These futuristic wireless earbuds just beat Apple’s AirPods at their own game

Sometime in the past two years, the tech industry decided that headphones should be fully wireless.

The Bragi Dash blew up Kickstarter with the promise of headphones with touch controls, fitness tracking, and motion sensors. The word “hearables” came into existence. Headphone jacks were murdered. New wireless audio tech emerged.

And through it all, the wave of truly wireless earbuds – some of them simple, some of them like miniature computers – has grown and grown. It’s not stopping.

There’s just one problem: None of these gadgets are any good.

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What’s available today is consistently plagued by poor battery life and brutally choppy connections. Using them is an exercise in caution – you can’t bury your phone too deep in your pockets, or put your hand over its antennas, or swing your arms too far while running, because any unsettling of the equilibrium could cut your music off at the knees.

You can’t just wear them. Plus they’re expensive.

And those are just the ones that’ve actually come out. The likes of Apple and Doppler Labs have had to delay their highly anticipated pairs to keep from suffering the same issues. It is simply very difficult to pack the necessary electronics into a design this small with any competence.

But Bragi has done it. No, not with the sensor-loaded Dash, but with The Headphone, the German startup’s second pair of truly wireless in-ear headphones. Yes, that’s their name. They cost $149 ($10 less than Apple’s AirPods), are expected to ship this month, and strip back most of the Dash’s smarts to focus on the fundamentals. For the most part, they nail it. Let’s take a look.

Update (1/16/17) : After a delay that pushed back the shipping time of most Headphone units by a few weeks, Bragi on Satuday said that the earbuds are now available for immediate ordering. As of this writing, the product listing page says new orders will ship within two weeks. The original review follows.


The Headphone is still a pair of fully wireless earbuds, and fully wireless earbuds are still new to society. You’ll look a little odd while wearing them. For what they are, though, they’re not ugly.

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Bragi put some computer bits and a few on-device controls in here, so the earphones are still on the larger side. The fact that one earbud flashes whenever it’s connected isn’t exactly subtle either.

That said, neither earbud feels flimsy, even if they’re mostly plastic, and their all-black finish looks way less goofy than the candy cigarette-esque AirPods. I grew less self-conscious wearing them over time.


They’re comfortable enough, too — though, as always, you may need to fiddle with the included eartips to find the best fit.

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There are three of those tips in total: small and medium rubber pairs, and a large foam pair. The foam ones worked best for me, and once they were in, they created a tight, noise-blocking seal.

I could wear them for hours at a time without irritation, though they’re nothing amazing in that regard. And while they stayed in fine while running, Bragi says they’re only “sweatproof,” not full-on waterproof.


On the side of the right earbud is a trio of physical, multifunctional controls. They are much more convenient than futilely swiping at a tiny touchpad, and they don’t get thrown off by the wind to boot.

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You’ve got buttons for volume up, volume down, and play/pause. With the third, you can skip tracks forward and backward, or hold it down to talk to Siri or Google Now.

This is just quieter and more dependable than being forced to use touch or voice, a la the AirPods. You can do much of what you need to do without pulling your phone out of your pocket.

The only problem is that pressing anything here means pushing the earbud deeper into your ear canal. This is incredibly awkward, and mildly painful if you’re not careful.

I’d say the build is still a net positive, but it goes to show that baking any sort of controls into something with this little real estate is a challenge that hasn’t been totally solved.

Along those same lines: The mics aren’t great. Calls sound shoddy, and talking to Siri usually means having to enunciate. This isn’t a deal breaker, but it’s another sacrifice to space.


Pairing The Headphone isn’t terribly difficult, but it’s still a Bluetooth headphone.

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There’s no W1-style smoothness here, but The Headphone does remember past devices, and will occasionally connect to them automatically.

It’s spotty, though – sometimes you don’t have to do anything beyond turning the earphones on, other times you have to dig into your Bluetooth settings.

In any case, I never had an issue with it refusing to connect. It wasn’t a pain.


Once you have The Headphone paired, its connection stays relatively steady. This is a big deal.

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It’s not flawless, but it’s reliable enough to not be an issue. This is the first truly wireless earbud I can really say that about.

Seriously: I originally wanted this article to be a buying guide to truly wireless earbuds, but the eight other pairs I tried were just too unstable to consider. There’s a reason Apple is struggling to get the AirPods ready. It is extremely hard to pull this off in a commercial product.

Whatever sensors Bragi had to ditch to keep the connection from going haywire, it was worth it. I could simply go about my everyday life – with my phone stashed in a pocket, thrown in a bag, held on a run, whatever – and the Bluetooth link stayed good enough.

Future Bluetooth updates should make these concerns null and void, but for now, this is a breakthrough for the category. They work.


The Headphone is also the longest-lasting fully wireless earphone I’ve used.

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The Headphone’s case.
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Bragi rates the earbuds as lasting six hours. In my testing, I usually got closer to five and a half, but I tend to play things loud (don’t be like me), and I made liberal use of Bragi’s audio transparency trick (more in a sec). If you’re more conservative, you can definitely get there.

Is six hours good in a vacuum? No, not when some full-size wireless cans are pushing 40 hours. But compared to the 2-4 hours you get on most of its competitors – or five or so with the AirPods – it’s efficient.

Recharging them isn’t as convenient, though. With pairs like the Dash or Samsung’s Gear IconX, the carrying case doubles as a backup battery. That’s not the case here. Unless you’ve got a particularly long commute ahead of you, though, you should be fine.


Headphones are still made for listening to music, though, and it’s there where The Headphone is fine. Not great, not terrible, just fine.

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The biggest loser in the Great Headphone Jack Massacre of 2016 is and has always been audiophiles. A wired earphone like the 1More Triple Driver sounds miles better than The Headphone, despite costing $50 less. You simply cannot get the same level of clarity and depth with this design right now.

Taking those limitations into account, though, The Headphone has a balanced, unobjectionable sound that’s lacking in space and transparency, but is rarely harsh. It favors the mids over deep bass or edgey treble, so it doesn’t have the most exciting sound, but it isn’t totally dull either. With either the foam or rubber tips, it’s just…fine.

If you want a comparison, it’s a bit tidier than, let’s say, Apple’s wired EarPods. It’s not $149 good, but it’s good enough for most, for better or worse.


Compared to the Dash, The Headphone has no active noise cancellation, no app support, no fitness tracking, no heart rate monitoring, and no onboard storage. What it does keep, though, is the Dash’s “audio transparency” mode, which is totally wild, if a bit flawed.

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Essentially, this lets you have your own background music. Hold down the volume up button, and the mics on the side of The Headphone will pick up whatever is happening around you, then filter that sound back through the earbuds, alongside whatever song or podcast you’re listening to. You hear both.

It’s something you really have to try to understand, and Bragi isn’t alone in creating this – but man, it is something. Say you’re at the cash register in a convenience store, or you’re on the subway while the conductor makes an announcement, or you want to get in the zone at work without totally ignoring your coworkers. This lets you address the world without having to remove or pause anything.

As these “hearables” get smarter, the end goal is to make it so you never have to remove your headphones. Is that dystopian? Probably. Can tech like this be useful? Yeah.

Bragi’s implementation is simplistic – higher pitches often sound a bit processed, and lower pitches can get drowned out. But once you use it, you can see why people are so big on the whole in-ear computer idea.


The Headphone is solid in its own right, but excellent against the low expectations of today’s truly wireless market. If you want to go cable-free today, it’s the only fully wireless pair worth buying.

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The question now is whether or not it’s worth living this cable-free dream in the first place. You’ll still get better sound, steadier connections, and longer battery life with a more traditional Bluetooth pair.

Then there’s the sheer awkwardness of using them – the form factor is inherently weird, and it’s hard not to look like a goof taking 30 seconds just to get them in or out of their case.

But, technically speaking, The Headphone is the first pair of truly wireless earbuds that don’t make you feel like a beta tester. They are the only ones I’ve tried that blend connection consistency, respectable battery life, solid sound quality, and genuine smarts without imploding in any one area.

If you must jump aboard the hearable train early, this is your new first choice.