Over the past few years, there’s been a huge shift in the way brands design headphones — especially when it comes to exercise. No longer is it about keeping people in the zone while cutting them off from the outside world, but rather providing them with audio options that allow for better safety and awareness without sacrificing sound quality.
Now JLab has entered the mix with its design-forward Open Sport Open-Ear Wireless Earbuds. For a reasonable $80, these headphones combine the best of open-ear technology with the brand’s great sound quality. They’re designed for exercise — with an IPX4 rating that makes them water- and sweat-resistant enough to work out in, and up to 17 hours of battery life — but won’t look out of place in the office, while working from home or in any other scenario where you want to stay at least half tuned in.
Here’s what I liked and what I thought needs some work after working out in the JLab Open Sport earbuds.
The JLab Open Sport are a unique, affordable and worthwhile pair of open-ear earbuds that make it easy to stay alert while exercising. They're great for light workouts and everyday use, though we wouldn't recommend them for hardcore athletes.
What we liked about them
The 2-in-1 design
JLab’s Open Sport Open-Ear Wireless Earbuds are unique from other open-ear or bone conduction audio products in that you get two styles for the price of one. You can wear them as traditional over-the-ear wireless headphones or swap the ear hooks for the clips stored on the back of the charging case to attach them to a pair of glasses or sunglasses (similar to the brand’s JBuds Frames). As someone who regularly works out outside in a hat and sunglasses, the option to remove anything that adds extra bulk around my ears is incredibly appealing, especially since I can still use the ear hooks whenever I want to.
The audio quality
For an $80 pair of open-ear headphones, the JLab Open Sport offer seriously impressive sound quality. It’s nowhere near as crisp as the in-ear AirPods Pro or the Sony LinkBuds S, but the pounding bass of my favorite workout songs came through loud and clear. Plus, JLab’s buds lacked the tinny quality of bone conduction headphones like the Shokz OpenRun Pro. Each earbud includes a 14.2mm driver, which is more than double the diameter of a traditional earbud. And you can shift between two different equalizer modes: Signature, which offers amplified vocals and bass, and Balanced, which offers even sound across all curves. They come out of the box set on Signature, and I found that mode to be preferable for working out; the brand recommends Balanced mode for podcasts, audiobooks and classical music.
What we didn’t like about them
While the 2-in-1 design is a major selling point, the fit for both options could use some finessing. The ear hooks are bendable, which in theory allows for a super-customized fit, but no matter how much I moved them around, I couldn’t quite get them to sit on my ear in a way that felt great. Even when I found a fit that didn’t budge during a run, the bulkier base (which houses the speaker) would rub against the outer parts of my ear canal in a distracting way. And at 14 grams each, they’re heavier than the transparency-enabled Jabra Elite 7 Active earbuds and the open-ear JVC Nearphones, and comparable to the Shokz OpenRun Pro bone conduction headphones.
The fit was much more comfortable when I removed the ear hooks and snapped the speakers onto a pair of sunglasses. The two clips can adjust to three different widths, but I found that using them with thicker sunglass arms seriously compromised the security; at one point, one speaker popped right off when I went to put on the glasses. Once I found a pair of sunglasses with skinnier arms, though, they stayed solid for an hour-long run. (They also worked fine with my daily prescription glasses.)
The touch sensitivity
Like the pricier Sony LinkBuds S and more affordable JVC Nearphones, JLab’s Open Sport Open-Ear Wireless Earbuds come equipped with touch controls that allow you to change the volume, skip tracks and answer calls or use voice assistants. Each action requires a series of taps to the upper portion of the base (one tap for volume changes, two taps to play/pause music, press and hold to reject all, etc.). Getting the headphones to respond to my touch was trial-and-error; sometimes it worked, sometimes it required more of a swipe. The key is tapping the “button” — which is not an actual button but a small bump — on the base, which was difficult to do while on the move (switching between sound modes was downright impossible even while sitting down).
It’s always fun when a brand does something different than all of its competitors, and JLab’s unique dual design is one no one else on the market is offering. The fact that they’re available at a reasonable cost is just icing on the cake. In fact, they’re a great substitute for the similarly priced JVC Nearphones — except you can’t attach those to your shades.
However, JLab still has some work to do on the fit and the touch capabilities, so I wouldn’t recommend these to the most intense athletes; the risk of losing them mid-workout and fumbling around to change the song or volume while you’re trying to stay focused is too great. For others, though, the novelty may be enough to outweigh the areas that still need some improvement.