Summer is upon us! It is time to be in shape and fit. If you are starting your gym routine (it’s never too late), you can’t avoid these earbuds - they score all top-lists of the ‘best sport bluetooth earphones’. Is it the case? I’ll share my experience.
Jabra, as a company, is not new to Sport and Outdoor gear. My first interaction with this company began with small, but useful bluetooth dongle - Jabra Clipper. It was a lifesaver for me in my early days of fitness. It gave me much needed cordless freedom and probably saved a few tablets and phones from being smashed in the gym.
Then, it was Jabra Solemate. Great mid-sized, robust bluetooth speaker. Not without flaws, it served it’s purpose - it was dust-proof, battery life was great, and you kinda overlooked it’s weak high-end of spectrum and therefore, mumbling sound. In general - it was very good product for an indoor and outdoor use.
With the launch of Jabra Sport Pulse earbuds and platform, Jabra made big splash at this year CES in Las Vegas.
It seemed like hitting that ‘Heart Rate story’ in a formfactor of an earbuds - was going to be a home run for the company and the ‘hardcore’ power-users.
Of course, there was no shortage of attractive and properly made marketing videos to support the launch:
With Jabra Sport Plus, it looked like they hit all the right buttons.
Sweatproof level: IPX 5, which means it can withstand exposure to water jets from a distance of 3 meters for at least 3 minutes. Yes! Bring it on!
Dirt and dust protection: Level 5 - basically it is safe to use this set outdoors in the wild. “Built towards US military rain, shock, sand and dust standards”, as Jabra puts it.
HR Monitor that also measures oxygen levels! VO2! YES! I always welcome more data in my training!
Dolby(c) sound - nice! Though I’m not a huge fan of artificial enhancements, but ok.
Lightweight - only 16 grams!
I should be doing happy dance from the moment this awesome product was launched.
As it turns out, I was doing quite the opposite…
I knew from the get-go that chosen form-factor (earbuds with cord hanging down and not around ones ears) would pose a challenge for long runs. No matter how good silicone pieces and ear-hinges are, ears do sweat. And when you sweat, silicone slips.
Even with best grade unpolished silicone, over short period of time (2-3 weeks), silicone smoothes and becomes even more slippery when in contact with human sweat.
Product managers of all ‘Sport’ brands - LISTEN UP! To withstand long runs - earbuds should be mechanically secured without relying on eartips!
Try this for a change: Take eartips off. If selected product falls out - it will fall out in real life!
Or even better - start using your products for at least 1-2 months prior to launch in real-life conditions with proper target user groups!
There is no cure to that problem with this design, unless you glue the earpiece to your ear! But you wouldn’t want to do that. Trust me. ;)
So, I thought - fine, I won’t be doing 10 mi+ runs in these. I won’t run marathons in these - that’s for sure. But for shorter, 3-7 mile indoor training sessions and cross-training, these earbuds should be good enough companion for the gym.
So, I ordered one, $199.00 ouch…. But, whatever, I’m getting so much for my money!
Or am I?
Apart from run-unfriendly design, surprisingly, the fit of the earpieces on my ears was very comfortable. Heart Rate piece on the left and charging port on the right earpiece would provide just enough support to the drivers to be able to stay put for 30-40 minutes at a time (in dry conditions).
You do have to ‘lock’ the driver in place, and you do need to adjust that lock every 10-15 minutes or so, but it’s nothing to complain about. Until they unlock and loose seal. That results in degraded sound quality, as all in-ear earbuds do.
Location of the charging port is questionable - to say the least. You literally have USB port in your ear. The only thing that protects it from sweat - is the silicone ‘hinge’ cover on top of it. Its just a cover, without an insert that goes into the port itself.
So, protection is questionable, especially, considering that when you ‘lock’ the earpiece in position, you have to rotate it, thus, potentially lifting the cover just enough for sweat to enter the port opening.
I do not approve this design. Exposed electrical circuits, no matter how protected and low-current they are, should be as far as possible from any moisture - not to say, sweat, which is high on electrolytes and very corrosive.
Sweat does not equal water, and manufactures keep forgetting this obvious fact!
The pinnacle of Jabra’s Sport strategy is the app and integrations it has with other platforms. RunKeeper, Runtastic, Strava - all the right names are here.
App is also a central place for your HR measurements and stats. Very impressive. On paper.
In reality - the key aspect of this product - HR measurement is, in fact, inconsistent. Don’t get me wrong - it works well, while you are not sweating, but as soon as that earpiece moves - end of story. You lose HR readings and with that, all Jabra magic.
I’m not surprised - the wire should have been placed AROUND ones ears, providing additional support to the assembly. Instead, it rests on just the form of the earpiece and silicone, which is, well … soft.
All of the above - are minor annoyances compared to what’s next.
Jabra Sport Pulse sound sucks. It is not loud enough for a gym setting, it is bland, uneventful, non-engaging.
Jabra sound in these earbuds is like my morning oatmeal - no sugar, no spices, but very healthy!
F*ck that! When I train, I need motivation. Sound should be loud and bold and stimulate my auditory senses.
All my senses should be engaged and that is what I expect from sport earbuds - colorful, rich, loud sound. Even by its specs - 94 dB/mW is meh, at best.
So, is there a solution? There is. Dolby Sound mode. Which is only available via external Jabra Sound App Jabra Sport App!
WTF? I know microelectronics. I built my first microcomputer from chips and replacement transistors (I didn’t have all the chips available), when I was twelve, back in 1986.
What the heck, I interviewed with Dolby Labs and chose not to pursue that career! I know what this company is capable of!
Still, I have no idea why Jabra opted out for software Dolby Sound software emulator! It should have been done in the hardware, not via an app emulator!
And sound response should be tuned-in IN THE HARDWARE.
I don’t need an app to compensate for poor audio design of an earphones! I don’t need yet another app in the first place to fix my sound!
Dolby Sound with YouTube/iTunes
After you find that perfect setting that will make your earbuds sound Ok - you have to pay for it! Again! That’s right. And that is why I call Jabra Sport Pulse - a perfect scam.
If you want full access to all Dolby presets, plus ability to play your playlists and be able to enjoy YouTube streaming with decent sound - you need Jabra Sound paid app, which will cost you $4.99 on iTunes and…. it won't support your video playlists in YouTube!
So, in reality, to make any Jabra Dolby earbuds sound good - you need ‘an app for that’. Really!?
But you’ll find out about it, only after you purchase one. And then, being a wrapper around YouTube engine - yep, it crashes time to time.
No wonder - you are running 4 resource-hungry apps on your phone! Let’s see:
Jabra Sound App - you want good sound, don’t you?
Jabra Sport - you want to be able to record your HR stats after you are done and get those cheers from R2D2.
Your perfect running app
Sounds easy - right?! Make sure you charge that phone before every run!
Needless to say that there is no Pandora, Spotify, iHeart Radio support either. So, all other external audio sources do not use Dolby enhancements of the earphones.
Or, and the best part - no support for iPads or other tablets for Jabra Sport app! So, if you are like me, and have video playlist on your tablet (streaming or saved), you still have to carry phone with you for HR monitoring feature to work. There is no Jabra Sport app for tablets!
Hm….. what should I say…
reminder to myself: I should keep my cool
reminder to myself: I should keep my cool
Why, Jabra? Why?
Oh, what the heck, I paid for the damn thing!
It is too short. 4 hours at best on full blast, and remember - these earbuds are not loud enough, so you will have them on 100% all the time. With HR monitoring - even less. By today’s standards you should at least expect any sport headset last thru at least 2 training sessions. Jabra Sport Pulse - will barely make that mark or maybe not. That depends on your workload.
Exposure to sweat. Is it really IPX 55?
Yep. They broke. Both pairs. After 2 weeks each. Connection lost - they said, and cut off completely, just like your worst girlfriend experience.
No wonder, when you dive into boring specs, this is what you’ll find out:
Jabra Sport Pulse: IP55 Certified, drop, strength, dirt, temperature & humidity tested
Surprise, surprise! We, humans who exercise, don’t sweat ‘humidity’, we sweat real blood and tears, electrolytes, ammonium, water and salt - and lots of it!
It is highly corrosive stuff, that will surpass any ‘water-proof’ and 'slash-proof' tests manufactures would like to perform to be able to score high IPX rating.
I returned these earbuds, after the second replacement pair and moved on.
As of this writing, orders on jabra.com are backordered. I hope Jabra is making much needed adjustments to the manufacturing process, maybe improving their claimed sweat-coating protection or working on getting better audio amps or drivers installed.
Either way - don’t bother. Go to Amazon, read on reviews. Every other user that exercises, complains about these earbuds weak sweat protection, low volume, short battery life and inconsistent HR monitoring - which outside of integration with major players in well-being and health domain, is more of a marketing gimmick, than a long-lasting value.
This could have been a great sport product. I could have, but it isn’t.