I pedal double-time on the stationary bike whenever Jennifer Lopez’s “On The Floor” is blasting at my gym. The song’s unrelenting beat keeps me moving, even when my body is screaming to stop. When you don’t have a personal coach or a workout buddy to keep you motivated, only your workout music can keep you honest. Too bad sports headphones often suck: They either hurt or keep falling out or sound like garbage. The Sport Wireless Train headphones made by Under Armour and JBL aren’t a traditional pair of sports headphones—they go on your ears instead of in them—and they offer a welcome departure from some of the pain points that plague even the best sets out there.
Whether sports headphones are semi-wireless like the Plantronics BackBeat FIT 300, attached to “neckbands” like the UA Sport Wireless Flex, or completely wireless like AirPods, none of them fit every ear canal perfectly. Even when you do find the perfect pair, it will eventually need to be replaced due to lost parts or because they’ve simply gotten too gross. Worst of all, sports headphones are not known for their sound quality, so there’s really nothing in the market for athletes that want better sound.
With their textured rubber details and foamy, breathable fabric ear cups the Sport Wireless Train look rugged but feel premium. Designed to handle sweat and lots of it, the UA headphones are water resistant with rubber doors protecting the audio jack and charging port. While you can’t take these headphones into the pool or the shower (they can handle up to 10 minutes of water splashing like light rain), the fabric ear cups are detachable so you can soak them in water, after you’ve soaked them in your sweat.
The ear cups are removable, but I do worry I’ll break something
With these UA headphones on my ears, I was able to tune out all distractions and just focus on burning some calories at the gym. For once, I didn’t hear the grunting gym bros loudly throwing weights around. All I heard was “Turn Down For What” by DJ Snake/Lil Jon and “Scream” by Usher thumping in my ears, willing me to keep exercising.
For my commute and warm-ups/cool-downs, I prefer calmer music like orchestral pieces and jazz standards. The JBL-designed 40mm drivers did an admirable job handling the more nuanced music. While most headphones handle pop music nicely—and these do a good job—I was surprised at the detail in more trying pieces. Listening to the first movement of Rachmaninov’s Concerto No. 2 in C minor, I could clearly hear every piano note as it alternates between the melody and accompaniment for the orchestra, even when other instruments have the spotlight.
Besides their audio prowess, I’m particularly excited that the UA headphones have a dedicated TalkThru button, disguised as the large clickable UA logo on the right earpiece. With a click, it automatically drops your audio volume and turns off its noise-cancelling mics so you can hear yourself and the outside world. Both Parrot and Bose have introduced similar technology before, and it’s nice to see it making its way to more headphones.
After spending an entire week doing everything from exercising to commuting with these UA headphones, I’m a TalkThru fan. Rather than fumble for the smaller Pause button located at the bottom of the right earpiece, the TalkThru button is much more accessible. Without it, I likely would have missed the sudden subway announcement that the train would be skipping a bunch of stops. When asked to help spot a bench press, I could do so without sliding these headphones on and off my already messy hair and resting them on my sweaty neck.
The battery on these UA headphones just kept going and going. I got approximately 24-hours of use on a single charge, well above the advertised 16-hours of battery life. After just a five minute charge, I was able to use the headphones for over an hour thanks to a quick charging feature JBL calls Speed Charge.
In another plus, the connection between the headphones and my smartphone only randomly dropped once, when I was not playing any music while fiddling with an exercise machine for over 10 minutes, likely due to an auto-timeout to save battery. The Bluetooth range is also impressive. I could hear my music when I was skating up to 100 feet away from my phone (an NHL-size rink is 200 feet long), enabling me to keep my phone in a locker, safely off the ice.
Whether I was lapping the skating rink, running on the treadmill, or stretching at the barre, these headphones just would not budge from my ears. They have unbelievable staying power. The only time they shifted slightly off my ears was when I was lying down to stretch.
If you wear glasses, be warned that the headphones might feel too snug to wear on top of your eyewear. While the headband is somewhat flexible and adjustable in length, it was definitely squeezing my glasses and temples. They’re intended to stay firm in a workout, but might be too tight for hours and hours of wear.
You can certainly make phone calls with these headphones, but its mics are too quiet for anything serious like a job interview.
Despite the super breathable material under both the headband and around the ear cups, these headphones definitely made me feel warmer than other earbud-style sports headphones. It doesn’t help that they weigh a hefty 1.74 lbs (most sports headphones weigh less than a pound), which only made my body work harder as I exercised. If you sweat easily like me, I would only use these UA headphones at the gym and in other air-conditioned environments—and not for a marathon.
At £180, the headphones are considerably more expensive than many other in-ear models out there. Last year, we recommended the £100 BeatsX and Jabra Sport Pulse, and those models will still do you just fine. But if you’re looking for a pair of music-centric exercise headphones, definitely consider these on-ear cans. They sound great, they fit great, and their durable design will last you a long time.
- Great if you listen to a wide variety of music when you workout
- Standout features: TalkThru button for chatting without taking off your headphones; plenty of battery life; strong Bluetooth signal; and washable ear cups — no more excuses for smelly headphones!
- You should pass on these headphones if you: wear glasses 24/7; want something lighter than 1.74 lbs on your head; want to customise the audio settings; or exercise outdoors and sweat buckets.
- Speaker drivers: JBL 40mm dynamic • Impedance: 32Ω Frequency response: 16–20,000Hz • Bluetooth: 4.1, A2DP v1.3, AVRCP v1.5, HFP v1.6, HSP v1.2 • Bluetooth transmitted frequency and power: 2.402GHz – 2.48GHz, <4dBm • Battery type: rechargeable lithium-ion (3.7V, 610mAh) • Battery life: up to 16 hours • micro USB • 3.5mm audio jack
All images: Gloria Sin (Gizmodo)