It is a very, very rare occasion that I find it necessary to call out a company on a product. This is one such instance.
If you've ever experienced Bluetooth headphones, you know what I mean when I say they can certainly be worth a little bit of extra hassle. Even with dropouts and battery life issues, not having a cord to hinder your workout or tether you to a desk makes life a lot more convenient. It really changes the way you function with music, podcasts, etc. I happen to run six days a week. I also listen to music while at my desk all day. So having quality, reliable headphones is a must.
So when I discovered the Jaybird Bluebuds X headphones, I thought for sure I'd found aural nirvana. I purchased a set and raced home to fit them to my head and ears (it can be a lot of trial and error), paired them to my device (a Motorola Moto X ... which was incredibly easy), and took off for a run.
The sound was glorious. The ease of use ... a delight.
That wonderful relationship with the first pair went on for about a month. Then one day, while out for a run, the headphones buzzed and died. I assumed they'd just run out of battery, so I finished my run, returned home, and plugged them back into my PC to charge. The next day, I prepped for my outing to find the Bluebuds wouldn't turn on. No matter what I did, even with a full charge, I got nothing. So I contacted Jaybird. Their customer support was fantastic. Within minutes I had an RMA and that day I sent the defective pair off. In about a week the replacement arrived. I set them up and took off for a nice sweaty run.
Like the first pair, the second pair lasted about a month.
The third pair (one they claimed had a double coating of Liquipel), three weeks.
The fourth pair, one week.
I have now requested an RMA for my fifth pair. That'll be five pairs of headphones in four months. What will I do with them when they arrive? I haven't the slightest idea. But I certainly won't do anything with them that might involve sweating. Maybe I'll use them in a temperature controlled room ... or while sleeping (the sweat-free options abound).
Did I mention the product has a lifetime guarantee against sweat? That's right. These babies are guaranteed against sweat.
I believe Jaybird's idea of lifetime guarantee is simply replacing them when they die.
And replacing. And replacing. And replacing.
Now, before I opted to come out with this information, I decided to do a bit of research and see if others were having the same issue. Turns out, this problem is rampant. I confronted customer support on this and they said, "We sell so many of these, there are bound to be returns." That is no balm for consumers looking to not have to visit FedEx every other week.
They've had four returns from me to date. I've found numerous instances where others are on their fourth and fifth returns. What happens after that? Most likely consumers wind up getting frustrated with the product and give up. What is interesting about this is that the company claims they have numerous elite athletes running multiple marathons without problem.
I get that there will be faulty products manufactured within a run. But my experience speaks very clearly that this isn't an anomaly. This is a fundamentally flawed product that is held up only by a lifetime warranty and customer service that must be (and is) up to the task of handling frustrated customers. That tells me the product costs pennies to produce and, in the end, it's more cost effective for Jaybird to just keep sending replacement units instead of taking the product back to the design room.
But there's hope. In one of the many posts I read regarding this issue, a user mentioned that Jaybird informed them they would be releasing an update that will address the issue. Clearly this "update" isn't in the form of firmware. This update will come via a hardware update and, at some point in the RMA process, users will be shipped the newer version. This is, to me, a bit too little too late. The product has been out since 2012 and the company is only now addressing its utter failure. In my most recent communication with Jaybird, I was unable to confirm that they are working on an update—so this could be nothing more than a rumor.
On the upside, the Jaybird customer support has been stupendous. In fact, after all of this, they finally offered me my fifth pair as well as a full refund for the purchase price (to make up for the many inconveniences I've endured with the product). That says a lot about the company ... but not the product.
At this point, Jaybird should be looking down the barrel of the soon to be released The Dash, by Bragi. Should Jaybird fail to re-invent the Bluebuds X product before The Dash is released it will be game over.
The sports tech market is huge and will only continue to grow alongside all that is mobility. At the moment, the available options for high-quality Bluetooth headphones (ones that can withstand the rigors of exercise) are slim. If you're looking for a reliable solution to meet your demanding Bluetooth headphone needs, I highly recommend waiting until Bragi releases The Dash. It'll be a costlier product, but I believe the end results will be well worth the price of admission. Bragi has done extensive testing and research on the product. I've contacted them with my issues regarding the Bluebuds and they assure me sweat will not be an issue with The Dash.
It's a shame that the situation has come to this. I've most always had a policy of being kind in reviews...but that kindness ends when I feel a fundamentally flawed product is being pawned off onto unwitting consumers. Yes, Jaybird offers some of the best customer support I've ever experienced—by design it has to be that good, otherwise the company would have collapsed under the weight of the court of public opinion (or, worse, a class action lawsuit).
Have you experienced a similar situation with a product not living up to its claims on the level of the Jaybird Bluebuds? If so, sound off here in the comments.
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Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website jackwallen.com.