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Denon AH-W150 Exercise Freak review: Wireless headphones for workouts

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MSRP: $149.95

The Good The Denon AH-W150 Exercise Freak in-ear Bluetooth headphones support wireless audio streaming from Bluetooth-enabled devices. They're sweatproof and relatively comfortable to wear, and offer decent sound for wireless headphones. They have a built-in microphone for cell phone calls, as well as transport and volume controls. The included carrying case is nice.

The Bad They're fairly pricey and they won't fit everyone equally well (which can affect sound quality).

The Bottom Line While in design they may resemble a pair of jumbo hearing aids, the Denon AH-W150 Exercise Freaks are among the better wireless sports headphones available.

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7.4 Overall
  • Design 8
  • Features 8
  • Sound 7
  • Value 7

I'm not sure when a company will truly perfect a pair of wireless sports headphones, but Denon's $149 Exercise Freak in-ear Bluetooth headphones get you about 80 percent of the way there. I found them comfortable to wear and, just as importantly, they fit securely and I had no trouble getting them in my ears. They also sound good for Bluetooth headphones, though just how good they sound will depend on how tight a seal you get.

The Exercise Freaks come in blue, yellow, and black, and as you might expect from sports headphones, Denon says they're sweatproof. I liked them, though they do have a few small drawbacks. First, they're a bit pricey (compared with some of their direct competitors, at least) at $149. Secondly, not everybody will like their design, which can come off looking a little too much like a pair of oversize hearing aids. But if you can live with those issues, the Freaks are some of the better wireless sports headphones I've tested.

Design and features
To put the Exercise Freaks on properly takes a bit longer than it takes to put on your typical pair of in-ear headphones. First, you have to hook each earpiece onto each ear, after which you guide the articulating ear pieces into your ear canal. It's a little bit of a process, but once you get everything lined up, the earphones fit very securely and really don't move at all now matter how much you shake your head.

The Exercise Freaks are designed to hook over the tops of your ears. Sarah Tew/CNET

As part of the design mix, there's also a patent-pending air cushion that the company says both mitigates "the centrifugal force of pressing a button to control music while jogging" and provides "ventilation in between the earpiece and your head." I'm not sure that it merits a patent, but hey, it serves as a dime-size bit of padding that seems to work as advertised.

According to Petro Shimonishi, Denon's senior global product manager for headphones, the company's designers paid special attention to the fit of the Freaks, recruiting close to 100 "frequent exercisers" to test early prototypes so that the final design would deliver the "most secure and lightweight fit."

The headphones in yellow. David Carnoy/CNET

The Plantronics BackBeat 903 sports Bluetooth headphones have a similar design, but the Denons are a little more comfortable to wear, sound better, and seem a little sturdier. That said, the BackBeat 903s are available online for just less than $50.

The Plantronics aren't considered noise-isolating headphones because the eartips' design allows some sound leakage. In contrast, you can go either way with the Exercise Freaks. If you want to maximize sound quality, you can jam the eartips into your ears and attempt to get a tight seal for better bass response. However, Denon reps said the Freaks weren't necessarily designed to have a tight seal because a lot of runners and bikers want to be able to hear ambient noise, namely traffic, for safety reasons. So you can wear them a little looser, with the eartips sitting in your ear canal but not jammed into it.

The reflective piece on the back of the cord.

Like virtually all stereo Bluetooth headphones, this one also has the requisite built-in microphone for making calls from virtually any Bluetooth-enabled smartphone. You can pause or play your music by pressing down on pressing the Pause/Play button on the right earpiece, where the volume control buttons also reside (they're a little small but you can operate them by feel without taking the headphones off). Press that Pause/Play button twice quickly, and you'll skip a track forward. Press it three times and you'll skip a track back.

To accept an incoming call, you press the Call/End answer button on the left earpiece. It worked just fine in my tests.

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