The Sport Pulse has a couple small shortcomings, but it's a well-designed, good-sounding Bluetooth sports headphone that has a built-in heart-rate monitor.
I get a lot of emails about what I think the best wireless sports headphones are, and it's always a difficult question to answer. The Beats Powerbeats2 Wireless are the best-selling headphone in the category and offer decent fit and sound, but not everybody likes them for the price. The Plantronics BackBeat Fit is a better value and tends to get high marks from users (and me, too), but they aren't perfect either. And then there are a wealth of budget options that work OK, but they usually leave something to be desired, usually sound quality and durability.
Enter the Jabra Sport Pulse, a $200 stereo Bluetooth headphone that's not only sweat- and rain-resistant but also has an integrated heart-monitor sensor. It, too, has some small shortcomings, but it's one of the better in-ear wireless Bluetooth sports headsets currently available, especially if you're someone who uses a heart-rate monitor or is interested in using one. (The headphone is not officially available in the UK or Australia, but you can get it on Amazon UK for about £218.)
I like this Sport Pulse headphone better than Jabra's earlier Bluetooth model, the Rox, which now costs around $100. The biggest reason I like it better is that it fits my ears a lot better and I think there's a decent chance it will fit your ears well, too (by "well" I mean securely and comfortably). That said, with any in-ear headphone there's always a risk that you won't get a good fit and be disappointed.
It's worth noting that Sport Pulse was apparently designed in Denmark by a different group of engineers than the folks who designed the Rox (Jabra's parent company is GN Netcom), so the two headphones don't seem to have that much in common.
To help you achieve a better fit, Jabra includes various wings and silicon tips to customize the fit (I went with a medium wing and a larger eartip). The heart-rate sensor is designed to rest against the bottom of the inside rim of your ear opening. While the whole contraption looks a little big at first glance, it conforms to your ear better than you'd think, and the earpieces are lighter than the Rox's.
There's an in-line remote and microphone for making cell phone calls and the headphones come with a nice little carrying case. Also included is a small cord-management accessory (a few are included in case you lose one) that allows you to adjust the cord length of the headphone. Some people like a longer cord that rests more on the top of the shoulders while others want a shorter cord that sits on the back of the neck. The choice is yours.
This headphone offers NFC tap-to-pair technology, which is supported by many of the latest Android phones; it may someday be supported by iPhone 6/6 Plus and later iOS phones, too, if and when Apple decides to open up the NFC modules on those phones, which are currently devoted only to Apple Pay. I will say that pairing with an Android was a bit easier because when you first pair the Sport Pulse with an iOS device it's a two-step process (you to pair the heart-rate monitor, then the Bluetooth audio). I had a little trouble initially getting the headphone to pair with my iPhone 5S (it worked fine after the initial pairing). With my Samsung Galaxy S5, it was a one-step process.
The headphone's firmware is upgradeable (and so, too, is the app), and I updated to the latest firmware before I started this review without any trouble (you do have to connect the headphone to your computer via USB). In time, Jabra should add features to its Sport Life app.
To use the heart-rate monitor, you have to download the free Jabra Sport Life app, which is available for Android and iOS users, or another fitness app that supports heart-monitor connectivity via Bluetooth Smart (some people refer to this as Bluetooth LE or Bluetooth low-energy)
I thought the app was good. You can do timed runs, and the app will track your current heart-rate as well as your average heart-rate over the the course of a workout. It saves your history, updates your distance and pace (GPS must be activated on your phone) with intermittent voice prompts, and includes some built-in tests and a music player that allows you to tap into your music library.
Alternatively you can use a music service such as Spotify while the Jabra app is running (the voice "coach" prompts will lower the volume of your music but not pause it). As I said, you can also use the headphone with other fitness apps like Nike+, Endomondo and RunKeeper. The heart-rate monitor works with a lot of those fitness apps but not necessarily all of them (I got it to work with RunKeeper and Endomondo just fine).
As I said, the app's voice coach intermittently chimes in with the total time of your workout, current heart rate, and average heart rate. You can also tap the button on the left earpiece at any time to get that information.
If you can get a tight seal, the sound quality is pretty decent, though I wouldn't say these offer fantastic sound. They're a little bright and you do lose quite a bit of bass if you don't get a tight seal. They also have trouble handling more complicated songs with a lot instruments and frequencies thrown at them at once (it had a really hard time with Vampire Weekend's "Diane Young" track, for example).
For casual listening while you're working out, they do a good job, but as a said, a tight seal is crucial to maximizing sound quality, and I suspect that some people will think these sound very good while others may be underwhelmed. If you're working out hard, that tight seal can be hard to maintain.
Both the Beats PowerBeats2 Wireless and Plantronics BackBeat Fit are designed to have a looser fit and let some ambient sound in for safety reasons. These Jabras don't seem to be meant to be worn that way, but you can choose a smaller eartip and let more sound in so you can hear traffic while running or biking outside. But sound quality will suffer a bit.
It's worth mentioning that if you fiddle around with the headphones and make small adjustments for comfort and fit, the heart-rate monitor may lose your pulse and you'll get a voice prompt telling you you so. (Side note: As I was writing this sentence I got a voice prompt saying that my heart rate was 61 and that my average heart-rate was 57 and that I was in the "light" training zone.)
Jabra claims the hear-rate sensor is quite accurate. The caveat here is that most heart-rate monitors are all over the map in terms of accuracy, but my general impression is that it seems pretty accurate based at least on what my doctor measured my standing heart rate to be. (I'll update this review as we test other heart-rate monitor headphones, such as the $150 SMS Audio Bio Sport Earbud with Heart Monitor).
Battery life is rated at around 4.5 hours. That's not great, but most of these in-ear Bluetooth headphones max out at around 5 hours, so it's within expectations.
As I said, I like this Jabra Sport Pulse headphone and think it's one of the better wireless sports headphones out there, particularly in terms of fit and features. The heart-rate monitor adds to its value and although I think it could sound better for the price, it's certainly worth considering, particularly if the idea of the built-in heart-rate monitor appeals to you.