Here's a public service announcement: Apple AirPods are not waterproof. They're not even sweatproof. This may come as an unpleasant surprise to anyone who routinely exercises with them -- and then discovers that water damage isn't covered under warranty. Now, AirPods Pro are sweatproof, and so are Apple's Beats PowerBeats Pro. But those true-wireless earbuds each sell for $250. Um, thanks, no, buh-bye.
Good news: There's a much more affordable exercise-friendly earbud solution, and Cheapskate readers can get a substantial discount. For a limited time, the JLab Audio Epic Air Elite true-wireless sport earbuds for $74.50. That's after applying promo code CNETEPIC at checkout. Regular price: $149.
Read more: The best sport headphones for 2019
From a design standpoint, the Epic Air Elite hews much closer to Powerbeats Pro than to AirPods Pro, especially considering that the latter employs active noise cancellation (ANC), while the former are merely noise-isolating. Like the PowerBeats Pro, the Epic Air Elite have ear hooks to keep them securely in place.
You also get a whopping seven different sets of ear tips, including one Cloud Foam pair. The idea is to help you get the best, and most comfortable, inner-ear seal, which is crucial for both noise isolation and sound quality.
The earbuds automatically connect to your phone upon removal from the case and begin charging once they return to it. However, that case is quite large compared to most, and the earbuds go in backward: The left one on the right and right one on the left. It's a minor annoyance, but still an annoyance.
The case doesn't support wireless charging, but it does have a few tricks up its plastic-lidded sleeve. First, there's a built-in cable that pries loose from the edge, so you can easily recharge the case via any available USB port. But the case itself is also a mobile charger, with a Type-A USB port you can use to power a phone or other device.
Assuming you use it solely for earbud charging, JLab Audio promises a hefty 38 hours of total playtime.
The earbuds themselves are IP55-rated sweatproof. Each one has a single touch control -- not my favorite option, because they're easy to graze by accident. (I often found that they didn't work consistently, either.) What's more, there are a lot of functions to learn. For example, to play or pause music, you double-tap the left earbud. To skip to the next track, you tap and hold the right earbud for at least one second. You can even cycle between different equalizer presets by tapping and holding both earbuds for at least three seconds. Chances of me remembering all that: slim.
I initially had trouble getting a good seal, because you also have to position the ear hooks just so to make that happen. Thankfully, once you learn the trick of it, it's not hard -- and I'm glad to report the Air Elites sound really, really good. I'm particularly impressed by JLab Audio's two-year warranty, which is double what you get with just about every other headphone.
Although the big case may be off-putting to some and the touch controls can be frustrating, there's a lot to like about the Epic Air Elite. With a good seal, the sound quality is superb, and when you look at the price compared with similar products from Apple, Bose, Jabra and the like, you won't find anything even close.
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