BlueAnt’s Pump wireless headphones caught my eye at Mobile World Congress. Sports gear that also looks cool? Count me in!
I’ve been giving theses waterproof Bluetooth headphones a workout since they arrived last week, and I love them. That’s not to say they’re perfect – they’re not. But they have a job to do, and they get on and do it.
While these aren’t the best-sounding headphones I’ve tested, they’re the most fun. My little Sony XBA-C10’s offer a more accurate sound, with better highs, but the Pumps, uh, pump out a lively sound with a huge (yet still-controlled) bass.
They are, then, the perfect headphone for doing sports, sound-wise. Your motivational tunes will rock. And who cares if the treble sounds a little bit dull? The big bass and the open, surprisingly detailed midtones make up for it.
This is my first pair of Bluetooth headphones and I’m impressed. There’s a bit of a hiss when a track ends, before the Pump’s brain cuts the audio entirely, and the steps on the built-in volume buttons are a little large – if you want to fine-tune the volume you’ll need to do that from the iPhone.
But the sound is great for wireless, and the lack of a trailing cable not only means you won’t get tangled – it also means the headphones don’t boom. With typical wired, sealed in-ear buds, anything that touches the cable tends to rustle and bump into your ear. When I walk in my Sonys, I hear the relentless clomping of my footsteps as I walk – and I’m pretty light-footed. That’s not to say the Pumps are immune to noise. I wore them in the shower and when the water hits the connecting cable, you know about it.
Pairing the Pumps is easy, and – more important – subsequent pickup is almost instant. Switch on the headphones (a long press on the play button), press play and they connect to the phone right away. No messing with the Bluetooth settings panel. You also get a little battery-level readout in the iPhone’s status bar, like you do with some other Bluetooth speakers and headsets.
Speaking of headsets, you can also use the Pump to make and take calls. It’ll work – in emergencies. The sound is tinny, distant and pretty bad. But then, who makes phone calls these days anyway? Even Siri has trouble understanding me. She keeps playing Boards of Canada instead of Led Zeppelin.
The Pumps’ environmentally hostile packaging (there’s way too much of it) comes filled with headphone tips and other widgets. You get two pairs each of large, medium and small silicone tips so you can get a good seal, plus a pair of “Comply” tips, made from foam, and two pairs of stabilizers.
Finally, you get a microUSB charging cable and a little clip to shorten the connecting cable if you have a particularly small head.
Like any sealed earbuds, you need to work at it a little. If you don’t get them in right, they’ll sound awful. But once you get them seated and sealed into your canals, you’ll be amazed. Traffic noise disappears, and the bass is huge — I smiled when I first heard it. It’s not crazy, over-the-top bass, but instead it pumps away with some control. Like I said, the treble lacks a bit, lending the headphones a very slight in-the-shower sound, but this is compared to some pretty good wired headphones. For $130 waterproof Bluetooth cans, they sound amazing.
Comfort-wise, they do OK once they’re in. The over-the-ear design is meant to stop them from sagging and pulling on the inner part of your ear, but they’re a bit too big for me, so they wiggle slightly as I walk. They don’t come loose – they just flap a little. The (optional) stabilizer bars help, and they really keep the buds in place, but they still wobble.
Also, while these are waterproof, if you use them underwater, water can enter and screw up the sound. I thought I’d broken them the first time I took then in the shower but no – I’d just blocked one ear. Also – FYI – the rear cable makes it hard to shampoo the back of your head. And if you wear a mullet, forget about washing your hair.
One final tip on tips. The Comply Premium Awareness Tips trade off bass for transparency. These foam tips let you hear what’s going on around you instead of sealing out the outside world. I’m wearing them right now and I can hear everything, from the trams passing outside to the incessant beeping of our Slack chat notifications as Luke and Killian work off their morning caffeine buzz.
Despite the tradeoff, the Pumps actually sound decent. In fact, I kind of prefer them for listening to podcasts, as you can walk the streets and still cross the road safely, and you can even pay for stuff in a store and talk to the assistant without taking off your headphones. Of course, not taking them off is a social no-no, but the foam pads have another advantage over the sealed ones – they don’t take forever to get back in again.
The Pumps sound far better than I expected, and I like the freedom of wireless headphones. I also like that they stay in place. I used to ride my bike (off-road) with wired headphones and the biggest danger was that I was always fiddling with them, or catching the wire. The Pumps are set and forget. Put them in and do what you came to do. Recommended.
Pump by BlueAnt ($130 list)
The good: Big bass; comfy; strong Bluetooth connection; mostly indestructible.
The bad: Takes some work to get them in place; lacking in treble.
The verdict: Considering how well the Pumps do their allotted job, these things are a steal.
Buy from BlueAnt