Mobile / Hands-on Review

Holiday 2012: Sports Headphones and Accessories


Working out can be a mind-numbing task. The scenery might change if you’re running or biking on a trail, but the sound of your breath and the rhythmic pounding of your feet can be hypnotic and unbelievably repetitive. If you go to the gym, it’s hard not to notice that most of the people riding stationary bikes, climbing stair masters and jogging on treadmills are listening to their iPod or some other MP3 player. This should make more obvious that most aerobic exercise is more enjoyable when you're listening to music, a podcast or an audio book. In fact, a study conducted by Dr. Costas Karageorghis, a sports psychologist at Brunel University, stated that listening to music enhanced athletic performance by as much as 20%. So, although your regular headphones can work for exercising, a good pair of sport-specific in-ear headphones offers several advantages that your regular headphones just can’t provide.

First, standard in-ear headphones don’t stay put very well. They tend to fall out with even limited movement. That’s why sport earphones usually have hooks or loops to help them stay on your head—and in your ears—while you’re running, biking, walking, etc. Second, the moisture from perspiration, as well as rain, snow and fog, can cause your regular earphones to break or malfunction. That’s why most in-ear sport headphones are usually perspiration proof and sometimes even fully waterproof. Third, playing sports and exercising while listening to an iPod or MP3 player puts added strain on your earphones. In-ear sportheadphones are usually more durable and are designed to withstand the rigors of an active lifestyle. With these three points in mind, let’s look at a handful of sport-specific in-ear headphones from a few manufacturers. This article should give you a better idea of the headphone options available to you for enjoying music while you exercise or play sports.

Once you’ve decided to purchase a pair of sport earphones for yourself or someone on your holiday shopping list, there are a few points to consider. How durable do they need to be? Do they have to be completely waterproof or will water resistance be enough? Do you want sound-isolating earbuds or would you prefer over-the-ear style headphones? Also, there’s the cable to think about. Would a pair of wireless earphones be important enough to justify a higher price tag? If you decide to go with wired earphones, would you prefer a standard cable or a flat cable that won’t tangle as easily? These are all points to consider as you read through the article.

Sennheiser Sports Headphones

Sennheiser makes a few pairs of sport-specific headphones. Their most affordable model in this article is the MX 685 SPORTS earphones, which are part of the Sennheiser/Adidas sports headphones line. They feature EarFin ear hooks with a unique Slide-to-Fit holding mechanism that provides a snug and comfortable fit around your ear that will remain secure even during strenuous workouts. Plus, the earphones are sweat and water resistant, so you’ll be able to focus on your workout instead of waiting for your earphones to fall out or break. The MX 685 SPORTS include a variety of air cushion adapters as well, which you can put on the earphone ear tips to ensure a perfect fit. These tips are also designed to promote your situational awareness, which means that you’ll still be able to hear outside noise. So, if you’re jogging on the street you won’t ever be completely oblivious to the noises from the traffic and pedestrians around you.

On the technical side, the MX 685 SPORTS feature high-output drivers that provide clear stereo audio, and the 3.9 ft (1.2 m) para-aramid reinforced cable is strong enough to resist breaking even if you get it caught on something while working out. The 1/8-inch (3.5mm) connector is compatible with all MP3 players, as well as iPad, iPod and iPhone. It’s also the standard connector for most gym miCoach systems and most AV systems installed in gyms. Besides the air-cushion adapters, the MX 685 SPORTS also include foam ear pads for added comfort, small and large ear sleeves, a storage pouch and a cable clip that will keep the cord from getting tangled up while you’re working out.

Another Sennheiser/Adidas model is the CX 685 sports headphones. These sports-specific ear-canal phones are sweat and water resistant. They feature EarFin ear hooks as well, with the Slide-to-Fit adjustable holding mechanism that ensures a comfortable and tight fit. The headphones include small, medium and large ear adapters for optimal comfort. Plus, they feature high-output drivers and a 3.9 ft (1.2 m) para-aramid reinforced cable with a standard 1/8-inch (3.5mm) connector. The major difference between the two Sennheiser/Adidas models is the CX 685’s ear canal coupling, which ensures a high level of noise attenuation. This means that if you want to block out as much outside noise as possible and you don’t need to worry about what’s around you—like traffic—then the CX 685’s are the earphones for you.

The last Sennheiser model in this article is the MM 100 Bluetooth stereo headset. While these are not sports-specific, they are wireless and they do feature a neckband-style headband that’s great for sports, since it will keep the headset in place on your head while you're walking or jogging. The biggest advantage of the MM 100 is its stereo Bluetooth connectivity and built-in microphone. This ensures hi-fi stereo sound and hands-free talking if you get a call on your Bluetooth-enabled iPhone or smartphone. Plus, the controls are seamlessly integrated into the headset.

The headset also features Sennheiser’s open acoustic design, which promotes a wide dynamic range with realistic sound reproduction. The MM 100 neckband-style headband provides a secure fit that’s both lightweight and discreet. The headset ear pads feature soft cushions that are comfortable to wear and won’t press tightly against your ears. There is a built-in battery as well, which can be easily recharged by the included USB cable or wall adapter. Plus, the Bluetooth connectivity supports wireless connections with up to two Bluetooth-enabled devices simultaneously. All three pairs of Sennheiser headphones in this article are shipped with two-year warranties.

Sony Active Style Headphones

Sony has a well-deserved reputation for producing high quality mobile media players and headphones designed for sports. They were producing the Walkman Sports cassette player and sports headphones as early as the mid-1980s. Thirty years later, they continue to improve their sports-specific headphone design. Currently, Sony offers three pairs of sports headphones. The most affordable model is the MDR-AS20J Active Style Headphones, which are available in either black or white. They feature vertical, in-ear buds with newly developed soft loop hangers that keep the headphones in place while you jog or work out. They’re also designed to fit a variety of different-sized ears.

The 3.9-ft (1.2-m) cord features a clip that you can use to secure the cord to your clothes, so you don’t get it tangled up or rip it out of your MP3 player while working out. The headphones feature 13.5mm dome-type drivers with an 18 Hz – 22 Hz frequency range, an impedance of 16 ohms and a 50 mW power capacity. The open-air, dynamic speakers also feature a PET diaphragm and neodymium magnets for added bass response. Another unique touch is the angled 1/8-inch (3.5mm) stereo connector. Plus, the headphones include an extension cable as well, which provides added cable length when needed.

The next model in Sony’s line of sports headphones is the MDR-AS35W, which shares many of the same technical features as the MDR-AS20J. The main difference is that the MDR-AS35W in-ear sports headphones feature a lightweight headband as opposed to the loop hangers. They still feature the vertical, in-ear design, and the lightweight headband keeps the headphones securely on your head while you work out. This model includes an extension cord as well, so you can use the shorter cable when wearing your MP3 player on your armband and attach the extension cord when your MP3 player is in your backpack or pocket.

Technically speaking, these two Sony models are identical. The MDR-AS35W features the same 13.5mm neodymium drivers for superior bass response. The open-air, dynamic design is the same as well. They also feature the same power capacity, frequency response and impedance. One difference worth noting is that the MDR-AS35W headphones have a straight, gold-plated 1/8-inch (3.5mm) stereo connector. They also include a carrying pouch. The cable is 3.9 ft (1.2m) long.

Sony’s premium Active Style Headphones are the MDR-AS40EX earbud headphones. They feature a moisture-guard surface that wicks away sweat and water from the speakers. They also feature three sizes of earbuds and three sizes of detachable soft hangers. This ensures a comfortable and tight fit in and around your ear. My favorite part of the MDR-AS40EX headphones is the convertible design. The soft hangers can be removed when you’re done working out and you can enjoy the headphones like a regular pair of in-ear earbud headphones.

The headphones are equipped with 9mm dome-type drivers with neodymium magnets that support enriched, deep bass response. They feature a 10 Hz – 23 kHz frequency response, an impedance of 16 ohms and a 100 mW power capacity. The MDR-AS40EX headphones also feature a straight, gold-plated 1/8-inch (3.5mm) stereo connector and a 2 ft (0.6 m) single-sided cord with a 2-ft (0.6-m) extension cord. The weight of the headphones is 0.21 ounces (6 g). These are definitely the most versatile and secure-fitting of the three Sony sports headphone models. I also like the quieter closed, dynamic earbuds. They will bother your neighbors less than the open-air earbuds on the other two Sony models.

Bose Sports Headphones

Bose produces some of the finest in-ear headphones available. They’re not only acoustically impressive, but they’re also feature-packed. The Bose SIE2 and SIE2i are identical sport headphones. The only difference is the SIE2i’s inline iPhone/iPod microphone and the remote control that lets you operate your iPod or iPhone remotely. It also facilities hands-free calling and talking with your iPhone. The SIE2i is available in two colors as well: green or orange. The rest of their features and details are the same. Both models feature sweat-resistant and weather-resistant hydrophobic acoustic cloth that keeps moisture away from the speakers, while allowing the sound to pass through. They also include small, medium and large StayHear ear tips that remain in place even during strenuous workouts. Plus, the Bose TriPort technology delivers deep, natural bass and shimmering high-end tones.

As an added bonus, the SIE2 and SIE2i sport headphones include an exclusive Reebok fitness armband that holds your music player while you work out. It's made from a stretchy, breathable material that adjusts to fit most smartphones and MP3 players, and it has a touch-sensitive window for ease of operation. There's also a pocket for your keys and a slot for your headphones when you're not using them. The SIE2 and SIE2i headphones include a clothing clip and a 21-inch (53.3cm) extension cable. They weigh 0.6 ounces (18 g) and the attached cable is 31.5 inches (80cm) long.

Monster Power iSport In-Ear Headphones

Monster offers virtually any type of audio headphones imaginable. They have a huge research department dedicated to improving headphone technology and their headphones feature innovations that are sometimes a step ahead of the competition. It’s this dedication to innovation that makes the Monster iSport Immersion or iSport LiveStrong an ideal choice for enjoying audio while you work out or play sports. Plus, both iSport in-ear headphone models were designed in collaboration with world-class athletes and Monster’s cutting edge research department.

Available in black or blue, the UV-protected, high-performance iSport Immersion in-ear headphones are designed for a variety of sports including running, biking, snowboarding, skateboarding, weight-training and more. They feature a proprietary sealed housing that makes them durable, sweat proof and completely washable. The advanced in-ear speaker design with MicroStrand Conductors reproduces your music with impressive clarity and rich, deep bass. The headphones also feature Monster’s patented SportClip in-ear clip design, which affords a secure and snug fit that keeps your headphones in place. Plus, the SportClip design will not get in the way of goggles, glasses or a helmet.

Monster also includes multiple sizes of Pro Sound Isolating Ear Tips, which offer a customized fit that creates a tight seal for keeping water and perspiration out. The ear tips also isolate unwanted noise and the tight seal promotes powerful bass that will keep your workouts energized. The iSport Immersion headphones feature magnetic Flux Tube technology as well, which is the same wiring that’s found in Monster’s high-end speaker cables. Other features include a 24K gold-plated 1/8-inch (3.5mm) right-angle stereo connector and a ControlTalk inline microphone/remote for controlling your iPad, iPhone and iPod. You can also use the inline remote to answer calls and end calls with your iPhone or BlackBerry.

Although mostly similar to the iSport Immersion, Monster’s iSport LiveStrong in-ear headphones feature a yellow finish that matches the LiveStrong Foundation colors. Plus, a portion of the proceeds from each iSport LiveStrong sale goes to benefit the foundation. Other than that, the two Monster iSport models are the same. The iSport LiveStrong features the same SportClip design with MicroStrand Conductors and Pro Sound Isolating Ear Tips. The headphones also feature the same magnetic Flux Tube technology and ControlTalk inline microphone and remote control. Both iSport models include a protective spring-clasp pouch as well.

Other Wired and Wireless Sports Headphones

While Sony, Bose, Sennheiser and Monster all have multiple models of sports headphones to choose from, there are several other wired and wireless sports-headphone options out there. In this section we’ll take a look at a handful of manufacturers that have only one model available. Most of these companies specialize in portable entertainment accessories, so their sport-specific headphones have the features and technology to compete with the larger brands.

iLuv is well known for making high-quality accessories for iPhone, iPod, iPad and Android mobile devices. Their iEP415 FitActive in-ear stereo headphones feature an in-ear brace design that keeps these high-fidelity headphones in place while you work out, and the brace won’t get in the way of your helmet, goggles or sport glasses. The headphones are equipped with dynamic drivers and the cable features an integrated SpeakEZ microphone and three-button remote, which allows you to control the audio and phone functions of compatible devices including the iPhone, iPod and iPad. The iEP415 headphones are available in several colors including red, white, black, green and orange.

Another well known accessories manufacturer is Klipsch. They offer their Image S4i rugged in-ear headphones in a variety of colors including blue, red, orange and yellow. The Image S4i features a ruggedized, rubberized finish with an all-weather design that resists moisture and can handle exposure to extreme elements. The headphones are outfitted with 8.5mm full range KG 25A drivers with a dual-magnet design and dynamic moving coil micro speakers. They support a frequency range of 10 Hz – 19 kHz and the durable, tangle-resistant cable features an inline microphone with a three-button remote. The soft, flexible ear tips fit naturally in your ear. They also afford superior noise cancellation and will stay put while you jog, bike, ski or work out. The inline controls work only with iPod, iPhone and iPad.

The Klipsch and iLuv models are both wired sports headphones. However, there are also a couple of wireless sports headphone models. The wireless options offer complete freedom from cables, which also means freedom of motion and flexibility. There’s no cord to get tangled up or ripped out of your ear. And, you can keep your iPod or other mobile device tucked away in your jacket, bag or pocket.

The first model we’ll look at is made by Creative Labs. They make several unique mobile device accessories, and their WP-250 in-ear Bluetooth wireless headphones are no exception. They feature a behind-the-neck design that’s both discreet and comfortable, and they’ll stay put while you’re snowboarding, skateboarding, lifting weights or jogging. These noise-isolating headphones also feature fuss-free wireless technology that’s compatible with any stereo Bluetooth-enabled device. They support a transmission range of up to 33 ft (10 m). The WP-250 headphones are equipped with powerful 13.5mm neodymium drivers that support a frequency range of 20 Hz – 20 kHz. The headphones also offer hands-free talking thanks to the integrated and invisible omnidirectional microphone. They include three different sizes of ear tips as well.

If you’re looking for a slightly more feature-packed wireless sports headphone alternative, then consider the Denon Exercise Freak wireless in-ear headphones. They are available in black, blue or yellow and they are truly designed for seamless integration with your favorite sport or exercise routine. The Exercise Freak headphones feature Bluetooth 3.0 wireless connectivity, so they’ll work with any stereo Bluetooth-enabled music player including your iPod, iPhone or iPad. They also feature an integrated amplifier, a rechargeable battery that lasts up to seven hours and an inline microphone and remote control.

The Exercise Freak’s reflective, flexible neckband will keep you safe and comfortable. Plus, the sweat-proof earbuds fit snugly into your ear and they’re designed to stay put even during your most intense workouts. The headphones include multiple sizes of anti-microbial ear tips as well, that resist the buildup of bacteria. Denon also offers a downloadable iOS and Android smart phone app, which provides even more workout-related features. The app can track your outdoor workouts, including charting distance and speed. It can also track your workout performance.

Totally Waterproof Options

If you have a totally waterproof MP3 player or a waterproof case for your MP3 player, then you may want to consider a totally waterproof pair of sports headphones—instead of just a water-resistant pair. If you’re a swimmer, surfer, kayaker or wakeboarder and you want to enjoy your music while you enjoy your water sport of choice, then consider one of these waterproof options. First, the OverBoard OB1038 Waterproof Earphones, which are available in white or black, are compatible with virtually any music player. They’re 100% waterproof to a depth of 19 ft (6 m) and they feature bass-enhancing neodymium drivers with a 19 Hz – 20 kHz frequency response. The earphones are recommended for use with the OverBoard Pro-Sport MP3 Case.

Another option for underwater enthusiasts and water sports athletes comes from Pyle Pro. They manufacture a variety of high-quality accessories for portable entertainment, including the PWPE10 Waterproof Marine Headphones. The PWPE10 headphones are waterproof down to 3.3 ft (1 m) and they include three pairs of different-sized earbuds for optimal comfort and fit. They also feature 10mm drivers with 20 mW power and a frequency response of 20 Hz – 20 kHz. Plus, the headphones are equipped with soft ear hooks so they’ll stay put while you swim, work out, jog, wakeboard, etc. They have a gold-plated 1/8-inch (3.5mm) stereo connector and a 48-inch (122-cm) cable for maximum flexibility. The PWPE10 headphones are available in either white or black.

The last waterproof option in this article is somewhat different from the rest of the headphones discussed. The Impecca 4GB Wire Free Sports MP3 Player combines a 4GB MP3 player and a pair of wireless sports earphones into one seamless package at an affordable price. They are waterproof down to a depth of 9.8 ft (3 m) and are ergonomically designed for all-day comfort while jogging, cycling, swimming and more. The MP3 player is wireless and supports high fidelity stereo audio. Plus, with 4GB of internal memory and USB 2.0 connectivity, you'll be able to quickly load thousands of songs for your workout. The headset features a built-in rechargeable lithium battery as well, which affords up to 10 hours of continuous audio playback. It supports both MP3 and WMA file formats, for added convenience. The earphones have soft hooks for staying put and they are available in multiple colors including aqua blue, white and black.

Sports Headphones Accessories

If you’re looking for a few accessories for someone that already has a pair of sports headphones, or if you want to include some stocking stuffers with your gift of sports headphones, here are a few accessories to consider. The iLuv A Sante Pro Sports Armband is compatible with the iPhone 4/4S. It protects your iPhone while you work out and provides a secure fit around your arm. The armband is outfitted with a credit card / I.D. pocket, as well as a holder for your sports headphones. It also features a reflector for added safety if you jog at night.

Another accessory that makes working out while listening to music easier is the Aluratek Bluetooth Sportclip Receiver. If you have a stereo Bluetooth-enabled mobile device or MP3 player and you want to use your standard sports headphones wirelessly, the Sportclip Receiver provides the solution. It plugs into your wired headphones and allows them to function as wireless Bluetooth headphones. The receiver affords a transmission range of up to 33 ft (10 m), so you don’t even need to have your MP3 player on you while you work out. Plus, the device features a built-in LCD screen that displays song title and caller ID. It’s equipped with a lithium-ion rechargeable battery that supports up to 12 hours of audio playback. When a call comes in to your iPhone or other stereo Bluetooth-enabled smart phone, the music pauses and you can take the call (if your headphones have an integrated microphone). When you hang up, the music starts back up again. This is a convenient accessory that’s great for working out.

The last accessory is the Nite Ize Curvyman, which is a lightweight and durable plastic cable wrap. It features an S-Biner attachment clip and it minimizes cable-tangles while you work out. It allows you to wrap your headphones for tangle-free storage, or simply wrap the middle part of the cable to adjust the amount of slack you have. Plus, it easily attaches to your backpack, belt loop, keychain, etc.

This modest list of accessories barely scratches the surface, so if you’re looking for something specific or just want to browse all the available possibilities, be sure to check out the B&H website. You’ll also find full descriptions for all the products mentioned in this article and more sports headphones options as well. If you have more questions, please contact a Sales Associate via live chat, over the phone or in the B&H SuperStore.