Jabra, the audio company that has an impressive line of fitness tracking earbuds, has embraced wireless technology.
The $250 Jabra Elite Sport wireless buds are similar to Samsung’s Gear IconX and the Bragi Dash earbuds in that they are made of two modules that stick in your ears without any wires connecting them. They all use embedded heart rate monitors to track both cardio and strength workouts, making them possible replacements for that fitness tracker on your wrist. More so than most of the fitness buds we’ve previously tested, Jabra’s Elite Sport buds have the potential to be an all-in-one solution: they let you listen to music, answer phone calls, and track exercises with one device that has no pesky wiring to trip you.
But packing all those features into one device has its pros and cons. I lived with the Elite Sport wireless buds to see how well they’d fit into my active lifestyle and whether they’re worth their $250 price.
The Elite Sport’s earbuds are oblong and lumpy so they can fit into the open portion of each of your ears. They have the typical removable earbud tips and wings, and finding the little bits that fit your ears best is crucial. Making sure the buds don’t move around in your ears ensures the heart rate monitor, located at the bottom of the right earbud, will read your pulse accurately. The Elite Sport comes with six differently sized tip sets, three in plastic and three in foam. If you hate hearing background noise while you have your headphones on, foam is your best bet.
The ear wings are a little different: two sizes have actual wings, or hooks, that curve into the side of your ear, and one size does not have a wing at all. That option almost acts like a sock for the buds by wrapping them in silicone and leaving the sides of your ears blank. I like having wings to keep the buds in my ears, but I had to switch from the larger wings to the smaller wings after a few workouts. They were too tight and made the side of my ear sore after wearing them for more than 30 minutes at a time. Switching to the smaller, thinner wing fixed that.
Once you find the right fit, the Elite Sport is comfortable to wear, both when you just want to listen to music on your commute or when you need music to get through an HIIT circuit. Neither bud ever fell out of my ears, and I rarely had to adjust them for comfort or to regain heart rate monitoring. Once they’re in your ears, you can leave them alone and they won’t fail you.
Jabra even put controls on the earbuds so you don’t have to reach for your phone every second. The left bud controls skipping music and volume, while the right bud lets you answer phone calls and manually turn the earbuds off. When placed back into their charging cable, the Elite Sport automatically turns off to save power. The buds are also independent from each other, so if you remove one of them from your ear, it will automatically shut off, while the bud still in your ear will keep playing.
But even those precautions can’t help the Elites store more power than their battery allows. The buds can play three hours of music on a charge, and the charging case holds another six hours of playback. That’s more than enough to get you through a workout, which is great. However, if these are your everyday earbuds and not just your workout buds, you’ll have to charge them daily. I made a habit of plugging the buds in, inside their case, every night. That ensured I had enough battery life to get through regular daily commutes, workouts, and casual listening.
When connected to the Jabra Sport Life app, the Elite Sport wireless buds can track training plans, cardio workouts, cross-training workouts, and fitness tests. Training plans are scheduled cardio workouts that the app makes for you depending on your goals and how often you want to train. For example, I chose my goal as “improve steadily,” as compared to “gently,” “intensely,” and a few other options. For frequency, I went with training every weekday. The app created a plan for me that had me running every Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday, with the final run being the most intense of them all.
Tuesday’s run goal was 1.86 miles over 30 minutes, with a training effect of 2.8. Jabra’s “training effect” measurement is an estimate of how the workout is affecting your body on a scale from one to five, with one being the easiest type of workout—one that’s not really pushing your body—and five being a workout that’s rapidly improving your overall fitness. Training effect scores change in real time as you workout. Jabra’s voice coach pipes in throughout your workout to update you on training effect and a bunch of other stats, including pace, cadence, elapsed time, heart rate, and more.
Overall, training plans are great if you have a nebulous goal in mind and would rather not choose your workout every single day. For those who want to change things up on a whim, you can select cardio workouts to track each time you use the app, including indoor and outdoor running and walking, hiking, cycling, skiing, and spinning. You can also select a target goal if you have a set pace or heart rate zone in mind, for example, or you can just track an activity with an open goal.
This is what I did most of the time, and, unfortunately, the Elite Sport buds were slightly inaccurate with heart rate measurements when compared to the GPS-enabled Apple Watch Series 2. The Elite Sport was also so-so on distance measurements. Distances were consistently about .4-miles more than what the Watch and the treadmill calculated, and heart rate readings were about 10 bpms lower than the Watch’s recordings. The Elite Sport buds fall into the trap that many heart rate monitors do: they read pulse rates below what they actually are during intense exercise. The Elite Sport came closer to the Apple Watch’s readings when my heart rate was around 125 bpm, which is a typical rate when I’m walking on the treadmill right after a vigorous run.
During the workout, Jabra’s voice coach will lower your music and chime in with updated stats such as time elapsed, current heart rate, training effect, pace, and more. All of this can be customized right before you start the workout, including how often the voice coach chimes in. I like to keep mine at every 10 minutes and whenever I pass two miles in distance.
At the end of each workout, the Sport Life app shows you an updated fitness level score, which is just a visualization of your estimated VO2 max. That stat, which represents how easily your body can supply and transport oxygen to your heart during intense exercise, is hard for any wearable to calculate since it typically requires breathing measurements as well as heart rate. However, just like Fitbit’s new devices (including the Charge 2), Jabra estimates VO2 max in order to give you a snapshot of how your fitness level is improving after every workout, as compared to the average for those of similar age and gender.
I was happy to see that, after every workout I finished, my fitness level score went up slightly. That motivated me to push a little harder during my next workout. If you need instant gratification post-workout, you may enjoy Jabra’s fitness level assessment and find that it helps you perform better over time.
While we’ll get to the structure of Jabra’s guided workouts in the next section, I’ll comment here that actually using that feature is a pleasure when you want a break from cardio. Jabra has 13 pre-made strength training workouts with names like BellyBurn, PushPerfection, LegDay, and YouVsBarbell that you can follow along through the Elite Sport earbuds. When you begin one of these workouts, the app will tell you to start the first move and either count you down in elapsed time or completed reps. When finished, you’ll sit through a designated rest time before moving on to the next exercise in the circuit.
The Elite Sport buds monitor your heart rate throughout the circuit, just like it would if you were running or walking, and it gives you a summary at the end of the session. You can do this with the pre-made workouts or those you create yourself. Not many devices have this feature. A Jabra representative told me that, in the next firmware update, the Elite Sport buds will support automatic rep counting as well. That means, if you’re completing a 20-crunch set as part of a circuit, the buds should count each rep automatically and reflect that progress in the app. Currently, when you work through rep-based sets (rather than time-based sets), you have to count each rep yourself and tap an arrow-like button in the app when you’re finished to move on to the next set. With automatic rep counting, this process should be much easier and completely hands-free. The next firmware update is supposed to come out before Christmas.