Being active and taking your music with you is generally easier if you can do it wirelessly. Headphones and earbuds are increasingly going wireless using Bluetooth, connecting to your smartphone or tablet without the need to plug in a cable. Some are built to handle the rigours of a workout or long run by withstanding sweat while pumping out tunes.
Bearing in mind that I’m focusing on wireless in-ear headphones, I use the term earbuds for that reason. Bluetooth headphones is actually fairly broad as a subset of headphones themselves because they come in various different forms — over-ear, on-ear, in-ear, you name it.
In narrowing the field further, I’m also keying in on the “sports” variety of wireless earbuds, meaning those designed for active users who want something wireless when working out or going out running.
Jabra Sport Elite
The Sport Elite stand out because they are what are considered “true wireless earbuds” in that there is no cord at all. It’s two earpieces, completely separated from one another, connected via Bluetooth to a smartphone or tablet.
I’ve reviewed these myself, so won’t rehash everything, but suffice it to say, they are built to handle tough workouts. That includes waterproof bodies, submersible down to 3.3 ft. for up to 30 minutes, making them good enough to swim in shorter spurts. There is a three-year warranty covered sweat-induced damage, plus direct compatibility with Jabra’s free Sport Life app for iOS and Android. It can also work with a handful of third-party apps.
The reason why is because it has a heart rate sensor embedded in the right earbud to track beats per minute and exercise activity. Finding the right fit takes time, and battery life maxes out at three hours per charge, but they are a worthy choice if you truly want to be cord-free.
Jaybird’s Freedom are an example of wireless earbuds that use a cable to connect the two earbuds together. They are still wireless Bluetooth earbuds because they connect wirelessly to your mobile device, but they aren’t the “true” wireless earbud style of the Jabra Sport Elite.
Even so, they are close. The cable attaching both sides includes an inline remote with a mic and playback controls for controlling music and phone calls. It’s also where the battery is stored, and charging them requires placing the included charging clip. You can keep the cable dangling in front or loop it around the back of your neck.
The free Jaybird MySound app for iOS and Android offers some EQ customization, if you want a more distinct sound. There are three pairs each of ear gels, foam tips and ear fins to get the right fit. Designed to handle sweat, they are not waterproof, so no diving into the pool with these.
They do come in four colours, black, blue, red and gold. Battery life is about four hours per charge tops, but likely lower if you’re raising the volume.
You may also want to consider the Jaybird X3 as a solid alternative. Significant improvement in audio fidelity from the X2, thanks to a tighter seal and better drivers inside, made these a personal favourite for me in 2016.
Monster iSport Achieve
Monster has also gotten into this growing sub-category, and an affordable option is the iSport Achieve, which comes in black, blue or green. The design is essentially the same as Jaybird, where a cable connects the two earbuds together with an inline remote and mic.
These were almost exclusively designed for active usage, and have been designated as being resistant to sweat. They are not waterproof, but do have some water-resistance, which is aimed more at keeping sweat at bay rather than making them ready for swimming.
There is no companion app to augment or enhance the existing feature set, so what you’re getting is really just a pair of wireless earbuds to play music while you work out. They will work the same with iOS or Android, and even BlackBerry, since they connect through Bluetooth.
Plantronics BackBeat Go 3
It’s been a tale of two launches for the BackBeat Go 3, which comes in either cobalt blue or copper orange colour schemes. Plantronics has released them with slightly larger ear gels to better isolate audio in and keep more of the ambient noise out. Designed to withstand sweat, they are supposed to thrive during intense workouts. They’re not waterproof, but have some splash-resistance, so wearing them in the rain isn’t likely to break them.
The included pouch doubles as a portable charger, giving the BackBeat Go 3 another two full charges before it needs to recharge itself. Battery life is among the best in its class, managing four hours or more with regular usage and higher volume.
One thing that stands out about these is call quality, which is superb, keeping with the company’s pedigree in voice communications. Hands-free calling doesn’t require much, and like the others here in this list, holding down the main function button can activate Siri on iOS devices and Google Now on Android. Saying “Hey Siri,” (if toggled on in settings on your iPhone or iPad) or “Ok, Google” will also trigger them through the microphone.
If you are looking to go a little higher-end and want some extra frills, consider the Bose SoundSport as an option. The latest version has an integrated heart rate sensor that works in tandem with the Bose Connect app to track beats per minute and activity. It’s not exclusive to that app, however, so if you prefer another that can do the same thing, this should work fluidly.
The rest of the design falls in line with most of the others. The cable connects both ends, an inline mic offers playback controls and access to voice recognition platforms (Siri and Google Now) and different gels and tips to find the right fit.
Battery life is rated at up to five hours per charge, but count on that being lower if you like to pump up the volume or use the heart rate sensor regularly. Either way, you should have no real problem getting through a full workout or long run with these on. Sweat-resistance is in there, along with what Bose calls “weather resistance”, which means they can handle the cold and some rain, but are not meant for use in water.