Liberating. Jabra’s Elite Sport true wireless earbuds are truly liberating. I no longer have to worry about a tangle of wires in my workouts. Nor do I have to worry about sweat contaminating and damaging my gear – they’re waterproof and are backed by a three-year “sweat proof” warranty. Nor do I have to worry about the earbuds falling out of my ears because of the customizable secure fit – I feel like these would stay in my ears even if I was tackled by a 300-pound linebacker. On top of all this, they have a built-in heart rate monitor, and come with a nifty workout app that offers live tracking and coaching. They’ve become one of my favorite workout gadgets already. Do we recommend them? The price is steep, but yes.
Heart rate monitor
The heart rate monitor on the Elite Sport uses an optical sensor and photoplethysmography from Valencell, a Raleigh, North Carolina firm that developed the technology. Essentially the sensor shines a light on the skin and monitors the amount of reflected light. As your heart pulses blood through your body, your skin changes its color slightly. The sensor picks up this change and records it as a pulse. Count the number of seconds between each pulse, and you’ve essentially got a heart rate.
The Elite Sport proved able in most of my workouts. They accurately quantified my heart rate between 60 – 200 bpm, and were consistent with my own manual counts (number of carotid pulses for 10 seconds, multiplied by 6) as well as my Apple Watch. In fact, they were better than my Apple Watch, which sometimes registered my BPM in the 50s at the peak of my workout. There were a few scattered instances, however, that the Elite Sport underestimated my heart rate by about 20 bpm (actual 180 bpm, measured 160 bpm), succumbing to the common problem of optical sensors underestimating heart rate at high intensities.
Jabra invested heavily into their Sport Life companion app, and it’s a welcome addition. It’s got a lot of useful features that by themselves might justify the premium cost over other wireless earbuds. The app paired with the earbuds quickly, and registered my heart rate within a few seconds. A British voice told me matter-of-factly “heart rate detected,” and I could confidently start my workout, knowing I was being tracked. The app has four major workout categories: running, cross-training, a VO2 max test, and a customizable training plan.
The running category tracked my runs over GPS and colour-coded my routes, based on heart rate and intensity. I could set goals for pace, cadence, and heart rate, and the app offered coaching during the run to either speed up or maintain my intensity along the goal.
The cross-training category came with a preset list of circuit-type exercises (e.g. pushups, squats, burpees, etc.) designed to work out different body systems. The app guided me into doing reps either by time or by rep number through the voice in the earbuds. Conveniently, the app counted the number of reps I did automatically through the built-in accelerometer for an entirely hands-free experience. It’s almost as if I had a personal trainer in my ears. This worked well for me for the most part, except for squat jumps, where it refused to count a single one (maybe I squat jump funny).
During the VO2 max test category, the app coaches to run at a level of 70-100% of max intensity for 15 minutes. To start, the app guided me into this intensity range by telling me to speed up. Once my heart rate was in the right zone, the app told me I was at target and to continue running at my current pace. At the end of the 15 minutes, the app estimated my VO2 max at 51 mL/kg/min. I weigh about 70 kg, so my body uses about 3.5 L of oxygen per minute at its maximum effort. I compared this result to the Beep Test, where I repeatedly ran 20 meters in decreasing amounts of time until exhaustion set in to prevent me getting to the next 20 meters on time. That test also estimated my VO2 max at 51 mL/kg/min (Level 11.2 for those familiar with the test). While neither of these are the gold standard, such consistency increased my confidence in each of the estimations. The app further tracks VO2 max over time to gauge overall improvement in fitness.
The training plan category took into account my VO2 max fitness level and my improvement goal (whose scale ranged from “maintain” to “improve gently” to “improve very intensely”) to create a personalized 3-7 day workout plan. Seems useful for those wanting to work out but are uncomfortable with designing their own regimen.
Comfort and sound
They will not fall out of your ears. I repeat: they will not fall out of your ears. Mine felt rock solid in my ears and in the ears of everybody in my research lab. This solved an important issue where my old earbuds used to fly violently out of my ears during high intensity workouts, like interval training or sprints. No matter how hard I shook my head, they stayed snugly in place.
Since most people have slightly different ear sizes, Jabra provided multiple options for a good fit: three ear wings, three ear gels, and three ear foams in the box. All combinations fit stably, but only some combinations optimized the sound quality. I found that using a mix of medium/large ear wings (turns out my ears are differently sized – who knew!), and large foam tips gave the best sound. The foam tips expanded against my ear canals to give an airtight seal with the drivers to produce quality sound . With these, the entire tonal range was balanced, especially bringing out the deep lows. However, I found that these foam tips weren’t the most comfortable, and my ears were sore after an hour of wear from being pushed on by the expanding foam. Swapping for the ear gels solved the comfort problem, and the audio quality was thinner, but still good. I’ll keep these gels for long term use, especially since the gels are more resistant to water and sweat.
They have three hours of continuous battery life. Their storage case doubles as a charger, and it can boost the life another six hours, bringing the total to nine hours without having to plug it in. This usually isn’t a problem unless you’re doing a long task. You probably won’t be wearing them to a marathon (unless you’re, like, really fast). I’m a PhD student in a wetlab, and these don’t work for those long experiments where I have to pipette for 24 hours continuously (that’s an exaggeration…but only slightly).
Bluetooth and Calls
The Bluetooth just works. And that’s already a huge plus. I’ve had two headsets, a $25 LeMe EB20A and a $350 Bose QuietComfort 35, and they’ve both had problems with cutting in and out during playback on my MacBook Pro (retina, early 2013) at my lab, where Bluetooth interference is aplenty. Given past experiences, I was anticipating playback issues with the Elite Sport, but was excited to find no playback issues whatsoever on my laptop nor my iPhone 6. Breath of fresh air. One small annoyance when I use these is that they don’t pair between devices easily. Every time I wanted to switch devices, I had to unpair the current device on the Elite Sport, then force forget the Elite Sport on the incoming device, and re-search to re-pair. Too much hassle when all I wanted to do was watch a cat video on my laptop with privacy. Guess I’ll settle for a smaller screen and keep these earbuds paired to my phone.
As for the calls – the other person could hear me loud and clear, and it even filtered out voices from people over 1.5 meters away. Ambient noise was removed so that the receiver only heard the quiet soothing sounds from my voice. In my ears, I could hear the other person clearly, albeit a little tinny. However, there was a little background white noise as the earbuds turned on the ambient sound in the mics.
- Heart rate monitor
- Sound quality
- Battery life
- Occasional heart rate underestimations
So in the end, these are a great pair of earbuds that do their job well. They brought a smile to my face during my run as I realized the freedom of wireless earphones, and they come with a bunch of health-related features to boot. The price is steep at $250 USD ($350 CAD), but it’s a price worth paying if you have the budget.
Product page: Jabra’s Elite Sport…