There was a moment, I’ll admit, when I thought nothing had changed. It was August and I was running the same way I had been for years: headband on, thighs burning, sweat stinging my eyes, earbuds in, music blasting with phone in hand. And then, in real time, my earbuds spoke to me. Slowly, mid run, in a voice not unlike Rebecca Lowe’s (British): “You have run two point one six miles. Pace, seven minutes fifty-eight seconds per mile. Cadence, one hundred forty-five steps per minute.”
The voice came from Jabra’s Sport Coach Special Edition ($120) wireless earbuds, which I had been working out with — mostly running — for the past few days. The earbuds are both wireless (in the sense that the two buds are tethered together and connect via Bluetooth to most iOS and Android devices), run on the Jabra Sport Life app, and have a built-in motion sensor that counts reps. As the box says, they’re the “world’s first sports headphones with automatic rep counting.”
The app provides half a dozen or so cross-fit “circuits” to choose from, with names like “CardioCore” and “LegDay.” Each circuit has a number of exercises, some requiring small weights like kettle bells — I stayed away from those. But most were simple, like lunges, frog jumps and burpees. (If there is an exercise you don’t know, like chair tricep dips or mountain climbers, the app has short instructional videos.)
Battery: 5.5 hours of use
Weight: 0.56 ounces
Passive Noise Reduction: 15 dB
Speaker frequency range: 20 Hz – 20 kHz
Buy Now: $120
And, lo and behold, they worked. With the exception of a few miscounted squats — they counted 20, I counted 22 — the earbuds were accurate. Plus they got me doing exercises I hadn’t done since high-school soccer training. As far as motivation, however, Rebecca Lowe was more about keeping track than spurring me to glory. Jillian Michaels, she was not. The earbuds were, surprisingly, more helpful for running. Through the app I could set goals — duration, distance, target pace, cadence (steps per minute) — and Ms. Lowe would give me updates throughout.
The problem with running with them, though, is that they don’t have any internal storage. So, for all their workout advantages, I couldn’t help thinking, running with this huge iPhone 6S in my hand, that not much had changed. They still need to sync to an external device to play music. And while this isn’t a problem for stationary training, going out sans phone is a big plus for runners that gets lost.
So while Jabra’s wireless headphones worked great, they aren’t the finished future, which might be wire-free like the new Bragi Dash, Samsung IconX or the Jabra Elite Sport ($250) — but how long until people are tired of losing one earbud? More important than wirelessness, in my opinion, is the ability to work well autonomously. That said, if packing enough internal storage and a good battery into something the size of an acorn were that easy, we’d be wearing it already.
Jabra also released two other wireless earphones in addition to the ones I tested. The Jabra Sport Pulse Special Edition ($160) have a built in heart-rate tracker and feature automatic and continuous VO2 Max fitness testing (an endurance barometer), the first of its kind. They also announced the wire-free Jabra Elite Sport earbuds ($250), which feature the best components of both the Sport Coach and Sport Pulse earphones.