Jabees Firefly Vintage TWS earbuds hands-on: Killer gaming TWS buds with a fatal flaw
Gaming headsets offer a bounty of features for gamers that want more immersive audio, but they are often bulky things with massive cups and thick headbands. As such, they aren't the most portable pieces of audio gear. Wireless earbuds are on the opposite end of the portability spectrum, but they often lack the rich features of bigger headsets and typically introduce noticeable audio latency. What if there was a solid middle ground?
Jabees may have just the thing. The company sent me a pair of its Firefly Vintage TWS earbuds to review. I've tested the buds out for the past two months, and I have some mixed thoughts. While the Firefly Vintage have a "Gaming Mode" that makes them the best wireless earbuds I've ever used for gaming, there is one major issue that kills the experience and has so far kept them out of my pocket for everyday use. Here are my thoughts.
The Firefly Vintage are made entirely of plastic. This isn't uncommon for wireless buds, but the plastic feels particularly thin. This is especially noticeable on the case's lid, which feels rather cheap. That said, the buds have stood up to typical use over the past two months without any sign of wear or tear. Considering the MSRP of US$70, this is more of a nitpick; I can't expect AirPods Pro level of build quality here.
The buds themselves have a large housing for the diaphragm and a small "tail" that hangs off the end. This tail is a necessary grabbing point for using some of the features mentioned below. It doesn't hang out too far from the main body and doesn't look out of place. The buds fit in my ear relatively well. They're not the most comfortable buds I've worn, but they aren't annoying or painful and I can wear them for hours at a time. I never forget that they're in my ear, but they don't irritate my ears like some other buds do. Jabees includes three sizes of cone-shaped (narrow hole) tips and three sizes of dome-shaped (wide hole) tips, so there are a lot of options to get a secure seal.
Jabees sent me the Bronze variant. Both the buds and the case have a two-tone color scheme with black and a copperish color. While the colors are nice, the plastic texture is noticeable through the paint, so they don't look as premium as other buds on the market (even in this price range).
On the back of each bud is a rubber button that also has a capacitive touch sensor for controlling media playback and selecting through the various audio modes. I talk about this below. The buttons themselves feel solid and have a firm click.
The buds snap into the case via strong magnets, and this mechanism causes no complaints. The case charges either via a USB-C cable (one is included) or wirelessly via the Qi standard. Jabees rates the buds' and the case's battery lives at 10 and 30 hours, respectively. In reality, the buds last about 4-5 hours on a single charge, and the case can fully recharge them twice with just a little juice left over.
Overall, the buds are well-built for their price range, although the materials feel cheap. The design is unoffensive and looks good; they aren't garish but they don't particularly stand out.
Audio Qualtiy and Features
Considering the relatively low price tag of $70, the Firefly Vintage kick out fantastic audio. The buds are tuned for heavy bass, and the 6 mm graphene drivers deliver a solid thump. I feel every kick drum and bass punch in music, and for songs that lean heavier into those lower frequencies, the Firefly Vintage make the music sound excellent. For example, Daft Punk's Give Life Back to the Music sounds unreal; I've yet to use earbuds under $200 that make this song sound as good as the Firefly Vintage can. The Jabees buds even give Apple's AirPods Pro a run for their money in some songs. They really are that good.
The sound curve levels off toward the high end. The shape is something of a skewed U-curve: bass frequencies are definitely favored, and mids drop as a result. Highs are present but aren't nearly on the level of the bass. As a result, music that demands a more level curve (such as jazz or classical music) is a bit too heavy and some notes sound slightly muffled. Spoken-word audio (like audiobooks or podcasts) also sounds deeper and muddy. It isn't as crisp as on a more level sound curve.
The Firefly Vintage buds are loaded with features. The highlight is the touch-sensitive button found on each bud. Tapping this button once will control volume: tapping the right bud increments volume, and tapping the left bud decrements it. A double-tap on either bud will play or pause music, and a triple-tap will skip tracks (right for advancing, left for going back). Taps are also used for answering, rejecting, and ending calls, as well as activating either Siri or the Google Assistant (via a tap and hold).
The buttons can also be clicked. Single clicks do nothing, but clicking and holding will cycle through ANC or audio passthrough modes (left bud) and cycling Gaming Mode (right bud). Herein lies the first problem I encountered: there's not a good way to comfortably click and hold the button. Pushing the button caves the bud into my ear canal, which can be quite painful. This motion can also upset the fit, meaning I have to readjust the bud. I found that by holding the nubby tail of the bud, I can click the button without cramming it into my ear, but holding the bud this way is a bit tricky. Thankfully, these modes are typically "set and forget," so this isn't a major issue.
The ANC and audio passthrough modes work fairly well with one issue. The microphone array makes a noticeable hissing noise. Thus, active noise cancelling leaves a faint electronic buzz in my ears, and audio passthrough gives every sound a mechanical and tinny overtone. It's not very well implemented and falls behind other buds on the market, even at this price point.
The Gaming Mode, on the other hand, is absolutely incredible. This mode reduces audio latency from a connected device. When I use wireless buds while gaming on my iPhone 13 or my Nintendo Switch, I always notice a slight audio delay. The Firefly Vintage buds virtually eliminate that. The latency doesn't completely disappear (like it does with wired headphones), but it is reduced to a point where it isn't casually noticeable. Actions on-screen almost perfectly line up with the audio. There's perhaps a 5-10 ms lag time, but unless I'm concentrating on it, I don't notice any latency. The buds are absolutely worth their price for this feature alone; no other Bluetooth headphones I've tried work this well, particularly with the Switch.
Drawbacks (and one major issue)
However, there is one major flaw that essentially kills the everyday experience: microphone feedback. The Firefly Vintage buds have a quad-mic array (two on each bud) to help with phone calls and ANC/audio passthrough. Unfortunately, the placement of the microphones makes feedback a common occurrence. For instance, if I push a bud in too far with one of the ANC modes active, the microphones will feedback, punching a high-pitched squeal directly into my ear.
Because of this, the Firefly Vintage buds remain on the counter next to the Nintendo Switch. I can't rely on them for day-to-day use like I can my Pamu Z1 buds or my AirPods Pro, simply because the potential feedback is too much of a risk. I believe this is an issue related to the buds' design, specifically with the placement of the microphones, so this isn't something that can be fixed via an app or firmware. Sadly, it's a massive drawback that keeps the Firefly Vintages out of my bag.
The Jabees Firefly Vintage earbuds are the definition of a mixed bag. On one hand, they have a great sound profile (especially for the price) and a handful of useful features. The Gaming Mode is the best implementation of low-latency playback I've experienced in TWS earbuds. They are fantastic buds for the price, and they are game-changers when it comes to gaming.
Unfortunately, the poor physical design (particularly with regard to how the buttons can be clicked) and the painful feedback are dealbreakers. I cannot use the Firefly Vintage buds as daily drivers. However, as long as I don't use audio passthrough, they're fine. As such, they've found a comfortable home next to my Nintendo Switch, and they'll find their way into my ears during late-night gaming sessions.
The Jabees Firefly Vintage TWS earbuds are available from Jabees' online store for an MSRP of US$69.99. At the time of publication, the buds are on sale for $39.99.
Disclaimer: The author of this review received the Jabees Firefly Vintage earbuds free of charge for the purpose of testing.