Jabra is perhaps best known helping to usher in an era of flashing blue lights and inappropriate one-way conversations, thanks to its original line of Bluetooth headsets. But over the last few years, the company has taken its Bluetooth expertise beyond telecommunications and into the world of audio, introducing a line-up of wireless speakers and headphones.
Jabra’s latest release is an autonomous pair of wireless earbuds called the Jabra Sport Wireless Plus. Like the original Jabra Sport, the Plus are built for the athlete-adventurer set, armored for resistance to shock, dust, and water to allow users to bring their music full throttle into any environment they might choose. And at $100, the headphones are one of the most affordable offerings we’ve seen in the category.
To determine whether the Jabra Sport Plus could match their rough-and-tumble design with satisfying performance, we put on our jogging shoes, strapped them on, and hit the road. Here’s what happened.
Out of the box
The Jabra Sport Plus come in a slim cardboard box with a picture of Ironman champion Craig Alexander embossed on the front, Ironman-ing it up with the earphones in tow to reinforce the tough, sporty aesthetic. The black and yellow headphones are light and springy, and connected by a thin ribbon of black rubber polymer
Below the headphones we found two plastic baggies loaded with a wide selection of funky-shaped yellow ear tips. Also in the box were a few booklets of instructional material and a short mini-USB to USB charging cable. Unfortunately, a DC adapter for charging was not included.
Features and design
While the Jabra Sport Plus bear thin strips of neon across their curled frames, they won’t catch much attention from passersby (or late-night traffic) once clipped on. The primarily black earpieces fade quietly into the background once clipped over the ear, especially if the user has a thick head of hair. The main body of the earpieces are covered in soft plastic, speckled with small dimples for easy grip.
… we might go so far as to say the multi-button is a little too “multi.”
The headphones’ straightforward set of onboard controls and mini-USB charging port are all relegated to the right earpiece.
Along the backside is an FM key to call up the headset’s onboard FM radio, as well as a volume strip that moonlights as a toggle key for both song and radio station search. Right above the earbud, at the front of the device, is a multi-purpose key used for powering up and down, Bluetooth pairing, play/pause, answering and terminating phone calls, and even calling up Siri.
In fact, we might go so far as to say the multi-button is a little too “multi.” In practice, we experienced instances in which we accidentally made random phone calls to the last number dialed on our phone, and also powered the earphones down while trying to access Siri. Still, apart from a few glitches, we were impressed at Jabra’s ability to cram all of the controls and electronics – including the nifty FM radio feature – into such a miniscule package.
The Jabra Sport Plus are apparently military-grade tested for durability.
For wireless music streaming, the Jabra Sport Plus employs Bluetooth version 3.0. Its rechargeable battery is estimated to last around 4.5 hours – not great, but fair considering the price. For those on a training regimen, the headphones also come with a free three-month trial of the sports app Endomondo, which peps up your workout with stat analysis, training programs, and automated voice feedback.
The Jabra Sport Plus are apparently military-grade tested for durability. The product page at Jabra’s website even shows a torture session in which the phones endure a litany of dust, drop, and water attacks with no ill consequences. While we didn’t treat them quite as harshly, we gave them a few drops, and took a brisk run in the rain (thanks Portland) with no ill effects observed.
Unlike most of the wireless headphones we’ve evaluated, the Jabra Sport have no adaptable arms for the earbuds themselves, leaving the asymmetrical creation that is the human body little recourse to Jabra’s specifications. As such, we had a lot of trouble getting the headphones in place, and found them uncomfortable once we managed to get them to stay put.
For medium-sized ears like ours, the buds were also too big; as such, we couldn’t get a good seal. The issue affected the sound substantially, and we’ll cover that more in the performance section below. As for fit security, when we used the fin-equipped ear tips, the buds stayed put most of the time during exercise, though we did have a few pop-outs when we turned our head.
We had no real problems with the wireless signal when using the headphones around the house. However, when we put our iPhone 5 in the back pocket of our shorts for a jog, we had four or five instances of signal dropout, which was pretty disappointing. After all, convenience is the whole point of a wireless product, and we expect to be able to pocket our phone without issue.
While five-time Ironman champion Craig Alexander may be gaga over the Jabra Sport Plus, we’re guessing he’s not much of a sound aficionado. As for our evaluation, the headphones provided a pretty paltry sonic experience. We tried every ear tip available in an effort to achieve a decent seal, and found ourselves left with a choice between a slightly warmer, yet muddier sound, and a pale, thin one. We settled on the latter, which provided anemic bass, a paper thin upper register, and an underwhelming, fly-by approach to the details and definition of the instrumentation.
… the headphones provided a pretty paltry sonic experience.
The Jabra Sport sound quality was oddly reminiscent of the performance we hear from cheaper portable Bluetooth speakers – and not because of the wireless factor. The sound itself was displayed with similarly shaved off details, and a concise focus on the upper midrange of the music. That left acoustic tracks as the Jabra Sports’ best ally, and songs like “First Day of My Life” from Bright Eyes and Dave Matthews’ “Crash” were relatively pleasant. The acoustic guitars were thin, and there wasn’t much definition to the tonal quality, but the vocals were clear and present, and the tracks were enjoyable as a whole.
For most other genres, however, we were unimpressed. Snare and toms came through with almost zero depth or color, making for a complete lack of excitement, and stripping away the richer elements in the foundation of the music. The fuzz bass on the Black Keys’ “Dead and Gone” barely made an appearance, and the track’s overdriven guitars seemed to favor the thin streaks of distortion over the ruddy power beneath the tone.
Things only got worse when we moved to hip-hop and electronic music. There was a low-fi aura to the main groove on tracks from artists like B.I.G. and Jay-Z, and even when we pushed the buds deep enough into our ears, it was difficult to coax the bass to the forefront. Synthetic patches from bands like Muse and Depeche Mode were flattened and simplified, sounding more like the speakers of a small radio than the engulfing experience we expect from an in-ear headphone. While strings and lighter synths were portrayed with some pleasant fluidity, overall there wasn’t much to get excited about.
We commend Jabra for creating a durable wireless headset that’s also affordable, but a bad user experience isn’t a bargain at any price. The Jabra Sport Wireless Plus provided a poor fit, a touchy wireless signal, and sound quality that doesn’t rise above what you’ll hear in most entry-level buds, capping another sub-par offering to the genre. If you have to have wireless, you might consider stepping up to the bulkier Monster iSport Freedom, instead. Otherwise, stick with the strings and check out the super-affordable Philips SQ3005, or the premium Westone Adventure Series ADV Alpha.
- Light and succinct design
- Onboard FM radio
- Poor sound quality
- Weak bass
- Awkward fit
- Occasional Bluetooth issues