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I caught my headphones around a doorknob walking through my front door this morning. It wasn’t pretty. It freaked me out and hurt quite a bit. I suppose it could have been worse — I’ve wrecked more headphones than I care to mention through similar absentmindedness — but it was a slightly painful reminder of the last few hurdles standing between us and a truly wireless experience.
I’ve been waiting for the right pair of Bluetooth headphones to untether my music listening for a number of years now; something I can wear around the house, on the streets or running on the treadmill without compromising comfort or audio quality. And most importantly, really, something that won’t violently rip out of my ear canals every time I end up on the business end of a unfriendly doorknob.
At Mobile World Congress in February, wireless audio company BlueAnt showed off a product that seemed to be the answer to years of headphone-related prayers. Unnecessarily long name aside, the $130 Pump HD Sportbuds arrived with promises of waterproof, rugged, well-fitting audio. And on most accounts, these excursive headphones don’t have much trouble keeping up.A new look
When asked by a BlueAnt rep which color Sportsbuds I wanted to try at the conference — green or black — my answer was immediately black. I wanted exercise headphones that didn't look like exercise headphones. When someone says “green” in reference to sports audio, they typically mean that eyeball-piercing radioactive neon color that you rarely find outside of running shoes, safety razors and action figures.
I still feel pretty confident that I made the right choice here. All said, the black models aren’t bad looking. The rubber earbud tips and a few other accents are a metallic blue, but it compliments the black and white killer whale palette, and I feel okay wearing these things on public transportation, without being singled out as the guy who forgot to take off his workout headphones.
BlueAnt made some interesting choices on the form factor here. Actually, I spoke with one rep from the company who vaguely apologized. Here’s the thing: if you’ve heard of BlueAnt at all, it’s probably through the company’s Bluetooth headsets. And fittingly, these guys look a fair bit like two Bluetooth earpieces strung together with a thin wire. The design was an attempt to make headphones that sit firmly in-place while you’re burning off those love handles. And as far as those sorts of designs go, the Pump HD Sportbuds aren’t nearly as awkward as their name implies.
Image: Brian Heater, Mashable
BlueAnt has made good use of the added space, with a small microphone next to that earbud for making calls and volume buttons and play buttons behind the right ear. Pairing the headset is as simple as holding that button down until a small nearby light starts blinking and then choosing the headphones in the Bluetooth settings on your wireless device.
On the bottom of the left side, meanwhile, is a flap that covers the microUSB port for charging. You shouldn't have to do that all that often, though — the Pumps promise around eight hours on a charge, which will be more than enough to get you through the day.The right fit
The minute the headphones arrived, I was pretty (erm) pumped to take them along on my morning run. Before getting started, though, you’ve have to tune them up just right. After all, job one of exercise headphones is making sure they don't fall out of your ears and get mangled in elliptical machinery.
Thankfully, the Pumps ship with a solid spread of replaceable tips — 14 in all. That’s four each in small, medium and large sizes (two backups for each, since losing one is kind of a forgone conclusion) and two “awareness tips.” These are spongy inserts designed to let ambient noise in, so you can be a bit more conscious of your surroundings if you’re, say, using the headphones while running or biking on the street.
Image: Brian Heater, Mashable
Of course, on the latter account, you’ll want to check your local laws concerning such things — “awareness tips” or no, biking with headphones may be, understandably, against the law where you live. Also, fair warning about those tips, they are (as mentioned above) sponges, so you might want to avoid wearing them if you plan on sweating.
Also included in the box is a cable zip for shortening the wire between the Sportbuds (to fit smaller heads), as well as “stabilizers,’ which essentially hook into your ear to make sure the headphones don’t jiggle around too much while you’re running around.
Sadly, there’s no Bluetooth adapter included in the mix, so those of us still sporting an iPod Classic — hey, it’s important to have 120GB of music on you at all times — are out of luck on that front.
For my own needs, I got along just fine with the medium tips already attached to the headphones, no stabilizers necessary. I ran a full five miles with the Sportbuds in and didn’t have any problem with jostling. The headphones fit great.
Though, for the record, I did have to take them out a few times. At the risk of tiptoeing into the neighborhood of too much information, the behind-the-ears design makes these things sweat reservoirs. Seriously, they collect the stuff like they’re preparing for a drought. I’m just glad I wasn’t wearing those awareness tips at the time. Man, thank goodness these things are waterproof, huh?Pump Up the Volume
According to the BlueAnt rep, sound quality was central in the design of the Pumps — a welcome change in a world where such concerns are often secondary. And indeed, the sound quality is higher than I’ve experienced on a lot of Bluetooth headsets — particularly those designed with exercise in mind.
In fact, I’ve been wearing them around outside the gym, as well. The lack of a cord is ideal for listening to podcasts while cleaning my place, and the Bluetooth signal stretches across my (admittedly cozy) New York City apartment. Though it does sputter a bit when there’s a wall between me and the source.
That said, I’m not planning on giving up on my Sennheisers at any point in the near future. If sound quality’s a bigger concern to you cutting the cord, your $130 would be better spent elsewhere.
If you’re just looking for a pair of headphones that can keep up with your exercise regimen, the Pump HD Sportbuds are a solid choice.BlueAnt Pump HD SportsbudsThe Good
Good fit • Audio quality • WaterproofThe Bad
Design awkward for working out • No Bluetooth adapterThe Bottom Line
The Pump HD Sportbuds are a solid gym buddy, no strings attached.
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