Bragi The Headphone true wireless earbuds review

Bragi's wireless earbuds are here, and they're great

Bragi’s The Headphone are the best AirPods alternative you can buy.
Bragi’s The Headphone are the best AirPods alternative you can buy.
Bragi’s The Headphone are the best AirPods alternative you can buy.

Highs

  • Excellent sound quality
  • Rock solid connection
  • Light and comfy design
  • Class-leading six hours playback time
  • Affordable

Lows

  • No battery case means less freedom
  • Inconvenient on-board controls

Bragi’s first-ever true wireless in-ear headphones, The Dash, were perhaps the most advanced earbuds ever created, packing in sensors, gyroscopes, and a mountain of other tech. Unfortunately, they didn’t execute their primary function – namely playing music — very well, serving as a sort of cautionary tale about biting off more than you can chew. Now Bragi’s back with the impressive (and brashly named) The Headphone, true wireless in-ears that shed many of their predecessor’s features but, more importantly, also fix many of their failings.

Slimmed down and packing great sound, consistent connectivity, and an industry-leading six hours of playback per charge, The Headphone smartly trade that mountain of features for a design that’s much simpler and more affordable. Along with all that trimmed fat, however, Bragi has also trimmed a staple of the genre: The charging case that allows you to refuel your earbuds while on the go. Is that enough to pass them up? The short answer is no, but follow along as we detail exactly what you get — and what you give up — in Bragi’s new wireless wonders.

Out of the box

If simplicity is The Headphone’s mantra, nothing says it more clearly than the packaging. A slim rectangle barely larger than the contents within, the box opens to reveal a strikingly familiar black metal case with a shoe-string lanyard attached to the inner shell — Bragi’s press images show pretty, young models wearing The Headphone like a necklace, but we’d liken that coolness factor to cell phone holsters.

Aside from that, the biggest stand-out feature here is the lack of any battery-life indicator on the case itself — the first indication that the case isn’t a portable charging station like so many of its ilk. Inside the case, the earbuds peak out from foam circlets revealing a three-button control pad on the right bud, while the left is blank, save a microphone vent.

A tiny box of accessories continues the minimalist theme, with a small selection of eartips (one set of Comply foam tips included ) and a short USB to micro-USB charging cable. The Comply tips mold to fit, but the silicone option fit our ears perfectly.

Setup

Setup is a bit tricky, but armed with our knowledge it should be a breeze. Pairing is done by holding the power key for three seconds, and then selecting “Bragi HP” from your device’s Bluetooth settings. The hard part is powering them on later without accidentally setting them to re-pair, which is accomplished by a one-second hold. The trick is to instead wait for a solid LED to appear and immediately pull the pressure. It works, but we’d rather have a switch.

Once paired, The Headphone will auto-connect when powered on and auto-power down when charging.

Features and design

Though their design is thinner and lighter, The Headphone earbuds look strikingly similar to The Dash, carved in black plastic with vented microphone slots which allow you to hear the world around you, even while pumping tunes. That’s called Transparency Mode, and it’s one of the few lifestyle features carried over from The Dash.

The earpieces have vented microphone slots which allow you to hear the world around you.

To engage Transparency Mode, and all other features, you’ll need to learn to love the awkward three-key control center on the right earpiece. It’s meant to mimic the three-button system on most in-line headphone microphones, with a plus key and minus key for volume control, and a power/multi-function key, but it doesn’t work as smoothly.

We’re mixed on the new design, which trades The Dash’s touch controls for tactile keys; The buttons are much more accurate, but pressing them with the ‘buds in your ears can put even more pressure on your inner ear than before.

The keys tend to soften over time, however, and using a fingernail was much easier than a fingertip. Along with volume, the plus and minus keys activate and deactivate Transparency Mode respectively by holding each for a second. The power/multi key can skip songs, take/end calls, and engage Siri/Google Voice. In the end, we still prefer the keys to the hit-or-miss tapping required to activate The Dash’s features, but frankly, the less you need to use them the better.

Bragi The Headphone true wireless earphones
Bill Roberson/Digital Trends
Bill Roberson/Digital Trends

A few other interesting quirks to note about The Headphone’s features: It may seem like The Headphone share a function commonly found in other wireless earbuds in which they pause music once one of the earbuds is removed, but they don’t. Instead, pulling the right earpiece appears to set off a proximity sensor which cuts music only in the left ‘bud. That’s key, because music will keep playing when you pull the ‘buds out. The buds will automatically shut off when placed on their charging sensors, but only if the case is plugged in. Otherwise, they will just keep on rocking, and kill the battery. As such, we suggest keeping the case plugged in when possible, while being sure to power The Headphone down when you’re on the go.

Comfort

The Headphone are extremely light compared to their predecessor, and also quite comfortable. They stay put very well for their size, and are but imperceptible when you’ve had them in for a few minutes. Tying that into the wireless design is more freeing than even we expected, making the earbuds remarkably convenient to use at your desk or on the go.

Daily performance

Unlike so many true wireless earbuds we’ve tried, The Headphone just work. We had virtually zero dropouts over the course of multiple days of listening, even when wandering away from our phone, proving Bragi has solved its Bluetooth connection woes. Thanks in part to NXP’s latest Near Field Magnetic Induction tech — which links the buds together for stereo sound — we also had zero sync problems, resulting in solid stereo playback.

The ‘buds stay in place well, and all but disappear in your ears.

Battery life is also excellent, lasting all of the claimed six hours in our testing, if not more. That’s a very good thing because, as mentioned, these ‘buds are hamstrung by their lack of a charging case. How important that is to you will depend on how you use the ‘buds: If they’re mainly an office companion, while accompanying you on your daily commute or workout (the buds are sweat resistant, though not waterproof like The Dash) they’ll work well. But traveling too far from an outlet will reduce their viability greatly, unlike Apple’s AirPods, which offer as much as 24 hours of charge time packed in the case.

That said, true wireless earbuds are in their toddler stage, so you’ve got to adjust expectations for now, and packing double the playback time of most competitors (aside from the AirPods) is no small feat. Remember, most other true wireless earbuds not only cost twice as much, but also require charging after three hours of playback, battery case or no, meaning once those three hours are up your music is on pause.

Audio performance

The Headphone’s quirks, including the lack of a battery case, are a lot more forgivable once you actually hear them. In short, for $150 wireless earbuds they sound excellent. Audio is full and pulpy in the bass and lower midrange, clear and relatively well detailed in the middle, and capable, if not a bit rolled off in the upper register for a smooth and engaging sound.

bragi the headphone true wireless earphones review 1
Rich Shibley/Digital Trends
Rich Shibley/Digital Trends

The soundstage, while a bit compact, is also extremely well separated, allowing you to hear clearly defined instrumental timbres and stereo placement, even when the buds are pumping out a menagerie of sounds. Unlike many other true wireless ‘buds we’ve tried, the stereo image is solid and well-defined, and overall, the sound signature is just extremely accessible.

The soundstage is extremely well separated, allowing you to hear clearly defined instrumental timbres.

If forced to raise some quibbles, we’ll jump on that treble region, which simply doesn’t offer the sparkle and airy presence of pricier earbuds. In addition, the upper midrange can sound a bit strident and buzzy at times, especially when rendering lighter recordings of piano and electric guitar. Pink Floyd’s Sorrow, for instance, features distorted electric guitars that offer more crunchy buzz-saw tone than the richer resonance we’re used to. Similarly, piano in lighter tracks like The Stones’ She Comes in Colors, comes off with a bit of an electronic keyboard clarity, sounding lighter and thinner than we’d like.

However, well produced recordings, from The Beatles’ Martha My Dear to Regina Spektor’s The Calculation, recreate piano with rich, earthy resonance, while lower instruments like bass guitar, kick drums and lower brass are displayed in warm flavors that scratch that sonic itch in all the right places. While bass heads may wish for a bit more authority, we loved the balance employed here, keeping everything in check while offering some vibrancy and power down low when it’s called for.

When it comes to call quality, the buds aren’t great, but they get the job done which is more than we can say for The Dash. Frankly, we’re on the phone so little these days that it didn’t come up often, but you may want to save long catch-ups for your wired option.

Our Take

While not without their faults, namely the lack of a charging case, Bragi’s The Headphone are an impressive and affordable new offering in the true wireless marketplace. With the possible exception of Apple’s AirPods, Bragi’s latest outpace the competition with good, old -ashioned consistency and quality, and also stand among the most comfortable wireless earbuds we’ve encountered. In moving from The Dash to The Headphone, Bragi has traded a heaving swing for the fences with a solid double here, not only getting on base, but also setting up the go-ahead run for the company’s inevitable next effort.

How long will it last

Sweat proofing and solid build quality should keep The Headphone ticking as long as other in-ears in their price class. Though we wish the light plastic shells felt a bit more robust, that would have added weight, and they feel solid enough for their price point. A standard one-year warranty for replacement or repair due to product defects is offered.

What are the alternatives

As you’ve no doubt guessed, the biggest competition comes from Apple’s similarly priced AirPods, which offer better battery life when you include the charging case, but sound quality doesn’t match up. The Headphone offer clearer sound with better detail and balance, and more presence in the midrange and treble. Which product you prefer depends upon those factors, as well as whether or not you dig the AirPods’ golf-tee design, which feels less comfortable and more obtrusive to our ears.

Other true wireless options include Eratu’s Apollo 7, which offer similar sound quality but perhaps less connection consistency, as well as a wealth of forthcoming options, including Doppler Labs’ Here One, which ships in February. However, most of those products will cost you about double what you’ll pay for The Headphone.

Should you buy it

If you’re mad about going truly wireless but you don’t want to break the bank, then definitely buy The Headphone. While true wireless earphones have a long way to go to match up to their tethered colleagues, early adopters will find a smooth transition in The Headphone thanks to solid connection, great sound quality and comfort, and a very nice price.