Every once in a while I’ll get an email from someone asking me if I know about any audio products they can use to listen to music while running that won’t cover their ears. They’re usually asking because certain races around the country have a no-headphone policy (you can’t have anything in or covering your ears), which puts people who have to run with music into a panic.
One solution is bone-conducting headphones like thethat leave your ears exposed. Then there ($30) that you clip onto your clothes. It doesn’t sound great, but it works.
Zulu Audio has taken the Boom Bit concept a step further, doubling up on the speakers for stereo sound with its Wearable Bluetooth Speakers. They cost $100 and aren’t available yet in the UK or Australia.
Instead of a clip, Zulu’s speakers come with removable magnetic discs that you slip under your shirt and then stick the speakers to. An adjustable cord connects the speakers, and it’s essentially like flipping around a pair of headphones and wearing them around your neck with the drivers facing out.
Yes, people around you can hear the sound, particularly if you play your music loud. And no, the sound isn’t particularly good (there isn’t much bass and there’s some distortion at higher volumes), but the speakers do output a reasonable amount of sound in stereo and leave your ears open to hear traffic around you. For people who aren’t, the sound should be acceptable.
Bose (Soundwear) and JBL (Soundgear) make more expensive wearable speakers that are heavier and designed more for indoor use. They do sound significantly better, but you probably wouldn’t wear them while running.
I do think these Zulu Audio speakers are pretty well designed — they have an IPX4 splashproof water-resistance rating — and come with a decent carrying case (and extra disc magnet) to stow the speakers in when you’re not using them. There’s no battery rating listed in the specs, but you should be able to get around 6 hours at moderate volume levels (I’m still testing). And you can take calls with them because they have a built-in microphone.
While they’re recommendable for runners, bikers and other people doing activities where they want to hear sound but don’t want their ears covered, they seem a little expensive at $100. I’d like to see them more in the $50-$75 range.
This is Zulu Audio’s first product — it is called the Alpha Series — and I do expect that the next generation will offer some improvements. But it may be a little while before we see that.
I’ll post a final rating as soon as I get more complete battery life numbers.
Best wireless headphones for 2018: For wherever.
Best sports headphones for 2018: At all prices.