One of the first companies to venture into the world of making truly wireless earbuds has revealed a second generation product. Bragi, the company that turned $3.3 million of Kickstarter funding into the Dash, just announced a new pair of wireless earbuds simply called the Headphone. The Headphone is based on the Dash in many ways — the new earbuds sport the same size, overall design, and basic function — but they're cheaper and much simpler. Bragi will sell the Headphone in retail channels for $149 this November, but you can preorder them starting today for $119.
You can use the Headphone to take or make phone calls and activate your phone’s voice assistant, they allow for basic streaming music playback (though there's no onboard storage this time around), and they swap the Dash's touch controls for physical buttons. The Headphone has the Dash’s audio pass-through feature, where you can hear the outside world in your headphones, but there’s no fitness tracking, and the carrying case doesn’t recharge the earbuds when you stow them away. As Bragi CEO Nikolaj Hviid put it to The Verge: “the Headphone is a racing bike, where the Dash is much more like a Formula 1 car.”
The benefits of taking the Dash and dumbing it down a bit are threefold, and the first is that dramatic price cut. (Backers of the Dash Kickstarter will also get an extra $20 off, bringing the price down to $99.) Second, the Headphone will be capable of squeezing twice the life — six hours — out of the same 100 mAh battery found in the Dash. Third, the Bluetooth connection between the earbuds and your phone should be stronger, according to Bragi.
Better battery life and a lower sticker price seem like luxuries compared to the prospect of an improved (or even reliable) Bluetooth connection. Tenuous Bluetooth connections are the problem that has most consistently plagued the first generation of truly wireless earbuds. It’s the kind of problem that kills the whole idea of the product in the first place, but it was one that startups were willing to roll with if it meant beating the likes of Jabra, Samsung, or even Apple to market.
Bragi was no exception. While the company went out of its way to replace the Bluetooth connection that syncs the two earbuds together (it chose a hearing aid technology called Near Field Magnetic Induction instead), Bragi still used Bluetooth for the phone-to-earbud connection. This led to hiccups in the audio streaming during my time with the Dash, especially when the phone was in my pocket or out of the line of sight. Hviid says that Bragi was able to use everything it learned from the Dash about this problem to fix the experience on the Headphone, but we’ll have to get our hands on the new product to make that call for ourselves.
The other problem Bragi ran into with the Dash was production delays. Bragi says that the Headphone is supposed to start shipping in early November, but Hviid told me that the company isn’t starting production until October — a tight turnaround, even for a company with one product under its belt.
In addition to the Headphone, Bragi also announced another firmware update to the Dash today. The company promises that this update — version 2.1 — will improve the accuracy of the Dash’s heart rate tracking, as well as improve the Bluetooth connection. It follows the 2.0 update issued this past summer, which made the Dash louder and allowed for better fitness tracking. With 2.1, Hviid said the company has been working for months to work around the consequences of having a lot of radios in a very small headset. “All of these components, it’s a huge amount of components, and they disturb the Bluetooth range,” Hviid said. “But most people will see remarkable improvements with 2.1. We’re actually very proud of what we’ve done.”
Hviid was careful to note that customers shouldn’t expect software updates like these for the Headphone. “The Dash is a computer, the Headphone is a headphone,” he said.