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Last year saw plenty of companies launch wireless earphones and with the inevitable software updates that follow, this year they’re going to come into their own.
Properly wireless, individual earphones are only beginning to appear in South African retailers, but you can bet they’re here to stay. Probably the most famous example are Apple’s AirPods, which haven’t yet landed on our shores, but have nonetheless managed to attract plenty of attention. Samsung’s IconX and Bragi’s The Dash, meanwhile, are available right now, and its the latter I want to talk about, as they’re the only ones I’ve actually tested.
The feature list for The Dash is extensive and impressive. For starters, they’re top-notch in-ear headphones, offering well-rounded bass, mids and highs and an extremely comfortable fit, especially if you take the time to work out which of the four sets of included sleeves fits your ear canals best. In my case, I wound up with a large sleeve on the left earbud and a medium on the right. I’m trying not to take my aural asymmetry as some sort of failing.
But solid audio really is only the tip of the iceberg with The Dash. Next up there’s the selection of touch controls. Tapping and swiping your finger across the right earbud controls playback and volume, while the left lets you navigate menus and choose activities.
Activities? That’s right, The Dash are fitness trackers, too. On each is a pair of lights that measure the speed of the blood in the capillaries in your ear canals, and wearers can use The Dash to track running, cycling or swimming with surprising accuracy thanks to an array of sensors each earbud includes.
What’s even more exciting for amateur athletes like me who like to hit the pool is the fact that The Dash are completely swim-friendly. In other words, the earphones won’t just track your swim, they’ll let you listen to music, podcasts or other audio while you do so. Want to swim to whale song? No problem, just download your favourite tunes and load them onto The Dash. There’s 4GB of storage built-in, and loading tracks is as simple as plugging in the supplied case (with The Dash in it) using a micro-USB cable and dragging and dropping the files to one of the four playlist folders.
The same audio content can be played when you’re out running or cycling, or when you’re away from your phone (or its battery has died), and a feature called 'transparency' lets you hear the ambient noise around you thanks to a microphone on each earbud. A recent software update has also added another transparency setting called Windshield that’s intended for cyclists who want ambient noise but not the whooshing noise a rapid hill descent would usually introduce.
In between listening sessions, which can last around three hours on a charge, The Dash clip magnetically into the supplied case. The case has its own built-in battery which can charge the earbuds up to five times, which means fewer visits to the wall plug. Lights on each earbud show you the battery status using different colours.
Slip The Dash in and they wake up, tell you the time and try to connect to the last Bluetooth device used. Pop one out and whatever you’re listening to is automatically paused. Each earbud is also surprisingly good at telling the difference between taps and swipes intended to activate controls and merely fiddling or adjusting them.
At R6 000, The Dash is a serious investment, particularly when you consider you could get a pair of over-ear active noise-cancelling headphones for the same money… but then, you can’t track your workouts with those, let alone swim, now can you?