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Bragi Dash Pro review: more money, fewer problems

The fabled wireless earbuds finally work well, but still fall short of the original dream

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Before AirPods came along, the Bragi Dash was the poster child for truly wireless earbuds. And yet, even with that cachet, the product was fraught with problems. The earbuds featured a so-so battery life of about two to three hours. Using them for voice calls, or even to talk to a digital assistant, was pretty much out of the question. Worst of all, the earbuds’ connection to a user’s phone would hiccup constantly. For those of us who hate wires, the Dash was not the solution.

Bragi wound up making and selling a second set of earbuds (annoyingly named, collectively, the Headphone) that boasted fewer features, but were therefore cheaper and less complicated. Those turned out to be some of the best wireless earbuds around.

But the $329 Dash Pro, announced in May and released earlier this summer, was supposed to fix all of the problems of the original Dash, while also getting the company back on track toward making brilliant-sounding, truly wireless earbuds with advanced intelligence. Bragi also promised longer battery life, improved voice calling, and added a real-time language translation feature.  

After spending more than a month with the new earbuds, it seems like Bragi got almost all of this right. But while the core headphone experience is improved, the Dash Pro still falls short of the company’s original vision for the Dash: putting a futuristic computer in your ears.

The most unforgivable thing about the original Dash earbuds was the flimsy Bluetooth connection. It made listening to music — the main purpose of headphones of any sort — a daily exercise in frustration. The signal cut out too easily, and when it didn’t, I always worried that the slightest turn of my head would be enough to disrupt it. And yet I’d still use them, because there was something so undeniably exciting about these slick-looking wireless earbuds. It was a device that felt like it had come from the future, even though it was all too reminiscent of the days of using CD players without skip protection.

Bragi hasn’t completely solved this problem with the Dash Pro, and I still think its other, cheaper, wireless earbuds are a better buy. But the company’s gotten much closer this time around. You can put your phone in basically any pocket, or in a bag, and the connection only hiccups about 10 percent of the time, maybe even less depending on your height. Many people (though definitely not the majority) who owned or used the original Dash have told me they didn’t have as much trouble with the Bluetooth connection, which I take to mean that the Dash Pro will be better for everyone in this respect.

Battery life for days — well, a little more than one, at least

The Dash Pro’s sound quality is also noticeably better than what you got with the original Dash. It’s more balanced, less bass-heavy, and music is just generally more clear. This is due, in part, to the new hardware, but it’s also something Bragi’s been improving with each software release.

Another thing Bragi promised with the Dash Pro was improved battery life, and it’s something the company totally delivered on. The Dash Pro gets almost every bit of Bragi’s advertised 5-hour battery life, and that’s without adding any extra heft or tweaking the industrial design much — which is good, because that was one of the most solid aspects of the original.

Consistent 4.5- to 5-hour battery life meant I could listen to music all the way through a commute and well into the work day. Combine that with the five extra charges of battery in the carrying case, and the Dash Pro has more than a day’s worth of use available before you have to plug anything back in. In testing different wireless earbuds over the last few years, three hours has always been the lowest battery life I could accept. Five hours might pale in comparison to the 40 that you get in something like a pair of Beats Solo Wireless 3s, but it’s plenty enough for this form factor.

Bragi finally got the basics right

These three things are all the more important now that Apple’s AirPods have slowly become something of a hit since their release last fall. While they may be a bit awkward in their design, AirPods have 5-hour battery life and a basically flawless Bluetooth connection thanks to Apple’s W1 chip.

Bragi isn’t beating either of those with the Dash Pro, but the new earbuds are at least good enough to compete. The Dash Pro has the advantage when it comes to sound, too — not just because the quality has improved, but because the earbuds create a seal in your ears to help shut out outside noise. Some people might prefer the more open design of AirPods, but even if they could be sealed off, they wouldn’t sound as good as the Dash Pro.

These improvements come at a price, though. The Dash Pro costs $329, a small but significant step up from the original Dash’s retail price of $299, and double the cost of AirPods. To justify that increase, Bragi added a few features and fixed a few other problems with the Dash Pro.

The most attention-grabbing new feature is what Bragi advertises as “real-time language translation.” The idea here is that all you need to do to have a conversation with someone who speaks another language is throw Dash Pro earbuds in, and you’ll instantly be able to understand someone who’s speaking in one of up to 40 foreign languages. This is a promise that’s often made by unnecessarily secretive (and frankly sketchy) startups, but it’s something that no one’s actually delivered on yet in this form factor.

What’s crazy is that it actually kind of works. But not without a catch.

Bragi hasn’t actually built some kind of advanced processing algorithm into the Dash Pro that translates speech — a real-life, battery-powered Babel Fish, if you will. Instead, the earbuds act as an accessory for an app called iTranslate, which already claims 5 million monthly active users and is one of the more high-rated translation apps in both the Apple Store and on Google Play.

That means Bragi’s laying claim to something that, theoretically, any other wireless earbud company could do. The difference right now is that the Dash Pro is treated like a trusted device in the iTranslate app, kind of like how only Apple-approved wireless products show up in Airplay menus. But that doesn’t mean iTranslate won’t bring more products into the fold in the future. It would be silly for them not to.

The current setup works, though. I used the combination of the iTranslate app and the Dash Pro earbuds to translate conversations in Russian, Spanish, and German. There’s a high chance of error with each translation, but it gets the job done better than most other apps and services. I even like it better than Google’s own translation app.

The problem is that there’s no compelling reason to use the Dash Pro for translation unless both people in the conversation are using the earbuds. If you’re the only person wearing Dash Pro earbuds in a two-way conversation, you still have to hold your phone out so that the person you’re talking to has a microphone to talk into and a speaker to hear your own words translated into their language. Otherwise they’d have to talk directly into your ear, and they wouldn’t get your voice translated back into their language. At that point, it’s far easier for you to both speak into — and hear translations from — the same device.

Translation is a nice touch, but you can do that without the Dash Pro

Integrating with iTranslate is a smart idea, and a shrewd marketing move on Bragi’s part. But unless everyone suddenly starts using Dash Pro earbuds, it’s not something that will change communication as we know it. And even then, it’s all a bit too slow and messy to spark a revolution.

The Dash Pro can also now automatically detect activities with relative accuracy, though I still almost always choose to activate the tracking on my own. The app now (finally) stores your running, biking, and swimming sessions, and the fitness tracking is more accurate and reliable. I love the presentation — it’s sort of a riff on the “big header and blocky text” style Apple’s been using in Apple Music (and, soon, iOS 11), only prettier. But there were definitely a few times where I finished a bike ride only to get a bunch of fluky, incorrect statistics, however.

Activity tracking is nice when it works, but it’s not consistent enough to replace your Fitbit

Those moments were a true bummer. There’s nothing more annoying than deciding to track an activity only to find out the product blew it once you have suffered and sweat. So if you’re someone in need of reliable fitness tracking, the Dash Pro is not the device for you. But for people who are curious about living a more quantified life, it might work.

Voice calls are better on the Dash Pro, too, in that people on the other end of the line can actually understand you now. Hearing the person you’re speaking to wasn’t really the problem with the Dash — it was always how the earbuds were picking up and relaying your own voice. Bragi says a big part of this problem had to do with the way they were packaging the data and sending through the cellular network, and that by breaking down and rebuilding that process the company was able to make the call quality better.

Whatever they did, it worked. You’re still better off using your phone in really windy settings or very noisy rooms, but you don’t have to always stash your earbuds when a call comes in anymore. This also means talking to your phone’s digital assistant is less problematic, too, though the Dash Pro obviously can’t solve for the inherent limitations of Siri or Google Assistant.

Bragi spent the last few years on a detour of sorts. As early as 2014, the company promised it would be the one to bring people a “computer in your ears,” a mythical kind of product that to this day hasn’t made it out of movies and into the real world. Production problems, delays, and a clumsy first product meant that the company had to essentially set that goal aside until it got the basics right — all while a plethora of serious wireless earbud players came to market.

The Dash Pro fixes a number of the Dash’s most glaring problems, but it still doesn’t feel like a fully realized version of that original idea. Some parts of the Dash Pro certainly tease at it, but they don’t go all the way. Adding a way to do language translation is a big step, but I have a hard time seeing people using it when the app it relies on is just as good without the earbuds. Activity tracking needs to be more reliable. And it still takes seconds too long to trigger Siri or Google Assistant. Without certain basics, like a quickly accessible digital assistant, the idea of smart earbuds still feels unfinished. Bragi has all the requisite pieces of the device they’ve been promising since 2014. Now it’s time to finish putting them together.

As I said in my review of the Dash, a lot of this has to do with software, and the good thing about software is that it can be updated. Now that the hardware is solid, it’s up to Bragi to focus on improvements to the software — to its credit, the company has been issuing pretty regular (and often significant) updates to the software on its earlier products. With the biggest, most basic roadblocks — battery life and Bluetooth — now pretty much out of the way, Bragi has the runway it needs to reach that original vision. The Dash Pro isn’t the best set of truly wireless earbuds on the market, but they’re proof that, after all this time, Bragi is more than just a lot of talk. Which is good, because I think it’s time to start listening.