As wired technology becomes a thing of the past, we’re diving deep into the world of Bluetooth headphones. This is the third in a series of Strategist posts in search of the best wireless cans to gift the cord cutters in your life — we’ve already named our favorite headphones for audiophiles and under-$150 headphones, too.
Wireless headphones really come into their own when you’re working up a sweat. They’re good for things like running or biking, but fantastic if you do any kind of weightlifting or use the various machines at the gym. It’s incredibly easy to accidentally yank earbuds free due to a dangling 3.5-mm wire when you’re doing anything that requires your concentration and your hands.
That said, if you’re going to get wireless workout headphones, you’re going to want to get good ones. I’m all in favor of getting multiples of something cheap rather than one of something expensive, especially when it comes to smaller things I can lose like earbuds, but cutting corners here is harder than with a pair of headphones you’re just going to wear at your desk or during your commute to work.
You’re going to want something that stays firmly in place; thanks to the laws of physics, when one earbud come loose mid-workout, it usually means the other will follow suit shortly after. You’re also going to want something that can stand up to sweat: electronics don’t like getting wet and they also don’t like chlorides, so when you sweat out water and sodium chloride (better known as salt) onto your headphones, you’re asking a lot of them. Finally, you’ll also want headphones with a decent battery life — once wireless headphones run out of juice, they’re useless.
And oh yeah, it’s also nice if they sound good.
I tried out six different sets of headphones: The JBL Under Armor Sport Wireless, the JBL Reflect Contour, the Bose SoundSport Pulse, the Altec Lansing Waterproof Sport, the Jabra Sport Pulse, and the JLab Epic2. After jamming a bunch of different headphones in my ears, I think the Bose SoundSport Pulse wireless headphones are the best workout headphones out there.
Let’s start with the fit: the SoundSports have a small wing at the top of each earbud which curves into a small notch in your outer ear above your ear canal (the crus of helix, if you want to get technical). This was the best solution I found for keeping earbuds in place, threading the needle between headphones that just had you cramming standard earbuds in and hoping for the best, and wireless earbuds that relied on around-the-ear hooks (which I found uncomfortable fairly quickly). The Jabra Sport Pulses, Altec Lansing Waterproof Sports, and JBL Under Armor Sports all featured wings as well, but none sat as comfortably in my ear.
The SoundSports also didn’t jam the earbud deep into my ear canal, meaning there wasn’t as strong noise isolation as some other earbuds I tested. Normally this is something I’d kvetch about, but especially if you’re doing anything outside, you want to be able to hear some of the outside world (especially cars). That said, if your gym is the type of place that blasts hardcore house music while you get shredded, you might find the sound isolation overwhelming. (In which case, I’d recommend the JBL Reflect Contour wireless headphones, my second-favorite headphones of everything I tried.)
The SoundSports aren’t completely waterproof, but they’re well-sealed. Judging from Amazon reviews, they hold up even after a year of heavy sweating, which is good because the base price of the SoundSport Pulse is relatively high at $150. For an extra $50, you can also get a heart-rate monitor. Personally, I would save 50 bucks and get a dedicated heart-rate monitor if that’s what you’re looking for.
The SoundSports have five hours of battery life, which isn’t mind-blowing, but enough for a good three-day stretch before you need to recharge, unless you’re going on a monster run or bike ride. The Altec Lansings boasted an enviable 20 hours of battery life, but that came with a large battery pack (about the size of a cigarette) that bounces on the back of your neck. I also found the SoundSport’s remote to be the best and most intuitive of any I tried. Because the remote is likely going to be dangling behind your neck, you want a remote you can easily navigate by touch, and the subtle curve of Bose’s remote meant I was able to orient myself quickly. It did just enough without overwhelming me with options. They’re worth investing in, even if your phone still has a 3.5-mm headphone jack.
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