Review: JBL Under Armour Sport Wireless Heart Rate

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Highlight: One of the best gym-focused headphones on the market and that's without taking into account the included heart rate monitor  

Back at the start of 2016, JBL announced they were partnering with Under Armor on a new range of health-focused headphones and the first models were confirmed as the 'Under Armor Headphones Wireless, the 'Under Armor Sport Wireless' and the 'Under Armor Sport Wireless Heart Rate'. The main difference between the first two being the slight emphasis towards sports-focused users, although they are largely the same headphones. However, when it came to the Under Armor Sport Wireless Heart Rate, it was assumed the main difference was the inclusion of the ability to monitor your heart rate. We previously reviewed the UA Headphones Wireless and found them to be very capable headphones. Now we have spent a little time with the newer UA Sport Wireless Heart Rate and have noticed that the differences go way beyond just the ability to monitor your heart rate. For those wondering, these are headphones priced at $199.99 in the US.

Specs

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The Under Armor Sport Wireless Heart Rate come equipped with JBL 5.8 mm dynamic drivers. The frequency range on offer is listed as 10Hz – 22kHz, while the sensitivity comes in at 111 dB. These are wireless headphones and make use of Bluetooth 4.2 to establish a connection and are expected to be able to offer a connection from a distance of 33 feet away from a streaming device. In addition, these are also headphones which come equipped with an IPX5 certification along with an advanced nano-coating, which means that they are sweat-resistant.

In terms of battery life, the Under Armor Sport Wireless Heart Rate are listed as coming with 2 x 50 mAh batteries. In return for that capacity, JBL state that the Under Armor Sport Wireless Heart Rate will last for up to 5 hours before needing to be recharged again. It is worth pointing out that the ceiling 5 hour time is based on both the audio and heart rate functionality being enabled. In terms of charging, JBL say you can expect a full charge in just under 2 hours.

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In the box

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JBL typically offer a consistent and full package when you purchase any of their products and you should normally expect to get all of what you need and more. This is largely the case with the Under Armor Sport Wireless Heart Rate. In addition to the actual headphones, you will also get three different sized ergonomic ear tips (that is, three in additional to the set that comes attached to the headphones), one microUSB (to USB) charging cable and a small carry case. It is also worth knowing that like the standard UA Headphones Wireless, the Heart Rate version also come with a free 12-month premium membership to MapMyRun – which has to be redeemed by the owner. Details on this and how to activate the membership are included in the box, along with the various other bits of paperwork.

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Hardware & Design

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Generally speaking, the overall aesthetic look for the Under Armor Sport Wireless Heart Rate is very similar to the look of the UA Headphones Wireless. They both make use of a primarily black colored design with red accents here and there. Although, on the Under Armor Sport Wireless Heart Rate, those red accents are mainly reserved to the UA branding on the outside of each ear tip. For instance, the UA Headphones Wireless control panel made use of a lot of red and that has been replaced on the Under Armor Sport Wireless Heart Rate with a solid black control panel. While the functions of the control panel (play, volume up/skip forward and volume down/skip back) remain the same, the actual panel itself seems a little smaller and more refined, as are the buttons.

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One of the most notable changes though is in the earbud department. The UA Headphones Wireless were simple earphones which slot straight into the ear (as are the Under Armor Sports Wireless). In contrast, the Under Armor Sport Wireless Heart Rate are headphones which have been designed for an even more secure fit and this is largely achieved by the headphones making use of a hook design. So each earbud does come as part of a larger hook which slots over the ear and further helps to keep the earbuds in place.

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Although if you were to remove the hook aspect from each earbud, then the shape style and general appearance would be almost identical to the UA Headphones Wireless. The UA logo on the main earbud casing and the JBL branding positioned nearby. Likewise, the actual ear tip seems to be largely unchanged and again is very much in line with the look, style and bulkier-size seen with the UA Headphones Wireless.

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Overall, the consistency between the two pairs of UA headphones is clear to be seen. Barring the toning down of red accents and the inclusion of the hook shape, these are two sets of headphones which adopt a minimalist style and level of presentation. They do seem to be almost designed to go as unnoticed as possible and that is largely the case. So if you are looking for a more discrete pair of headphones, then either model will suffice although the greater inclination to the all-black coloring on the Under Armor Sport Wireless Heart Rate does make these a little more discreet than the standard UA Headphones Wireless.

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Sound Quality & Performance

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Similar to the points noted in the design section, the sound quality does not hugely differ compared to the UA Headphones Wireless. After all, these are JBL headphones, part of the same wider UA line and are expected to only majorly differ in terms of the added features. However, while the quality of the sound is both good, and almost identical to the UA Headphones Wireless, there are a couple of slight differences which are worth pointing out.

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In our earlier review of the UA Headphones Wireless, it was noted that the volume the headphones outputted was not that great. It is good enough, just might not be loud enough for everyone and certainly not loud enough when compared to other products that you can buy for the same money. This is where a noticeable difference can be seen or more accurately, heard. As the Under Armor Sport Wireless Heart Rate immediately feel much louder than their non-heart rate counterpart. After reviewing the UA Headphones Wireless, it was expected that the sound quality would be the same, but the increase in volume was such an immediate difference that the whole quality of the sound was drastically improved. Of course, if you are someone who never goes too loud with the volume, then this might not necessarily be a selling point for you. However, for anyone who has tried the UA Headphones Wireless and found them to be too much on the quiet side, this is not an issue which the Under Armor Sport Wireless Heart Rate suffer from. The volume is very well measured and this does result in a combination of what was already a very well-rounded output. As well as being of an excellent quality, able to handle the bass well, and generally making use of a wide frequency range effortlessly, the Under Armor Sport Wireless Heart Rate will also be loud enough for most, if not all, wearers.

Moving on to the wider performance and generally speaking, there is very little to complain about. Which was largely the case for the standard UA Headphones Wireless. Like the previous model, this is a very well polished set of headphones and they do perform to an exceptionally good level and all of the time. In short, they just work.

Now, onto the actual main selling point and namesake of these headphones. The heart rate functionality. This is of course, going to be one of the clear reasons as to why you buy this particular pair of headphones. While they are louder and slightly better designed compared to the standard UA Headphones Wireless, they also do cost more. And that cost difference is best summed up by their extra functionality, namely, their ability to monitor your heart rate while you are working out.

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To cut to the chase, the feature does work and works pretty well overall. The Under Armor Sport Wireless Heart Rate are able to monitor your heart rate and provide the information back to the wearer fairly easily. All that is required is a quick tap on the side panel of the right earbud and the voice assistant will verbally tell you what your current heart rate is. So regardless of the exercise you are doing, actually getting the information is very simple and well-designed. Tap the earbud and you will hear. Likewise, the headphones are able to connect to the corresponding 'UA Record' app. Once connected, at any point the wearer can open the app and see what their heart rate is.

Although in practical terms, this is far more time consuming than simply tapping the earbud. Although, the app is also where the only real issue was noted. Now, this was not a massive issue, but one nevertheless. To activate the heart rate, you need to go into the app and make sure the setting is turned on. Once you do this, you receive verbal feedback from the headphones that the feature is active and it begins searching for your heart rate. You will also get verbal feedback when your heart rate is found. At which point you can tap the earbud and hear the number.

However, it did seem as though when you come out of the app, the headphones were prone to losing the connection (to the app) and this would result in the verbal feedback advising that the heart rate monitor had been 'disconnected'. While this did not occur 100% of the time, it did occur more often than not and certainly the majority of times. Which proved to be a little frustrating as you would essentially need to re-click through the app to get the feature live again. It was unclear if this is a software fault or something which can be remedied with an app or software update, but it was certainly an issue which was often noted and could take you out of your stride when you are in the middle of a workout.

That criticism aside, the actual monitoring of your heart rate was excellent. These are very effective headphones and during testing would provide an almost identical number to a number of other devices used for comparison at the same time. So you can be rest assured that give or take 1 or 2 BPMs, the heart rate feedback you are getting is on the whole, very accurate. However, it is also worth noting that unlike other headphones, the reliability of the heart rate monitor does partly rely on the user wearing the correct sized ear tip for them. JBL does provide four different sized eartips in the box, so it is important that the wearer figures out which one is best suited to their ear size and shape before properly using this feature – as it does rely on the earbud being very accurately placed within the user's ear.

Overall though, the sound quality and performance of the Under Armor Sport Wireless Heart Rate really is second-to-none and certainly easily comparable to anything within a similar price range. While there was an issue noted with the sustainability of the heart rate feedback, there was no issue with the performance of the feedback when active. The headphones output a great quality sound, at a great volume and does exactly what it says it will do – keep you (accurately) informed of your heart rate during a workout.

Battery Life & Connectivity

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As always, anything that relies on Bluetooth (and certainly when there is no alternative 3.5 mm connection available), battery life will be something to keep in mind before making a purchase. While some headphones look to offer insane levels of playback before needing to be recharged, the Under Armor Sport Wireless Heart Rate are not that type of headphones. These are designed more for those who routinely head to the gym, out for a run or any other limited-time experiences and want a best-in-class audio experience while doing so. As such, even JBL note that you should not expect more than five hours of battery time when being used for both audio playback and heart rate feedback.

The question will be how far below that five hour marker do they perform in real terms? Well, that seems to be a fairly reliable marker. During testing, the Under Armor Sport Wireless Heart Rate consistently were able to deliver between 3.5 hours and five hours without any real issues. The time did obviously depend on factors like how loud the headphones were, whether you were monitoring your heart rate and so on. However, it was felt that 3.5 hours was certainly the minimum you could expect with the headphones in full use and at their loudest setting. Which, when you compare against similar headphones that are designed for similar purposes, the Under Armor Sport Wireless Heart Rate will outperform a number of alternatives when it comes to battery life. If you are someone who will be charging these on a daily basis, then you will not encounter any issues. Likewise, when it comes to charging, JBL state that two hours is about how long it will take the headphones to recharge from empty to full and that was considered an over-estimating. During testing, full battery recharge was normally reached in 90 minutes when using a wall socket.

In terms of connectivity, there is very little to comment on here. These headphone make use of Bluetooth 4.2 to establish a connection and do so effortlessly. Once paired, the headphones are able to not only consistently connect quickly, but the actual connection is extremely reliable and remains connected for as long as you need it to be. Some sports headphones can be a little flaky with maintaining a connection at times – this is not one of those pairs of headphones. These will not only offer you a great and solid connection, but one which was remarkably reliable.

Wrap Up

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The UA Headphones Wireless were good headphones. However, they did have some issues. While those issues were small, they were still there and this is the biggest takeaway with the Under Armor Sport Wireless Heart Rate. They are very similar to the UA Headphones Wireless but better in every respect. And that is without even taking into consideration the actual heart rate functionality. Speaking of which, if this is the sole reason you are considering picking up these headphones, then it is worth keeping in mind that the feature is not quite a smooth as it could be. It works fine and is responsive but its seemingly dependence on the app is a little unfortunate. If this is something that is fixed in a future update, then these will be just short of perfect headphones for the average gym-goer. As it stands now, they are still very much an option worth considering. These are just simply, very good headphones and especially for those who would like to track their heart rate when working out but are not so keen on wearing an additional gadget to do so.

Buy the Under Armor Sport Wireless Heart Rate

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Editor-in-Chief

John has been writing about and reviewing tech products since 2014 after making the transition from writing about and reviewing airlines. With a background in Psychology, John has a particular interest in the science and future of the industry. Besides adopting the Managing Editor role at AH John also covers much of the news surrounding audio and visual tech, including cord-cutting, the state of Pay-TV, and Android TV. Contact him at [email protected]

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