Jabra Sport Pulse Earphones: Beat of a Different Drum

Jabra has introduced a wireless Bluetooth headset designed to take workouts to a whole new level of efficiency. They’ve introduced the Jabra Sport Pulse, the world’s first Bluetooth earbuds with a built-in heart-rate monitor. Crazy? I think not. Anyone who’s at all interested in fitness knows that the most effective way to monitor your workout is to track your heart rate. Check out the Orange Theory craze if you don’t believe me, or just look at the treadmills and elliptical machines at most gyms. Heart rate monitoring is an essential part of a safe, effective workout, and Jabra has nailed it. The heart rate monitor is built right into the left earpiece of the Sport Pulse, so finally, you can toss that unsightly, sweaty, uncomfortable heart rate strap.

Even without the built-in heart rate monitor, the Jabra Sport Pulse would be a good earphone. The casing is carbon fiber and sweat-proof. It comes with four sizes of interchangeable eartips and four sizes of “EarWings” with plastic fins that are used to securely anchor the earphone in position. There are two clips included that let you adjust the length of the loose cable behind the neck. The button to activate the Jabra Sport Life fitness app is on the left earpiece, along with micro-USB charging port under a rubber cover. There is a built-in microphone and three-button remote close to the right earpiece. The remote has the power on/off along with the usual track advance, independent volume and call functions.

The Sport Pulse aren’t bad in any way, they just could be better. They have a somewhat limited range - they lack serious deep bass and also lack soaring highs. For bass evaluation, I checked out Beyonce’s “Drunk in Love.” There was nice upper bass, but none of the deep, impactful punch that I need to get through a tough workout. For high-end testing, I listened to “Morning” from Beck. The acoustic guitar intro was clear, but the high harmonics of the opening keyboard felt a bit rolled off, and had a harshness to the upper midrange as well. However, purely acoustic music sounded quite nice. “One” by Ed Sheeran had a clear, accurate tone that was very listenable.

To help enhance the sound, you can activate a Dolby feature if you activate the Jabra Sound app on the playback phone - I found it gave a fuller, richer sound, most notably smoothing the high end of the midrange and adding a bit more punch to the bass response. While these are good, high-quality earphones, they aren’t as good as many other stand-alone earphones. The fitness applications aren’t free, and they come at the expense of sound quality. Overall, the sound lacks the expansiveness you would expect from $200 earphones.

The heart of the Jabra Sport Pulse (pun obviously intended) is the heart rate monitor and its associated app. The Jabra Sport Life app is what sets this system apart. More than just giving you a readout of your heart rate, it tracks workouts, analyzes training zones, tracks calories and can integrate with the GPS in your phone, iOS and Android. While I was initially testing the device, it determined that I walked approximately 2 miles while doing chores around the house - and I burned 389 calories. Time for an Oreo. It also has a few basic fitness tests - resting heart rate and an orthostatic heart rate test. Training in the proper zone is so important, and the Sport Pulse makes it easy to stay in your target zone.

Running the app (there goes another pun) is as easy as many other fitness trackers. It was actually a little simpler to activate than Map My Ride and gave more feedback during the workout than my Strava app. A pleasant British woman gives audible cues at regular intervals on the duration of your workout, how far you’ve gone, and current beats per minute - of your heart, not music. The app lets you choose what music to listen too - from any music apps you have loaded - it even interfaced with my newest favorite, Tidal HiFi. As pleasant as her British accent is, you can turn the voice off too - after a while, I found her constant updates annoying, but depending on the workout, it is helpful. I know when I’m outdoors running, I don’t like to keep looking at my phone to see how far I’ve gone - she kept me informed of my current distance and heart rate at regular intervals.

Three minor gripes about the Sport Pulse earphones. The claimed battery life is 5 hours, but it hardly lasted 4 for me. That barely makes it through two workouts, and nowhere close for a long bike ride. The other gripe is that the button to interface with the Sport Life app is on the outer part of the left earpiece. With a tight fit necessary both for sound quality and heart rate monitor accuracy, pushing that button felt quite uncomfortable against my ear. The last issue is that as a cyclist, I only want to use one earbud while road biking, keeping the left ear open to listen for traffic. The heart rate monitor is only on the left side, so that’s the earpiece that has to be used. For mountain biking, it doesn’t matter as much.

It’s hard to balance good, rugged sport-resistant earphones with good sound quality. These are some of the better sports-related earphones I’ve reviewed, with the added benefit of a built-in heart rate monitor. That, to me, is worth any tradeoff in sound quality. This has let me ditch my stand-alone fitness tracker by combining my phone’s GPS and music options with the heart rate monitor. It’s worth it. I’ll still use other earphones for serious listening, but these have become my go-to earphones to grab for a workout.

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