I'm not a runner. I mean, I run — when the weather's good and I've depleted every excuse in the book — but I wouldn't call myself an athlete by any account. I stay fit in spite of running, by biking or hiking or throwing balls at people's heads. But I'm outside a lot, partially because the antidote to a sedentary job spent in front of a computer screen is walking, briskly, with my dog by my side.
And during those walks or bike rides, I need headphones. It's become a running joke in my house because at one time I have half a dozen pairs of tester earbuds sitting by the entrance way. I try to change it up every few days, adding data points to my growing list of qualities that make up a decent pair of headphones.
When I started using the Jaybird Tarah Pro earbuds, an amalgam of the $100 Tarahs and $130 X4s with a bit of a unique flair thrown in to justify the additional expense, I didn't expect to love them as much as I do. They're sport headphones that happen to be fantastic for everyone.
Best in class sports earbuds
Jaybird has always made great sport headphones, but the Tarah Pros are comfortable, great-sounding, and intuitive enough to wear all the time.
There are so many wireless headphones out there right now that companies are either going niche or going premium to hit every possible consumer. Jaybird's Tarah headphones, which were released back in September, were intended to capture the runner looking to go from wired to wireless.
With the Tarah Pro, Jaybird is injecting a bit of luxury into that formula, spicing up the base model — and building on what makes the X series so appealing — without drastically changing anything. In my time with the Tarah Pros, I ran, biked, hiked, and sweated my way to appreciate them for what they are and can't be, and ended up feeling pretty comfortable recommending them to most anyone with a big enough budget.
The formula hasn't much changed year over year despite the new brand: Jaybird makes headphones for people who sweat. To back up that claim, the Tarah Pros are IPX7 waterproof, which means they should hold up to sweat, rain, or anything else you subject them to. The main difference between these and the Tarahs, which retail for $60 less, lie in the refinements: the braided, reinforced cable; the 14 hours of battery life; the "switch fit" orientation, which lets you wear these both under and over the ear; the magnetic charger cradle; the personalized EQ options within the Jaybird app; and the magnetic backs that pause playback and keep the headphones from falling when not in use.
To understand the existence of the Tarah Pros, you have to look back at Jaybird's rise to being the brand associated with running and extreme sport. The X series always stood out as being for those serious about beating that PB or surviving a sweaty jaunt through the back country, while the Freedom series was a little cheaper, a little more casual.
When Tarah replaced the Freedom series earlier this year, it attempted to combine the seriousness of the X series with the simplicity of the Freedoms, consolidating the wings and gels into a single piece of silicone in three sizes.
Now we have the Tarah at the bottom, the X4 in the middle, and the Tarah Pro at the top, with $30 between each. So why get the Tarah Pro over the X4? In short, it ain't for the sound quality, which is much the same between all three (Jaybird admits to using the same drivers across the line, though the Tarah Pro has a slightly higher top volume). It's mainly for the conveniences listed above, which together form a bubble of affordances I'm not used to in a pair of earbuds.
For example, the eargels, numbered in size between 1 and 3, are luxurious and fit better in my ears than those of the Tarah.
That said, I like the sound coming out of the Pros. There's a natural bass boost, probably because the company knows that the eargels are sitting slightly outside the ear canal, while the highs are less pronounced than many other headphones in my repetoire. This can make listening to some hip-hop and electronic music a bit overwhelming, but once I got moving I rarely noticed the frequency imbalance. At the same time, Jaybird includes a personalized EQ feature with the Pros, playing six simple tones that, once measured, creates a unique frequency map.
My personal EQ cranked the low-end even more than the default, which I corrected, but I kept the other bars the same, and now I can't go back to the old way of doing things.
The braided cable is lovely, and prevents tangles. The magnetic backs of the drivers pause the music and close the Bluetooth connection in a satisfying thud. And the cinch, which I found problematic to adjust on the Tarahs, is smooth and compliant, even when the buds sit in my ears. The short length of the cable may be problematic for some people, but like other Jaybird products, it took a few tries before finding a combination of ear-fit and cinch position that worked. Pro-tip: the tighter against the back of the neck, the better.
Once you find the right fit, you probably won't even realize you're wearing them.
These earbuds rely on passive isolation to achieve their effect, and for me, they work almost too well: the outside world is almost uncomfortable absent here, caused by the oversized eargels that don't go in the ears so much as overlap them. And battery life is admittedly superb; I counted about 15 hours of use from the Pros before I had to recharge them, about an hour longer than their stated 14-hour uptime.
The charging cradle, while still proprietary, is magnetic this time, and slightly curved against the bottom of the in-line remote, which now has bigger, more tactile buttons.
Another plus: connection distance and quality. Connecting the Tarah Pros to various Android and iOS devices was reliable, with near-perfect stability and no drop-offs. Call quality through the in-line microphone was acceptable, though people on the other end told me I sounded a bit thin and distant.
How do you sell your customers on luxury, especially when your other products, so close in price, do such a good job? I already said the $100 Tarahs are the best sport headphones in their price range, and I am equally fond of the $130 X4s, which boast the advantage of ear tip customization (the included Comply ear tips are fantastic). So why spend the extra money on the Tarah Pros? Honestly, I'm not sure you should — not unless you need the extra battery life.
Every feature I mentioned above, from the magnetic latches to the braided cable and rotating fit, are nice-to-haves. The real clincher here is the additional battery life; the Tarahs get about six hours per charge, and the X4s about eight. The Pros achieve an impressive 15 hours per charge (at the expense of a slightly heavier, bulkier driver). Unless you must have that bonus uptime, The X4s are probably a better choice.
The only other criticism I can level at the Pros doesn't really affect Android users all that much, but it should be said: they only support the lower-quality SBC Bluetooth codec, whereas the X4s support AAC, which Apple uses to great effect on the iPhone and iPad. While most Android phones do support AAC, they do so quite poorly, lowering the sound quality to prevent stuttering and connection drops (our friends at SoundGuys have a great explainer).
The Pros can boast Bluetooth 5.0 support over the X4's Bluetooth 4.1, but the newer standard doesn't impact wireless range or connection quality for Bluetooth headphones — at least not yet.
I'm going to go out on a limb and say that if you're trying to decide between the Tarah Pro and the X4, it'll come down to whether you can justify splurging an extra $30 on a few minor benefits. If so, and these are within your budget, you won't regret the purchase. I found the consolidated eargel style to be more comfortable and stable in my ear than any combination of wing and tip size on the X4, and while some may decry the lack of customization, I applaud Jaybird's commitment to simplicity, especially given the Tarah Pro's other quality-of-life improvements.
For me, this comes down to battery life and convenience: I don't love charging any Bluetooth headphones, so the fewer times I'm digging around my bag for the charger, the better. With more than 14 hours of uptime, that's not a problem here.
With the Tarah Pros, Jaybird is giving runners and other athletes the kind of elegant conveniences that we see in over-the-ear headphones, and the industry is better for it.