Those eyeing similarly futuristic features can check out the Here One from Doppler Labs, or Nuheara’s IQbuds. However, while those earbuds offer augmented audio that goes well beyond Bragi’s Transparency Mode, they don’t offer workout features. If you want a pair of true wireless buds for the workout grind, checkout Jabra’s more affordable Elite Sport true wireless buds, which offer fewer features, but are quick and easy to use.
Other alternatives include The Headphone, Bragi’s toned-down buds, or Apple’s AirPods, both of which offer great battery life and stellar performance for their affordable price points. If you’re dying for the Dash Pro, we’d advise against the custom-fitted version. Frankly, sound performance isn’t enhanced enough to justify the $170 upgrade, and while the fit is inherently near perfect, we never had issues with the original Dash there.
How long will it last?
That’s difficult to assess, seeing as we’ve had issues with two pairs already. That said, the headphones appear to be robustly built, and Bragi has exhibited great customer service.
Should you buy it?
Unless you just have to have the latest tech, no. Battery life, features, and overall connection have improved since the original, but so has the competition. While the Dash Pro show real promise, complicated setup and buggy functionality have us once again pressing pause on Bragi’s “hearable” future.