Words: Mike Blewitt

Photos: Mike Blewitt, Imogen Smith

In 2020 I was sent a pair of Earshots Bluetooth Wireless Headphones to test. The New Zealand based company had produced a set of headphones that could be used as a single ear or both, with good sound, easy controls, good battery life and a real boon for mountain bikers, runners and anyone in active sport – a design that just wouldn't budge.

The master stroke in headphone security was via a magnetic clasp, that held onto itself once place around your ear. Not only did this mean that the ear speaker stayed in place for audio quality, but it also meant the chance of losing one was just about zero. Riders using Earshots even had creative ways to store them when not in use, such as around their handlebars, where the ShockLock magnetic clasp meant they stayed in place!

With a simple Bluetooth connection, good battery life and a charging case that held more battery power, there was a lot to like. I really enjoyed using the Earshots when riding in Solo mode, opting to just use the left side so I could hear vehicles as I rode to the trails, or other trail users – and of course the wide world around me. The buttons on the back to skip tracks and do things like alert Siri on an iPhone.

There were a couple of drawbacks though. The fit was one size fits most, and those with tiny ears just couldn't have them stay on securely. The bud end was too large and the loop size and shape was pretty much set. As a small annoyance, I found they sat in the exact same space my glasses or sunglasses arms did, which did have them sitting asked when using the Earshots in Solo Mode. And for the lovers of a thumping bass line, the sound quality probably wasn't what you expected.

Enter Earshots 2

When I spoke to the Earshots' developer James Bell-Booth in 2020, it was obvious that chasing perfection was part of his make up. He'd been through so many prototypes to get the first product released, refining the ShockLock concept and optimising speaker orientation and fit. So when I gave him my feedback that was going in to the review, he assured me there would be changes in the future.

And these arrived in January 2022, with Earshots 2. What they saved on engaging creatives for model naming, they clearly put into product design and engineering instead. The units themselves make the previous generation look like a cute prototype. The smooth lines, soft rubber and reading glasses style charging case have been given the equivalent of a lift kit and wide diff upgrade to a 4WD. But this is not a cosmetic change.

The charging case looks like a mini Pelican case, and has an LED indicator to let you know how much charge is left. The earpieces automatically turn off when in the case (where they are held in place by the ShockLock magnets) and they top up the charge as well. You charge the case with the included USB-C cable. The case can hold up to 150 hours of play time, while the units themselves are claimed at over 10 hours. This is almost double what I got with the original, and way more than the case could carry.

The earpieces themselves have changed. It's nice to see the small recessed screws holding the backing on are gone, as on the originals did corrode with sweat. The elastic loop from the battery to the speaker is also able to be oriented in different positions, meaning the whole loop is all together more adaptable to different ear sizes and shapes.

Probably the biggest change is the size and orientation of the speaker, letting it sit better on the outside of your ear canal. But really, it's what's inside that counts.

The speaker and sound quality are in another world compared to the previous model. I'm no sound system geek, but comparing the two back to back shows the difference. I liked the original for the secure fit and ease of use on the bike, but the sound quality of the latest edition has me reaching for them more often for wireless headphone use around and about.

There is a lot more bass, and a lot more depth to the sound. If you're the kind of person who has a playlist designed to take them back to that time they stepped off a Contiki tour in Berlin and lost 4 months of their life to an underground rave scene – then this is probably a big deal. I'm not that obsessed with music, but I found the overall clarity for phone calls was better as well, plus I really enjoyed listening to music with them.

Lots of the features I like remain. The single button on the back of the earpiece is used to control skip or pause, and power. Volume control cannot be done by the buttons, and I used Siri when my phone was close enough, or reached into my pocket for the volume control on the side of my phone. I have spent a lot of time using the Aftershokx Aeropex bone conducting headphones as well, and I like the button on the right side of the unit for volume. I increase it for descents when there is more wind noise, and reduce volume (or pause music) where there are more trail or road users around. It seems a little simpler. The downside on that device is no solo only option, and missing the button sequence to skip a track and calling your last dialled number instead. Apologies to anyone with missed calls from me on early rides before work!

I did find I missed getting the exact fit right first up, but once I did get it there was no looking back. These things are still rock solid secure when riding, and actually sit differently and don't foul with my eyewear. In terms of overall sound quality, some might wish there was a noise cancelling through the microphone to keep the sound quality high, but I'm happy to be able to hear more of what else is happening. If you're after an immersive sound experience in the gym, or watching media, then get some nice noise cancelling over ear headphones. These are for sport and active use, and really excel thanks to their small size, epic battery life, sound quality and secure fit.

An extra detail worth noting is that the charge case and Earshots come in an easily recyclable cardboard container with the charge cord. All instructions are online, and the packaging folds flat to pop right into your recycling. There's no further waste. This is an official Good Thing that more companies should do.

Verdict

Riding with headphones isn't for everyone. It's downright rude on a social ride, and downright dangerous if you don't use common sense. But with Earshot's Solo Mode I find using one ear piece when riding is great. I can listen to some favourite tunes, ride trails, and even take calls if I need to catch my breath and pretend I'm in the office. They have an IPX4 waterproof rating which will shrug off even the heaviest sweat, or getting caught in a rain shower. Their battery life and charge case have vastly improved on the first version, and I don't remember the last time I plugged the charging case into a socket.

There are some downsides, including cost. The Earshots 2 come in at about $100 more than the first generation. They're a better unit, but it's a substantial increase. While you can't try these on for fit, you can't with other similar units either. Still, Earshots do have a 30 day trial and moneyback offer, which really shows that they believe in their product. I'd like to see volume control on the ear piece but Earshots aren't alone in not having that function. Overall they are a standout product for sports use.

RRP: $245

From: earshots.com

Hits:

  • Really secure fit and more fit options
  • Great sound quality
  • Solo only option
  • Long battery life
  • Reduced waste packaging

Misses:

  • No volume control on the earpieces
  • A little more expensive this time