If you haven’t kept a close eye on the fitness industry recently, you might have missed a rather odd development. Athletic clothing company Under Armour has been busy snagging up fitness apps like Map My Run, Endomondo, and My Fitness Pal. It’s the key part of a larger strategy to integrate the various tracking services and devices that fitness nuts use under one banner. It should come as no surprise, then, that Under Armour is making a push into athletic earphones.
The company’s first attempt at a pair of wireless workout headphones, the UA Sport Wireless Heart Rate (yes, that’s the actual name) is terrible. Technically, the set should be great. They were produced in partnership with the venerable audio brand JBL. There are some great features, including (as you might have suspected) a heart rate monitor that takes readings inside the ear and automagically beams that data into any of Under Armour’s dozen or so apps. And that, at least, is amazing. It’s long been known that tracking pulse through the wrist isn’t as accurate as tracking it on other parts of the body. In the middle of a run, you’re tossing your arms about too much for even the best-designed wrist bands to get good readings. By placing a sensor inside the earbud itself, the UA Sport headphones can get a clean reading of the blood that’s flowing to and from the brain. Gathering that data from a relatively stable position means the earphones provide the best pulse readings I’ve seen outside of a hospital.
That’s far from all, though. The UA sport comes packed with plenty of other quality-of-life features. With a quick tap to the right bud, for example, you can get a few updates on your workout read back to you, based on how you have your various fitness apps configured. When syncing with other Bluetooth devices, getting a connection never took more than about a second, and the signal never dropped during my workouts.
So, what gives? If they do almost everything right, why the bad review?
I can’t fit them in my ears. Not well, at least. Nor could any of my roommates or friends. The UA Sport comes with some interchangeable silicone tips for the earbuds, but even the smallest one is almost two centimeters in diameter. Out of the nine people I asked, none of them could quite get the buds to sit properly. And unfortunately, that causes a lot of extra problems—like the splitting headache I’d get after just a few minutes of wear. Over three weeks of testing, I didn’t once manage to complete a full workout with just this set, and that wasn’t for lack of trying. They simply hurt that much. Not being able to get a good fit also meant that every track I tried came out sounding hollow and flat, since a tight seal is necessary to get the best audio quality.
On a technical level, this set is a marvel, and I’m eager to see what the next generation of in-ear heart rate monitors looks like. It’s possible that, just given the nature of new tech, the UA Sport just couldn’t pack the gear into any smaller a space. But for now, at $200, unless your ear canals can comfortably fit a 2cm disc, you should give these a hard pass.