Summer family road trips have been an American tradition for as long as many of us can remember. Those road trips are not just a vacation or just going to Grandma’s house, they are much more than that. It usually implies a bond between family members over hundreds and sometimes thousands of miles; it involves sharing stories, singing, playing games or simply listening to music. Or at least that’s what it used to be. Modern technology has changed this tradition — some may say for the worst — with families and kids now consuming media inside the car just as they do at home. Those of you that have kids know what we’re talking about.
The young generation is growing up with technology being at the core of everything they do daily; from tablets and smartphones being the digital hub to entertainment systems that play all sort of media formats one can throw at them. One of those entertainment systems is often found in newer cars, from your typical soccer-mom minivan and BMW X5 SUVs, to the 7 Series limousine that your father uses to get to work. BMW offers for certain models an optional Rear Seat Entertainment System which is an extension of the iDrive Navigation System found on the dashboard, but with its own tablet-style device attached to the back of the front seats. Those tablets can play movies from a DVD or USB device or can play music from a smartphone connected to them. For those customers not willing to shell out significant amount of money for a system rarely used, BMW and other vendors offer snap-in adapters for tablets which can attach to the back of the headrest to house the tablet of your choice. Often this is the preferred method since it allows you to bring your own device and media every time you travel.
The other major advantage is the ability to connect a Bluetooth headphone to those devices so the cabin stays quiet and the driver undistracted. So we set out to find the best Bluetooth headphones to use in-car for those long, family trips.
Our favorite BMW road trip car is the 7 Series; a luxury sedan that offers the space and comfort needed for long drives. This particular model didn’t have the Rear Seat Entertainment System so we decided to “build” our own. We’ve attached a base carrier to the headrest and connected that to an iPad Holder for the 4th generation Apple tablet.
Next, we narrowed down our Bluetooth headphones choices to two devices: the Bose SoundLink on-ear Bluetooth headphones and the Jaybird BlueBuds X. And to see how well they do in our sound test, we brought out an impressive competitor: the expensive, yet worth it, Bose Custom QuietComfort 25 Acoustic Noise Cancelling headphones.
Those three headphones can’t be any more different — especially with pricing ranging from $169.95 for Jaybird, to $249.95 for Bose SoundLink and $399.95 Bose QuietComfort 25 — but they are often regarded by audiophiles as the best in business, or the best bang for your buck.
Bose SoundLink on-ear Bluetooth headphones
At a first glance, these headphones are everything you would expect from Bose: beautiful design, compact folding and great packaging.
Quickly after we flicked the power switch, the voice of a female assistant guides you through the set-up process. The soothing voice tells you the battery level, the source connected and when phone calling is involved, the name of the person. Certainly extremely user friendly, perfect for those who still struggle with technology in 2015.
After quickly and successfully pairing the Bose SoundLink with the iPad, we drove off to see how well the non-noise cancelling headphones actually block the exterior sound. With the volume buttons placed on the side of the rear earcup, we adjusted the sound levels, while the center button gives you the ability to play/pause the sound. For those of you that worry about battery life in Bluetooth devices, the latest tech allows those Bose headphones to last about 15 hours of playtime after 90 minutes of charging. Those constantly on the go can charge the headphones for 15 minutes for a total of 2 hours of playtime. Even if you run out of juice while in the car, you can always plugin the provided USB cable into the car’s slot for a quick recharge.
These Bose headphones weigh 5.5 ounces and are extremely comfortable on the ear without falling off, thanks to the soft and smooth fabric on top of the headband and the soft faux leather on the earcups. While there is no active noise cancellation, the soft cups that cover your ears block in more than enough sound. The sound is crystal clear, balanced and natural with good deep bass. Bose says that SoundLinks employ an adaptive audio adjustment which helps compensate for noises in the outside environment. To test the passive noise cancelling and the adaptive audio adjustment, we turned up the car’s audio system volume and our passenger ignored us. Clearly a sign that the headphones are doing their job.
The lady in the back seat was simply mesmerized by whatever movie was playing on the tablet and with basically a sound-free cabin now, the ride was more enjoyable than ever.
We briefly tested the twin microphone system which helps reducing ambient sounds to ensure that your phone calls will be crystal clear. Another win for those headphones.
Before we switched to another headphone, we wanted to see how the Bose plays with the new Apple Watch. Pairing was just as simple as with any other device. Turn off and on the headphones, search for Bluetooth devices on your Apple Watch and then simply pair them. So when you get tired of watching content on the car’s tablet or entertainment system, you can just listen to music or make calls through your watch.
The Bose SoundLink Bluetooth On-Ear Headphones is probably one of the best Bluetooth headphones in the market right now and they are a great bang for your buck. These headphones are built to last and you’ll enjoy them for years to come before passing them onto your children for a more serious beat down.
Jaybird BlueBuds X
With the $170 BlueBuds X, JayBird becomes the first company to beautifully integrate Bluetooth into earbuds. The tiny buds incorporate the Bluetooth transceiver, a small rechargeable battery and a micro USB jack. Talk about minimalistic, yet effective industrial design. A flat cable connects the two buds and it employs a smart cable management system which allows to wear them around your ears and behind your neck. Some may prefer to simply let the cable sit under their ears which is great for casual use. Being super lightweight, you don’t get the feeling that you’ve attached weights to your ears.
In a nice package, Jaybird includes a charging cable, three different sizes (small, medium and large) of rubber tips for the earbuds, and three different sizes of the ear cushions. These cushions do an amazing job keeping your buds in, secure, and tough while you’re out doing your sports activities. Jaybird uses Bluetooth 2.1+ EDR which the company says it’s better at streaming quality audio versus Bluetooth Low Energy devices. It uses a ‘Shift Premium Bluetooth Audio’ proprietary SBC Bluetooth codec which compresses audio to maintain the high quality. The Jaybird BlueBuds X claim a battery life of 8 hours after 2 hours of charging. 30 minutes charge gives you 90 minutes of playtime.
Setting is just as simple as with the Bose unit. Hit the central button and another female assistant, Jenna, speaks to you when your headphones are on or when they are ready for pairing. We paired them with our in-car tablet first to consume the same content as before and the sound quality is impressive coming from a pair of ear buds. If the fit is tight, the sound flows flows naturally into your ears with low rumbling bass. In our humble opinion of non-audiophiles, these Jaybirds sound fabulous and outperform many of the Bluetooth headphones out there. Pushing the up volume levels didn’t bring any noticeable sound distortion.
When it comes to sound isolation, they surprisingly block more outside noise than we’ve expected. We decided to communicate with our rear seating passenger who once again ignored us. They clearly work! Even while outside enjoying some fresh air, the music played without any background noise interference.
While many of us would buy these for sports-related activities, using the Jaybirds while being chauffeured around shows their versatility. And speaking of that, we paired them up also with the Apple Watch, a combination that we believe it will be one of the most popular out there. The minimalistic design of the two, along with the high-quality construction makes for a nice gift. Pairing them was just as easy as pairing the earbuds with the tablet and seconds later we were playing music from our watch through the buds.
The JayBird BlueBuds X Bluetooth earphones are some of the best sounding wireless earphones we’ve tried and if you don’t like the bulk of traditional, large Bluetooth headphones, then they are hard to ignore. Even at $170.
Bose Customer QuietComfort 25
For years, these wired headphones have been our workhorse when traveling. In countless transcontinental flights, the noise cancelling headphones from Bose have been the highlight of our trips. They are simply some of the best wired headphones one can buy. Compared with the Bluetooth headphones, you can also connect them directly to the car’s entertainment system. So while traveling you have the option to plug them into a tablet or the AUX jack in your car. This is exactly what we did in our 7 Series road trip car. There is not a lot to say about them other than the sound quality is superb; crisp, clear and with a great balance of sound ranges. The noise cancellation is excellent and if the previously tested Bluetooth headphones allowed some slight sound through the ears, those over-the-years soft cups simply block any external noise. They are just as perfect for relaxing and napping, as they are for listening to music or watching movies.
Yet it is hard to say if those are a better buy than Bluetooth headphones. They come with AAA batteries which run out quite fast and they have those long cables dangling down your body. But if those things don’t matter to you, then the QuietComfort 25 should be in your bag as you pack for the road trip.