5 sports headphones for iPhone and iPod touch
26th Feb 2012 | 08:00
Reviewed and rated
Best sports headphones for iPhone and iPod
Doing something as simple as listening to your favourite music can make a long workout zip by.
A cheap pair of headphones hooked up to your iPod or iPhone may serve you fine, but for a little more money you can buy more comfort, more control and better sound quality to better accompany your fitness regime.
However, it's not just a case of the sound produced by your headphones. For anyone who's worked out in a noisy gym, or trudged the miles out along a busy road, you want to ensure that your music is loud enough to be heard without all that external noise overpowering your tunes.
After all there's no point listening to music if all you can hear is dreadful looped '90s gym music or the drone of the on-rushing traffic.
At the other end of the scale, for the more conscientious gym goer there's also the consideration of the sound leaking out of your earphones and annoying your fellow fit freaks.
We've all had to suffer the pain when the tinny, mosquito-like whine of someone's music whistles out of their earbuds and out into the surrounding environment (and why do they always play such bad tunes?). A little thought about sound insulation when buying new headphones can prevent you being that annoying person that everyone is tutting about.
The type of exercise you do should also be a consideration. Are you moving your head a lot? Will you be running for miles? The unit weight, battery life and the way the things stay on your ears should all be taken into account.
We've rounded up quite a diverse collection of designs to try out. It's certainly worth popping to a shop to try out the different styles of headphones and see which best suits you in terms of fit and style, because everyone's head, ears and sense of what looks good will vary.
Jabra SPORT - £76
JayBird Sportsband SB2 - £89
Philips ActionFit SHQ3000 - £20
Sennheiser PMX 680i Sports - £45
Sony MDR-AS20J - £15
Test one: Audio quality
While you're not going to be expecting the pinnacle of audio quality from headphones designed for active folks, you do want to be able to hear your music and for it to be of a reasonable quality.
The headphones we tested all produced fine sounds save for one. The Philips ActionFit SHQ3000 had disappointingly poor sound quality. They were lacking in bass and offered a tinny sound overall. They're actually quite a step backwards from the Apple earbuds you get bundled with your iPhone or iPod.
However, cheap doesn't always mean bad, and it was a great surprise to hear the big bass and reasonably good-quality audio coming from the Sony MDR-AS20J, the cheapest on test. Not only was the sound very good, but it was also loud, as were the Sennheiser PMX 680i Sports and the JayBird Sportsband SB2, with both the Sennheisers and Sonys loud enough to be a little uncomfortable at full volume, but without the crackling that inferior headphones suffer from.
The Jabra SPORT headset and the Sennheiser PMX 680i Sports had a slightly hissy, but tolerable sound quality, and it would have been nicer if the Jabra SPORT's volume could have gone a wee bit higher.
The JayBird Sportsband SB2 let out quite a bit of external sound compared with in-the-ear headphones, and while most of the sets did a good job of keeping the noise out, the Philips ActionFit SHQ3000 allowed a lot of ambient sound to leak in and out, annoying for the person wearing them as much as the people around them.
The Sennheiser PMX 680i Sports, JayBird Sportsband SB2 and Jabra SPORT all have microphones that will work with your iPhone, which is certainly a useful addition. For taking calls, the Jabra SPORT works very well, unless you're somewhere noisy, in which case the Sennheisers have the edge.
The sound quality on the end of the call for both the Sennheiser PMX 680i Sports and the Jabra SPORT were reasonable, but when we called a friend using the JayBird Sportsband SB2 he said it sounded like we had a chest infection!
A unique feature of the Jabra SPORT compared to the other headphones on test is that it comes with a built-in FM radio. The sound quality is a little tinny, and makes you realise why the digital switchover happened, but if you need to preserve the charge on your iPod, or just want a change from your regular music, it's a really nice feature to have.
Test two: Durability
All these headphones cope well with a sweaty workout, although the foam earpads of the JayBird Sportsband SB2 will hold onto some of your sweat, and you'll need to swap to the spare foampads.
The Jabra SPORT headphones boast that they're US Military Standard rain, dust and shock-resistant certified, and they certainly feel rugged and well built.
The cheaper Philips set doesn't have the same level of accreditation, but you can happily run them under a tap if they need a clean.
The weakest part of cabled headphones is next to the jack. This area sees the most abuse as you tug on the cable. The Sony MDR-AS20J's right-angled jack reduces the stress better than the other wired headphones, and if you opt for wireless, you can avoid this entirely, of course.
Test three: Comfort
For those who've never got on with in-ear headphones because they fall out of your hefty lugholes (yes, that's us), the addition of the hooking device around the ear that Jabra, Philips and Sony have used works really well. None fell out during sit ups, twists or jogging.
The Sennheiser PMX 680i Sports stayed put thanks to the connecting band that sits around the back of your head. It was only the JayBird Sportsband SB2 that wobbled around as we jogged, due to the weight of the headset and the way they sat on the ear.
While they weighed the most of all the headphones we tested, they were by no means heavy. However, the rectangular earphones weren't very comfortable, and the sponge pads felt cheap and didn't offer much by way of padding.
After a workout with the Sennheiser PMX 680i Sports, you do notice the headband pressing on your temples a bit, and if you're doing any bench work then every time your head goes back onto the bench the band pushes the headphones forwards, so they're not ideal for that particular type of workout.
The Jabra SPORT and the Philips ActionFit SHQ3000 are comfortable and quick to put on, with the Philips having a better fit thanks to a range of differently-sized ear caps.
The Sony MDR-AS20J are comfortable because the speakers face forwards which suits people with a more open tragus (the sticky-out bit in front of your earhole), but the plastic that secures them in place is a little fiddly to put on.
Going wireless means that you'll benefit from not having a cable skipping up and down while moving. Indeed, we prefer wireless headphones for just this reason. Not only is it less annoying than having to hold a wire or clip it up, but it's also a bit safer, as anyone who has accidentally yanked their iPhone onto the treadmill by the headphone cable will readily attest.
And the winner is… Jabra SPORT £76
With built-in iPod controls, a radio and no wires, these are the perfect gym buddy
The Jabra SPORTs look the business in the gym or great outdoors. Their rubberised covering keep them in place whether you're stepping to the music or on your final set of crunches.
Although called wireless headphones, the two headset units are connected by a cable. This flat, flexible, rubberised wire carries just enough weight not to bounce around too much when running, and while we wouldn't describe their Ultimate Comfort Ear gels as the ultimate in comfort, they do help to stop them moving around in your ear.
The audio quality is good, considering everything that's packed in, which includes a woman. Yes, there is a little woman who informs you how to pair your headphones and whether they're turned on or off. This helps ensure you don't drain your battery, and just to be sure, there's also a blinking LED on the headphones and a battery life indicator display on your iPod or iPhone.
The sound quality from the FM radio works well enough and finds stations very quickly. It's a nice addition to have should you need to preserve the charge in your iPod, or just want to travel light.
The headphones come bundled with an armband for your iPod - although it's nothing more than a strip of velcro and a pouch - and an AC charger. The headphones charge over USB and the inclusion of a mains charger with micro-USB means you don't need to be near your computer to juice them up.
The charge should last you for up to three hours according to the specs, but if you're thinking of running a marathon you may wish to consider swapping to wired headphones. We'd recommend the Sony MDRAS20J in that case.
Jabra has packed a lot into the SPORT, it even has a companion app in the Endomondo Sports Tracker to help you monitor your workout. And once you go wireless you'll wonder why you didn't make the switch earlier!