Tuesday, September 26, 2023

Beyerdynamic Free Byrd earbuds review: huge sound and long battery life

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Like the Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 3s I recently reviewed, Beyerdynamic’s new Free Byrd earbuds are aimed entirely at those who prioritize sound quality over almost everything else. When you consider that these are the company’s first-ever true wireless earbuds, I’m pleasantly surprised at how well they stand out in other respects, too: the free $249 Byrds deliver marathon battery life, good active noise cancellation, and have a design that breaks with the mainstream. standard, memorable formula.

Great sound quality is just the starting point for an impressive first attempt. And I can’t ignore the name, which is clearly a nod to the Lynyrd Skynyrd classic – and a very cliche concert request. But no set of earbuds is perfect, and the Free Byrds are somewhat let down by non-intuitive controls and a physical design that can be tricky for smaller ears.

The Free Byrds are not small or understated. They weigh a hair less than Sony’s 1000XM4 earbuds, but are a lot heavier than the Samsung Galaxy Buds 2, Apple AirPods Pro and other earbuds that provide an airy feel and long-lasting comfort. Beyerdynamic’s earbuds are thicker by comparison, and in particular there’s a bulbous center portion of the earbuds’ design that can make the Free Byrds uncomfortable in small ears. I don’t fit that description, so I’ve never experienced pain or ear fatigue.

I should have expected just as much from an audio brand, but Beyerdynamic has a generous collection of earbuds at the Free Byrds. There are five sets of silicone tips to choose from (XS, S, M, L, XL) and three pairs of foam style tips. I always lean towards foam when available, and there’s something about the light gray finish of the earbuds paired with the orange foam earbuds that look great. Tell me you’re an audiophile without telling me you’re an audiophile – that’s the vibe of this project. (The Free Byrds are also available in black.) The wireless charging case is on the higher side, but feels well-made. Not once have I had these earbuds stay connected while in the case, which is something I’ve come across more and more from the Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 3s after review.

If you can’t find the right fit with so many earbud options, there may be no hope left.

The sound quality is detailed and clear, but doesn’t shy away from bass. But nowhere in the frequency range is there any mud or harshness. On Maggie Rogers’ new track “Horses,” her vocals clearly come through with warmth and resonance, while the crunch of electric guitars is well preserved underneath. Muna’s “Loose Garment” is a nice demo track for the soundstage, with vocals and strings floating between the left and right channels during the song, and the drums and cymbal taps still perfectly distinguishable with their own place in the mix. Everything about the Free Byrds feels captivating and sophisticated. Beyerdynamic’s mobile app lets you do a hearing test to personalize the sound profile or choose from presets like ‘warm’ or ‘v-shaped’, but there’s currently no way to fully adjust the EQ. Overall, I still prefer the fidelity of Sennheiser’s latest pair over this one, but they’re not far apart.

The Free Byrds do stick out a bit.

For codecs, these Bluetooth 5.2 earbuds support aptX Adaptive on Android – enabling higher bitrate wireless playback – and the standard AAC on Apple devices. Unfortunately, they don’t offer multipoint Bluetooth for pairing two audio sources at once, but transfers between devices are very fast and you don’t have to disconnect from one source before you can switch to another. The Free Byrds offer support for Fast Pair on Android, optional Alexa integration, and you can use both buttons standalone in mono. There’s also a low-latency mode that can be activated when playing mobile games, and the Free Byrds have an IPX4 rating for water resistance, making them suitable for exercise.

Active noise cancellation on the Free Byrds is above average, if not quite on the level of Sony, Bose or Apple. There is a very faint hiss that you might pick up in completely silent environments. Some people are more sensitive to this than others, and I never noticed it when audio was actually playing. Transparency mode is a bit more mundane, but serves its purpose if you want to quickly check in with the outside world. The call quality is satisfactory, but not amazing; Beyerdynamic prefers to let more of your voice through without aggressively gating it to reduce background noise. This works well when calling at home, but is less ideal outdoors.

However, Beyerdynamic’s touch controls could use an overhaul. I prefer physical buttons where possible, but can settle for tap gestures as long as they make sense and work consistently. The standard Free Byrd commands are fine: you tap once to play or pause, twice to switch between ANC and transparency mode, or three times to skip tracks or go back. The volume is where things get a little clunky, requiring two taps and a grab after the second to adjust the volume. It works well once you get the hang of the sequence, but it’s not what I’d call an intuitive gesture – and I’d accidentally pause the music every once in a while when I wasn’t doing it right. It would be nice if you could customize each of these gestures to your liking, but that’s not possible at the moment.

The earbuds last up to eight hours with noise cancellation turned on.

The battery life is an unexpected strength, with the Free Byrds being able to get around eight hours of playtime with ANC on and up to 11 hours with it off. That’s more than enough for most needs, and the charging case offers an extra 19 hours (with ANC turned off), so you could potentially get to a total of 30 hours in scenarios where you don’t need the noise cancellation.

For the company’s first swing, Beyerdynamic’s Free Byrd earbuds deliver great sound with detail and depth, first-class battery life and good noise cancellation. I appreciate the plethora of earplugs that come with it, and at least for my ears, they fit well and remained comfortable over time. But that last point will be different for each person, and I can foresee instances where these earbuds will be a little too firm for some. What’s here is a strong debut in the wireless earbud market for an established audio brand. I recommend the Free Byrds because they are as long as your ears are the right match. But with some refinements to the built-in controls and maybe a smaller form factor next time, Beyerdynamic will be the very best players in the game. That’s assuming, unlike in the song, this Byrd can change.

Photography by Chris Welch / The Verge


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