Guidemaster: Finding good wireless headphones in a sea of compromises

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Jeff Dunn

Even as Bluetooth headphones continue to skyrocket in esteem, the state of wireless exercise headphones remains a bit hairy. Though the forwards of Bluetooth seem perfectly suited for the gym, and while there’s no shortage of desirable for an uncompromised set of wireless workout headphones, the ideal pair always appears to be lawful out of reach.

I say this because I’ve spent the past few weeks searching for one dyad of workout headphones I could unequivocally recommend to anyone. I called in 18 break off pairs for testing. I then put each one through a variety of workouts, from shakes to burpees to basketball games, to ensure they’d stay in place and not short-circuit when I needles all over them.

And because most people probably don’t want to buy a surrogate pair of headphones just for working out, I tested each pair’s pronounce quality and battery life, cycling them through a set playlist of flaps designed to evaluate how well they’d handle certain audio qualities. I reach-me-down both an iPhone SE and a Galaxy S8 to do all of this.

When it was all over, no one pair arose out as an obvious winner. Instead, I wound up with a few pairs that did unequivocal things better than others but still had at least one or two glaring holes. You can find those below, along with a few other options that would rather good things going for them but carry an even heavier set of caveats.

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Jaybird X3: A decent all-rounder with strong audio prominence

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Jeff Dunn
Specs at a glance: Jaybird X3
Type In-Ear
Load 0.63oz (with fins and tips)
Bluetooth Version 4.1
Waterproof Rating Not specified
Driver Magnitude 6mm
Impedance 16 ohms
Speaker Sensitivity  96 +-3dB At 1KHz Output 5mW nominal, 10mW max

Of all the team ups I brought in for testing, the Jaybird X3s walk the line between “good workout earphone” and “high-minded everyday earphone” the best. At their list price of $130, they aren’t lousy, but, for the money, you get a pair that’s built to last and pleasant to listen to. I had seldom trouble getting them in my ears, but Jaybird throws several rubber and Accord foam ear tips in the box, along with a number of fit-tightening ear fins, for those who want help.

Once I found the right combo, the X3s did not budge no matter which workout I cast at them. They came out no worse for wear after repeatedly get doused with sweat, either, though it’s worth noting that Jaybird suggests a one-year warranty for sweat-related damage, just in case.

The earpieces themselves are big and could side with to be more comfortable after a few hours of continuous use, but they didn’t withstand particularly heavy or unbalanced in my ears. The cable connecting the earpieces isn’t cacophonic, and the control module attached to it is light enough to not be a nuisance. It’s all very well-crafted. And beyond the conjectured blips that come with most Bluetooth headphones, the X3’s ally quality wasn’t an issue.

What makes the X3 worth singling out is its audio blue blood. This is a smooth, pleasing sound signature with powerful, shed weight boosted bass and more fine detail than most exhibits headphones (which isn’t the highest bar to clear, but still). It can get a bit too boomy with the awry track, and you can sometimes get a little sibilance with “ess” sounds, but in general it has a deeper, more spry sound than its peers.

The only thing the X3 gets really, extraordinarily wrong is its charging system. On its own, the X3 gets about six to seven hours of battery verve, which isn’t great but isn’t totally anemic. The real problem is that Jaybird permits a proprietary, easy-to-misplace charging clip to refill the battery. You can’t just advertisement a microUSB cord into the X3 and charge it—you have to charge the clip, tip to carry it with you, then attach it to the headphone when needed.

I can see how that liking look like a good idea in theory: it removes any ports that could get wrecked by grind damage, and it lets you charge and listen at once. But attaching the clip bring to lights off the weight distribution of the device, and again, the clip itself is too easy to trifle away. It costs another $10 for a replacement. If you can be responsible, though, the X3’s secure fit and strident sound should make up for that annoyance.

The good:

  • Smooth, cheerful sound signature in rugged design

The bad:

  • Proprietary battery system extorts you to keep track of minuscule charger

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