Bragi, a relatively new company based in Munich, Germany, has created The Dash, a beautiful set of wireless earphones. The two earpieces are completely wireless from each other and loaded with smarts. They have touch controls, heart rate sensors, an internal 4GB MP3 player, and much more. This is my review of The Dash. I haven’t tested every feature, but I have used them everyday since I received them in late March. These are my experiences with them over the past five months.
I first saw these earphones on Kickstarter when the campaign had just started, all the way back in February 2014, and wanted them right away. However, I had a little “smart fatigue” and thought it was too good to be true: completely wireless, fitness and heart rate tracking and a headset. I also had my concerns about the 3 hour battery life. Eventually I’d passed on the campaign because of the price: $237 (€210) plus probably another €40 at the border wasn’t really compatible with my student bank account.
Fast forward to January 2016. I got my first full time job, with my first full time salary. I wanted a little “welcome to the good life”-present for myself, and my then-current earphones were barely alive. Where others go shopping for clothes, I buy gadgets. So when I rediscovered The Dash from a review, I bought them without any doubts for €299.
At the time, Bragi was still fulfilling their Kickstarter orders, so it took a little while for my package to arrive. But boy was I happy when they arrived.
Holy smokes, opening up The Dash package was the best unboxing experience I’ve ever had. I’ve unboxed many Apple products in my life 1, but even they can learn something from this.
The Dash arrived in a nice tight box. When you slide the sleeve off, you’re left with a matte black, book-like box that’s soft to the touch. It has one transparent window with The Dash earpieces on display. Opening the box is like reading a book. Page by page the box explains the product to you, showing you more of it’s contents with new windows on every next page. It was really something special.
When you reach the last page, you’re left with just the contents, nicely placed in the box. You have the “FitSleeves” in different sizes, The Dash in their charger, the charger’s cover (“The Slide”) and a nice short but thick Micro-USB cable.
Everything about this product breaths quality. The box had nice thick cardboard pages, the USB cable feels good, The Slide is heavy and sturdy, and the earpieces were kept in place by a solid piece of foam.
All this is from memory by the way. I won’t be making pictures of it, reassembling the box won’t do it justice. But suffice to say, it was awesome.2
Now about the product itself. The two earpieces fit nicely in my ears. I use the medium FitSleeves, which have the silicone in-ear plugs, but also fit around the entire earpiece, making the whole thing a little bigger and more grippy. Not once did I worry that they might fall out of my ears, and they never have. There are three other sizes, so you can choose which ever fits you best.
They’re fairly big for regular in-ear plugs, but incredibly small considering all the components that must be in there. And even though there’s a tiny battery in each plug, their weight is negligible.
When you insert the pieces in your ears, a friendly, sensual, and slightly robotic, female voice starts talking to you. She guides you through the setup and explains the features and settings when you first use them. My mind was blown when I first heard her, what a great user experience.
The bottom part of both earpieces has a touch area to control The Dash, each with its own focus: right is for music, left for fitness. Tap the right piece to play and pause, double and triple tap to skip or skip back between songs, tap and hold for pairing mode, and slide forward and backward for volume control. Side note: The Dash have their own volume control, separate from the iPhone. This might have some advantages, but I wish they could be linked.
The left earpiece is for fitness stuff. I haven’t actually used the built-in activity features yet,3 but I might go for a swim with these in the near future. If I do, I’ll report back. What I have used is the heart rate sensor while running, connected with Runkeeper as a separate sensor. It works great and the data gets synced back, so it can be viewed alongside the other run data.
When you swipe forward on the right earpiece, you enable ‘transparency mode’. This basically opens up the microphone to outside noise. It’s a good feature, since they’re in-ear models and thus almost completely block any noise. However, it’s a still pretty rude to keep them both inserted while you’re talking to someone, and it’s useless in traffic on a bike because of the wind.
3 hours of battery life sounds really short. However, it has never been an issue for me because of the charger. The Dash come with a nice solid carrying case, which doubles as the charger. You plug the case in with Micro-USB and snap The Dash magnetically in it, and they’ll be fully charged in 2 hours. But what’s great about it is that the charger itself also contains a battery that will charge these babies on-the-go for up to five full 3-hour charges.
I commute by bike and train for 45 minutes twice a day, and I exercise for about an hour three times a week. So in the morning I leave home, plug them in and go to work. Upon arrival I put them in their case. In the evening I plug them in my ears and go home. Then put them back in the case, go eat and after dinner go for a run with The Dash again. At night, I put the case in the charger, together with my MacBook Pro, iPad, iPhone and Apple Watch.4 And in the morning everything is ready to go.
The Dash have a color LED to indicate battery life. Blue is full, green high, yellow medium, and red is low. In about 6 months, I’ve only seen the red LED twice.5
With iOS, some devices support showing the little accessoire battery indicator on the Bluetooth icon in the status bar. If I remember correctly, The Dash used to support this, but it doesn’t seem to anymore. Maybe it went away with the security measures Bragi OS 2.0.
Overall the battery is absolutely no issue for me. And the case is great, be it a little thick for a jeans pocket. But it keeps The Dash nicely together so you won’t lose them.
Once you put The Dash in their charger, the LEDs in the earpieces start snoozing. It’s another one of those great little UX touches. It’s like they’re asleep, breathing slowly in and out, like a human being.6 What’s more, left and right breath in sync. Such attention to detail!
Of course, sounds must come out of these tiny little plugs. I’m no audiophile, but in my opinion they sound really awesome.
I have a long history with headsets: I’ve used many different plugs for regular use and several Sennheisers for fitness. They always broke, and I often went a price tier higher with the next. My dad says I spent way too much money on headphones. He’s probably right.
All this to indicate that I do appreciate a good set of audio plugs to listen to music and podcasts. I have no problems with in-ears, I even prefer them over regular earphones (like the EarPods) because I can hear more bass and they stay better in place for me. And I prefer their portability over on-/over-ear headphones.
So like I said: the sound is really good from these small, battery-powered, fully wireless in-ear plugs. The lows are dark and solid, and the highs are crisp and clear. I have absolutely no complaints about the sound.
Obviously they can’t compete with my Bose QuietComfort 25, but that’s for another post. They do win in a (sort of) equal fight against the Jaybird Bluebuds X and the Beats Powerbeats2. Both of these are wireless, and both suck in some way.7
Also, the audio lag has not been any issue for me, it’s really short. When I press play, the music starts playing almost instantly. Yes, it is noticeable, but not an issue. And because of the way iOS deals with video and Bluetooth headphones, the audio is always in sync with the videos.
There are none. I repeat, there are no wires. Zero. Nada. And it’s absolutely glorious! I mentioned a few little drawbacks so far, and there are two big ones that really suck, but the lack of wires is not one of those. All my previous headphones broke, almost always at the weakest link: the wire. The Dash are not even wired together. It is Bragi’s biggest feature.
It’s so good the just plug these beauties in, stick your phone in your pocket, and you’re good to go. No cables to worry about, no wires to untangle, no leash behind your head bouncing against your neck while you run, no cords to get stuck behind your saddle when you lock your bicycle, no plugs to get yanked from your ears when you get stuck behind a doorknob.8 Just pure freedom and glory. I love it!
Though The Dash are pretty and awesome, they do sometimes frustrate me in big ways. There are two major drawbacks that might give you pause.
For me the connection range is meh. The range itself is fine. I can place my phone on the dining table in my (small) studio apartment and can hear the music fine when walking around. No issues there. But obstacles really suck, and with obstacles I mean my body. I often get cut off from my music when my iPhone is just in my pocket and I look over my shoulder.
From the Bluetooth antenna in the right earpiece to my right pants pocket is often a struggle when I move my head right. It’s worse on humid days, and with jeans, and impossbile the phone in my left pocket. Apparently there’s too much going on in those 93 centimeters to reliably stream music to my ears. Maybe it’s my iPhone 6s, or the fabric of my pants9, the belly fat10, the titanium screw in my shoulder11, or that I’m 1.95 cm tall. Maybe it’s a faulty Dash antenna, maybe it’s just Bluetooth itself.12 I have no idea what it really is. I do know that it’s pretty annoying to skip beats when you look over your right shoulder. Looking left, which moves the antenna closer, has no issues.
Connection issues from my right pocket to my right ear.
Connection issues from my right pocket to my right ear.
When I go for a run, I always strapped my iPhone to my left upper arm. I’ve had to move it to my right arm to get it closer it the antenna, and it still sometimes skips a beat when I look over my shoulder.
These connection issues really suck. They seem to be worse when listening to music, compared to podcasts. Probably because the higher bitrate in music songs is more demanding of a solid connection. It got a little better with the software update to Bragi OS 2.0, but still not good enough.
Microphone vs Wind
The second major issue is with making phone calls, or any use of the microphone whatsoever. Especially outdoors, but also indoors, it sounds terrible. Everyday I ride on my bike between home and work, and for me it’s the best time to call family and friends. But that’s been pretty much impossible with The Dash. The microphone picks up so much wind, that the other side can’t hear a word I’m saying. It’s also why ‘transparency mode’ is useless outdoors.
Indoors it’s okay-ish. I almost never wear them indoors, so I haven’t tried this much. But I just tested it with my girlfriend last night. In our two tests, the microphone differed from sounding good enough to plain robotic. Unfortunalty something (the connection again?) also weakens the incoming sound. So the ringtone sounds stuttery, and the caller starts barely audible and then becomes louder. Still a bad experience.
It’s a real bummer, because Bragi created a pretty fun feature they call Macros. You can nod your head to pick up an incoming call, or shake to reject it. So fun, but the calling feature itself unfortunately leaves too much to be desired. I guess I won’t call my mom from my bike anymore. But hey, did I mention they’re wireless? Yeah, that’s still pretty epic.
These downsides aren’t small, they really mess with the core functionality of a headset. But for me the upsides outweigh the downsides.
Bragi has also released an accompanying app on the App Store to control certain settings for The Dash. It’s a very good looking app, and it has all the features nicely displayed. You can enable the Macros13, turn transparency mode on and off and change the volume. You can start, sync and review running, cycling and swimming activities. You can also change some smaller settings, edit your profile (used for activity measurements), and it has a built-in manual with tutorial videos.
I really like the design of the app. Bragi found a way to override the conventional platform look, but still feel native to it. It looks great, and has all the features you need, though many of which you can luckily also control from the plugs themselves.
The Dash actually run their own operating system called Bragi OS. Let me repeat that, these earphones run an OS. And this OS is catching up with all the hardware that it runs on. Bragi filled these plugs with components during the Kickstarter campaign, and they’re gradually starting to enable them with new software releases. Those updates are really easy to do. They do take a few hours, but how weirdly nice is it that your headphones can get better and more features overnight. In mid July they released Bragi OS 2.0. The update brought more exercise features leveraging the yet unused sensors, it added more security to the pairing process, it made the sound louder, and more. It’s awesome, and I can’t wait to see what they’ll be adding next.14
In The End
These quality earplugs are truly fantastic sound machines with great UX details and some good smarts. They have removed the last wire I had to deal with on-the-go and they will get better over time with OS upgrades. The convenience and freedom trump everything including their downsides.
Apple products have notoriously great unboxing experiences. I’ve unboxed a lot of Apples over the years, both for myself, but also as part of my job at an Apple Authorised Service Provider. Upgrading brand new MacBook Pros, Mac minis and iMacs with more RAM and an SSD can’t be done with the device still in the box.↩
You can track activities with just The Dash, using all its movement and health sensors. But because I’m a fitness data junkie and I want to keep everything in Runkeeper and lately also HealthKit, I haven’t really used those features on purpose yet. So far Bragi’s tracked fitness data can’t be synced with Runkeeper or HealthKit.↩
No you have too many battery-powered devices! 😅↩
Once after running a half marathon, where I commuted to the start with music, and then ran for 2 hours. I was almost at the finish when she said she needed a charge. And once when I’d forgotten to charge the case at night for two days.↩
Just like the little white LED on previous MacBook Pro models slowly started snoozing when you closed the screen. I still find it amazing that you couldn’t see any LED or opening for it when the LED was off. I’ve always loved that feature, and was a little sad that the new MacBook Pros didn’t have the LED anymore.↩
I tried the Jaybird Bluebuds X in July 2013 (that’s what I meant with ‘sort of equal fight’) and loved the freedom of wireless, but hated the fit and sound quality. I returned them within 2 days. In October 2015 I bought Powerbeats2 and returned them within a week because of the bad connection, the big size, and the exaggerated sound.↩
When wearing shorts (made from a thinner fabric) it’s less of an issue.↩
It’s not that bad, but I’m working on losing those kilograms. 💪↩
Yeah, I had surgery in my shoulder. Twice. Now there’s a screw there. The tools they used to get it there are epic by the way. But I have no idea if it has any effect on the Bluetooth connection. I think it doesn’t.↩
This is probably it. “The Bluetooth protocol will finally get good with the next version” is what they said with v1.1, and v1.2, and v2.0, and v2.1, and v4.0. The Dash use dual mode Bluetooth 4.0.↩
In fact, “next” might come real soon. I literally just received an email: “Bragi Has Big News. September 5, 2016”↩