The Jabra Sport Elite is the headset and headphone maker's answer to our Hearable of the Year, the Bragi Dash. It's a pair of truly wireless earbuds that offers music playback sans cable and also goes big on sports tracking features, taking heart rate readings from the ear and offering in-ear coaching when you're burning off those calories.
It also includes many of the features we've already seen pop up in the Jabra Sport Pulse and Sport Coach Special Edition wireless sports headphones including VO2 Max testing and automatic rep counting.
At $249.99, they don't come cheap, but in the hearables realms, that's pretty much in line with what you can expect to pay for alternatives like the Dash or Samsung's Gear IconX wireless buds.
So do the Elite cut it in the gym and out on a run? Do they stay put and deliver on the sound front too? We've been putting the wireless buds through their paces to find out whether this is the sports hearable to beat.
Jabra Sport Elite: Design and comfort
The Elite follow the same design blueprint as other wireless buds that we've tried out. You've got your two earbuds and a carry case that also doubles as a charger.
Put them up against the buds on Jabra's Pulse headphones or the Dash and the Elite look quite bulky. That's because Jabra needed to find room to fit in a heart rate monitor, a tri-axis accelerometer to track motion, and four microphones (two in each bud). But don't let that put you off. They don't look big when they're in your ears and they're deceptively light as well.
As far as staying in your ears, it pays off to try out the different ear wings, gels and foam tips that come with the Elite. There are small, medium and large options, so there should be a decent fit for most and we actually found that just using the gels were sufficient enough for a snug fit. It's not just about fit though, they also offer differing levels of passive noise cancellation or enhanced bass to give you a better audio performance whether that's taking calls or working out to your high tempo playlists.
To keep you away from your phone, there are controls on both buds. Over on the left side there are volume controls that also double up as a way to skip tracks. On the right bud there are two more buttons to play/pause music, answer calls and get real time tracking updates from the app. You can also activate a HearThrough mode, which essentially mutes the music and lets you better hear your surroundings. All of the buttons are slightly raised as well so they're easy to distinguish during a workout.
If you're hoping to go for a dip in the pool with the these like the Dash, then you're out of luck. They're IP67 certified water resistant, which does mean they can survive in up to 3ft of water for 30 minutes, but they are not designed for swimming. For sweat and a run in the rain they're all good, but you should definitely refrain from putting them under water.
Jabra Sport Elite: Sports tracking
Like the Sport Pulse, there's no scrimping on the metrics the Elite delivers. During a run, you can record time, speed, distance, pace, steps, cadence, calories, heart rate, heart rate zones and even get VO2 Max estimations. The voice prompts can relay all of that data during a session, which you can filter from the app if you don't want the barrage of information. When you're sticking to cross training, it'll also count reps and it does this as well as the Sport Coach sports headphones do it.
Another addition is the real time audio coaching. While it's not quite to the level of coaching you're going to get from the Moov Now or Oakley's Radar Pace specs, it does give you some nice insights on aspects such as training effects scoring you from 1-5 on how useful your session was. It'll also tell you how much recovery time you're going to need before hitting the gym again. It's simple, but it's the kind of data that we felt was useful to provide a view of your current level of fitness.
While there are sensors aplenty inside these buds, you still need your phone to track GPS. Much like our experience with the Sport Pulse, there was the one occasion where mapping was a little off, but overall it's very reliable. We also put the cadence tracking to the test with the Moov Now strapped to our ankle and was surprised that data is pretty reliable as well.
Left to right: Jabra Sport (left and centre) and TomTom Spark 3 (right)
There is of course the little matter of heart rate tracking to talk about as well. It was pretty flawless on the Sport Pulse so we were expecting similarly good things from the Elite in that department as well. Unfortunately, it didn't quite work out like that.
It works in much the same way, using a light-based sensor that shines against the ear to detect pulse and oxygen consumption to deliver the bpm readings. Pitting it against the Polar H7 chest strap and TomTom Spark 3 running watch for several running and gym sessions we found that there was generally a 1-3bpm difference in average heart rate readings and graphs were fairly consistent.
Data becomes more questionable once you start looking at the maximum heart rate data however. At times the Elite recorded a reading that was as much as 12 bpm higher than the Spark 3 and the H7. That's enough to throw you into a whole different heart rate zone and skew some of the results. It's something we've found with other heart rate monitoring wireless sports including the Dash, making us wonder whether it may have something to do with the way the buds sit during high intensity activity.
Jabra Sport Elite: Sound quality
Lest we forget that these are a pair of Bluetooth buds that are made for listening to music. On that front, they do not disappoint. With a sound signature near identical to the Pulse and Coach headphones, you won't get any tinniness here. Audio is clear, there's warm but not overpowering bass and overall, sound quality is well balanced.
As we've already mentioned, play around with the buds to improve how things sound or to help block out more ambient noise if you prefer to zone out when you're getting your sweat on.
Jabra Sport Elite: The app
One of the most surprising elements of Jabra's big push into sports headphones is its impressive companion app. The iOS and Android-friendly Jabra Sport app is easy to navigate, plays nice with third party music apps like Spotify and is packed with useful sports tracking features. There's no third party app support, but when the Sport app is so polished it's something we can live without.
The layout and experience is more of the same with shortcuts at the bottom letting you jump into exercise history, achievements and settings. There's also a My body section where you can view you fitness level based on age and recovery status, letting you know if your body is ready and rested for another workout.
From the Workout screen you can opt to track a host of activities whether that's aerobic or cross training. You can also initiate the same VO2 max test featured on the Jabra Sport Pulse. There's a training plan section as well where you pick out the days you want to train and the app builds the plan. What's nice about these plans is that they adjust based on the intensity of training. It's like a more simplified version of Polar's adaptive running program.
The key here is that if you want to keep things simple and just track your workouts you can. If you want to take things further by building plans, drilling further into heart rate, you have that option as well. Crucially, the app does a good job of keep those beginner-friendly and hardcore fitness elements separate so it doesn't feel like an overwhelming place to review data.
Jabra Sport Elite: Battery life
There are a couple of issues that we have with the battery life on the Elite. One of those criticisms can perhaps be levelled at all existing wireless sports buds, but the other is something that Jabra should definitely address for the next generation Elite.
Jabra promises up to 3 hours of play time and that's exactly what you get. We've used them just for listening to music and for working out during a week, and you really won't get any more than that. An hour workout knocked around 20% off that 3 hour play time in our experience as well. We'd like to think that if there was the ability to disable the motion and heart rate sensors it might help matters, but it seems like this relatively short battery life is something we're just going to have to live with for the time being.
When you do run out, all you need to do is slip them into the carrying case to power them back up. You'll need to charge up the case via the micro USB cable first of course. A small LED light on the side of the case indicates battery level, so you'll know when you're ready to go again. When the charging case is fully charged, it can give you two full charges. Getting back to 100% can take a couple of hours. What's more of an issue is the fact that the buds do not lock into place inside the case. So if you chuck them in your bag (as we did many times), they fall out of place and you'll end up with a set of dead buds.
- Secure, comfortable fit
- Great sound quality
- Feature-packed app
- Buds don't securely sit in charging case
- Some questionable HR results
- Pretty expensive