The demand for "sport" style headphones has increased over the years, as more people realize that the tunes spouting from their iPods and other portable MP3 players provide a certain amount of motivation during any workout. The trick has always been to create headphones that have all of the following features: a minimal footprint (read: won't mess up your hair), comfort, a secure fit in your ears, and good sound quality. It's hard to say that any manufacturer has yet to create the ultimate sports headphones, but Arriva, a small start-up in Telluride, Colorado, is trying to make a name for itself by doing just that.
With their springy, squiggly shape, Arriva's headphones ($30) are among the more uniquely designed headphones you'll encounter. At the end of each coil, you'll find a fairly standard earbud with a soft rubber tip (the headphones come with three interchangeable sizes). As anybody who's ever tried to run with Sony earbuds in their ears will attest, an aptly sized tip does not a secure earbud make. However, Arriva's uniquely stable headphone cord wraps around the back of your head, and does a remarkable job of keeping the 'buds securely in your ears, creating a tight seal.
Arriva's simple instructions tell you to scrunch the headphones up before trying to fit them to your head and ears (this helps the headphones conform better to smaller heads). We were also told that the headphones might not feel totally comfortable at first, but that they would get more comfortable the longer we wore them. This actually turned out to be true in practice. Almost immediately, the right earbud fit perfectly and felt really comfortable, but it took some playing around with the left bud--and 15 or 20 minutes of wearing the headphones around--for it to feel comfortable. Naturally, everybody's ears are different, so we can't guarantee that everybody will get a snug, comfortable fit, but overall the design seems very effective and it's pretty discreet, as the cords almost look as if they're woven into your hair (and if you wear your hair in a ponytail, the cords will be even more hidden).
Unfortunately, the model we tested, which happened to be one of the first 100 test samples, didn't sound all that good. About on par with what you'd expect from a budget ($10-$15) pair of earbuds, the Arriva lacked definition and the bass was pretty muddy. The Arriva headphones don't sound terrible, but Sony's MDR-Gy4SL and StreetStyle over-the-ear headphones certainly sound better and they cost about the same.
As noted, Arriva is a fledgling company, and it hopes to put out several models based on this design, including a high-end model that we presume will sound better. Its Web site also mentions that a small MP3 player could potentially be integrated into the middle of the cord at the back of your head. That all sounds intriguing, but for now your only option is this base model, which is for sale only at Arriva's Web site. If you're looking for great fitting sports headphones, they're certainly worth a look. But for those who demand higher sound quality, you'll probably want to wait for the company to put out a premium model.