Earshots Bluetooth headphones are light and comfortable - and stay in place when you're mountain biking.
Whether you ride for fitness, for performance or to escape, you might have the need for a set of headphones to accompany you on your off-road escapades. As music on the move has progressed from iPods through to smart phone storage and of course streaming, there's an endless list of what you can listen to, and it's something that is a habit for many of us when commuting or working. Whether you choose to rock out to your favourite beats, listen to podcasts, catch up on news or drown out colleagues' whinging with white noise, there are endless uses for wireless headphones.
Over ear wireless headphones keep many happy with their clarity and depth of sound, but most of us don't want to get around looking like a DJ wannabe. Plus they're bulky, and don't really work well with a bike helmet if you want to use them on the trails. Smaller ear bud style headphones are far easier to use on your bike, and while the corded ones need an engineering plan to stay in place around a helmet and sunglasses, the wireless ones can rely on good luck and a prayer to stay in place. James Bell-Booth in New Zealand was one guy who had the same problems, but knew there had to be a solution. And his Earshots Wireless Headphones are that elegant solution, they use two magnets to stay in place and offer a range of functions via your phone. It wasn't an overnight success story though.
“From October 2020, it will be 6 years ago that I started with idea of magnets and visualising the feel of the headphones,” James explained when I spoke to him over the phone. “I knew it would work, and I paid a product designer for a prototype, but it failed.”
From there, James needed to delve into the world of plastic moulding and 3D printing, making literally hundreds of prototypes at his kitchen table. The challenge was to get the position of the speaker correct, and that of the two small magnets, which needed to be aligned correctly to stay in place without needing to be overly strong, or big.
And the result? Earshots are a comfortable, light weight set of Bluetooth headphones that have a 4 hour battery life, and exceptional sound quality. And while you can find those easily enough, the Earshots also add incredible stability when riding – I haven't managed to make mine budge through a couple of months of use. But there's more going on.
A closer look
Earshots come delivered in a case, which is also your charging port. You can have four charges held in the cases battery, and the earpieces automatically turn off when you put them back in their ports. They're also held in by magnets for convenience. It's a small and strong case, which you can charge via the included USB cable.
There's no excess paper instructions with the Earshots, just a cardboard box with a website address. And that address is full of instructions and videos on setup. From pairing, to using just one Earshot (called Solo mode) and of course skipping tracks, taking a call, and more.
You fit them by placing the ear bud section in your ear, and wrapping the top over your ear, with the unit sitting behind. The magnets hold it in place, and given the silicone finish it's very comfortable. Each unit has a button on the back, and you can pair them together or separately depending on how you want to use them. Pairing was as simple as any Bluetooth device.
In use and on the trail
I've erred away from using headphones when riding over the past 7 years or so. I used to use them a lot when banking more time on the bike. Listening to a selection of favourite Essential Mixes was a surefire way to get high tempo rides done, and using headphones through European winters could help keep you out on the bike longer. But, wired headphones were fiddly, and they did impede on what you could hear from surrounding riders, traffic, or just generally how your bike was working.
And for all those reasons, I liked the fact that the Solo Mode was included. And James said it was a big part of the design process.
“The original concept was for a single ear piece. I still like to hear what my bike is doing, or my footsteps and breathing when I'm running. I did wonder if the market would accept a single unit.” In the end a pair was devised, and you can set them up for Solo Mode when firing them up. Left or right, take your pick.
Fitting them is easy, but not without constraints. They are one size fits most, and the Earshots didn't fit smaller ears in my household. I did find that I had to think a little more about eyewear as well. The top of the unit goes right where your sunglasses, or glasses arm goes. So depending on the real estate available (not much) you need to pick if they run next to each other or the glasses arm goes on top. It has a minor, but noticeable impact on fit and how your eyewear sits, more so if you use the Solo Only option. I tend to take my glasses on and off a fair bit when riding so I did need to be mindful to not flick the Earshot away at the same time, or knock it off when putting my glasses back on.
Sound quality is really good, as James noted, it's all about how the speaker lines up with your ear canal.
“The speaker is high quality, but the sound will be influenced by the shape of your ear. So there is a large variability and the design of the earbud will continue to evolve.”
One feature I didn't think I'd use but ended up really rating was the phone connectivity, as you can receive a call with a quick press of the button on the back of the ear piece, and the inbuilt microphone picks up your voice. Combine that with a bike GPS that lets you know who is calling, and you can pick and choose who you speak to without stopping your ride. This actually became one of my favourite features when paired with my Wahoo ELEMNT Roam.
James sees the use of microphones as an area to develop for Earshots, specifically about helping with what headphones can sometimes cover up – like the sound of other trail or road users.
“How do we use microphones to enhance what is going on?” James asks. He also wants Earshots to be involved in the riding experience, with downloadable ride guides for different trail centres, so you can have a hands-free heads up for what lies ahead for the first time you drop in to a trail at a new ride destination.
With such a secure wireless headphone already produced, the ways to use the Earshots will only increase. Whether it's for listening to a podcast while working on your bike, banging out a ride to your favourite tracks, taking calls while on the trail, or catching up on some classic tunes that your wife teases you about if you don't use headphones, there's a lot of use for these away from the bike.
With James promising there is more to come around fit and sizing, I'm excited to see what might come out in coming years. It is evident that a lot of thought and rider feedback has been put into the design and functions of the Earshots, and I'm enjoying getting some rides done with a soundtrack again – without losing expensive earpieces or getting tangled.
RRP: $160 plus shipping
Good audio quality
lots of functions
They don't fit tiny ears