Bragi Dash review

These futuristic earbuds offer a hopeful glimpse into a smarter hearable future
Bragi Dash

At its most basic functionality, the $299 Bragi Dash promises to be the world's first truly wireless set of earphones. That means there's no wire tethering the left earbud to the right. However, focusing solely on that attribute is a simplistic view of the Dash, and the wireless in-ear monitors (IEM) aim to do a lot more for its wearer.

Bragi dubbed the Dash as a 'hearable' given its ability to quantify your life, and CEO Nikolaj Hviid said that the ears offer a much more precise location from which to measure health data than the wrists.

With its 23 embedded sensors, the Dash offers a hopeful glimpse at a smarter wearable future. Much like a wrist-worn wearable, Bragi paints the promise of a fitness coach, a health aid and a connected digital assistant all in one device.

Over time, as Dash gets smarter and gains better battery life so that it can continuously record health data, we can expect it to help us train for marathons, call for assistance when we fall and even become a real-time translator with its built-in microphone and transparency mode.

Read next: Bragi on what the ear means for the future of wearables

With the growing interest in hearables – from Samsung Gear IconX to LifeBEAM's Vi – Bragi seems to have a head start in its creation and launch of these wireless smart earbuds. But are they the hearables you should opt for? Read on to find out.

Bragi Dash: Design, build and comfort

The Dash comes with an attractive – albeit bulbous – teardrop design, making the earbuds less discreet, more smaller, advanced hearing aids. Given the size, I expected Dash to quickly fall out of my ears, but fortunately that wasn't the case and the eartips provide a secure and comfortable fit. The Dash comes pre-installed with an extra-small eartip, and the box contains three additional sizes of silicone tips to help you get the best fit.

To secure the earbuds, you'll need to insert them into your ear canal and rotate to lock them in place. Earlier this year, Hviid announced a partnership between Bragi and hearing aid manufacturer Starkey, which will result in custom moulded ear tips for Dash in the future.

Even without the custom moulding, Dash remained in place during my bumpy train commute and the buds didn't fall out when I went jogging.

Bragi Dash: Bluetooth pairing

Like a Fitbit, the earbuds can be paired with an iPhone or Android smartphone, but Bragi's ambitious goal is to someday turn Dash into a standalone computer. Today, Dash ships with 4GB of storage so you can listen to music stored on your earbuds without having to carry your phone on a run.

The right and left earbuds communicate with each other using near-field magnetic induction, a technology that's borrowed from hearing aids like those made by partner Starkey. This eliminates latency and allows both earbuds to pipe out synchronous audio. To communicate with your phone, Dash relies on Bluetooth.

When paired to your phone, the companion app allows you to tweak Dash's settings and monitor your workouts and health data.

Bragi Dash: It's all in the touch

Once you remove the set from its packaging and place them in your ears, the earbuds automatically power on. Getting started with Dash can be intimidating given that there are no buttons on the earbuds, nor is there a touchscreen as on a smartwatch. A touch sensitive surface is located on the top of each earbud, allowing you to interact with Dash like a touchpad on a laptop through a series of swipes, taps and presses.

This makes interacting with Dash seem more like sending morse code than tapping on a touchscreen. It's a bit complicated at first, especially since there are different touch commands for the left and right earbuds.

For activity tracking and fitness monitoring, you'll want to touch the left Dash, while the right Dash is used to control music playback. Once you get used to the taps, it's an unobtrusive way of commanding the device. Still, I would love to see Bragi add voice command to Dash in the future to make it more competitive with artificial intelligent assistants, like Siri and Google Now. Asking Dash to tell me my heart rate with my voice while on a run is far easier than trying to remember how many taps are needed to call up this information.

To acknowledge that your swipes and taps are registered, Dash will confirm with a voice or audio beep. If you're not wearing Dash, the earbuds are smart enough to power down to save battery.

I had a few minor quibbles with the Dash. First, only part of the surface of Dash is touch sensitive. If you're not touching the right area, you won't get a response. Second, if you're fumbling with Dash in an attempt to get the earbuds in your ears, chances are high that you'll inadvertently touch Dash's touch area and activate a command.

Configuration of the earbud is done through the companion smartphone app called Bragi. On the iPhone, after you program Dash, you'll have to 'eject' the earbuds before the settings take effect. Failing to do so will place the earbuds in a state of limbo, but you can quickly reset the buds to working order by placing them in the portable aluminium charging case.

Bragi Dash: Fitness tracking

This is arguably the Dash's most attractive feature. You can ditch the sports watch and the phone and hit the gym or the outdoors with minimal fuss. Currently there's dedicated tracking for running, cycling and swimming. We've focused on running and swimming for now but we'll add more on cycling at a later date.

Running

Running with the Dash solves so many issues for runners. Crucially, it signals the end of flailing cables getting in the way. Along with that truly wireless form, there's also a built-in heart rate sensor to measure workout intensity, enough storage to carry a decent amount of music and it can count your steps. There's no GPS, so you'll have to rely on your smartphone for more detailed tracking unfortunately. There's no third party app support yet either, so you're relying on storing data in Bragi's own app

Getting up an running is relatively straightforward. Once you've paired the buds to the Bragi app, you'll be able to select run tracking from the Activity hub. Here it'll show you that you can see heart rate, steps, distance, duration and calories. When you're out, voice prompts will keep you updated on heart rate status, steps and duration. You can double tap on the left earbud to get an update, but that's easier said than done as sweaty fingers make it difficult to get it right the first or even second time.

Running with a hood over your head is not recommended as well based on our experience. The sensitivity of the controls on the buds mean it's all too easy to accidentally turn on the audio transparency feature. That transparency feature does work well though, with the built-in microphones letting you clearly hear your surroundings if you're worried about running near busy roads. Sound quality is strong as well. It takes a few sessions before you can appreciate how well rounded it is but I would have preferred more in terms of maximum volume.

As far as fit goes, they simply do not budge. While they look a little on the big side, it's easy to secure them in place and in large they are comfortable. I did find on a few occasions though that the charging area where there's two protruding pieces of plastic can become slightly pinch inside the ears during longer runs.

Bragi Dash (left), Runkeeper on iPhone (centre and right)

So how does tracking fare? I took it out with the Runkeeper and you can quite clearly see from the screenshots above, the distances recorded are way off. While real time heart rate readings are generated during runs, the information is not saved anywhere in the app afterwards giving you no way of reviewing the data. Based on what I remember of those runs, I didn't feel the readings were all that accurate or in line with what my TomTom Spark and Polar H7 heart rate monitor chest strap delivered. Again, these extra metrics are elements Bragi says it'll add in the next software update. If you were a runner and you bought it now, I'm not sure you'd be all that impressed.

Battery life is interesting as well. The Dash promises 3 hours, which is enough for a very fast marathon. That can be less and closer to 2 hours, if you're tracking and streaming music from the built-in player. That's why having that charger case nearby is so essential.

Swimming

Before the Dash, swim tracking has pretty much been based around watches you wear on your wrist or devices you clip onto your goggles like the XMetrics Pro we reviewed recently. Bragi takes that technology and shrinks it into a small pair of earbuds making it a lot easier to monitor pool sessions. At least that's the theory anyway.

The first thing to get to grips here before jumping in the pool is getting the right Fitsleeves in place. If you've opened the box and used the ones already stuck on, swimming will require swapping them out for a pair of sleeves that covers the entire outer body of the Dash earbuds. This ensures that the Dash stay put into your ears. We tried without them, and it's near impossible to get them to stay in place. Once the sleeves are on, things do get easier, but it's still a fiddly process. I spent a good five or so minutes trying to get them in place and pull my swimming cap over them. I didn't try them without the shower cap, but I wouldn't feel confident of them staying in place without that extra layer of security.

Swim tracking lives in the same section as the running and cycling on the app and you'll need to activate it from the app, which means having your phone nearby to do it. Not ideal really. Once that's done, you'll hear the voice prompt tell you the duration of the swim and your current heart rate. That's your lot. There's no details on lap count or any other swim metrics. From a swimming experience, they didn't move, but I feared all the time that they would pop out of the place. Bluetooth is far too patchy to stream so Bragi suggests using the MP3 player. The sound quality is fantastic once I successfully managed to get it to work. It's full bodied, detailed and surprisingly warm in the bass department. It even retained that quality underwater.

Bragi Dash (left), TomTom MySport (centre and right)

That didn't however make up for the fact that once I left the pool after a 30 minute swim and returned to my phone, the connection between the Dash and app had been lost. Once I'd recovered a connection, it had only saved 8 seconds of my swimming session. This happened on more than one occasion. The data that should be provided is on the basic side although Bragi promises to add more metrics in a software update that's currently only available to beta testers. Right now, none of that is available and based on what we can test, the music quality is the best thing we can really say about it at the moment.

Bragi Dash: Wireless music experience

With the earbuds in, I was pleasantly surprised by the audio quality. Dash delivered a wide soundstage and a good amount of bass on the low end. Listening to music with Dash isn't as good as high-end IEMs, but considering how much technology Bragi managed to cram into the earbuds' compact footprint, the sound quality is pleasing and well-rounded.

The same cannot be said about Dash's glitchy Bluetooth radio. I found that Dash managed to maintain a more reliable connection to Android phones, like Samsung's Galaxy S6 or LG's V10 for music streaming, compared to the likes of Apple's iPhone. Bluetooth range was also an issue during my testing. On the iPhone, music streaming from my iPhone 6s Plus cut out intermittently if I moved my head. Even moving the iPhone from my left to my right pocket could cause crackling or make the audio cut out.

Fortunately, if you don't want to deal with Bluetooth woes while streaming music, you can store music on Dash's built-in flash drive.

Bragi Dash: The phone call experience

In addition to music listening, you can use Dash to take calls. The earbuds come with a bone conduction microphone. To answer a call, you simply nod your head. And if you're in the middle of a jam session, you can shake your head to send your caller straight to voicemail.

Call quality was a mixed bag, and I found the microphone cutting in and out during my calls. I wasn't sure if the microphone didn't make proper contact for bone conduction to work properly, or if Dash wasn't able to isolate my voice from the wind or background noise when using Dash as a wireless headset out on the busy streets of San Francisco. On a few occasions, I noticed that if a call came through while I was listening to music, playback didn't resume automatically after the call completed.

Even if you don't make a lot of calls on your phone, the microphone also serves another function. True to the company's goal of helping keep its users 'present' without being distracted by screens, buttons or a complicated UI, in 'transparency mode' Dash keeps you immersed in your environment. The function of transparency mode is to allow the ambient background noise to come through your music experience – and you can control how much background noise to let through.

Bragi Dash
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Amazon

This allows you to be conscious of where you are. I found this helpful during my morning runs, as I like to listen to music but hate that I can barely hear if a car is coming up behind me with my headphones on. With Dash, the experience is similar to playing music out of a speaker – you get to enjoy your jam without losing track of your surroundings.

Even though Bragi claims that transparency mode allows you to be more 'present' in your environment than being face down swiping through a smartwatch on your wrist, I am not sure that the device has overcome preset societal norms. With my Dash in, friends would still assume I was disengaged from any conversation.

Bragi Dash: Battery life

If you're looking for long music listening sessions, the charging cradle comes equipped with its own battery, so you can drop the buds in to replenish. The cradle is capable of delivering full charges to Dash, allowing the device to be used all day.

Even though the cradle helps give Dash all-day power, the downside is that it can't continuously record health data throughout the day. For fitness junkies, this could limit the device's appeal when compared to Fitbit's and Garmin's wrist-worn wearables, both of which can last for at least a few days on a single charge.

The battery design also means that, like your smartphone, Dash requires nightly recharging. In its current form, Dash won't be able to help you keep track of your sleep. In order for the earbuds to become more useful, Bragi will have to overcome the design challenge of packing so many sensors and circuitry, along with a battery, into the compact design.


Bragi Dash
By Bragi
Bragi Dash’s button-less and screen-less interface means it can someday compete with less compact digital assistants like Amazon's Alexa. But to get there, you’ll need to understand Dash’s complicated language of taps and swipes, overcome the potential for being socially misunderstood and embrace that Dash still is in its infancy. The earbuds need to get a lot smarter to become a ubiquitous, omnipresent assistant. For now, though, Bragi is one of the few wearable companies to offer a clear vision for what it hopes to achieve. It’s a solid vision if you want to take the long-term gamble, but short-term investors may not find the immediate payoff worth the risk, especially at a $299 price point.

Hit
  • Pleasing audio quality
  • Comfortable to wear
  • Audio transparency works well
Miss
  • Bluetooth can be glitchy
  • Can’t track health data continuously, all-day
  • Learning curve for tap commands

Additional words on fitness tracking by Michael Sawh

20 Comments

  • Gadgety says:

    The Bragi team set some tough goals, and if there was a product that could have ended up as vapourware it would have been the Dash. Impressive feat.

    • gron says:

      I'm intrigued how its possible that your comment is from January 2016 but the review lists as being from just a few days ago (June). Maybe it was updated but there's something fishy going on. I've been following this product closely enough to see that reviews are improving as firmware update releases come out so a questionably dated review such as this gives me no reference for current accuracy.

      • gsaardi says:

        Hi Gron,

        What are the reviews that you have collected so far?

        I am interested in this product but can't seem to spare enough time to research it. I'm not a very picky person when it comes to technology, would you recommend this after your research?

        Thanks, Gabriel

    • Birdman1963hk says:

      This product is rubbish!

      I bought it, had it deleiivered, spent 2 hours trying to update the software, 2 days wIting for customer support (apparently they have a lot of complaints to deal with!) and then another 3 hours trying to 're-initialise' the ear buds, then my IT guys also spent 4 hours trying to re-initialise.

      When I asked to return the product I got sent to this online form. I have offered and will make the offer again 'ANYONE WHO CAN COMPETE THIS FORM ONMY BEHALF I WILL GIVE YOU $100'

  • yogibimbi says:

    The flimsiness of the bluetooth connection together with iOS devices could also be due to Apple's bluetooth stack being shite. I have had heaps of problems with bluetooth audio devices and other peripherals on my MacBooks and to me it looks like Apple's the one to blame.

  • Sefar says:

    Take a look at Simger earphones, on Amazon for about 70 bucks. They have been working as a headphone and headset, minus the extra tech for several months. I have them and love them. 

    • anonymous1234 says:

      could they have made them clunkier?

    • rcurry says:

      Still like them?

    • rcurry says:

      Sefar, still liking the Simger?

  • hiennlam says:

    Bragi's customer service is absolute garbage. I've been waiting for 3 days on a response from them, and they refuse to respond to me.

    It's insane that the fix to technical problems is basically the customer spending hour upon hour downloading updates. I did exactly like they told me and now the right earbud doesn't work. I don't think I should be spending my precious time troubleshooting this, especially after dropping well over $300 for this product. I put in over an hour trying to fix my problem. I think I've put in my fair share.

    I've sent 4 follow-up emails and have heard absolutely nothing back. If you're considering this product, don't buy them. Worst money I've ever spent.

  • dean says:

    I am always on a quest to find technology that both meets my fitness requirements and passion for music. The marketing fluff of the Dash's detail in packaging intrigued me. Appears to be quality all the way! I purchased the Dash without a second thought. Unfortunately there was a big disappointment when the music played! Because of the way the ear pieces fit in the ear canal the bass frequencies have the best environment to sound good. When a speaker or ear piece is physically connected to something else they say that it is "coupled". In the case of the Dash it helps isolate the user from outside noise and creates the best situation for sound. The stage is set so what comes next is the music. By the way this "coupled" situation has a downside. Any impact such as footsteps when running is transmitted through your skeletal system to your ears! Walking around a gym not an issue but running is very loud and irritating. After all of this and the chance for full bass because of the "coupled" ear pieces the sound is very, very mediocre at best! My earbuds that came with my iPhone sound much better without the advantage or disadvantage of non-coupled sound! $15 earbuds often have sounded better than the "Dash"! I returned them the next day. Also keep in-mind the isolation factor of wearing these while driving. Not good!

    Disappointed Dean 

  • SCormacCarlin says:

    I have had my Dash for several months. A number of the issues raised have been resolved by firmware updates. For example, as of four days ago, the maximum volume has been increased so that lower volume recordings now sound great. The sound quality is terrific and keeps getting better. TEven though I have a Pono hi-res player and terrific Cardas Ear Speaker earphones, the Bragi has become my go-to earphones. While the sound quality is not as good as the Pono/Cardas set up, the Dash is so much more comfortable for long periods, and I do not need to take another device to hear music. As a result, I just pick it up and go. And the Dash's sound isolation is much better than typical IEMs, including the Cardas, probably because of the larger outer body also blocking external noise. Thus, the Dash are a Godsend on plane trips.

    The BT connection issues remain, but have improved. These issues exist mostly because the BT receiver is only in the right Dash. If you put the phone or streaming device on your left, you will drop the connection regularly as the human body is a great BT shield (which is why Bragi used the NFMI technology for pairing the two ear pieces). If you put the device in your right pocket, you are fine. I am 6'6" with a long torso and with the latest updates, i get zero connection drops with the phone deep in my right gym shorts/pants pocket. Other BT earphones have this exact problem, and many are far worse (Jaybrd X2 for example).

    I have tried swimming without a cap, and they have never fallen out. But, if you do not wear a cap, water will eventually get between the Dash and your inner ear. The Dash continues playing music as it is truly waterproof, but you are hearing it through water. I am hopeful that the custom in ear sleeves mentioned above will help get a better swimming seal. And the most recent update adds lap, stroke and breath tracking to the swimming function.

    I am curious about the Gear Icon X because of its price and that it seems like a direct Dash knockoff, but I doubt it will have the same sound quality and as regular updates as Bragi (I love Samsung devices, but they suck at updates).

  • geoffwhite says:

    I bought these about a month ago. They were a bit more expensive than I'd normally spend, but I was super-excited about them! On balance I'm still pleased, but here's my pros and cons:


    GOOD:
    They fit really well once you get the right placement
    They only fall out when you're upside down!
    When they're well fitted the isolation is great, which makes the sound really good (that said, I'm no audiophile)
    The tapping is a btit fiddly at first, but once you get the hang of it you can change volume, play/pause and skip forward with ease
    The voice synth is a bit like Scarlett Johansson from the film Her (I'm embarrassed to admit I've noticed that)

    BAD:
    Bluetooth occasionally VERY patchy (by which I mean: phone in back pocket=breakup, phone in front pocket=fine)
    it'd be great to be able to skip back a track

    Loads of potential (eg voice recognition) - hope they keep on with it!

  • krempert says:

    I bought the Dash a few months ago and highly recommend them! The v2.0 firmware update improved the connection to the Bragi iPhone app and the overall quality. I use them primarily at my desk and while walking around. As mentioned, I also take the left earbud out so that people don't think that I'm disengaged. I encourage Bragi to consider this usage model and develop a smaller, lighter case so that you don't have to carry the rather bulky charging case.

    As background, I'm not a audiophile, but I own a pair of Bose QC25 headphones and the Soundmaster FoxLDash 7 portable Bluetooth speaker for traveling. I'm excited about the Bragi Dash and the future wireless Bluetooth earbud/hearable market. Just imagine Apple leveraging the Beats acquisition and developing a similar Siri integrated earbud! Or why not just spend some cash and buy Bragi? I can hear the Android zealots :-)

  • SMIDG3T says:

    This is a stupid question as I think I know the answer but if you download music to the earphones themselves, do you get any dropouts or crackling?

    • EdwinJaufmann says:

      There are no stupid questions.  The answer is NO.  I found the audio quality to be very high.  But see my review below before you shell out $299

  • EdwinJaufmann says:

    I'm late to the game, but just got my Dash in white this week (August 8, 2016).  I'm already returning them due to no telephone connectivity.  It's a great concept.  They are attractive, fit the ear well, don't shake loose.  Unfortunately, at least my pair had multiple technical problems, even on the "2.0" os.  Based on my experience of no telephone connectivity, can lower volume with swipe on right ear bud but not raise it, gestures do not work correctly on right ear bud based on diagrams and instructions, I would say they should have but a 0.2 tag on the os upgrade instead of 2.0.

    Just to show the very low quality, even the page you need to fill out to start the return process doesn't work.  Do they even have a Quality Assurance team at Bragi?  I doubt it.

    I would suggest that you wait six more months.  If the company is still in business and they have fixed the quality issues, buy them, until then, stick with your old blue tooth ear buds, sorry.

  • Lesley says:

    I recently purchase the Dash and have to say I was more excited before purchase than after. The sound quality is great to be sure but I lose connection between the two ear buds, my cell phone, buzzing sound in my left ear to where I have to remove the buds and put back on the charger before I can continue using them. I think this resets them or something I’m not sure. The other problem I have is the phone calls. I use headphones all the time through my day at my desk and working a physical part time job and felt wireless ear buds would be great. When I get a phone call I can hear people but they tell me my voice constantly cut out making it hard to hold a conversation. This makes me stop, take the buds out and take the call on the phone. Not a convenient or enjoyable experience. 

  • meee says:

    intrigued to why the review states that the dash has no inbuilt gps when in fact it actually does?

  • kvansweringen says:

    Sorry I paid 300$ for the Dash...they aren't worth it. They have terrible audio and don't stay in my ears. I tried returning them but unfortunately it was past 5 days past the 14 days allowed. Sucks for me I guess since they'll probably just collect dust. 

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