Posted in cycling, music, musings

Bluetooth earbuds and the price point problem

Halterrego Liberty H bluetooth earbuds (écouteurs)

143-9-1404895145Here’s a funny story. Well, not that funny. I’ve been putting up with my Plantronics bluetooth headbuds for a while, and growing increasingly uncomfortable in them on my bike rides. There’s an unfortunate clash between earbuds, glasses, and helmet and/or cap. It’s not so bad when I wear my regular glasses, which are Oakleys with straight arms, but in the sunshine I wear my RayBan prescription sunglasses, and they hook over the ears in the traditional way. So what I’ve been hankering after for a while are earbuds that just go in the ears and don’t hook over them.

I’d been steeling myself for trying something else, but the thing with earbuds is, they’re like bike saddles. You can’t really try them on (ew), and even if you could, you wouldn’t be able to tell in a few seconds what the reality of wearing them for an hour or more would be. I make the analogy to bike saddles because there are loads of options when it comes to saddles, at lots of price points, but until you’ve ridden around on one for a few hours, you don’t know if it suits you. I want to try a Brooks Cambium, but at £150 it’s just too great a risk. £150 and my arse doesn’t like it? What then?

Steeling myself, as I said, for buying something else, and maybe working up to spending on something like the Jaybirds Bluebuds, which at £126 look very expensive, especially when compared to the myriad el cheapo options now available. What to do, what to do?

What I did was, I went on holiday for six weeks and inadvertently left the Plantronics at home. So I was looking around, everywhere I went, for something I could use, something not too outrageous.

France isn’t generally great for electronics, so there wasn’t much doing. I ended up in an E Leclerc Electrical Goods/Books/Entertainment shop (not attached to the main supermarket, but across the road), where I saw these, the Liberty H by unknown brand Halterrego.

Which brings me to the price point problem. On the one hand, £14.99, which seems a bit cheap for what they’re supposed to be. What do you want? Sweat proof, comfortable to wear, decent sound quality, decent battery life. £14.99 doesn’t give me much faith that such things are possible. On the other hand, £126 for something I’m going to be wearing for an hour or two each week is tad steep. What you want, ideally, is something halfway between the two. Shopping on Amazon, you can find the Plantronics Backbeats for about £60, but in France you’ll only find them in Fnac for the full €120. And they hook over the ears, so no.

The Libertys were about €80, or £59. But they were a brand I’d never heard of, so what to do, what to do?

I bought them. They come overpackaged, in a hard plastic case with a slidy in bit and a challenging unpacking procedure. They come with alternative earpieces, standard stuff, and they have some kind of attachment that’s supposed to help them stay in your ears. It’s not an over-ear hook, but some kind of in-ear gizmo. Once you remove them from the heavy packaging, they weigh almost nothing. So you think you’ve just paid £60 for a pair of £14.99 earbuds. The battery can’t possibly last more than an hour, you think. But it does. The sound quality is fairly decent too. They’re louder than my old Plantronics, and I’ve got no complaints about that at all. The sound they’re competing with on the bike is not traffic, but wind. Travelling downhill at 30+ mph, you hear nothing but wind in your ears. They’re even fairly decent for use with the big French petrol lawnmower, although only for music, not for podcasts. You can’t hear This American Life and mow with the Honda.

I don’t think they’re sweat proof. The USB connector for charging is uncapped, for a start. They’re quite fiddly to switch on (tiny little button), but they paired quite easily and have done so reliably every time I used them. The battery seems to last at least 7 hours, if not longer.

It’s the comfort angle that’s bugging me. With the ear hook things, I didn’t know what to do. Didn’t know what angle to put them at or how they’re supposed to work. No helpful instructions included. It’s assumed you know. So I took the gizmos off. At first, I thought this was better, but I’m still constantly having to push them back in my ears. Maybe I’ve got the wrong size earpieces on, but past experience tells me that I’m not happy with any size. Couldn’t tell you if my earholes are small medium or large. I can’t see them and I’ve got nothing to compare them to.

Riding out at the weekend, they were in but not firmly in and they moved about whenever I turned or dipped my head. Annoying. At one point, the right side came out altogether and yet when I jammed it back in (whilst on the move), it stayed put till the end of my ride and didn’t even move. It made me wonder why I couldn’t put it in like that at the start of the ride.

I don’t find them too comfortable after about an hour. My ears start to feel funny and it’s sweet relief to remove them.

All in all, I wish I’d never bought them, but I mostly wish I’d remembered to take the Plantronics. Now I feel like I’ve already spent £60 on new earbuds and cannot justify another purchase so soon.

(I know it’s potentially dangerous to wear earbuds whilst pedalling, but I’m very experienced on the bike, and I’m very careful. I look over my shoulder a lot, and you can generally hear traffic approaching – it’s not as if they’re noise cancelling. Anyway, if a car comes up behind me and the driver decides to knock me into a ditch, being able to hear it happen isn’t going to help much. Most cars come up behind you and overtake you quite safely.)

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World famous writer labouring in obscurity. My other blog is a Porsche.