In this Audio Technica ATH-SPORT 70BT Review we will look at Audio Technica’s latest high-end headphones specifically designed for delivering high quality audio during sport.
This is a long form review and looks at some general topics as well as giving a detailed review of the Audio Technica ATH-SPORT 70BT Headphones. Skip ahead to the sections that most interest or sit back with your coffee and enjoy.
Sports Headphones – What’s In An Earbud?
Clearly the main ‘point’ of a pair of sports headphones is that you can listen to music whilst exercising. That most basic of requirements means that a degree of sweat-proofing and dust-proofing is a pre-requisite.
To play music, the sports headphones must link to your source of music, or contain a source of music themselves. We have seen an evolution away from an AUX (auxiliary/line) model where a single plug is pushed into the socket of a Walkman, iPOD, smartphone, or something similar.
With Bluetooth compatibility comes the ability to have a remote connection to the music source. Typically this source has been a smartphone but we could also connect to gym equipment, computers or, more recently, to sports watches.
Thus we have seen the emergence of a notable number of ‘wireless’ headphones designed for sport.
The evolution from wireless headphones has been to ‘true’ wireless earbuds. With ‘true’ wireless, the cable joining the two earbuds, often also containing a charging port and control unit, has gone. Those functions have been moved to within one of the earbud itself and so there is no cable/wire whatsoever. Although sometimes ‘true’ wireless earbuds have an optional ‘tether’ or wire which has the sole purpose of ensuring the earbuds are secured together.
As well as a source of power from an internal, rechargeable battery, the headphones or earbuds may also contain a microphone. Some, more sportily-advanced models also contain accurate optical HRMs or accelerometers. And, of course, by linking to that ever-present smartphone app the manufacturer can add lots of functionality of many kinds.
The future will see the sporty earbud & set of headhones morph into a more general class of ‘hearables’ that will do ‘other stuff’. That’s partly beyond the scope of this post, today!
Even in that potted history you can see that the simple headphones have the potential to be ‘not so simple‘. The not-so-simple headphone could well also contain: a heart rate monitor; activity tracker; noise cancelling technology; audio-to-environmental sound management (hear-through); a microphone to control Alexa or Google Assistant; a remote to make and take calls; an audio feedback mechanism for workout cues (audio coach says, “speed up!”); audio quality and frequency configuration through an equalizer; and more.
Or they could even play your running favourite songs 😉 But then they could even do that cleverly by adding caching into the earbud/headphone to mitigate against a dropped bluetooth connection – although that might give playback delays against, for example, video.
Indeed that’s the BIG ISSUE. Audio dropouts. If your heart rate monitor missed a beat..or maybe even 10 beats…in reality you wouldn’t notice it. But you would, for sure, notice even a fraction of a second of audio dropout.
Another BIG ISSUE that comes from the evolution towards the earbud is that it becomes a significant design challenge to make an earbud fit everyone’s ear AND stay in it whilst exercising. And I think this is why we will always see a significant number of designs like the Audio Technica ATH-SPORT 70BT where the purchaser realises that a solitary earbud can be much more easily lost than a pair of headphones tethered together
Yet another BIG ISSUE is battery life. The increasingly clever stuff that headphones can do needs more battery power but a physically bigger battery is not always the solution as aesthetic concerns also come into play as the headphones or earbuds get larger.
Finally we come the BIG ISSUE of audio quality. Audio fidelity is lost in a variety of places on its way to your ear. The biggest concern with bluetooth headphones is that the bluetooth connection has bandwidth limitations and, in order to fit within those bandwidth limitations audio codecs lose certain audio frequencies and hence quality suffers. The default SBC codec is alright but better ones exist like aptX HD but which are less well supported.
“Simple” headphones? Nah! Definitely “Not so simple”.
Audio Technica – Sports Audio Pedigree & History
Audio Technica have an undoubted pedigree in high quality audio dating back to the 1960s.
Even looking at just their earbuds and headphone products they have TENS of current models ie more than most (any?) other companies in this space. I counted eight of those models that claim to be specifically designed for sport, ranging from the $20 ATH-COR150SP right through to the most expensive model, the one on review – ATH-SPORT 70BT at $130.
Audio Technica’s best audio-quality bluetooth earbuds would be the ATH-DSR5BT (*non-sport*) which: cover a frequency response of 5 – 45,000 Hz; support Qualcomm’s aptX HD; and can receive a 24-bit/48kHz audio signal. But they cost $400 ! Drool over !! Back to the real world and all its practicalities when doing sport.
Audio Technica ATH-SPORT 70BT Specifications & Feature Comparison
The ATH-Sport 70BT is the next sport model up from the Audio Technica’s ATH-Sport 50BT.
The 70BT and 50BT are broadly similar.
Shared Headline Features
- Frequency Response – 20 – 20,000 Hz
- Driver diameter – 9mm
- Sensitivity – 93 dB/mW
- Impedance – 16 ohms
- Battery Life -Up to 6 hours with a 3 hour total recharge time
- Omni-directional, condenser microphone with sensitivity -42 dB (1V/Pa at 1 kHz) and a frequency response of 50 – 8,000 Hz
- Bluetooth 4.1 with a 10m range
- True Wireless
- 4 microphone technology to reduce ambient noise
- Auto turn-on when case opened and auto sleep after periods of non-use
- Supports standard SBC codec
- Bluetooth Profiles: A2DP (Advanced Audio Distribution Profile), AVRCP (Audio/Video Remote Control Profile), HFP (Hands-Free Profile), HSP (Head Set Profile)
- Water resistant to IPX5 (can be washed)
- Mic and controls built into left housing for convenient handling of calls, music playback and volume adjustment (this indirectly means it will work when you watch/smartphone is worn on the left side! ie the correct side for most right-handed people!!)
The ATH-SPORT 70BT is, however, superior/different to the 50BT in these specifications:
- 70BT supports high quality AAC audio codec.
- Foam eartips with sweat guard.
- Although they are very slightly heavier at 28.5g (cf 25.8g)
- 70BT comes in ALL Black or Black+Rose Gold (50BT has other colour options)
- RRP is $130 (70BT) vs $70 (50BT)
Audio Technica’s DSR5BT Bluetooth 4.2 earbuds are the VERY top end spec you might achieve for hi fidelity and they have: 9.8mm driver; sensitivity 102 dB/mW; impedance 10 ohms; frequency response – 5 – 45,000 Hz; aptX HD codec support and other codecs.
Hopefully all that has laid the groundwork and we can now proceed with the Audio Technica ATH-SPORT 70BT Review
Audio Technica ATH-SPORT 70BT Review – Unboxing
It’s a rather impressive box. But the material things you get are
- Carry pouch
- The headphones themselves
- 3 sets of clear Ear Gels/Ear Plugs, one set of stay-in-your-ear gels with sweat guard.
- A standard (nice quality) USB cable.
Audio Technica ATH-SPORT 70BT Review – Design Details
Hear you can see the 3 microphone holes on the right side
Same on the left side
Whilst the ear gel goes inside the ear, the ATH-SPORT 70BT has a comfy and bendable ear-hanger mechanism that goes part way around the outside of the ear. This makes the ATH-SPORT 70BT MUCH easier to wear than some earbuds which require special ‘wings’ to be in just the right place within the ear.
As you can see the ear-hanger is flexible and would not break in normal use. To a degree it CAN be moulded into a certain position or ear size, however it would not stay in the position shown in the following image as it has a degree of inherent flex.
Charging is via the Micro USB port (type B) on the left side headphone.
The left-side headphone unit also has an LED light with various red/blue combinations which you can just see on the images, below (see later for further details)
The power supply and control buttons are, relatively unusually (in my experience), on the left hand side and look standard enough. The following image also shows a separate slider which can be used to alter the effective length of the wire that connects the two headphones.
ATH-SPORT 70BT – Pairing
I tried the BT70 headphones out with several sports watches tht play onboard music.
First up we have Garmin’s top-end Fenix 5S Plus which is possibly the best sports watch for running with music AND is also suitable for smaller-wristed people. Across all devices the headphones are discoverable as ATH-SPORT70BT, as shown on the Garmin.
Hey. You know how to pair stuff. Once you have, you will get a message along these lines…
I also tried Polar’s M600 WearOS sports watch. This is probably still the best WearOS watch for sports even in August 2018. It’s a little more fiddly pairing via the touchscreen but you don’t pair devices every day (welI I do 😉 )
Once again the proof is in the listening.
Next up I tried the Amazfit STRATOS. This is a super smart sports smartwatch running a proprietary operating system. And it’s pretty cheap too. It looks awesome with lots of features including simple music playback of music stored onboard.
Once again…it worked…
What’s that? You have a smartphone? Yep ,they work too. Well, this one did.
Once again it’s back to the 1980s, when revolutions were talked about but never happened. Yet Tracy played perfectly fine.
So. I can’t guarantee this will work on your device. But I had a 100% success rate.
ATH-SPORT 70BT – Controls & LEDs
The controls & LEDs are simple and straightforward.
Various flavours of blue LED light flash for pairing/connecting.
Here we have the controls again which are used: to turn the power supply ON/OFF; to play/pause music; and to answer/end phone calls.
I’ve put some yellow/green tape on the left ear piece. This marks the position of the sensor that is touched to turn the hear-through mode on/off. There is NOT A BUTTON…just a touch sensor. And it is in the position as shown not, as I would have expected, where the etched Audio Technica logo is.
I found this sensor mildly annoying. When adjusting the headphone position I invariably touched it. I would have preferred a tactile button that could be lightly pressed (or not, in my case)
Here are a full list of controls in the manual:
Manual location: https://www.audio-technica.com/cms/resource_library/literature/80e586f216744b81/ath_sport70bt_um_en_web.pdf
ATH-SPORT 70BT – Wearability
The ATH-SPORT 70BT fits easily and the gels pull off and push on easily enough to further enhance the fit. The ear hanger is extremely light and not at all intrusive.
The correct ear fit and appearance is something like this…
The person shown above has small ears for an adult and she commented that these headphones ‘fit well’ and are ‘suitable for small ears’. She has previously tried several earbuds which would not fit into her relatively small ear cavity. But, as you can also see above, the ear hanger has plenty of room left to accommodate larger ears as well.
The wire joining each headphone together is supposed to run behind the neck ie under the hair of someone with long hair. But I prefer to wear them with the wire at the front – it doesn’t really matter.
The aesthetics have something of the Apple AirPod about them. I guess you wither like the look or you don’t.
There are a LOT of factors affecting sound quality not least of which might be personal preferences.
When playing the ATH-SPORT 70BT from the top-end Garmin Fenix 5S Plus the sound was not great. However, switching across to my Moto G5 Plus smartphone, the audio experience was considerably superior. In fact it was good. Take out: You’ve really got to check what exactly is being played (eg bitrate) and how it is being digitally transferred (eg codec) and then turned into sound you can hear (DAC and speaker quality).
Ultimately what you hear will pretty much represent the quality of the worst part of your music ‘system’.
Lossy 128/190Kbs bit rates are not a good place to start if you want quality audio. Lossy 320Kbs is a sensible place and, for example, can equate to the maximum rate at which some bluetooth audio signals are transmitted. Even better go for a source that is lossless ie no quality is lost despite it being compressed
I then suggest using www.bluetoothcheck.com to determine which audio codec your source can support. bluetoothcheck.com does not include every device but is a good resource. Even if you check your manufacturer site you may not find the codec information you need there as CODEC support is often not listed eg Garmin do not list codec support. For a best quality connection with these headphones your music source should probably support AAC
As an example, my Moto smartphone supports the Bluetooth A2DP Audio Codecs shown below and those bolded are supported by the BT70 headphones.
|Name||Bit Depth||Max Frequency|
|Qualcomm aptX HD (High Definition)||24 bit||48.0 kHz|
|Sony LDAC||24 bit||96.0 kHz|
|AAC (Advanced Audio Coding)||16 bit||44.1 kHz|
|Qualcomm aptX||16 bit||48.0 kHz|
|SBC (Sub-Band Coding)||16 bit||48.0 kHz|
Human ear can only hear sound frequencies 20Hz to 20kHz
In my experience, mentioned earlier with the relatively mediocre sound FROM the Garmin Fenix 5S Plus, I would assume it’s most likely that the SBC codec is used whereas, with the Moto G5 Plus, the AAC codec is supported and was probably used as the headphones also support it.
Take Out: These Audio Technica headphones WILL sound good if you have all the necessary supporting components of good audio in place.
ATH-SPORT 70BT – Running and Music Experience
They were pretty good and didn’t bounce about as I had expected.
Being light, they are not at all intrusive to wear.
The best sized ear gels for me were not a perfectly snug fit. ie they were NOT like swimming ear plugs can be. Thus quite a bit of ambient noise could be heard – in some respects that’s good if you want to hear an approaching car but less good as it impacts on the audio experience.
On particularly windy days the wind noise was exacerbated by the design of the headphones.
Take out: Fine for me.
Microphone & Calls
As with other headphones the received audio on these headphones from calls from a landline sounds ‘distant’. I’m not at all worried about that. It’s perfectly fine and clear for conversational purposes.
The sent audio from the microphone is ‘good’ for a microphone.
The Audio Technica app
There isn’t one !
One of the issues with smartwatches is that they tend to only have volume control. So there is no way of boosting the bass or using a graphic equalizer unless some sort of preset can be applied to the headphones. This is not possible without an app AFAIK.
However if you are playing back audio from your smartphone then there are 3rd party apps that enable equalization – I didn’t test that.
I didn’t experience dropouts in normal use.
If I went more than 6m (not the stated 10m Bluetooth range) away from the source then I would experience dropouts.
If I wear my watch on my right wrist or have my smartphone in my right pocket then there can be dropouts (same with most other devices in this scenario). This is a bit annoying if you wear your watch on your ride side normally – I don’t!
Price, Availability & Discount
The ATH SPORT BT70 are now widely available at the RRP of $130/£120/Eu120. Here are the models:
- ATH-SPORT70BTBK (black) – amazon #B07BPKH3WK
- ATH-SPORT70BTRGD (Rose Gold)
In terms of extra fancy features like Alexa Integration, then the ATH SPORT BT70 reviewed here does not particularly stand out. Sure, it can act as a smartphone’s headset but that’s not so unusual. What is unusual, in my experience, is having the controls/aerial on the left side and this meant I was able to keep my watch on my usual left wrist without experiencing audio dropouts – that’s a ‘simple’ design decision that makes a big positive difference to many sportspeople who use an audio source on their left wrist or left arm (most of us).
The audio quality is good. Or at least I thought so, and especially so with smartphone playback. By far the main reason to buy the BT70 rather than the cheaper BT50 is the audio quality – as most of the other features are identical on those two models.
If audio quality is not so important to you then you might as well save $/£/Eu50 and go for the older BT50 model.
The audio quality did seem to suffer somewhat when running. This was due to a variety of factors. Firstly the running watches I used were relatively poor sources of audio compared to my smartphone. Secondly, it was a little tricky to maintain a good fit whilst running and thirdly wind noise seemed more noticeable than I normally find when running with music using earbuds.
Bearing those factors in mind the ATH SPORT BT70 still comes out as a ‘buy’.
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