I’ve been using the Jabra Elite Sport earbuds for several weeks now, mostly in conjunction with the Amazfit STRATOS triathlon watch but also alongside Jabra’s android app which is packed full of Firstbeat cleverness.
By putting together the changes that are happeneing in sports tech and ‘music in sport’, I seem to have created myself a mini project with my continually expanding post on The Best Running Watch with Music . I’m hoping that will morph into a definitive guide on the subject. As part of that mini project, I’m going to have to look at more WearOS watches and I expect a whole new tranche of those later this year or next year. But I will also have to look more at Garmin who will be imminently bringing out new music variants of their watches; definately starting out with the Vivoactive 3 Music and Forerunner (2)45 Music but probably also with a music-enabled Fenix 5 (or 5+).
The obvious omission to my tech arsenal is headphones/earbuds…actually I already have quite a few pairs. But a few more gadgets never hurt anyone 😉 Bring on some more Jabra awesomeness. And the Jabra Elite Sport is awesome as it supports optical HR reading in the ear and then Firstbeatifies the results.
More Rationale and More Jabra
Jabra are relatively well-known as ‘the’ company who read heart rate from the ear. I have their first HR model the Jabra Sport Pulse (review ed here in 2015) as well as the non-HR Sport ROX also from 2015. As I write this, it’s May 2018 and the high-end model, Jabra Elite 65t, is due imminently and I hope to get hold of a pair of those. However there are several other players who also partner with VALENCELL to deliver their optical HR sensor, namely:
- Bose SoundSport Pulse;
- Huawei R1 Pro;
- BioConnected HR+;
- Sony Smart B-Trainer;
- LG HeartRate Earphones;
- Clip&Talk Health; and
- SMS Audio Biosport.
Checking out all 8 of those out over the next few years might be ‘several gadgets too far’. We’ll see.
My areas of interest with the Jabra Elite Sport are
- In-ear heart rate accuracy – in terms of absolute accuracy (which I believe is good) but also with the degree of dropouts
- Other sporty stuff. Here’s where Jabra come in to their own as they partner with Firstbeat for algorithms to support fitness tests and training programs
- Musical Fidelity – I have dabbled with high-end audio in previous lives so I am interested in music quality both in terms of high fidelity and the ability to maintain a good conection with few or no dropouts
- Will it pair to non-music watches as a simple HRM-only? (A: probably not)
Jabra Elite Sport – What it is and what you get
These are classed as TRUE wireless sports earbuds. ‘TRUE wireless’ means that as well as supporting BLE they are NOT connected to each other by a wire. So a different/normal bluetooth earbud may well have a wire/cord that permanently joins together the left and right earbud.
To my mind, classifying them as a SPORTS EARBUD is justified as Jabra offer a 3 year warranty against failure due to sweat.
The Elite Sport comes, well-presented, in quality packaging with: 3 sizes of EarWings; 3 sizes of Silicon EarGels; and 3 sizes of Foam-Tip EarGels. You also get the well-features JABRA APP and a charging case with 9 hours of backup power storage.
Going For A Run
Once you’ve paired the device and ensured a snug fit, you are good to go.
Pairing for Sound and for Heart Rate
Pairing up the Jabra Elite Sport with my Android smrtphone was easy enough. As well as the Jabra app, other apps like WAHOO FITNESS also paired up.
However quite a few devices that, in theory, support a BLE heart rate monitor would not pair with the JABRA ELITE SPORT earbuds.
- Specifically the Garmin Forerunner 935, Amazfit STRATOS, Suunto Trainer, Polar V650 and Wahoo ELEMNT would *NOT* pair as a Bluetooth HRM-only. The STRATOS did pair as only a headphone (99% sure) as did the TomTom Runner 3 Music.
- Polar’s Wear OS device, the M600, specifically DID pair as both headphones and a HRM dispalying an indicator that the HRM was working AND turning off the inbuilt oHRM on the M600.
Whilst the theory that you can buy a device like the Jabra Sport ELite and use it both for music and for a means of saving the battery on your smartwatch by turning off the smartwatch’s HRM is good, the practice may well vary from manufacturer to manufacturer.
The official pairing instructions are not so helpful when it comes to paring with sports watches (link to: jabra.com)
Thinking it though why would you want to pair a watch that can’t play music to headphones? Hence that might explain the 935’s unwillingness to pair up. But, then again, you might want to hear audio queues on devices that support coaching feedback, so the distinction as to what SHOULD be supported is not clear (to me).
Ensuring a Snug Fit
Everyone’s ears are different and even your left and right ear are probably at least slightly different. I’d say my ears are either average or slightly on the small size of average and I get a nice snug fit relatively easily.
Note that in this right ear the wing needs to ‘flick’ underneath the antehelix, if possible.
I played the B-52’s song ‘Running Around’ and did as the song instructed.
- Sound quality: Pretty good. Remember the price includes an element for the heartrate-based functionality
- Did it fall out? No
- I found pressing the left side’s volume button also temporarily pressed the left bud into my ear
- For indications of your pace and for the pretty post run map your connected smartphone needs GPS enabled.
- When performing a guided VO2max test the instructions were clear and concise. I was never quite sure if a HR connection was lost when I was told to get a better fit.
- Initial VO2max was WAY off. But the Firstbeat tests can take a couple of weeks to arrive at a level it thinks is right. Subsequent tests showed increases.
Heart Rate Accuracy
From one run I got the following which was potentially good but inconclusive. Other runs did show the occasional dropout but not this run.
Here are some interesting bits. Well, I thought so.
The following image is from Firstbeat’s site showing some of the supported features supported on the Jabra app.
The clever Firstbeat algorithms are ON THE APP. This is quite different to a smartwatch implementation of Firstbeat where the intelligence is on the watch itself.
The Cardio training plan superficially appears the same one as on the recent Suunto 3 Fitness. HOWEVER it looks like on the Jabra app that the plan parameters can be varied more notably. For example the Jabra can be maxxed up to “Improve very intensely” and, even more cleverly, you can choose your active days of the week AND, even super more cleverly, you can specify the aerobic sport for any given day eg ski or bike or run. So we have an adaptive triathlon plan…sort of (excluding swimming 😉 ). That’s impressive.
I appreciate that Jabra did not invent the charging case. But I think it’s cool that it has an inbuilt battery containing about 9 hours of charge to supplement the 4.5 hours of charge on the earbuds themselves. Because of the nature of the storage case (always used, often has charge), it is highly likely that you will always have charged up headphones ready for your next run.
This is not always easy.
From the app you can export a CSV file and email it to yourself. It won’t be in the precise column-format you require in all likelihood. However FitFileRepairTool can automatically convert the format into a standard TCX or FIT file.
There are options on the app to automatically sync to STRAVA and endomondo. From STRAVA you can add ‘/export_tcx’ onto the end of your activity url and save it as a local tcx file.
If you were using something like the Polar M600 then the HR data should be saved into the Polar app and sync’d to Polar Flow.
Currently I’ve only used the HR components of the functionality in app mode.
Wearing the smartphone on your right arm seems to eliminate most audio dropouts. The bluetooth signal cannot readily pass through your body to the right earbud.
If the earbud is inserted incorrectly there are audio prompts telling you to adjust it…you know what to do.
I experienced more HR dropouts that I would have liked when running – typically one every 20-30 minutes. However I suspect that they have little bearing on what the app tells you in terms of what you achived in your workout and what you need to do next time.
Tentatively I would say that the JABRA SPORT Elite has vastly superior heart rate results for indoor, gym-based exercises when compared to ANY wrist-based optical HRM.
Price, Availability & Alternatives
These are all top-notch (aka expensive) headphones with the exception of the Sennheiser. If you get any one of these from Amazon and you have pairing issues or dropout issues…send them back within a month. Sorted. These are a variety of types of headphones and many do NOT have the heart rate functionality of the Jabra Elite Sport.
- Jabra Elite Active 65t $170/£150 Sweet
- Jabra Elite Sport £125/£110 Inbuilt heart rate monitor #Clever
- Bose SoundSport FREE $199/£160
- Jaybird X3 Wireless $120/£100
- Jaybird Run $159/£140
- Bose SoundSport Wireless $199/£180
- Sennheiser PMX 686G Sports $35/£30
- Aftershokz Trekz Air $180/£160 – Interesting option that plays through your jawbone not inside your ear. They sound remarkably good.
- JBL Under Armour Sport $120/£100
- LifeBEAM Vi $250/£210
- Apple AirPods $160/£140