On-ear and over-ear sports headphones can be a bit hit and miss. When it comes to sports headphones, sound quality is important, but comfort is arguably far more important. After all, the headphones have to stay firmly on your head even when you move around, while still ensuring that they’re comfortable enough to not be a distraction. JBL and Under Armor, however, think they’ve cracked the code with the JBL UA Sport Wireless Train headphones.
But do the headphones really remain comfortable enough to use during high-intensity workouts? Or should you stick with a pair of in-ear headphones? We put the JBL UA Sport Wireless Train headphones to the test to find out.
UA Sport Wireless Train: Design
JBL has a certain design language to its headphones, but the JBL UA Sport Wireless Train headphones look a little different than other JBL cans. That’s because they’re clearly built to be rugged. They have rubber grooves along the edges, nice large buttons for easy control during workouts, and a generally well-built design. That’s good news for those that want to use these headphones for more than just basic jogs.
The headphones come in two colors — red on black, and black on black. They’re both sleek and stylish options — and we’re reviewing the black on black ones.
On the left ear cup, you’ll simply find a MicroUSB charging port hidden behind a rubber door. On the right ear cup, you’ll get your power, volume, and playback controls, as well as a 3.5mm port to use the headphones in wired mode — which is helpful in case you run out of batteries.
It’s really a nice look. You’ll find Under Armor logos on each ear cup and JBL logos on the sides of the head band. The headphones look like they’re built for sports — which is good considering the fact that they are. What you might not realize is that the Under Armor logo on the right ear cup is actually a button — and pressing it fades down music and allows you to hear your outside surroundings through the activation of three microphones.
Unlike most other headphones, the ear cups on these headphones don’t swivel. While we were a little taken aback by this, the angle of the ear cups didn’t bother us at all — so it looks like JBL and Under Armor set them up pretty well.
Apart from the headphones themselves, you’ll get a few accessories in the box. For starters, you’ll get a hard case that looks even more rugged than the headphones themselves. You’ll also find a MicroUSB cable and an aux cable.
At less than a pound, the Sport Wireless Train is surprisingly light. It’s not as slender as the Plantronics BackBeat Fit 500, but it’s still portable enough to carry or wear around the neck.
Stability is everything with these headphones, as best demonstrated by the ventilated ear cushions. Leather cups are notorious for slippage and leave ears feeling gross after workouts. JBL’s fabric cushions offered quality grip and sweat absorption when I ran 5Ks outside in scorching conditions. I was impressed by how well they kept perspiration from trickling down the sides of my neck. The breathable headband is another striking component that molded perfectly on my head for a quality fit.
However, I must say, these aren’t the coziest headphones I’ve tested. My ears felt fatigued within 30 minutes due to ear cups’ tight compression. Running with them wasn’t so bad, but the discomfort became obvious and unpleasant during rest periods.
Controls and Setup
JBL keeps its control scheme simple by designating all commands to the right ear cup. It takes some getting used to, since most of the buttons are located in the rear. But because they stick out, they’re easier to find. Plus, they provide great tactility.
The raised UA button that enables the TalkThru function (more on that later) is the most distinguishable nodule. Right around the corner is a unibody module that houses two volume buttons that also let you skip or play a previous track when they’re held down for a few seconds, and a central multifunctional button for playback, call management and voice assistant. The button on the auxiliary cable performs these same actions. Above the module, you’ll find a button to power and pair the headphones.
One complaint I must mention with the control scheme is port accessibility. The audio jack is on the bottom right, and the charging port is on the left. The protective flaps for each are placed so deeply into the outputs that it requires prying them open with some sort of thin, sharp object. Pick your tool wisely (e.g. pen cap), or risk damaging the flaps.
You pair the UA Sport Wireless Train the same way you would any other wireless headset. Hold the toggle switch until you see the white LED turn on. Keep doing so until the light turns blue and blinks to signal pairing mode. Enter your laptop or smartphone’s Bluetooth settings, find the Pair New Device option, and select UA|JBL Train.
Of course, comfort may be important but these are still headphones — so sound is important too. How do these sound? Well, as you would expect from a pair of headphones built with JBL tech, they sound pretty great.
For starters, the bass on the headphones is relatively solid, and definitely boosted. The headphones aren’t built for mega-bass fans that want something to shatter their skull — but it’s still powerful and refined. Kick drums feel focused and punchy, while bass guitars and synths are smooth and strong, without getting muddy or overly distracting. We liked the slightly bass-forward tone here — boosted bass is always helpful in keeping users motivated at the gym.
The mid range is well-tuned, but it is tuned. If you’re looking for totally natural-sounding headphones, these aren’t the ones to go for — but the tuning that JBL has done sounds quite good. The low mids are relatively warm, while there seems to be a slight dip in high mids, giving the headphones a relatively clear tone.
The high end sounds pretty nice here. Cymbals are clear and shimmery, while vocal sibilance is nice and present. The headphones in general have a nice level of clarity, which we really appreciated.
The JBL UA Sport Wireless Train headphones feature a 610mAh battery that JBL says will give the headphones a 16-hour battery life. That’s not terribly but it could definitely be longer. It’s likely trade-off to a larger battery, however, would have been heavier headphones — so JBL likely had to compromise.
The headphones connect to your listening device through Bluetooth 4.1, which means they’ll get a listening range of up to 10 meters, or 33 feet. We didn’t really experience any skips or jumps in playback, which is good.
Battery Life and Bluetooth
JBL estimates the UA Sport Wireless Train`s battery life at 16 hours, with results varying based on your volume preference. This is the same as the runtime for the BackBeat Fit 500, and 8 hours less than the X-Tra headphones’ estimated 24 hours of battery life.
I got 6 to 8 hours right out of the box, so that was already a good sign. After two days of moderate listening, they had retained their charge. Five days in, and I was finally due for some juice. Luckily, I discovered that the headphones support a “speed charge” feature, which blessed me with 1 hour of playback after only 5 minutes of charging. This got me up and wirelessly running out the door. My low-battery anxiety was also tamed by knowing I could use the auxiliary cable for wired use when the battery died, which is always clutch.
Connectivity was a 50-50 affair. Bluetooth range was the typical 33 feet and was solid enough to let me walk around the apartment and go down one flight without any dropout. The headphones were also responsive in pair mode and instantly connected to my Google Pixel 2 XL.
Unfortunately, the Sport Wireless Train had commitment issues with my MacBook Pro, automatically removing itself from my available Bluetooth devices list on multiple occasions. It was irritating to revisit the setup process every time this happened. The headphones also had the tendency to unpair when they were inactive for 10 minutes or more, or when the battery died.