Beyerdynamic’s Free Byrd are true wireless headphones with active noise cancellation.

And that alone sounds like many other earbuds from the past year or two. What have Beyerdynamic done differently?

The shape

What’s in the box

  • earbuds
  • ear tips in sizes, in silicone and foam
  • usb cable
  • charging case

What makes them different

  • sound personalization by app
  • 11 hours of listening time on a charge
  • Alexa built-in
  • google fast pairing (and finding misplaced earbuds)

The Good

Unlike the earlier Beyerdynamic SPACE speakerphone, Free Byrd support Apt-X, Apt-X Adaptive, AAC, and SBC codecs over Bluetooth. What this means is, you don’t have to worry about having an excellent sounding codec, as long as your audio source supports one of these (Apple products support AAC, Android supports Apt-X, and everything supports SBC. SBC has a reputation for sucking, although the SPACE showed that it could be acceptable.)

The Bad

The Free Byrd earbuds attempt to do too much. There are 9 functions you can perform by tapping on them while wearing them, and 3 more that you can do by tapping on them while they’re in the case.

This isn’t realistic. I cannot memorize 9 different types of tapping patterns to use the Free Byrd ear buds.

This many types of commands is essentially a mystery interface. I never know what I’m going to get as a result of a tap.

There’s also a delay following a tap. I regularly tap once to start audio, tap twice to stop it, and it turns out tapping twice is something else – Beyerdynamic makes single-tap start AND stop, so the music pauses, resumes, and then Active Noise Cancellation switches on.

Come on. 13 different taps once you start counting the functions that they double up on. Play/pause is a single tap. Accept an incoming call is a single tap. End a call or reject an incoming call is tap and hold. Switching between transparency and ANC is double-tap. Are you confused yet?

Even once I remember single tap vs double tap, the delay trips me up. I tap, and it hasn’t responded, so I tap again. Now it’s doing nothing of what I wanted, and it frustrates me.

Or, I try and engage ANC instead of transparency, and it ends up pausing.

Charging

The case charges the earbuds. The case charges either via included USB-C cable, or Qi wireless charging.

How do they sound

Mystery interface aside, the sound is quite good.

Norah Jones’s “Don’t Know Why”, Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition”, Gary Clark Jr. & Junkie XL’s cover of The Beatles’ “Come Together” are my quick and easy songs of choice. I know them, and I know their nuances.

A word on noise cancellation

ANC tends to work by using microphones to listen to noise and then play an inverse waveform that counters that noise, cancelling it out. This works best for constant noise, rather than sudden noises.

In practice, I listened with ANC on, music off, and two attempts, one with a clothes dryer and one with AC vents blowing air. The AC vent noise was filtered perfectly. The clothes dryer nose was reduced, but not removed.

With audio playing, the clothes dryer noise was not really noticeable, the music overpowered it.

Voice assistants

Alexa is an option, besides your phone’s built in Siri or Google Assistant. If you already have the Alexa app installed, it will prompt you to do this.

And that’s fine, but afterwards, it will say that US English is not a recommended language. Really.

Imagine my disappointment in this.

If you like Alexa, and you already use Alexa for music, this makes sense, but I am unimpressed that Amazon and/or Beyerdynamic haven’t resolved this. I’m fairly certain it’s Amazon’s fault, but it’s Beyerdynamic’s product, and the two should work on this.

Listening

Norah Jones, “Don’t know why” is a great track, with distinct bass notes, piano, and high-range voice. In the middle, there are some subtle guitar notes that are low in the mix. I’ve found that lesser headphones don’t really show the guitar notes.

Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an exhibition” is a whole work, not a specific piece. But the Gnomus as arranged by Vladimir Ashkenazy is a great one, and has dynamic range. Bombastic trumpets followed by flute, huge dynamic range, everything echoing the same motif, with woodwinds taking over the secondary phrase, and percussive hits. There’s bass, there’s treble, there’s soft, there’s loud. It’s got everything, and you none of it competes – much of the instruments are playing the same melody, so you can hear what the headphones are capable of.

Gary Clark Jr. & Junkie XL “Come Together” is a guilty pleasure. Take a great song, and open it with an airy alto line fading between left and right, then follow with a hot bass line doubled in octaves, and a guitar that imitates Jimi Hendrix. Add vocal harmonies. It blows my mind, early and often.

The actual sound

Remember how I wrote about the Beyerdynamic headphones, both open and closed back, and said they were… not great. Weak bass, whole instruments missing from the mix or sounding uninspiring?

The Free Byrd are great. They have a full bass without clobbering it. They have great treble, with balance. There’s good mid-range, some emphasis on the bass, and none of it is overpowering, usually.

If any of it comes on too strong, it’s the piano. Even that sparkles, without grating.

I love the stereo imaging in “Come Together”. The bombast of Pictures of an Exhibition is balanced, with good dynamics, and range. I never feel like I’m missing notes or timbre.

The guitar on Karen O & Danger Mouse’s cover of Lou Reed’s Perfect Day has chorus and reverb, and the recording captures the precision of each finger-picked note, with the subtle dragging of skin over the nickel-wound strings.

Ludwig Göransson’s The Mandalorian soundtrack has a driving bass and horns. The bass overpowers the horns. It’s a little difficult to listen to for long, and this is sad, because it’s a great piece of music.

I enjoyed listening to these so much that I kept on listening long after I’d heard my usual test songs.

Should you get the Free Byrd?

Beyerdynamic’s Free Byrd retail for $249. They work with most any phone or laptop with Bluetooth. They have all the codecs required to get reasonably good audio (there are some less common codecs for Android phones that deliver even higher quality audio.)

The sound isn’t bad. The ANC works well, filtering out a lot of noise. 11 hours of play time is an accomplishment. Beyerdynamic can be proud of the sound quality, but should reconsider the user interface for tapping. The Free Byrd are available from beyerdynamic.com.

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