Wireless Sports Audio Part 3 - UA Headphones Wireless

May 29, 2016

The UA Headphones Wireless (SGD 289) buds mark the first collaboration between audio giants JBL and sportswear heavyweights, Under Armour. The latter has clear ambitions to expand its repertoire of sporting related gear.

As Part 3 of the Wireless Sports Audio series of articles, we give you the lowdown on the UA Headphones Wireless.

Pros (+): Stylish pair of buds; MapMyFitness Premium subscription; Good battery life; Well designed pouch.
Cons (-): Somewhat loose fit; Voice prompts are minimal.

The unboxing is always an experience in itself. The UA doesn't disappoint.

The only color available is the very striking black and red accented model. Flipping over the cover unveils the earphones beneath a layer of transparent plastic. 

Peeling open the layer of plastic grants you access to the buds that we practically ripped out in our eagerness to have a first look. The bottom layer is where the accessories and a very stylish carrying pouch lie.

Taking everything out, the packaging content include:
- UA Headphones Wireless
- 2 x Ear enhancers (Size 5 / Size 7)
- Charging cable
- Carrying pouch
- Quick Start / Safety Guide
- 1 year MapMyFitness (Premium) redemption card

For the buds proper, the branding is distinctly marked with a red bold Under Armour logo on the exterior and punctuated with a white JBL mark right below. First impression? I'll give them points for style and branding...that's for sure.

While I couldn't really dig out the weight of the UA Headphones on JBL's online content but I can safely say that it's very comparable to the lightest sports models I've tested like the Jaybird X2 Wireless (13g) and Jabra Sport Coach (16g).

The cable management clip is useful to tighten around your neck to reduce microphonics ie. cable rustle. Interestingly, the user guide mentions that for optimal usage, you should actually sling the cord around the front of your neck. 

The carrying pouch, emblazoned with the UA logo, is certainly well designed. It is circular with a zip that lines the top half. It has a rubberised feel and is soft enough to squeeze the air out while protecting its contents. A detailed feel reveals evenly spread textured circular protrusions...it's a nice touch. This is clearly not obvious just by looking at it and it reveals how much thought they put into its design. 

Here's a video from UA | JBL to give you more product insight.

The JBL buds have an IPX5 compliance rating ie. it's sweatproof. Drizzles shouldn't be a problem but swimming is still a no no!

The in-line remote, that lies on the right side, has the standard multi-function button sitting between the volume / track switch buttons. The only difference from most buds is that the charging point sits on the remote.

For the Bluetooth pairing, it's intuitive if you're familiar with other sports wireless earphones. Just hold the multi-function button to power on and pair. Start the Bluetooth on your source device and select 'UA|JBL Wireless'. And presto, you're done once LED blinks blue.

A niggling point is the voice prompts (eg. for power on and pairing initiation) were done somewhat half heartedly. Sure they gave the info but the sound quality of the prompts were not clear. Sure you know what is said but it's not crystal smooth. Oh, and nope, you can't tell the % of the battery left either.

Instead of silicon buds that other manufacturers usually supply, the UA comes with a ear sleeve that wraps around the frame of the earpiece which combines a protruding silicon bud. This sleeve is termed by UA | JBL as an 'ear enhancer'. Two sets are provided. 

UA has been expanding its empire of mobile apps (think acquisition of Endomondo) so why not throw in a 12 month MapMyFitness Premium membership (worth USD 29.99)? For the record, the MapMyFitness app can be downloaded for free.   
So what's the diff between Free and Premium versions? There's nothing better than a side-by-side comparison.
Free Version
Premium Version
The immediate differences seen are Coaching / Live Tracking are enabled and the ads are taken away. There's more comprehensive info online on the full differences.

We tested these sports earbuds in three areas when jogging:
1. Fit - Did it fit into the ears snugly? Did the weight of the cord tug on ears causing it to fall out?

2. Noise Isolation - We checked out the degree to which external noise is blocked. This is what you'd deem as 'passive noise cancelation'. 

3. Microphonics - This is basically the sound of the cable rustle when there's any kind of friction, be it wind friction or the cord swishing when running. 

On to the test run! The larger ear enhancer (Size 7) provided a slightly snugger fit.

Off I went for a 3km jog around the scenic Bukit Chermin Boardwalk in Labrador Park facing Singapore's southern islands. 
I always love jogging on water!

Sound quality: The 5.8mm dynamic drivers delivered an emphasis on clarity. The result during jogging is that the balance is not quite there. Hard hitting tracks like Funabashi's The Legacy didn't give those bass thumping moments. However, it could be attributed to the what we talk about in the next section. By contrast, those who like vocal clarity will love these buds. 

UA | JBL made it a point to emphasize their 'TwistLock' technology in their marketing push where the buds need to be inserted then twisted in place 'never to hurt or fall out'. The Size 5 appeared to be a little loose where I had to reposition the buds back during the jog and this affected the noise isolation quite a bit - ambient sounds were sufficiently audible through the music. The Size 7 fared much better though the niggling point was that twisting the buds caused some discomfort in the ear after prolonged usage. It's worth noting that out of the other sports buds tested, using 'TwistLock' boldly attempts to do away with a mechanism to hold the earphones in the ear (think Jaybird X2 / Plantronics BackBeat GO 3's fin and Beats Powerbeats2 Wireless' clip). 

When sitting down, I managed to hit a few moments where I think the fit was optimal - it was tight and bass / treble balance was actually good, but the sweet spot has to be found with quite some adjustments: read twisting and then giving a slight tug of the earbud.

To charge, just flip the flap on the in-line remote and plug the cable to the micro-USB slot. The Lithium-Ion 2 x 60 mAh delivers up to 8 hours of playback on a 1.5 hour charge, very agreeable when compared with the Plantronics BackBeat GO 3 (6.5h) and the Powerbeats2 Wireless (6h).

The UA buds can easily double as a fashion accessory. They look great and so does the carrying pouch. While some work could have gone into the fit and voice prompts, it's a decent first collaboration between UA and JBL. In an increasingly app-driven world, the MapMyFitness Premium subscription sure adds some value to the product. We can't wait to see how their partnership will evolve.

Where To Buy
If you like the product, do feel free to support us by purchasing from Amazon via our affiliate link at USD 129
UA Headphones WirelessUSD 129 

Audio Sources
Hit It - American Authors (Spotify 320kbps MP3 on Samsung Galaxy S4)
The Legacy (Stoneface & Terminal Remix) - Funabashi (Spotify 320kbps MP3 on Samsung Galaxy S4)

Wireless Sports Audio Series
Part 1 - Beats Powerbeats2 Wireless
Part 2 - Sony NW-WS413
Part 3 - UA Headphones Wireless - By JBL 
Part 4 - Bose SoundSport Wireless
Part 5 - Jaybird Freedom Wireless F5
Part 6 - The Verdict (TBA)

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  1. Being a big family the boys usually wear headphones to watch YouTube videos or play games when we are having quiet time, best earbuds with mic


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