Hardware review: Bragi The Dash

In the past year or so we’ve seen many earphone manufacturers shifting focus from wired to wireless offerings, and this is arguably due to Apple dropping the 3.5mm auxiliary jack in its latest iPhone 7. Though these offerings are labelled wireless, most still have a wire that connect the two earbuds together at the very least. With that said, let me introduce you to Bragi’s The Dash – a set of wireless, smart earphones, dubbed “the world’s first hearable” by its creators.

Technical specifications

Frequency range: 20-20,000Hz

Processor: 32-bit ARM processor

Interface features: touch controls, digital signal processor, multi-colour LED light system

Usage time: around 4 hours

Charging time: Less than 2 hours

Format: MP3, AAC

Platform: iOS and Android

Price and supplier information
Supplier: Bragi
Website: www.bragi.com
RRP: R5,999

The Dash doesn’t have a wire that connects the buds together. Instead, it uses a system called near-field magnetic induction to keep the buds synchronized. This sounds great on paper, but how does it translate in practice? Initially I was very frustrated with the Bluetooth connectivity. When streaming music from my phone nested in my “jean-pant” pocket, it sounded like I was listening to that new single from Stuttering Stutter and the Stutterers. You know the one, right? Only whilst holding the phone in my hand or better yet, making sure I wore a shirt with a top pocket, did I manage to get uninterrupted streaming. Further compounding my Bluetooth troubles, people struggled to hear me during calls, so I often had to remove The Dash during calls.

My review unit initially had firmware version 2.1 installed. Updating it to version 2.2 (the newest firmware available at the time of writing) improved the Bluetooth connection in that I was able to have the phone in my right-side pants pocket with no hitches, but it still caused issues if I moved it to the left pocket. It’s a very strange situation, but I’m guessing that it connects through the right earpiece, which then syncs with the left earbud. The bottom line is that these units are built around software updates and I have no doubt that future updates will help rectify the annoying connectivity problem and unlock more hidden talents of The Dash.

Looking beyond the Bluetooth issue, The Dash is easily one of the best wireless earphones on the market. There’s really nothing else quite like it. It’s already got an attractive array of features, with many more to come via applications that’ll likely take advantage of the 27 sensors the units have. Currently, it’s sporting features like audio transparency, a step counter, an activity tracker, and the ability to monitor your body temperature, breathing rate and heart rate. It’s also waterproof. To be perfectly honest, at first I snickered at the line “the world’s first hearable”, until I spent time with The Dash and realised that it goes far beyond being just another set of wireless earphones.

The Dash is equipped with a 32-bit ARM processor, a digital signal processor, touch controls and high-resolution sensors with three-axis accelerometer and gyroscope. It packs a 100mAh lithium-ion battery and embedded music player (MP3 and AAC) with 4GB internal storage, a Micro-USB charger, and a charging case with a 2,200mAh battery that’ll provide up to five full charges before needing to connect to an external power source. When fitting your Dash for the first time, there’s a choice of different bud sizes to ensure it fits snugly. In other news, I now know that I have medium-sized ears. The Dash also comes with its own app, allowing you to customise it.

Pairing is easy, and once paired The Dash confirms the Bluetooth connection via an audible beep. It’s not necessary to manually power it on and off, because it senses when the buds are in your ears. Similarly, it automatically pauses your music when you remove them, and resumes where you left off when you wear them again. With regards to the touch controls, the right Dash is designated for music and phone functionality, while the left is for activities and audio transparency. So, tapping or sliding your finger on the right or left will access the appropriate functions, but The Dash goes one step further with gesture control. Meaning you can answer a call by simply nodding, or decline the call by shaking your head. Want me to go one step further? You can simply tap your cheekbone to access Siri, or access any other function you assign. Are you starting to understand why these are truly smart earphones?

As for the sound quality, it’s fantastic. There’s a good amount of bass, with crystal clear mids and perfect highs. The battery will provide three hours on a full charge for a heavy user, and takes an hour to recharge to full.

Audio transparency is one of the key features I like about The Dash. It uses the built-in microphone to allow you to hear the ambient sounds of your environment without removing the earbuds. You activate the microphone by swiping your finger forward on your left ear and swipe back to deactivate. This is a brilliant safety feature for cyclists and runners wearing The Dash, and the 2.2 firmware update activated a new feature called Windshield, which cuts out wind noise without obstructing other external audio, such as my wife reminding me that it’s my turn to do the dishes. Did I mention that with audio transparency enabled, the speakers play the sound into the ear where the sound comes from? So, I know exactly which side of my face is going to receive my wife’s wrath when those dishes don’t get done.

For the fitness enthusiast, The Dash comes with activity tracking that logs your steps, distance, duration of the activity and heart rate. The Dash comes with three activity modes (running, cycling and swimming) and includes live sports assistance similar to offerings from other activity tracking apps. Storing music on the 4GB of internal memory negates the need to take your phone for a run or swim.

If you’re a fitness fanatic, these puppies are a no-brainer and come packed with features, with many more to come via software updates and applications. Perhaps someday your Dash will warn you that your temperature is a little off, and that you may be getting sick. Or it’ll tell you that your best hang time achieved during your last skate session was 2 seconds, or that you’re breathing too fast, or that your heart rate is irregular and you should see a doctor. With The Dash, you’re essentially wearing a miniature smartphone in your ear.

The Bragi Dash is available at iStores, and online at buycycle.co.za.

9The Dash is the best set of wireless earphones out there, thanks to their inclusion of a bunch of smart functionality. They’ve got great sound quality too. I was blown away.