Review: BlueAnt PUMP HD Wireless Waterproof Sportbud

As someone whose life seems to revolve around the outdoors, I’m all ears whenever I hear about a new “active” piece of electronics gear. The new BlueAnt PUMP HD wireless waterproof sportbud promised to deliver audiophile-grade performance in a rugged, IP67-waterproof rated Bluetooth-compatible package.As soon as it arrived, I charged it up and hit my favorite bike trail.

The PUMP (MSRP $130) is a rather unique design, available in black or a translucent ice green. It is an in-ear headphone that is completely wireless, with no accommodations for a cable. The electronics are housed in matching cases that fit behind the ear and help stabilize the headphone during active pursuits. It’s shipped with two pairs of stabilizer hooks that also secure the PUMP in the ear. Also included are multiple pairs of comfort seal tips in a variety of sizes; like most in-ear headphones, a proper fit and seal within the ear is required to produce the most accurate playback response.

The PUMP charges via a micro-USB plug that is tucked behind a waterproof enclosure on one earpiece; it will play for up to 8 hours on a single charge. The two sides are connected by a single, tangle-free cable that wraps around the back of the head. As someone who sports a ponytail, I appreciated the non-grab texture of the cable. The basic controls are on the other earpiece. There’s volume up and down buttons that double as track advance and rewind and another button for power, play/pause and Bluetooth pairing. It is Bluetooth 3.0 and supports aptX and A2DP. LED lights indicate power and pairing status.It also has a microphone for taking phone calls while on the move.Currently, it is not compatible with Android systems.

Pairing the PUMP to my iPod nano was quick and painless. Once paired, I took advantage of its 100-foot range and stashed my iPod safely away in my backpack. In a subsequent listening session, I was able to set the iPod in a corner of the gym and wander about without ever dropping the signal.

Trying to get comfortable with the PUMP required a bit more fussing than I would normally care to do. Because it requires a tight fit, I had to get the electronic case secured behind my ear, earlobe pulled through and then push the earpiece in and adjust for a tight seal. While a bit cumbersome, once it was on, it stayed put throughout quite a few different types of workouts. First was on the mountain bike on root-filled rutted trails, then a jog on the beach, and finally an indoor workout. Sweat was not a problem for the PUMP. In fact, the waterproof rating let me rinse off the sweat and salt spray without a care. While it is IP67-rated, it’s not recommended for swimming because the Bluetooth signal is unreliable underwater.

Playback performance was interesting from the 12.5mm speaker. Again, in-ear headphones rely on a proper fit and seal, and this was no exception. It came with the medium comfort seal tip installed. When I first tried it, it felt comfortable but the sound was significantly lacking in bass. When I exchanged the mediums for the large tips, the bass was almost too much. I felt like Goldilocks trying to find a fit and performance that was just right. In the end, I decided that for me, too much bass is better than not enough, so I set out with the large tips. There are also a pair of Comply Premium Awareness tips in the package that are foam donuts designed to let in plenty of outside ambience, at the cost of bass performance. If I was to go out on the streets with the PUMP, this is definitely the tip to use to remain aware of traffic and pedestrians around me. The comfort seal tips, on the other hand, did a great job of cutting out outside noise.

In addition to the bass boost, there was an overall lack of clarity. The midrange was good, but the upper treble lacked the sparkle and shimmer of a higher quality headphone, be it wired or Bluetooth. I was listening to Shakira and Rihanna’s reggae beat “Can’t Remember to Forget You” and was instantly struck by the lack of high end response. Both ladies’ vocals were veiled and pulled back, and the chugging guitars were dull and the cymbals lacked attack and presence. It was a bit disappointing.

Going back through my collection of reference phones, I found the Jaybird Bluebuds X to be less fussy to fit with a much smaller housing and offering better sound, although not quite as rugged as these. Also, if looking for a wired, active in-ear option, the Sennheiser/Adidas Sport lineup has some offerings that provide a more solid, lightweight feel on the ear, but of course, have the hassle of a wire.

In spite of the drawbacks in sound quality, I found myself grabbing the PUMP whenever I was doing anything outdoors, even if not a workout. I took it out on a sailboat knowing I could stash my iPod safely in a waterproof bag down below and still stay connected. Working out in the yard and taking a stroll in the rain were no problems either. Sometimes, the best audio quality isn’t necessary - waterproof and wireless can trump it, at times. The PUMP definitely has a place in my busy, active lifestyle.