(Pocket-lint) - Before Apple Airpods came and brought everyone's attention to the truly wireless earphone market, and before so many other companies like Motorola, Samsung and Jabra jumped on board, there was Bragi.
At the time of its announcement and Kickstarter launch, no one had really seen anything like it before. It was a pair of headphones that were completely untethered, and featured enough tech smarts to track fitness and exercise sessions too.
Two years on from their announcement, are Bragi the wireless earphones to go for?
Bragi Dash review: Design
- Wireless earphones
- FitSleeves for different ear sizes
- Included charge/carry case
There's a lot to like about the way Bragi designed the Dash. The earbuds are impressively compact and light and - more importantly - shaped using ergonomic curves to make them as comfortable as possible to wear.
To make sure they don't slip out during exercise, the inner part - which hosts the heart-rate sensor and gold contacts for charging - is covered with a grippy material. If the fit is too loose by default then there are two included rubber coverings called FitSleeves in medium and large sizes to help make it more snug.
During a run, they stayed in our ears well, and didn't once feel like they would slip out. It's a grippy, snug fit, without being uncomfortable. It would be an exaggeration to say we couldn't tell they were there, but they weren't so obvious that it was unpleasant. They're certainly easier to wear than the Jabra Elite earphones we tested which, by comparison, are larger, and a little more cumbersome.
When they're not in your ears, the Dash earphones live inside a plastic cradle/case with purposefully shaped holes, sculpted to fit each earphone. Both are marked, so that you don't accidentally place the left earphone in the right earphone's space.
What's more, the docks each have five gold contact points which then charge the earphones when they come into contact. They're magnetic so when the earphones come into alignment they snap into place. There's also a micro USB port on one side of the cradle station accompanied by a single LED to inform you when the built-in battery and earphones are fully charged.
This plastic docking station then slides into a purpose-fit aluminium sleeve, which is lined with a microfibre material to ensure the earphones and cradle don't get damaged. There's a thin slot running along the front of the metal covering to ensure you can still see the lights flashing on the earphones when they're charging.
Bragi Dash review: Setup
- Bragi app required (iOS and Android)
- Separate Bluetooth connections per earphone
Like many other Bluetooth devices with multiple functions, the Bragi Dash require two connections to any phone in order to work.
Setting up is easy. First you need to download the app on to an iPhone or Android device. In this app the first screen shows your Bragi earphones. Tap in order to connect and type in the PIN number you hear spoken in the earphones. Job done.
Connecting through the app allows you to do things like change settings, switch on audio transparency and start activities, but it doesn't enable the audio function, so you can't listen to music unless you then setup the second connection. To do this, you tap-and-hold a touch sensitive area on the right earphone until it says it's ready to pair. This is at the bottom of the earbud, on the outside, and can sometimes be tricky to find, especially since there's no tactile way to find it.
You then go to your Bluetooth settings menu that you'd usually use to pair with earphones. The problem we had here was that, very often, the earphones just didn't show up. On iPhone, it was a pretty straightforward experience, but it took far too long to get the connection sorted on Android.
In the end, we opted to tell the phone to forget the initial set up connection, then did the audio connection first, and then installed the app and set up the connection through that afterwards. This is exactly the reason Apple designed the W1 chip in its AirPods (and Beats headphones) - Bluetooth can be a mess.
Bragi Dash review: Performance
- Bluetooth 4.0 and LE
- Up to 4 hours playback
- 4GB on-board storage (for media)
With wireless earphones, especially trend-making completely tether-free models, the most important element of performance is that they stay connected. Sadly, our experience with the Bragi Dash hasn't been perfect. During a running session, with an iPhone strapped around our waist, the audio would cut out very briefly every few minutes.
This poses more than one problem. Firstly - and most obviously - whatever music you're listening to is interrupted, which is a little frustrating. Secondly, if you're using the Dash's fitness tracking capabilities for measuring your heart rate and steps during a running session, you'll find you get to the end of a run with no data available on the smartphone app screen.
As an added bonus, the Dash do have 4GB of built in storage, 3.5GB of which is usable to store media. So you could transfer music directly onto the earphones for playback, then connection issues become a much lower concern.
For walking around the house, phone in the pocket, or just sitting and listening, the connection didn't pose any problems beyond what we've experienced in other Bluetooth earphones. And we've enjoyed using the Bragi Dash for casual music listening.
What's more, you can activate or deactivate the audio transparency so that you can zone out, or tune in to what's going on around you. In our testing, the ambient noise mics did a good job of letting in noise, without drowning out the music. Like so many other ambient noise mics, however, it was much better with higher frequencies. Cars tyres against the tarmac was audible as (sadly) were noises like the mouse button clicking and children talking. Adult conversation was difficult to pick up.
Bragi Dash review: Features
- Heart-rate sensor
- Gyroscopic sensor & accelerometer
- Touch-sensitive controls
- 2,200mAh battery in case
Bragi's Dash aren't advertised as, or built to be, a regular pair of earphones. They've been built with a number of different sensors inside. These are designed to track your vitals and exercise. Each ear has a 3-axis gyroscope and 3-axis accelerometer, as well as a touch-sensitive panel on the outside, plus a heart-rate monitor.
To go alongside these hardware capabilities, there's a part of the app which you can use to track exercise. Whether that's running, walking or cycling. Sadly, however, in our testing this proved not to be useful at all.
With that said, the fact that it's HealthKit enabled means you can collate your data and have it automatically imported into Apple's Health app on the iPhone. Likewise, if you happen to use Strava, you can have the built-in sensors send their information to the app while you're running. That means when it comes to the end of your run, you not only see your route, pace and elevation, but also your heart-rate information. In other words, there are already better fitness apps out there than the fitness section of Bragi's, and the earphones should work with them.
The one part that really needs work is the touch-sensitive panel on the outside of the ear panels. Many times we tapped, swiped or held the touch sensor but failed to get a response. Other times, when trying to adjust the position of the Dash in our ears, we accidentally brushed against the panel and inadvertently paused music, or switched the ambient noise pass-through on or off.
Bragi Dash review: Battery life
- 100mAh battery; four hours per charge
- Carry/charging case with 2,200mAh cell
We found battery life was just about good enough. When using the built-in storage to play music, the Dash can provide up to four hours of use from its 100mAh cell before needing to be docked in the carry case.
Using a Bluetooth connection with a phone uses a little more power. We found the earphones were good for a couple of hours before needing to be refuelled. The included carrying case has 2,200mAh capacity, giving you between three to five full charges before that too needs plugging in via micro-USB for recharging.
Bragi Dash review: Sound quality
- 20 - 20,000Hz frequency range
- Passive bilateral noise isolation
How good the Bragi Dash sound is heavily dependent on whether or not you have a good, snug fit. Even having one earbud slightly out of place results in flat, bassless sound. However, once placed in the ears correctly, they provide enjoyable immersive sounds.
If there's any criticism, it could be that they do lack a little clarity. The high and middle frequencies don't sound quite as bright as you might like and the app doesn't offer an equaliser of any kind to adjust the balance.
Still, the detail in the audio is good. With the master level at an optimal level you can hear all the details in the music that you'd want to hear. The sound didn't blow us away, but it was pleasant enough to enjoy music.
In theory the Bragi Dash could have been the perfect pair of truly wire-free earphones. They're small, comfortable and light and come with an easy-to-carry aluminium charging case. What's more, they're packed with fitness-tracking capabilities
Sadly, they are hard to recommend to anyone looking for a great pair of sports earphones. They just don't stay connected constantly or consistently - and that's a real deal-breaker. Regardless of how nice they are, their core function just isn't quite reliable enough (we've tested two separate pairs).
It seems a case of trying to cram too much tech into too small a space, leaving a feeling of compromise. With a reliable connection the Dash would be great.
Alternatives to consider
Despite costing less than the Bragi, the Jabra Elite Sport offered a more consistent connection, was more reliable in testing and offers many of the same features as the Dash. The only real downside is that they are bigger and not as comfortable to wear.
Apple's Airpods don't win any prizes for sound quality, and don't feature any fitness tracking tech, but they win on convenience. They cost £100 less than the Dash, are very comfortable and light, and connect without any of the hassle.