Earlier this year, we checked out the Optoma NuForce BE6i wireless Bluetooth in-ear headphones and came away impressed with the build quality and the performance of Optoma’s 10 mm dynamic drivers. But, when we think of this kind of wireless in-ear headphones — ones with the buds connected to each other with a cable — we usually think of them as gym or running headphones. That’s not all they’re good for, but that’s why a lot of people buy them. That being said, the metal build of the BE6i was probably too nice (and heavy) for running, and they were also less protected against dust.
So, Optoma has returned with the NuForce BE Sport3 wireless in-ear headphones. The design is similar to the BE6i, but Optoma has made some tweaks to make them better suited for exercise. While some audio quality has been lost in the process, the lower price and improvements made to comfort, fit, and battery life make them worth considering.
Expectations should be tempered here. The NuForce BE Sport3 are on the cheaper side when it comes to Bluetooth in-ears, and it shows. Instead of the pretty great 10 mm drivers Optoma used on the BE6i, the BE Sport3 use cheaper 6 mm drivers, resulting in a slight decrease in max volume and some loss of clarity. There was also a lot of distortion on sub-bass frequencies. While the BE6i had clear bass performance, it wasn’t outstanding, and good bass is pretty hard to do at this size without making deep cuts to battery life (or, alternately, making the housings much bigger, heavier, and more prone to falling out of the ears). The drivers produce mediocre sound here, but for the price and for being exercise headphones, they sound good enough. The good news is that Optoma has used the aptX codec here like they did with BE6i, so at least there won’t be a dip in audio quality due to the Bluetooth connection. They don’t do a particularly good job of blocking background noise, but that’s preferable if they’re to be used during runs, when you still need to be aware of your surroundings.
Speaking of the Bluetooth connection, we’ve got good news and bad news here. We’ll start with the bad, which isn’t that bad — Bluetooth range has shrunk from about 90 feet on the BE6i to 30 feet. Given that these headphones are almost exclusively going to be used when your smartphone is strapped to your arm or, at the farthest, in your pocket, that’s a reasonable place for Optoma to save a little money in order to get the price down. Here’s the good news — I’m not sure if I was lucky this time or unlucky with the BE6i, but I didn’t experience any instability in the Bluetooth connection this time around. The connection was steady inside and outside alike.
The main benefit of Optoma paring back some features is an increase in battery life. During constant use at around three-quarters volume, we got between eight and nine hours of battery life from the BE Sport3, compared to the six hours we got from the BE6i. That should cover four to eight workouts or runs, depending on how hard you go, which could mean about a week in between needing to charge. We think that’s great for the price.
The BE Sport3 have been well designed for the purpose of running, addressing everything that made the BE6i ill-suited for that purpose. They’re not made of metal, making them slightly lighter, and the housings are a bit smaller. The BE6i housings were so long and heavy, the weight distribution jarred them loose at times during runs. Not only is that not a problem with the BE Sport3, they come with two sizes of silicone inner ear hooks. These hooks can be pulled securely onto the housings, and Optoma has put markings on the hooks to help you align them correctly. The hooks fit firmly and comfortably in the ear, and do a terrific job of keeping the buds stable while running.
There are a few more little tweaks here and there that help, as well. Optoma has gotten an IP55 rating for the BE Sport3, protecting them against rain, sweat, and dust. The 22″ cable connecting the buds and the in-line mic are a little lighter, too. And, like on the BE6i, the ends of both housings are magnetic and can be stuck together when not in use. One last cool touch is that the tips come out from the housings at an angle — this helps prevent the housings from extending too far out from your ear. With the BE6i, I couldn’t wear a beanie comfortably (and it was super obvious there was something sticking out of my ears). The BE Sport3 are a little more discreet.
The BE Sport3 come with three sizes of silicone ear tips, two sizes of inner ear hooks, and one pair of flange tips. The inner ear hooks and silicone tips all come in black, orange, and lime green, so you can change up your style. It’s worth noting that, unlike with the BE6i, the BE Sport3 do not come with Comply foam tips — most likely another smart money-saving omission, as silicone fares better against the elements and sweat. The housings themselves are less flashy, only coming in gunmetal (close enough to black) and rose gold. If you go with rose gold, the tips and hooks come in hunter green, pink, and white.
UPDATE 11/07/2016: A previous version of this post erroneously stated that the Optoma NuForce BE6i lacked sweat resistance. They are rated IPX5, indicating that they are sweat-resistant and unrated for dust protection. The NuForce BE Sport3 are rated IP55, which indicates that in addition to sweat resistance, the headphones are highly rated for protection against dust and other particles. We regret the error.