They apparently didn’t get the message about not naming cord-free earbuds with a singular naming scheme, so this new product from Bragi is awkwardly named, “The Headphone.” But branding aside, these earbuds have made quite an improvement over the company’s first-generation product called “The Dash,” which was one of the first to hit the market a year ago. 

My biggest complaint when testing The Dash was half-baked fitness features, unnecessary built-in storage, and sloppy touch controls that cluttered what could have been an otherwise decent cord-free earbud experience. The Headphone fixes a lot of those issues (mostly by simply removing the problematic features), and what you end up with is a basic but less expensive cord-free earbud that actually works well enough for everyday use. They’re also one of the first cord-free earbuds worth considering before the launch of Apple’s delayed AirPods.

Design |

They have slimmed down just enough compared to The Dash to not feel or look too bulky in your ear. They don’t protrude from the ear much more than the average wired set of earbuds, and they were light and comfortable enough to wear for extended periods of time. In the process of scaling back features, they also lost two little sensors on the inside of the ear that made The Dash uncomfortable for my ears. They come with three ear tip sizes including a small and large silicon tips and medium Comply Foam tips that provide an even snugger fit and more isolated sound. 

The Headphone isn’t waterproof like The Dash, which the company is still selling as a premium version, and it also doesn’t have a companion iOS app or the ability to receive firmware updates down the road. The company says it’s sweatproof, however, and still suitable for workouts.

There are three buttons on the right ear: + and – buttons to adjust volume up or down or skip to next and previous songs (with a double or triple press), and one main button to pause/play music and answer calls. The buttons are quite small and stiff, which means they require the tip of your nail to push in easily, but they are a welcomed improvement over the messy touch controls the company included on the previous generation product.

You can also hold the volume up button to enable an audio transparency mode, which lets in outside sound so you can better hear your surroundings. Some prefer a headphone that doesn’t totally isolate and block outside noise, and others will find it handy to enable this feature in certain situations like when talking with others or, for example, cycling outdoors where you might want to be aware of your surroundings for safety reasons.

I found the audio transparency to work well, but you can also use just one earpiece instead if that better suits your usage. If you take out the right ear, audio will automatically pause, while taking out the left ear pauses only the left side allowing you to use the right by itself.

Pairing |

Bluetooth pairing is the same old experience— no W1 chip here— but I didn’t have any issues with pairing to my iPhone 7 or Mac initially. Once paired for the first time, The Headphone automatically paired reliably for me afterwards, but will have the usual Bluetooth range limitations and start to drop out from time to time if you stray from your device. If you’re using multiple devices automatic pairing is less reliable; you’ll often have to manually disconnect and connect from your Mac or iPhone if you want to switch from one device to the other in the same room. 

Sound Quality |

The sound quality on The Headphone(s) is really nothing to brag about, but it passes the test for the price point when comparing to other Bluetooth headphones and the competitors. They sound better than Apple’s EarPods, for example, but they are still a bit on the thin side and won’t blow you away. Sure, you can find better sounding Bluetooth earbuds with a wire, but the options for cord-free earbuds at this point are few and far between. They still don’t sound as rich and full as the Sol Republic Amps Air— the best sounding cord-free earbuds I’ve tested so far— but those are also much bulkier compared to The Headphone. If you’re happy with the audio on Apple’s EarPods or similar sub-$100 earbuds, these likely won’t disappoint.

Call quality is another story, but a familiar one for earbuds and especially cord-free earbuds. The company says it uses “Left and right external auditory microphones and EarBone microphone,” but the mic was only just passable for short calls in relatively quiet environments. I wouldn’t buy this to rely on for calling or for important calls with noisy surroundings.

Charging case (but no battery for mobile charging) |

A big downside to Bragi’s The Headphone is the fact that the charging case doesn’t include a built-in battery for on-the-go charging. Most of the competitors are doing this and some at similar price points, so it’s something to consider if you’re someone that is on the move often or for long periods of time. But they claim 6 hours of battery life on a single charge (and they take around 2 hours to charge from 0%), which for most people will be enough for an entire day’s worth of usage and commutes. You’ll find a battery life indicator next to the Bluetooth icon on your iPhone’s status menu bar. A short 3-inch micro-USB to USB cable is included for plugging in the case. 

Should you buy it (them)?

The two big factors for me when it comes to testing these products is fit/comfort and sound quality. So far one or the other has been a deal breaker in making cord-free earbuds my daily drivers over wired Bluetooth options. But Bragi’s The Headphone is one of the first products I’ve tested that managed to pass in both of those categories, scoring high points for fit and squeaking by on sound quality.  If Sol Republic could shave off 15-20% in overall size in a future generation Amps Air product without sacrificing their great sound quality, they’d be my top pick. But as the market stands right now, Bragi’s The Headphone at $149 is so far the best overall cord-free earbud I’ve reviewed.

You can pre-order them now for $149 for shipping in early January.