Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Jaybird Sport Vista Ear Buds Review: Rugged & Run Focused with Great Sound and Long Battery Life

Article by Jacob Brady with Sam Winebaum

Jaybird Vista ($180)

Jacob: Jaybird is a wireless sport headphone company “born on the trails,” designed for endurance athletics and marketed most specifically to runners. Jaybird makes exclusively headphones and has four models in their current line; the Vista is their only “true wireless” (each earbud is separate) model. The Vista emphasizes small size and durability and features a shock, dust, water, and sweat-proof IPX7-rated construction and entirely in-ear design. 

I received the black buds and Sam received the Planetary Design limited edition (only available through March or until sold out at Jaybird.

Sam: I have tested multiple Jaybird over the years. I must say their run focus was `promising” but never really fulfilled that promise from fit to performance. This said the sound was always excellent and approached my benchmark buds the bulky Bose FreeSport. With the Vista now lighter, with far longer battery life including each bud able to be used independently and with an increased emphasis on water, dust, and shock resistance as they have not only comply with the IPX 7 standard (completely submerged for 30 minutes) but also have rugged military MIL-STD 810G all conditions tested standard compliance.  I was intrigued to test them out and see if they were #Earthproof  as Jaybird says, and Sam Proof.
Jacob/Sam: Lightweight
Jacob/Sam High quality, Sport designed and sport durable
Jacob/Sam: Comfortable and secure fit
Jacob/Sam: Easy to use
Sam: Rich deep sound from tiny buds, superior to AirPods
Sam: Great battery life (up to 32 hours) for long adventures when going single bud

Jacob: Even smallest ear gel may be slightly large for some ear shapes
Sam: Price when head to head with AirPods which are $20 less, but likely worth it if run use focused.

Weight: 6g each
Battery Life:
Continuous use no recharge using case
Dual buds, both used: 6 hours + 10 hours with case
Single bud, eachused independently one at a time: 12 hours
Max bud battery life using case for recharge
Dual buds, both used simultaneously: 16 hours
Single bud, used independently one at a time: 32 hours
Charge time: 2 hours, 5 min. Rapid charge= 1 hour of play
IPX7 and MIL-STD810G standards: waterproof, sweatproof, dust, and shock proof
Full Tech Specs here
Available now. $180

First Impressions and Set Up
Jacob: From unboxing, it’s clear the Vista is a high-quality product. The design of the earbud and charging case is simple and aesthetic and the device has a reassuring weight to it—definitely quite light but not just hollow plastic. 
The box includes the earbuds, the charging case, three different size eargels, and a short USB-C cable. 
The charging case has a magnetic closure lid with a single LED to indicate charge status, a USB-C port for charging, and a button to enable bluetooth pairing. 
There is also a short braided cord with reflective accents for ease of transport/clipping to things. The case is small and light (I put it in my running tights for my first run and forgot about it), as well as durable enough; I already dropped the charging case with earbuds inside and it didn’t open or scratch.

There is no manual in the box; the included instructions are incredibly simple: press the bluetooth pairing button (the only button on the charging case), select the bluetooth device from your phone, then install and open the Jaybird app (in-depth guides continue there).

Fit and Security
Jacob: The Vista comes pre-installed with the size 2 eargels, the middle size. Jaybird recommends trying them on with this size then sizing down if they are uncomfortable and sizing up if they’re insecure. For me, the size 2 fit so well I could shake my head around vigorously and they fall out (but my hair did come out of it’s bun).

I tried the size 1 next and liked them even more: even less noticeable in the ear and almost as secure, still quite acceptably so. The great security was kind of surprising as when I put them in it didn’t feel like they locked-in, they just sat there but still held well.

The Vista earbuds fit into the ear, but they don’t “plug” into the canal as much as they just rest in the ear and cover the canal, as the rubber cup is wide enough that they don’t have to go deep inside to create a seal and this isn’t the only way they are held in. I’ve tried some earbuds where the rubber cup inserts almost like an earplug. Those had slightly more effective passive noise isolation but I find are too obtrusive and less comfortable, as well as prone to conducting sounds like hair brushing against the earbud or the cord rubbing on something. This effect is minimally present in the Vista though they still have good passive noise isolation (as much as I would want).

I took the Vista for a 2hr run as a first test and had absolutely no issues with security or discomfort. I only wore the left earbud since I was road running and wanted to hear the cars and didn’t notice it in my ear at all while running and it didn’t feel weird when I removed it after the run. The Vista is lightweight and has an exceptional fit.
Sam: I agree with Jacob: “The Vista is lightweight and has an exceptional fit.” I had no need to play with the other gels. Out of the box fine for me with no noticeable pressures but not quite the easy (and less secure) just hang them in your ear fit of the AirPods. 
 I appreciate the comfort and non slip grip provided by the rubberized coating all over the buds and the secure magnetic closure battery box.

Jaybird App
Jacob: The Jaybird app is not essential to using the Vista but provides helpful guides, device information, and customization options. The app contains a full usage guide detailing the steps including pairing and controls, troubleshooting, and tips for getting a good fit. There are video guides as well as the ability to take a picture of your ear with earbud inserted to compare to their model to assess your fit.
One of the primary features of the Jaybird app is the “presets” page, which provides a list of equalizer presets for personalizing the sound balance to your preferences or music style. 
You can also make and save your own preset by dragging points on a frequency curve. The changes are immediate so you can make them while listening to your desired music--it’s a nice, expressive user interface.
Other features include customizing the the earbud button behavior and enabling a “Find My Buds” tracking feature to assist in finding lost earbuds.

Sam: The app allows you to customize what a press of the bud does.
For maximum versatility I chose to have a single press wake up Siri. You can lower and raise volume, open your camera, pause music, etc...Once pressed Siri remains active and ready for commands.
Sound Quality
Jacob: The Vista has a crisp and full (given the 6mm driver) sound. Instrument separation is good, I can hear the different tracks in specific regions of the soundstage and they’re never muddled. I tried a mix of music including acoustic guitar and chill and upbeat electronic (I put the bass up a bit for this one). For an athletic headphone, they’re all I could ask for; when I’m on a run or working hard, if the Vista is lacking anything in sound quality, I definitely can’t tell.

If I’m listening to music in a non-athletic setting, I go for over-ear headphones with a driver almost as big as the Vista’s charging case, so there’s no comparison in fullness to that, but I’m easily bothered by excessively poor quality sound and find the Vista never lacking; overall quite good.

Sam: Sound is excellent with a rich deep quality that belies the small size of the Vista. Generally the larger the driver the richer sound from buds is with in particular deeper basses. So in the comparisons my Bose has the richest deepest sound but is huge in comparison to the Vista and not nearly as comfortable with the lighter AirPods a bit tinier than the Vista but lighter yet. It all comes down to a balance between comfort and sound quality and the Vista threads that needle very well.

On the Run Usability and Situational Awareness
Jacob: The outside-facing wall of each Vista earbud is a single, easy to press button. The controls are customizable in the Jaybird App, but by default (I left it like this), a single press is pause/play, double-tap is next track, and press and hold is turn off/on. On my entire two-hour test run, I didn’t press the button until I stopped the music at the end, I just let it play, smoothly and without skipping.

As I mentioned in the Fit and Security section, I only wore the left earbud for my test run as I was doing a road run on fairly travelled roads and wanted to easily hear the cars. Though the Vista does not have any active noise cancellation and the passive cancellation is strong enough that with music playing that I wouldn’t want to run with them both in on the road. I like being very aware of my surroundings, so I think this is a personal preference rather than a negative for the Vista. Overall, the passive noise isolation is at a good level; not too snug and isolating to hear your heart beating or things brushing the outside of the device, but enough to hear the music clearly. When there is no music playing, you can have a conversation, though it certainly isn’t clear.

Sam: The Vista is easy to use on the run with Siri enabled. I struggle with button pushes on the run. The button here is tactile and large but as with any button on a wireless bud a small and potentially movable target.
I am with Jacob on situational awareness here. If you run with both buds in for safety keep your volume low as very little ambient sound gets by the gels. You will hear great music but not much of your surroundings. On busy roads I would advise low volume or better yet the single bud option.

Connectivity and Battery Life
Jacob: The Vista paired quickly to both my iPhone XS and Garmin Forerunner 945 using Bluetooth. Switching between devices is seamless as the Vista remembers both; you never have to re-pair. The Vista turns off when put into the case and on when removed; they have paired with my phone immediately after being removed from the case without fail so far. If I’m ever unsure which device they are connected or if they’re disconnected, I just put them back in the case, take them out again, and they reconnect to my phone. It is impossible for pairing to be as fluid as using Apple AirPods with an iPhone, but it is fast with an easy first troubleshooting step (just put them back in the case then remove again) and I’ve had no issues so far.

The Vista can be used in single or dual bud mode. Each earbud has a battery life of 6 hours and the charging case provides an additional 10 hours. Jaybird notes that if you use only one bud and switch when to the other ear when it gets low, repeating this process until the charging case battery runs out, you’ll have 32 hours of uninterrupted usage.  I don’t race with headphones, but for those who do and don’t mind only having music in one ear, the Vista is a feasible choice for ultras of most lengths.

Conclusions and Recommendations
Jacob: The Vista is a polished product that performs exactly as desired. It fits comfortably and securely, connects easily to smartwatch and phone, has solid battery life, good sound quality, easy switching between buds, and looks sleek. The Jaybird app provides a plethora of configuration options without being overwhelming. It’s difficult for me to imagine a better true-wireless, in-ear, sports headphone.

Sam: A few years ago I was testing and reviewing dozens of music earphones. Few were comfortable no matter how many gels I played with and that included Jaybird’s offerings. In kind of a first I put the Vista in and went for a run no fuss no muss, tribute to the lightweight and great design. They have stayed secure in my ears with no adjustments needed. Sound is excellent for such a small bud. The many ways to use and charge from single buds independently for up to 32 hours, 6 hours together plus another 10 from the case greatly increase the versatility of the Vista. 

Taotronics SoundLiberty 53
Jacob: The SoundLiberty 53 is a classic AirPod-esque true wireless earbud with 4.4/5 stars and over 3500 reviews on Amazon. The SoundLiberty is priced at $44.95 which is a quarter of the price of the Vista. Thus, a difference in build quality is expected, and is immediately apparent with the SoundLiberty charging case having a hard-to-open, flimsy, and loose (when open) lid. The device itself is just a two-piece plastic shell and visually more plain. Both devices are similarly lightweight and IPX7-rated and 6mm drivers. The Vista has one-hour more battery life per earbud.

The SoundLiberty does not have a physical button which has both pros and cons: it requires less force to press but is quite easily accidentally triggered especially when inserting and removing the device from the ear. The SoundLiberty also has more controls (most notably a long-press to activate Siri/Google Assistant). 
As for sound quality, the Vista wins without question. The SoundLiberty sound is much less full and crisp and sounds more like it’s coming from a small point (the headphone itself) rather than the full, multi-directional soundstage of the Vista. A back-to-back comparison with the SoundLiberty confirmed that I’m really impressed with the sound quality of the Vista.

Fit is a bit more controversial. For me, the Vista is both more comfortable and more secure. The entire device rests in my ear and the tacky rubber holds it in place. It doesn’t feel like it’s a tight fit, but it doesn’t fall out even if I jump and shake my head. The SoundLiberty has a different, more conventional fit style. The device plugs into the ear canal more and hangs from that insertion point. Unlike in the Vista, the back of the device doesn’t touch the rest of the ear enough to provide any hold. This makes it considerably less secure unless it’s deep in the canal; the SoundLiberty went flying out of my ear on the first head shake. The security would still be fine when on the run as long but it would be easier to knock out. Despite the clear advantage to the Vista for me, my girlfriend found the SoundLiberty to fit better as the Vista (even with the smallest eargel) was slightly too large for her ear. It still worked, but it wasn’t nearly as comfortable or exceptionally held as it was for me. Since the SoundLiberty doesn’t use the full ear for fit, just the canal, I think it could more easily fit a variety of ear shapes. However, this comes at the expense of worse security. 

Tech-wise, the Vista is clearly the better device. The pairing and trade-off between earphones is seamless and the Jaybird app provides EQ and button customization options. The SoundLiberty does not have an app and each headphone has its own bluetooth signal which is confusing and seems unnecessary after using the single-signal Vista.

Overall, price is the only area the SoundLiberty has a sure advantage; if you can afford the Vista it’s the clear choice.

Left to Right: Apple AirPods, Jaybird Vista, Bose SoundSport Free

Apple AirPods Gen 2 ($159)
Sam: The AirPods are 2g lighter per bud at 4g and are more comfortable if not quite as secure in my ears. They cost $20 less. Their sound is a little tinier and thinner but not by much. For every day use they are a slightly better choice as in addition to being somewhat more comfortable they block less ambient sound making them more useful when conversations need to occur or situational awareness is important ( it always is!).  You will get a more rugged bud, more secure fit, richer sound, and longer battery life from the Vista. The AirPod spec calls out 5 hours play time vs 6 for the Vista with both buds in, and up to 24 hours vs 32 for the Vista in single bud at a time mode.

Bose Sound Sport Free ($200)
Sam: The pricey Bose is the reference for sound quality of all the buds I have tested. They literally sound like speakers with great depth, richness, and clarity and powerful bass when needed. To achieve that, the sound chamber is relatively speaking gigantic, the weight up there at 9 g vs 6 g for the Vista, and the fit and comfort problematic for me with them often tending to fall out. Battery life lags the Vista with 5 hours play time plus 10 hours from the case as does the protection rating of IPX 4 vs IPX 7 for the Vista.  If the best sound quality is your priority, and you can make them fit, the Bose is near or at “audiophile”, truly, and in a bud, but I will compromise on that for the comfort, weight, expected durability, battery life and versatility on the run of the Vista whose sound quality approaches the Bose more than most but doesn’t quite get there.

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