Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Gear Closet: Under Armour Bluetooth Wireless Earphones

One of the most popular running accessories amongst my friends in recent months has been wireless Bluetooth earphones. Most of us run with our smartphones these days, listening to music, audiobooks, and podcasts while we workout. But the cable that runs from our earbuds to our mobile device can be annoying at times, and often gets in the way. Wireless headphones eliminate this issue however, bringing a very high level of convenience, while also introducing some challenges of their own. 

Over the past couple of years, I've had the opportunity to test several different models of Bluetooth headsets designed specifically for runners. I've come to love the freedom that these types of headphones bring to the table, but have often found battery life to be a bit underwhelming. Recently, there has been a new entry into this increasingly crowded market, with Under Armour and JBL joining forces to release their own take on the wireless sports earbuds, and for the most part I'm very happy with the results. 

The first thing I noticed about the somewhat generically named Under Armour Headphones Wireless is the build quality. These earbuds feel incredibly solid in your hands, which seems fitting for a product that is meant to be used by frequent runners. We all know that we abuse our gear while out on the run, but these earphones are designed to shrug off the rigors of the road. Additionally, they are also water and sweat proof, keeping the tiny electronics inside safe from the elements. 

Paring these earphone with your mobile device vis Bluetooth is just as simple as you would expect, and takes only a few seconds to complete. Once the pairing process is done, the headphones will automatically connect to the audio device when it is turned on in the future, eliminating the need to repeat the process moving forward. The wireless connection between these earphones and my iPhone was strong, with very few distortions or dropouts. On two occasions (out of dozens of times using these earbuds) I actually had them disconnect from my phone, forcing me to turn them off and on again to re-establish the audio link. 

Unlike most other sports earbuds that I've tried, the Under Armour model only came with two sets of silicon covers that are meant to help find the perfect sizing for your ears. Competitors typically come with five or more, so I was somewhat dubious that they would fit correctly. The larger sizers were too large for my ears, but dropping down to the smaller covers did the trick nicely. Once twisted into place inside my ear, they molded to my personal contours and felt great. The fit was snug and comfortable, and exactly what you would expect from your earphones. 

That said, Under Armour and JBL offer a "guarantee" that these earbuds won't fall out no matter how vigorously you're moving. That hasn't exactly been the case for me, as I've had them bounce out on more than one occasion, and I routinely find myself adjusting the fit in my ear to keep them in place. Eventually I find just the right positioning, and they tend to stay in my ears at that point, but it can take a bit of fidgeting at times to make them work as advertised. Of course, everyone's ears vary in size and dimensions, so you may not find this to be a problem at all. 

These earphones are a bit larger than most other wireless models that I've tried, which some may find a bit distracting while out on a run. I equate that extra bulk to a larger battery, which extends the time between recharges out to 8 hours. That's better than most of the competition, and I've found that in real world testing, I could actually extend that battery life even further. Considering one of my least favorite things about using Bluetooth earbuds is having to recharge them all the time, this extended battery life came as a welcome addition. 

In terms of sound quality, the Under Amour headphones offer solid performance, particularly when compared to other wireless models. Vocals and music are clear and distinct, without just a touch of muddling at higher volume levels. Bass is at a minimum however, which is to be expected on earphones of this size. Wired earbuds still provide better all around performance in terms of audio quality, but most of us won't notice a huge difference, particularly while we're working out. 

As with most other headphones on the market these days, these earbuds have an inline remote that allows users to start and pause their music, adjust volume, power off and on, and pick-up phone calls using the built-in mic. Those features come in handy while out on a run, when using your smartphone directly isn't always convenient. 

With a price tag of $180, the Under Armor wireless headphones are definitely on the premium end of the spectrum. You will find other models that offer similar sound quality and battery performance for less money. You'll be hard pressed to find a set that are as durable and rugged however, which is an important thing to consider for runners. Some of those competitors won't survive nearly as long, which means you'll be plunking down more of your hard-earned cash once again. 

Overall, I really like these wireless earbuds. They are comfortable to wear, offer great battery life, and have good sound quality too. If you've been putting off taking the plunge into wireless audio for running, this is as good as any earbuds that I've tried so far. 

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