In short order, we’ve been hit with a huge number of true wireless earbuds — wireless earbuds that lack even a cord to connect the two buds. Generally, true wireless earbuds are one of two types. The first are purely for audio, and tend to be smaller and and more stylish (Earin, Skybuds, and the Sol Republics Amps Air, for example). The second type are made for fitness enthusiasts (like the Samsung IconX), and while they tend to be much bigger, they include features like step tracking, heart rate monitoring, and some light coaching.
The Jabra Elite Sport earbuds, as the name suggests, are in the second category. And, Jabra does have some advantages here — in a new category of Bluetooth devices, the amount of experience Jabra has is a big plus. Here’s another big plus — ReSound, a hearing aid company, is under the same ownership group as Jabra, giving Jabra easy access to near-field magnetic induction (NFMI) tech that makes for more stable connections between buds. The result is a pair of earbuds that work great, and while the audio quality isn’t quite the best you’ll find, the fitness features and app make the Jabra Elite Sport well worth considering.
Tracklist: Haim – “If I Could Change Your Mind”, Coolio – “Gangsta’s Paradise”, Godspeed You! Black Emperor – “Peasantry or ‘Light! Inside of Light!”, Steely Dan – “The Fez”, Luciano Pavarotti – “Una Furtiva Lagrima”, Godspeed You! Black Emperor – “Storm”, Orff – “Carmina Burana III. Veris leta facies”, Pink Floyd – “Wish You Were Here”, Ludovico Einaudi – “DNA”, Queen – “Bohemian Rhapsody”, Jethro Tull – “My God”, Goodie Mob – “Greeny Green”
The Jabra Elite Sport have a similar sound profile to most true wireless earbuds we’ve tried (aside from the bass-heavy Amps Air) — balanced, with weaker bass and decent mids and highs. Jabra’s buds have a bit more bass presence than most, but more subtle lows like bass lines can get lost, as can highs at higher volumes. In general, the soundstage is pretty narrow, so more complex tracks can get muddled. Still, they’re better sounding than most other true wireless buds we’ve tried, even if they’re outmatched by most Bluetooth in-ears with a cable between the buds.
Being that we’re still in the early days of true wireless buds, connectivity is make or break. We had a lot of connectivity problems with the Samsung Gear IconX, for example — this depends partly on how the buds connect to each other. Like Skybuds, the Jabra Elite Sport user an NFMI connection between the buds, with one of the buds connecting to the phone over Bluetooth. This makes for a strong connection that rarely cuts out — the only issues I had were occasional interference when my hand was over the phone, or when it was windy, which is due to the Bluetooth connection with the phone. However, the left bud did disconnect once — for me, taking both buds out of my ears, then putting them back in, fixed the problem. These issues didn’t come up often enough to be deal breakers, although they are arguments in favor of wired headphones.
The Jabra Elite Sport are loaded up with sensors that can track steps taken, pace, distance traveled, and heart rate. With that information, the app can calculate more advanced stats like VO2 Max, which is more or less lung capacity (the maximum amount of oxygen you can take in). The stats and graphs in the companion Jabra Sport app are well-organized, and there’s plenty of help to guide you through creating a fitness plan — something the app can do automatically based on your current level of fitness, if you want. The app will save workouts (including circuit training), and can even calculate about how much time your body needs to recover after a workout. Normally, I would emphasize what existing services these buds work with (the Jabra app can be synced with Strava’s), but if you’re not tied down to something and don’t mind having a smaller community, Jabra’s app is pretty good on its own — especially because many features that would be premium on other apps come with the purchase of the buds here, like guided workouts.
Battery life while using the exercise features is about three hours, and the included charging case can charge the buds a couple times over. The battery capacity in this case is a bit smaller than what we’re used to seeing, but I didn’t think it was that onerous to keep it charged.
The buds do have four built-in microphones, which serve a couple purposes. They can be used to make calls, and with the addition of noise reduction, they end up being more reliable than the other true wireless earbuds we’ve tried. The mics can also be used to let background noise in along with music — this is useful for runners who still need to be aware of their surroundings. Unfortunately, the only options are some background noise or background noise only (turning off music) — there’s no sliding scale or higher or lower levels of background noise.
Having fitness and heart rate sensors makes the Jabra Elite Sport buds very large. They’re the largest true wireless earbuds we’ve tried, and given the chunky all black look, they’re definitely not the most fashionable. That’s fine for the gym or runs, but I don’t think they’re the best to use as everyday buds.
The good news is that they fit securely. Jabra included three sizes of silicone ear tips, three sizes of foam tips, and three ear hook jackets — once you find the right combination, you can get a nice tight seal, with little background noise coming in (unless you’re using the background noise feature). I never had any problem with the buds coming loose, although the right bud would occasionally lose track of my heart rate during runs. A little readjustment fixed it, but it was something I had to do on the fly.
However, because of how large and heavy they are, they can get a little uncomfortable. After longer runs, my ears were a bit sore. If you use them for an hour at a time, they’re fine, but any longer than that and you might start to feel some discomfort.
The Jabra Elite Sport have gotten an IP67 rating, which means the buds are completely protected from dust and can be safely submerged in water. I wouldn’t quite recommend swimming with them (you’d want IP68 for that), but if you take a short dip or get caught out in a rainstorm, they’ll be just fine. Better yet, it means you can safely wash them in water, which is nice for trail runners.
There are some controls on the buds. The left bud has two buttons to control volume and track skipping, while the right has two buttons that handle starting and stopping exercise, activating Siri or Google Now, or accepting or rejecting calls. But, the buttons are a bit small and tough to press down, making you push the buds into your ears a bit. Samsung got around this with touch controls on the IconX, and I feel like that’s the better way to go.