The choice of earphones available nowadays is as bewildering as that for smartphones, but the same rule applies: look for options that suit your budget, your needs and your preferred look and feel. No one option is best, or even best value for money, as it depends entirely on the user’s preferences, needs and circumstances.
Earphones are used in a variety of settings, from highly active exercising to deeply passive music enjoyment. However, increasingly, they also have to cross the boundaries between activities. While there is no one-size-fits-all earphone, the four devices selected here are versatile enough to ensure they won’t gather much dust in a drawer somewhere:
Jabra Elite Sport earbuds
The most pricey of this batch is also the most function-rich. The Jabra Elite Sport is a set of in-ear wireless buds that link to a smartphone via an iPhone or Android app.
It is designed specifically for runners, with four features that set it apart:
• Three-hour active-use battery, and a small, chargeable carry case for another two recharges.
• Sweat-proof, with a three-year warranty against “failure due to the effects of perspiration.
• External microphone that can be switched on to pick up ambient noise, so that the user isn’t oblivious to traffic, for example.
• In-ear heart rate monitor and analyser.
• In-ear audio coaching.
The last is the possibly the most valuable. Specialised coaching is increasingly available via fitness bands, but rarely in an earbud package. The Sport Life companion app includes coaching, planning workouts and testing fitness levels, making it the ideal device for getting new year’s fitness resolutions on the road.
If those aren’t good enough, it is compatible with most independent fitness apps, like Strava, Runtastic and Endomondo.
Of course, excellent sound quality is a given, and it comes with an astonishing array of wingtips for a wide range of sizes. This will probably allay fears of the buds being dislodged and even getting lost. If not, there is always its wired cousin, the Jabra Sport Pulse.
- The Elite Sports are available for R3 499 from Circuit City here.
Jabra Sport Pulse
The Jabra Sport Pulse is not exactly the wired version of the Elite Sport, as it has a link connecting the two earpieces, but that is where the wired connecting stops: it still uses Bluetooth to connect to a smartphone. It’s also intended for fitness and running enthusiasts, but with slightly lower tech and at a somewhat lower cost.
Its most compelling features are:
• In-ear heart rate monitoring
• Sport button with voice prompts
• VO2 Max tracking, meaning it measures “maximal volume of oxygen” that the body delivers to the working muscles, and is one of the best measures of physical fitness.
• Sweat-proof, with the same three-year warranty against “failure due to the effects of perspiration”.
• Five hours talk time.
The earphones are charged via a concealed Micro USB charging port in the one earbud, which then also charges the other bud. It also comes with a set of foam ear tips and has built-in active noise cancellation.
It’s a great option for listening to music while having a serious work-out.
- The Jabra Pulse is available for R2 499 from Circuit City here.
House of Marley – Smile Jamaica
Without a doubt, the coolest brand in sound equipment, House of Marley is best known for making its products from sustainable materials, and for donating a portion of the proceeds to 1Love (www.1love.org), the Marley family’s charitable foundation.
It makes beatboxes, headphones and in-ear headsets, among other audio merchandise, typically with the signature reggae colours and designs associated with Bob Marley. The earphones are the most affordable of its products, and make a great festive season gift.
The Smile Jamaica in-ear set offers the following key features:
• High-quality fabric cable.
• In-line remote with microphone and button to take or end calls, as well as pause, play and skip tracks.
• Enhanced bass.
• Great build quality for a low-cost device.
The package only includes one extra silicon ear tip, and may not be comfortable for non-average ears. For the price, though, it is as comfortable as an earphone is going to get.
There is one feature, however, that truly sets apart the Smile Jamaica earphones
they use wood in the earpieces, and it’s a wood that brings the device close to home: sapele, a sustainable African wood. The wood is combined with an aluminium cap, the better to connect to the earbud.
In short, it is economical, tough, looks good, serves a cause, and is “mindfully” made. What’s not to love?
- Smile Jamaica earphones are available from Accessory Lab for only R279-R299 here.
Meizu EP52 Sports magnetic neckband Bluetooth earphones
High-end Bluetooth earphones tend to be excessively expensive in South Africa, running to three to five thousand rands. As a result, the final choice in this selection is an import, via the Chinese site that is fast becoming a go-to site for South African gadget buyers, Gearbest.
The highlight of the product is the unboxing: a minimalist cover sleeve is pulled off to expose an elegant red box, which folds open to reveal a beautifully presented headset, charger holder and box of eartips to match various size requirements. Certainly, the unboxing does not add to the quality of the earphones themselves, but provides a quality experience that is then carried over to the device.
The main features of the earphones are:
• Six-hour battery life.
• Three-button remote on the arm, with microphone, to control volume and answer calls.
• Magnetic earpieces that clip together when the set is worn round the neck while not in use.
• Machined aluminium ends.
• Four extra wingtips and four eartips.
The sound quality is superior to that of any earphones that come with smartphones, including Samsung or Apple variants, and includes noise cancellation.
The red cables combine with black neck rest to provide a deeply aesthetically pleasing look, making for one of the best looking earphones around for both sport and leisure.
When shopping on Gearbest, look out for discount codes or vouchers that can reduce the cost of a device by up to a third.
- The Meizu EP52 is available from Gearbest at $89.99, excluding shipping is available here.