Freelance Contributor, TechHiveJul 27, 2022 3:00 am PDT
Image: James Barber/Foundry
At a glance
Customized sound profile compensates for aging ears
Truly outstanding sound reproduction
Plenty of tips help ensure a perfect fit
Difficult to adjust volume with touch controls
Earbuds may be too chunky for listeners with small ears
ANC is good, but we’ve heard better
The Beyerdynamic Free Byrd earbuds may be the company’s first attempt at wireless in-ear headphones, but they’ve delivered a polished and refined produce with sound that can compete with the best in this category.
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Rather than rushing to market with a slap-dash Apple AirPods competitor, headphone manufacturer Beyerdynamic took its time, endeavoring to create a product that would match the company’s legendarily high standards. The resulting Free Byrd true wireless noise-canceling headphones–the first in this category for Beyerdymanic–were worth the wait.
Beyerdynamic has chosen to emphasize audio quality over other considerations, something that will definitely please listeners who are looking for the best sound possible in their wireless in-ear headphones. But the Free Byrd eardbuds are also a bit bulky, and the noise cancellation–while very good overall–isn’t as strong as what’s available from Sony or Bose.
This review is part of TechHive’s coverage of the best noise-cancelling headphones, where you’ll find reviews of the competition’s offerings, plus a buyer’s guide to the features you should consider when shopping for this type of product.
How much do the Beyerdynamic Free Byrd earbuds weigh?
Each Free Byrd earbud is tapered at the bottom to create a look that’s reminiscent of a guitar pick, a stylish touch. That said, each bud weighs a not-inconsiderable 7 grams, a third more than Apple’s AirPods Pro earbuds. Coupled with their size, you’ll certainly know these earbuds are there, and they may be too large and heavy for users with small ear canals.
The earbuds come in either a black or gray finish. The headphones come with eight sets of earbud tips to help ensure a perfect fit. There are five pairs of silicone ear tips (XS, S, M, L, XL) and three pairs of foam ear tips (S, M, L). The earbuds have an IPX4 rating, which makes them sweatproof.
How well do the Beyerdynamic Free Byrd earbuds fit?
While I was able to find a sturdy fit with the silicone ear tips, I was never entirely comfortable with the Free Byrd headphones as exercise earbuds. It’s hard to make them fall out, but they often feel like they’re not as secure as lighter earbuds or ones with wings inside the ear or hooks over the outside.
I would hesitate to use them while biking or climbing, so you might want to use something else for heavy activity.
What’s the battery life for the Beyerdynamic Free Byrd earbuds?
The Beyerdynamic Free Byrd’s case weighs a sturdy 60 grams and measures 1.7 x 2.68 x 1.18 inches (HxWxD), which may be too large for the pockets of anyone who prefers tight trousers.
Battery life is 11 hours for music and 8.5 hours for talk, with 70 minutes of listening time on a quick 10-minute charge when the lithium-ion battery runs out. The battery case charges via USB-C or a Qi-compatible wireless charger.
The headphones ship with a USB-A to USB-C charging cable.
What kind of drivers do the Beyerdynamic Free Byrd earbuds have?
Each earbud has a 10mm driver with a frequency response of 10 Hz– 22,000 Hz. They connect via Bluetooth 5.2 and support the aptX adaptive and AAC codecs.
The headphones come with onboard Alexa, and they also support iOS’s Siri and Google Assistant voice assistants. There’s a total of four mics–two each on the left and right earpieces–to boost call quality.
How good is the Beyerdynamic Free Byrd’s noise cancellation?
The active noise cancellation mode does a more-than-adequate job of cancelling out background noise in an office environment or store. While it didn’t completely mask the sound of a floor-standing fan in my house, it lowered the noise enough that it doesn’t interfere with music playback. That level of ANC won’t please frequent air travelers who are looking to cut down on plane noise, however.
Of course, strong levels of noise cancellation often come with a downside: distorted audio quality. I’d choose the superior sound quality of the Free Byrds for the 99.5 percent of my life not spent on airplanes, but you might want to consider other in-ear headphones if strong ANC is your primary concern.
How do the Beyerdynamic Free Byrd’s sound adjustments work?
The Free Byrd headphones are designed to work with the Beyerdynamic MIY app for iOS or Android.
When the app formally launched in July 2022, it delivered a required firmware update that was needed to fully take advantage of the options available via app.
The app shows the battery level for each earbud in the top right corner of the main screen. You can also switch between active noise cancellation, transparency, and “off” modes, and there’s a low latency mode for gamers.
The real bonus here are the EQ and personalization settings. The Equalizer panel lets you choose between seven Beyerdynamic-designed settings:
Original: factory tuning
Bass boost: low end is emphasized, mids and highs lowered
The original settings sound fantastic and I preferred them for any kind of music I chose to play. Still, each of the other settings has a distinct sound and offers enough different approaches that one should suit almost any listener’s taste.
Even more impressive is the hearing test that yields a personalized Sound Profile. There’s a hearing test that involves pressing a button when you can hear a beep as it cuts through a wall of white noise. That takes a couple of minutes and is reminiscent of medical tests that gauge hearing loss. The app then generates its custom profile with graduated levels that can be controlled via a slider in the app.
For me, that profile seemed to fill in higher frequencies that I may have lost over a lifetime of listening. The custom profile restored the top end of some guitar notes that I may have been missing. In the rare case where there was too much bite from those high frequencies, it’s easy to adjust the setting without turning it off entirely.
The custom profile seems solely designed to react to the results of the app’s hearing test rather than create an exciting experience based on current ideas about how music should sound. This custom profile is my favorite feature of the Free Byrd earbuds and the option should appeal to anyone who’s risked their hearing by attending too many shows without earplugs or cranking up their headphones all the way.
How do the Beyerdynamic Free Byrd’s touch controls work?
There are touch controls on each earbud activated by tapping the engraved Beyerdynamic logos. Tapping once stops or starts the current track, twice switches between ANC and transparency mode, three times on the right earbud skips to the next track, and three times on the left goes back to the previous one. If you want to turn off ANC and transparency altogether, you’ll have to use the app.
To raise the volume, tap the right earbud twice but hold the second tap down until the earbud gets louder. To lower the volume, use the same method on the left earbud. The technique works but the volume moves up and down in predetermined increments. Hold too long and you’ll blast your ears with too much volume. If you’re looking for gradual and precise volume control, it’s best to control it on your audio source.
How do the Beyerdynamic Free Byrd earbuds sound?
Of course, the first stop on any Beyerdynamic Free Byrd listening tour is the original studio recording of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Free Bird,” produced by Al Kooper for their debut LP (Pronounced ‘Lĕh-‘nérd ‘Skin-‘nérd). Listening via Apple Music, the track retains the feel and vibe of the original LP release, with no frequencies artificially boosted to match contemporary ideas about how popular music should be mixed. The song sounds even better with the personalized profile engaged, with more detail in the upper registers of the guitar solos.
Two good points of comparison here are the new Astell&Kern AK UW100 in-ear headphones and Apple AirPods Pro. While the Astell&Kern don’t feature ANC, they do have the most detailed sound of any true wireless headphones I’ve heard in this price range. The Free Byrd headphones come remarkably close in sound quality with the bonus of active noise cancellation. The UW100 weigh the same as the Free Byrd earbuds and are every bit as ungainly. Both pairs are designed for serious listening.
The AirPods Pro are far more practical for active use, even if they don’t sound quite as good as the Free Byrd or the UW100s. They’re lighter and designed to stay in your ears during heavy activity.
Listening to Bill Evans and Shelly Manne’s recording of “Let’s Go Back to the Waltz” from their 1962 album Empathy via Qobuz, the Free Byrd headphones impress with their soundstage and stereo separation. Producer Creed Taylor put Evans in the left channel and Manne in the right, with bassist Monty Budwig sliding between channels. Each instrument is remarkably detailed, and the Free Byrd headphones compare favorably with high-end closed-back headphones on a track like this.
Moving on to Steve Lacy’s new single “Bad Habit” via Tidal, the Free Byrds do an excellent job of reproducing what’s intentionally a crowded mix on the self-produced track, with lower frequencies pushed to the front. It’s a track that sounds like a brick of undifferentiated sound on cheap earbuds, but the Beyerdynamic earbuds can dig out the track’s details.
Are the Beyerdynamic Free Byrd true wireless headphones worth the cash?
The Beyerdynamic Free Byrd in-ear headphones are engineered for serious listening. If you’re looking for earbuds designed for intense activity or exercise, you should know going in that the size and weight of the Free Byrd headphones won’t make them your best choice. There are also other earbuds that have more intense ANC, but they likely don’t sound as good as the earbuds that Beyerdynamic has made.
If you’re getting to a stage in life where you’re losing some higher frequencies in your hearing, the MIY app’s sound test offers an outstanding personalized EQ profile that will bring a few sounds back into the mix for you. If the best possible music reproduction is your top priority, the Beyerdynamic Free Byrd headphones are an excellent choice in earbuds.