I don't like wearing headphones when I'm working out in the real world. When I'm in the gym, sure. Everyone should have some good gym headphones. But when I'm riding 40 miles on my bike or running a few laps around the neighborhood, I need to be able to hear the cars around me. Balancing the music I need to really get into a rhythm and the ambient sound of the world around me is tricky, and unfortunately many options are so small and light they don't have enough battery to get me through a full day of activity.
Zulu Audio has a creative solution to this problem, with their Wearable Bluetooth Speakers. And after taking these for a spin the last couple of weeks, it's clear there's a lot here to like.
- Decent sound, more than loud enough
- Super comfortable
- Easy-to-use buttons
- Still uses Micro-USB
- Not as water-resistant as I'd like
What I like
Instead of resting on your collarbone like most other "wearable speaker" systems, the two speakers which make up this system each have a little magnetic plate on the backside. Slip that plate under the clothing you want to attach the speaker to, and it'll snap into place.
The rubbery material around the metal plate makes it easy to slide the speakers where you want them to go, and there's a rubber strap on the cable connecting these two speakers to cinch the excess together. It couldn't be easier to position these speakers in the exact right place for your needs, and because the whole system is so light it all but disappears as soon as you start going.
Zulu Audio has provided you with three big rubbery buttons on the speaker, a pair of volume buttons, and a single "do everything" button. You power the speakers on and off, play/pause music, and skip tracks all with this same button. The layout is fairly standard, but the buttons are big enough that I could find and use them even when I was riding with my winter gloves. And that's a big part of what makes these great; they're simple but incredibly capable speakers I can pop on and not think about.
Audio on these speakers is surprisingly loud. I found myself using them frequently at about 60% to make sure I could still hear the world around me while enjoying music, but it would not have been difficult to turn my shoulders into a little boom box for the rest of the world to hear. And hear they will, because obviously there's very little you can do to blare music from speakers that only you can hear. This isn't necessarily a bad thing when I'm on my bike in a busy part of town, either. The more people aware of my existence, the better.
What I don't like
The first thing I noticed when taking these speakers out of the box is the great big exposed Micro-USB port on the side. Not on the bottom, to avoid water getting in them, but on the side where I'd be pretty hesitant to take them out in the rain. That hesitation was not made better in discovering these speakers only have an IPX4 rating, which means they're mostly splashproof but that's about it. If I get stuck out in rain 20 miles from home, there's a pretty good chance these speakers don't survive unless I put them away.
Also, Micro-USB to charge? Come on, Zulu Audio. It's 2019. USB-C or GTFO, please.
I wouldn't call battery life a concern with these speakers, but like all things, more is better. In my testing, I got a little over four hours of nonstop music with these speakers before I started getting a low power warning. That warning comes across as three beeps every couple of minutes until the speakers finally just turn off, which could be implemented a little better but isn't really a big deal. Four hours is on par with a lot of my "workout" audio equipment, but to have just okay battery and also not be water resistant kind of sucks.
Should you buy them?
When conditions are perfect out, these are 100% the speakers I'm going to reach for. If I want to do 40-50 miles on my bike and it's a beautiful summer day out, having these speakers instead of something around my neck or the back of me head to collect sweat and get all gross is fantastic. These speakers are way more comfortable than most other music things I'd use on my bike or on a run, and comfort is kind of a big deal in those activities.
4 out of 5
But at the same time, it's not super clear I can rely on these headphones when conditions aren't perfect, and that could well be a deal-breaker for you given the $100 price tag. But of these are the speakers for you, it's important also to know they come in both white and black.
Russell is a Contributing Editor at Android Central. He's a former server admin who has been using Android since the HTC G1, and quite literally wrote the book on Android tablets. You can usually find him chasing the next tech trend, much to the pain of his wallet. Find him on Facebook and Twitter
Forget those and just buy some awesome Aftershokz Trekz that do the same but much better and look less silly
I have these and aftershokz. The aftershokz cause sores behind my ears if I'm doing anything other than a stationary bike ride and the sound is pretty horrible. My wife got me these speakers and they are pretty amazing. I found on the mountain bike that the bouncing will cause them to come off the magnetic back, so I just use a baby-pin on the wire to keep them connected to my jersey.
Dude my man Russell did you lose weight?! You look great man congratulations. I guess I haven't been on here for a long while or been up to date with stuff haha. Only been listening to the podcast lately not looking at the website.
I get the market for these, but (/beginrant) when did it become acceptable for folks to blast what they're listening to to the rest of the world around? I know I'm fast-approaching "get off my lawn" territory here, but this seems like the 21st century equivalent of the douchetastic guy rocking out with a boombox on his shoulder. It drives me nuts when people just blare their "hilarious" youtube videos, facetime calls, music, etc. out in public. Why do I have to wear NC headphones because someone else won't? Shouldn't we all be courteous enough to keep our personal entertainment personal so other people aren't forced to block us out? (/endrant) I second the notion for AfterShokz if you just have to have your ears free for safety concerns... maybe more "leaky" buds if you have some extenuating circumstances...
Well said, I was thinking the same.
You know who should not buy these? Anyone on my bus route, please.
LOL that's kinda what I was thinking...I would always feel like I'm invading other peoples right to quiet with these. Have to be alone to use them.
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