Wireless bluetooth headphones for the sport enthusiast
By Edwin Yapp August 22, 2017
- Refreshed wireless earbuds well made; fitting can be a challenge for some
- Sport sensor trackers included and works well, but best to try out before buying
WIRELESS bluetooth headphones have been around for a while on the market but of late, more brands have begun to design and build these devices specifically for sports purposes.
Traditional brands that have been making such devices for some time include Bose, Jaybirds, Plantronics, Beats, Klipsch, Sony, and JBL. More recently, brands such as Samsung and Apple have gotten into the game, as have kickstarter-type brands such as Bragi and bluetooth headset pioneer Jabra who are trying to upstage the more conventional players.
So when I got myself a Jabra Elite Sport to test out on my gym runs, I took a stab at them and discovered some plus points and some misses. In any case, here’s my review of the Elite Sport.
Design and feel
The Elite Sport takes its cues from the Bragi Dash Pro – which comprises two separate earbuds that are individually connected wirelessly, unlike other offerings such as the Jaybirds or Bose SoundSport Wireless, both of which have cables connecting the two earbuds.
When you’ve opened up the external packaging, you’ll find there are two earbuds which sit snugly in a rectangular charging case. To initially charge the earbuds, you’ll need to connect the charging case to a standard USB charger for about 1.5 hours. While charging the case, the earbuds also get charged.
The earbuds are a little large for my liking. But due to the fact that these independent earbuds design features no other place to store the electronics and battery, the size is unavoidable. The left earbud houses the volume up and down buttons. When long-pressed, you can skip ahead to the next track or replay the previous track. The right earbud houses the play/pause button, which also acts as an answer/end call button when you’re receiving/making calls.
When pressed twice, you can activate the “hear-through” function, where you can pick up ambient noise over the earbuds. There's also an activity button which launches the Jabra app on your phone. It can also be long-pressed to launch whichever tracking function is on screen at the time. Finally, there are two mics on each earbud for use during calls.
While I find the button arrangement fairly straightforward to use, I did find operating them very difficult, especially when you’re running on the road or treadmill. I find myself having to press quite hard on the button just to change a track or answer a call. This also means it can be quite painful on your ear canal when doing so. Personally, I didn’t quite like them compared to other designs which have a separate control panel, such as the Jaybirds for example.
The Elite Sport comes with three sizes (S, M, L) in either silicone or foam tips. It also comes with wing tips to help secure the earbuds to your ears but I never really like to use such accessories. Nevertheless, they are there should you need them. Switching them from one to another was quite simple but despite having differing sizes, the Elite Sport did not fit my ears well at all.
At first, I thought it had to do with the earbud sizes but after trying all three sizes and both the foam and rubber tips, they just would not fit snugly into my ear canal. This became progressively worse when I began running on the treadmill or working with weights.
On the plus side, the Elite Sport is IP67 rated, which essentially means that it’s protected from harmful dust and can be theoretically submerged in one meter of water for up to 30 minutes. However, note that these are just worst-case scenarios and I wouldn’t recommend you doing it. For normal gym use or open runs, you can be sure your device is well protected from sweat and the occasional splashes of rain drops.
Lastly, there is no on-board memory to store songs, so the Elite Sport is dependent on your bluetooth connection to your smartphone to keep the tracks coming.
Performance and battery life
Setup on the Elite Sport was pretty straightforward and I got to pair my device quickly with my Nexus 6P smartphone. Upon setting up the relevant music app to run alongside the earbuds, I found the unit performing quite nicely.
The sound that came out of the Elite Sport was full and the mids and highs were ample, as was the bass section for a number of tracks, which comprised the contemporary pop, jazz fusion and acoustic tracks I like to listen to.
Sad to say however that this experience is only true when one manages to fit the earbuds nicely in one’s ear. Because I couldn’t get the right fit in my ears, I found the performance lacking as both the earbuds were never coupled to my ear canal properly for me to enjoy my music when at the gym.
As for battery life, Jabra claims that each full charge gives three hours of playback time and that the charging case gives an additional two times charge cycle before it has to be recharged via the wall socket. This brings a total of nine hours of playback. In reality however, I found this to be only about 80% to 90% true or about seven to nine hours of playback time. These times are dependent on what activity you use the Elite Sport for.
App and fitness tracking
Speaking of activities, newer wireless earbuds aren’t just for listening to your favourite tracks during workouts. A slew of newer devices such as the Elite Sport also incorporate what is known as fitness tracking algorithms as well as workout coaching routines.
The Elite Sport has a heart rate sensor that is designed to be mated with the Jabra Sport Life App. The app is fairly intuitive to use and in it, you get all the major tracking categories you would find in most health tracking apps such as walking, open running, treadmill running, cycling, spinning et al.
The app lets you set various goals such as fixed distance, calories burnt, and also the time, target cadence, target heart rate zones, or target pace. Note that you’ll have to depend on your smartphone’s GPS if you want to log your position as there is no GPS on the earbuds themselves.
While you’re running with the Elite Sport, you’ll be periodically voice prompted of the pace you’re running, how fast you’re moving, the distance covered, your cadence, and even your heart rate, and the heart rate zone you’re in. This is a nice feature to have but IMHO, it isn’t a deal breaker.
There are even guided workouts, in which the Elite Sport prompts you and guides you on what type of exercises you can do. The sensors also count your repetitions quite satisfactorily.
As for heart sensing accuracy, I found the Elite Sport not quite as accurate as chest-based sensors and I found that the heart rate wasn’t quite accurate. This is especially true when there is a lot of movement or vibration, such as when you’re doing a sprint on the treadmill, elliptical machine or on open runs.
To be fair, you can’t fault Jabra for this as many other optical-based or earlobe-based sensors can’t give you the same accuracy as you would get from a chest-based sensor. Outside of this scenario, the Elite Sport’s heart rate monitor is fairly accurate while at rest.
IMHO, the bottom line for these kinds of wireless sport-based earphones is whether they fit well in your ears, and not so much on whether they come with a fancy app that gives you a lot of information which you may or may not need. After all, what good are sport earphones if they don’t perform particularly well in the fitting department? So, for me, the Elite Sport wasn’t a good fit and that’s a major problem.
Still, I’ll admit that they may fit others well, and as such, I would recommend that as far as possible, you try them on before you buy them as this point is crucial to whether you’re getting a bang for your buck.
Priced at RM1,259, the Elite Sport isn’t exactly cheap for anyone interested in picking up sport earphones. So, my take is that if you’re in the market for straightforward headphones just to play music, look elsewhere.
However, if you’re the type who is more adventurous and doesn’t mind having extras in the form of an integrated app, the Jabra Elite Sport is one of the brands you could definitely consider.