Summer is here and that means plenty of excuses to get outside, be active and generally enjoy the unique lifestyle our country offers.
Music, audiobooks or podcasts are a great way to accompany or liven up a good session of activity, and when you’re out and about in an Aussie summer you want earphones that won’t cop out when there’s sweat all about.
To that end, I tested the latest offerings from three well-known manufacturers, with the units all specifically designed for sport or fitness use.
PLANTRONICS BACKBEAT FIT 3100
A dual-earpiece set-up connected via Bluetooth, the Plantronics’ Backbeat Fit 3100s is a recent offering aimed at the active user.
The connection did seem prone to interference at times, especially in areas with lots of wireless gadgets and routers working.
But they are extremely comfortable — I found they fit my ears well and didn’t get in the way, and due to the over-the-ear design I was never worried about them falling out in mid-jog or whatever it is people who look better than I in athletic wear do in between posing for Instagram selfies. And if that’s your thing, the Fit 3100s have an interesting iridescent effect on the touch panel which looks nice too.
Plantronics said the unit is waterproof, but water blocks Bluetooth quite effectively so you won’t likely be wearing these in the pool as part of a workout routine. They are very definitely sweatproof however, having survived being in my ears while doing “Outdoors Stuff” in Queensland’s notoriously hot summer weather.
One of the big attractions of this unit is that it lets in quite a bit of ambient sound, meaning you can hear what’s around you — whether it’s traffic, someone coming up behind you, or small children fighting over the last chocolate biscuit elsewhere in the house.
The trade-off is a loss of some bass, so if you’ve got some pumping jams for a workout session you’re not going to get the same intensity, but they work well in a range on environments like going for a walk (or jog) or working on a project at home.
They worked well as a hands-free kit for my phone too, with no issues receiving calls, hearing the other person or having them understand me. An accompanying app allows for some finetuning of equalisation levels and the like as well.
With a five-hour battery life and a further 10 hours available in the case’s built-in charger, the Plantronics Backbeat Fit 3100 combines longevity with comfort, style and good sound. I was impressed with the product and found myself coming back to it, especially when I wanted the combination of “Listening to Spotify while doing stuff” and “Actually being able to hear what was going on as well”.
SENNHEISER CX SPORT
Sennheiser’s latest offering in the fitness earphone market is the stylish CX Sport headset, which has a cable connecting the two earpieces along with the Bluetooth receiver and the headset controls.
The earphones fit comfortably into my ears and the sound quality was clear and generally very good, although not quite as strong in the bass as I would have liked.
The CX Sport earphones are sweatproof and also splash proof, and I didn’t have any issues with them falling out of my ears no matter what I was doing, whether it was vigorously vacuuming the house, doing sit-ups in front of the TV, or doing the dance moves from Cool Patrol when no one except my bemused cat was looking.
The controls were easy to use and intuitive and the sound was crisp with no connection issues. A big plus for the CX Sport is the unit doesn’t need an app to work — just connect via Bluetooth, and away you go. Simple, straightforward, no fuss.
The charge lasts for about six hours — a hell of a workout or training session by anyone’s reckoning — and there’s a quick charge function whereby 10-15 minutes plugged into a USB will give you an hour’s listening if you find yourself caught short before a run.
While the two earpieces are connected by a cable, I never had any issues with it getting in the way or causing any problems, and it offered some reassurance that should one earphone somehow fall out, it wouldn’t be going far.
As with the other headsets tested, the CX Sport also functioned as a Bluetooth hands-free kit for phone calls too.
The CX Sport proved to be a quality product — unobtrusive, did a solid job and offered a good listening experience.
What’s an Australian summer without a trip to the beach or a swimming pool? While other products might be sweat and/or rinse-under-the-tap proof, Sony’s WSP-900 goes a step further by actually being both waterproof and designed for use while swimming in a pool or the ocean.
There are two ways to connect the earbuds to your phone — via Bluetooth, or by storing music as files on the earphones themselves, which can hold up to 4GB, which is several hundred songs.
Naturally I wasn’t just going to take the marketing claims regarding the underwater usability at face value, so I found an obliging friend with a swimming pool, donned the WF-SP900s, and got in.
Above the water, I was able to use a Bluetooth connection to my phone to stream music, with occasional splashes not affecting the unit. I was also able to answer phone calls, channelling my inner Bojack Horseman by floating around the pool on a lilo wearing sunglasses with a cold drink while taking a phone call from a friend who was sweltering in the Queensland summer somewhere less congenial.
Once I went underwater, the Bluetooth connection cut out and the music stopped — making me worry I’d broken them. As soon as I surfaced however, the connection re-established and the earbuds were happily working again.
By tapping a button on the right earpiece to switch from Bluetooth to on-board files, however, I discovered the music kept playing while I was swimming underwater — and I could hear it just fine, with the rubber seals keeping the water out of my ears.
Unfortunately, the sound quality — in and out of the water — was all right but not outstanding, which is disappointing considering the $500 price tag. There is an ambient sound mode in the unit, supposedly allowing outside noise to filter in (presumably via the microphone used for calls) but I didn’t really notice it making much of a difference.
But as straight fitness earbuds, they worked well, staying put in my ears and generally behaving themselves, even underwater. The unit was a little fiddly to set up, but worked well once I got it going. The battery life is a bit on the short side, however, at three hours on Bluetooth, with another nine in the case.
The big issue you’re likely to encounter is the cost — unless you need to listen to music or audio files underwater they’re simply not worth that much money, which is a shame because there’s a lot of potential there.