The easiest way to make exercising feel a little better is to slap some headphones in your earholes and play your favourite tracks. Throughout the first quarter of 2018, I've been testing a range of wireless headphones as I walk, run and sprint my way around my neighbourhood. How do they fare? Let's find out.
Fitness headphones, and headphones in general, are a super personal purchase. The way that they fit in your ears, the way they feel when you're exercising and their resistance to your own brand of sweat differs, depending on who you talk to.
To try and even the playing field I ran with each pair for 7km and put them through their paces during quickfire bodyweight exercises. I also tried to dislodge them as best as I could with shaking my head, going upside down and just generally running around like the house was on fire. They all fared pretty admirably in those tests.
None of the headphones listed here can be regarded as terrible, but they'll appeal to specific people for specific reasons. After three plus months of testing, I've settled on using the Bose SoundSport Free for most of my daily runs. They're just the best for me, but there are plenty of other options out there - especially if you're looking to save some cash.
Here's the five that I'd have a look at.
Bose SoundSport Free
What's Good? Of all the headphones I've been testing over the past two months, the Bose SoundSport Free certainly provided the best quality sound. Deep lows, great mid range and excellent highs, the SoundSport Free just provide excellent sound across the board. Try as I might, I could not get these to fall out of my ears - the ear tips sit snugly inside your ear and hold incredibly well even with rigorous head banging. Can't recall their Bluetooth ever dropping out. No trouble with phone calls either!
What's Not So Good? That carry/charge case is definitely one of the biggest you'll find. It's not terribly inconvenient, but it just doesn't feel like that kind of thing you want to walk around with in your pocket. Without it, a battery life of five hours is, below average. They do look a bit dorky, hanging out of your ears too.
Who Should Buy Them? Those who want the best quality sound.
What's Good? Nice form factor, fit pretty snug in your ear and stay there with small eartips that aren't at all uncomfortable. Not as cumbersome to lug around as some other devices and their storage case is tiny in comparison to the Bose. Easy to set up. You can manipulate the types of sound you get with Jaybird's app if that's something you enjoy, but I found I just went with the default sounds for most of my running. The five minute charge = one hour play time is also neat.
What's Not So Good? Had some issues with one pair where the left earbud constantly dropped out, especially during jogging. Frustrating. The other thing that galls me with the RUNs is their maximum volume. You can't really dial those speakers up to 11. Perhaps, when running, you don't want to but for the type of stuff that gets me pumped to exercise, I need LOUD NOISES. Room for improvements, which I hope will come in 2018. Consider that when purchasing.
Who Should Buy Them? Those who like to mess around with settings and enjoy the sound of their own breathing.
BlueAnt Pump Air
What's Good? I was surprised by the Pump Air because they're relatively inexpensive in comparison to other devices on this list, but still provide good sound and a good battery life. Real tiny footprint and also a tiny charging case. Good in-ear fit that just uses your ear canal for resistance. Was shocked when my rigorous exercises didn't get these to fall out because they look like they should just pop out and somehow, they don't! You can barely even feel them resting in there, to be honest.
What's Not So Good? I did have trouble pairing these initially, it wasn't a simple switch on and pair like the Bose or the Plantronics, which seemed to recognise my phone or the other headphone straight out of the box. Small footprint is great in ear, but practicality means that I often misplaced one of these buds and then had to trawl through my bag or running shorts to find it. Not a lot of features in comparison to some of the other devices on the list.
Who Should Buy Them? Those who don't care about bells or whistles.
Plantronics BackBeat FIT 305
What's Good? I did a pretty comprehensive breakdown at Gizmodo not long after roadtesting these guys last year and I was really fond of their fit, their rubber loops and isolating noise such as wind. Their major difference to others on this list is that, while bluetooth wireless, they still have a cord. Despite this, they are durable and don't tangle too badly, to my surprise. Solid bluetooth connection. Cheap.
What's Not So Good? Slightly finicky charging, the micro-USB cable that charges the headset plugs into a control on the cable. The plasticy covering feels like it'll snap off at any moment. Speaking of snap, the collar clip that comes with the headphones snapped off about three weeks into using them. Cranking the volume will reduce sound quality pretty heavily, makes the mix very muddy. Were sometimes prone to slipping, if incorrect tip was applied. They do have a cord, too...
Who Should Buy Them? Those on a budget.
Jabra Elite Sport
What's Good? Weighty but small rectangular case, lightweight, tiny earbuds. I am a fan of the design and the amount of tips that come in the box, too. Didn't encounter any issues with the bluetooth and found they were excellent at staying connected. The Jabra app that you can download is a handy addition and can do all sorts of fitness monitoring for you, offering a pretty decent point of difference. Gizmodo reviewed these last year and gave them pretty solid marks.
What's Not So Good? Battery life without the case is rated at around four and a half hours, so one of the shortest time frames you'll find at this price. Case does improve things, however. While I like the earbud's tiny footprint, I do not enjoy the controls on their face because of how finicky they are. Expensive.
Who Should Buy Them? Those who want a fitness/lifestyle hybrid.
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