Headphones want to evolve and become more than just
No, your everyday earbuds aren’t going anywhere. But for the past
couple of years, a small subset of companies have quietly tried
to transform wireless headphones from simple audio products
to full-fledged in-ear computers.
German startup Bragi has been a key part of this; its Dash
earbuds blew up on
Kickstarter in 2014, and helped shape what a so-called
“hearable” could be. The gadgets had touch controls, fitness
tracking tools, the ability to let in outside noise, and heaps of
sensors. They also played music!
The problem is they weren’t very good. Bragi improved the Dash
with software updates over time, but their battery life was
eternally short, and they just couldn’t stay connected over
Bluetooth. The fact that they cost $300 didn’t help.
Months have passed, though, and the ideas Bragi was getting at
make a little more sense today. Apple’s AirPods
have made the concept of truly wireless earbuds somewhat normal,
while startups like Doppler Labs have helped popularize the
notion of earbuds that augment
Now, Bragi is launching its follow-up: the Dash Pro. It goes for
$329, and it’s available online today. Bragi says a retail launch
at Best Buy and other stores will happen “over the coming weeks.”
The Dash Pro largely follows in the original Dash’s footsteps: It
looks almost identical; it’s totally wireless; it still fits
snugly (after a little maneuvering); it does fitness tracking; it
has a host of touch, swipe, and motion controls to learn; and
there’s 4 GB of built-in storage, so you can play audio files
straight from the device.
The existing Dash will be discontinued to make way for the Dash
Pro, but many of the upgrades here are coming from a big software
update that will also apply to the older model. Bragi is
promising better battery life, improved sound, a cleaner “audio
transparency” mode (i.e., the mode that allows you to let in more
real-world sound without taking the earbuds off), and a
“one-touch” Bluetooth pairing process. All of that sounds great,
but I won’t be able to say how true it actually is before testing
the Dash Pro further.
The thing Bragi is pushing the hardest is a partnership with
foreign language translation app. Some background: Doppler Labs
and other “hearable” companies have long been
teasing the possibility of having your smart earbuds
translate foreign languages in real time. The dream is that
you can hear someone talk to you in English (or whatever) in
real-time even as they’re speaking in Mandarin in reality.
Bragi’s OS update will technically make that happen, but
it’s a bit of a hacky workaround. You need a $5 monthly
subscription to iTranslate Pro and to have that app loaded on
your phone. When your foreign-tongued friend begins
speaking, the phone app translates his words in real time and
pipes an English version straight into your earbuds.
On the off chance that you come across another Bragi Dash Pro
user, you can just talk to each other with the app connected,
nodding each time you speak. It’s nice that Bragi has something
for this scenario — and Bragi says the app supports about 40
languages — but you could use iTranslate on your phone and be
nearly as efficient, without the head nods.
Along those lines is something Bragi calls the “Virtual 4D Menu.”
This taps into the motion controls
Business Insider reported on last year; as you move your head
to the sides, the Dash or Dash Pro will tell you menu commands,
as if you were looking at a virtual screen. Move it slightly to
the right, and you can select, say, Google Assistant (or Siri on
iOS); move it far to the left, and you can choose to pause a song
that’s playing. If this works, great, but simply using your voice
to activate certain commands would render all of this moot.
Slightly more useful is the update’s purported ability to
automatically recognize whether you’re running, swimming, or
biking, then log your exercise data in Bragi’s companion app
accordingly. Likewise, Bragi says it’s rolling out a
“superhearing” mode that lets you raise or lower the volume of
the outside world.
The most significant updates are still likely to be the simplest.
Bragi says the Dash Pro gets five hours of battery life on a
charge, or 30 hours through its battery case; that’s not amazing
in a vacuum, but it would be pretty impressive for a truly
wireless earphone — if it delivers that performance in real life.
The whole thing is waterproof, too, and Bragi claims its bumped
up the voice tech so you won’t have to repeat your commands too
Bragi is also promising that the Dash Pro’s Bluetooth connection
will be as reliable as its lower-end Headphone earbuds. I
found those to work
very well, but they also have far less tech to deal with.
Again, time will tell. Given that my brief demo was in a noisy
restaurant, the same sentiment applies to the Dash Pro’s sound
If you’re super into all of this, Bragi is also partnering with
hearing aid maker Starkey on a model that can be customized to
the shape of your ears. It’ll cost $500, and you’ll have to visit
an audiologist to get yourself fitted, but if you’re willing to
splurge on a fit that only you can wear, there you go.
Earphones like the Dash Pro live and die by their smarter
features. If you just want truly wireless earbuds, the Headphone
is very competent (potentially awkward fit aside), and the
AirPods work like a dream with other Apple devices. They’re both
much less expensive, too.
Bragi certainly has big ideas for devices like this — CEO
Nikolaj Hviid said that the company has toyed with the idea of
using earbuds like this to power AR-style glasses. And
the Dash Pro may have its charms; having your
headphones double as your fitness tracker makes sense, and being
able to do phone things without having to stare at a screen is a
The underlying tech has to work first, though. Here’s hoping that
Bragi’s promises hold true this time around. If that
happens, then we can talk about how healthy
the notion of keeping computers in your ears all day is for
We’ll have a more definitive verdict on the Dash Pro in the
coming weeks, after we give it a full hands-on review.