Review: Jaybird's Sport Headphones Are All You Could Ask for on a Run

They're cheaper than Beats, sportier than AirPods, and on a mission to save the planet

Review: Jaybird's Sport Headphones Are All You Could Ask for on a Run
Jaybird Sport/Instagram

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Nike named its revolutionary carbon-plated running shoe the Vaporfly 4%, after time trials suggested that runners could expect a four-percent edge in efficiency while racing in them. Sure enough, in the 18 months that followed the shoe’s release, marathon times — for professionals and weekend warriors, alike — were shaved down at approximately that clip.

In the past, believe it or not, sports psychologists have also assigned performance-boosting percentages to music. Dr. Costas Karageorghis, a professor at Brunel University London, and an expert on the relationship between music and exercise, estimated listening to music while running can improve a performance by 15%. He told The Guardian in 2012, “Music is a legal drug for athletes.” Dr. Jasmin Hutchinson, meanwhile, the director for sport and exercise psychology at Springfield College, told Runner’s World in 2018: “It’s pretty definitive that music is performance enhancing in terms of ergogenic effect.”

Music is crucial to a happy, successful running life. It’s a motivator for running faster, a distractor for running longer. I rely on it — or on occasion, a carefully-selected podcast — every time I lace up my shoes and head out to log some miles, and my expectations for the earbuds playing all those sounds are sky-high. I’m pleased to report, though, that I’ve recently been test-driving a pair of wireless headphones that are more than up for the task: the Vista Earthproof from Jaybird Sport.

Jaybird has hated wires for a really long time. Fifteen years ago, when most of us were resigned to untangling wired headphones for a full minute each morning, the Park City-based brand was already busy developing the first pair of athlete-driven, wireless buds. As a team of adventure junkies that happens to make consumer electronics, they’ve been close to the mountains and streams — and those who run or kayak along them — from the beginning. And their latest release, the Vista Earthproof, is a culmination of years of dedication to an original, very simple mission: make sure outdoor athletes can do their thing while listening to music.

The company went a bit overboard in realizing that dream: the Vista literally meets U.S. Military-grade rugged compliant standards. It has withstood tests from “tropical humidity, hurricane-force water, and desert sandstorm conditions.” (Hence the Earthproof moniker.) But as Jaybird’s “Mission” campaign explores, many athletes (and athlete-creatives, with the rise of the adventure-athlete photographer) need their tech to go above and beyond. Jaybird sent athletes into the Cascade Range of the Pacific Northwest, the jungles of Veracruz, Mexico and the high desert of Moab, Utah, to document the beauty and fragility of wild areas.

My travails with the Vista Earthproof were a bit more modest (think: some runs around the neighborhood), but it’s clear to me why Jaybird athletes like Fernanda Maciel, who owns the fastest time for ascent and descent of Mount Kilimanjaro, or Brian Tolbert, who founded Black Arrows Run Crew and became a professional runner after starting in his mid-30s, are in love with the brand and its earbuds. The headphones don’t budge. They don’t mind a little sweat, or a lot of rain. They provide a crystal-clear sound. And they require astonishingly little volume. We wrote earlier in the year about the perils of earbuds that compel you to crank the volume toggle up to 80%, in order to hear the music. I hang out at around 20% when running in a pair of Jaybirds.

The price, too, is refreshing. Most top-line earbuds start at $200, and lean closer to $300. Jaybird’s Vista Earthproof is only $180. For those worried that we’re “coming” for your Air Pods: relax. You can Zoom with them all day long, that’s fine. But when you’re going for a run — or, you know, a scramble up Mount Kilimanjaro — you need something a bit more substantial.

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