Listening to music while riding can be pretty polarising. People are either really into it: welcoming the addition of tunes to their riding experience, either hyping them up or calming them down depending on the trail at hand; or they prefer to hear the uninterrupted noise of their bike gliding across the terrain, saving all their headspace for the task at hand rather than drifting off, following the music, or podcast, to a different place or time. Of course, then there are those people with a boom box wedged in a bottle cage whilst out in the forest….don't be one of them.
I sit somewhere between the aforementioned camps, preferring the whooping and hollering of my riding crew when there are a few of us or, if I'm solo (which I am for the majority of my riding) it's a single earbud, with the spare one winding around a helmet strap to stop it swinging up and slapping me in the face.
Although I've ventured into the Bluetooth earphone world before, it's always been a struggle to tick the necessary 'boxes', so I keep reverting back to the white wired classics. What am I after? First off, they need to bang – like slap, you know, not distort under the pressure of a heavy bass line, but also stay crisp at the higher clean notes; they need to stay put while riding; they have to allow just enough of the outside world in; they must be comfortable enough and have enough battery to wear for long periods; they need to operate as singles (rather than requiring both sides to be 'on'); and, just as importantly, they shouldn’t cost too much because, well, who knows what's going to happen while you're out riding. I'm not really asking for much, am I?!
Just when I'd all but given up hope of being able to find my ideal riding earphone, in rolls the Kiwi-designed and owned Earshots. I started noticing a slew of new online ads about them and saw that a handful of Kiwi riders had been added to their team. My initial interests piqued again and, days later, I landed a pair of the newly released Generation 2 Earshots. The game changed, and I wondered if maybe I’d just found the solution to my audio issues?
Presented in completely redesigned and recyclable cardboard packaging, the Earshots keep it clean and simple. Everything you don't need can be tossed straight in the recycling, leaving you with a charging cable and the industrial-looking case containing the actual earphones (which also doubles as a charging dock) and nothing else.
Like every other classic Kiwi bloke, I ploughed in sans instructions and after enough trial and error, but no swearing, I got them to fit correctly. Once they were on my ears, I figured I may as well read the instructions to see if I’d missed anything of note. The packaging has brief, but concise, instructions printed on it but that had already been ditched in the recycling bin, so a quick Google and, voila, I was deep in the Earshots website reading step-by-step instructions on how to fit them easily (unlike how I initially fitted them). I absorbed a few more operational details, sussed what the button on each unit did (skip track, pause, take a phone call) and I was ready for some tunes. The lesson here is: save yourself some time and read the instructions first!
The ‘Shocklock’ magnetic clip comfortably locks the earphones in place and gives you confidence that they're not going anywhere. The magnet isn’t noticeable, just a gentle hug of the ear and they're staying put. Simple adjustability means you can tailor the bud angle to suit the shape of your ear and ensure a secure yet comfortable fit.
My phone was out of reach (playing 'Twinkle Twinkle Little Star' on repeat to get the kids to sleep - true story!) so I synced up to my laptop, cracked a coldie, opened YouTube and dove headfirst into an evening-long YouTube music wormhole. I started off with some Radiohead (In Rainbows Live From The Basement), and ended up with some Rage Against The Machine (The Battle of Mexico City) via Kendrick Lamar (King Kunta), Bon Iver (at AIR Studios 4AD/Jagjaguwar Session) and a bunch of other varied classics – see the full playlist below. This was a sufficient and eclectic mix to confirm the Earshots ticked the box when it comes to audio quality and pure sound pleasure.
When I’m not on the bike, I usually enjoy tunes on the over-the-ear headphones from the ‘Billionaire’ brand, for the full experience. Unfortunately, they're no good for any activity other than sitting still: on the stationary bike they get drenched in sweat, at the gym they fall off, and it's impossible to wear them mountain biking. But none of these are issues you'll strike with the Earshots. From a riding point of view, they do what they say on the box: they stay put regardless of how hard you’re “shralping”.
I'm honestly surprised how good the sound quality is compared to my regular headphones, there's not a lot of difference. I'm no audiophile but I know ‘good’ and ‘bad’ sound. Kendrick Lamar's 'King Kunta' has a deep bassline and the Earshots allowed it to truly shine where inferior units would crackle and pop; they certainly lean towards the more ‘bass-heavy’ end of the sound spectrum but, to be fair, that's what most of us are after when out riding, right?! The added bonus over many modern earphones, is that these don’t seal off the outside world completely, allowing some ambient sound to make it through to your eardrums.
While the Earshots have become my go-to earphones when doing any activity, they do have some small (but not deal-breaking) niggles. Getting them to sit just right on your ears does take some time to get right, the more you do it, the easier it becomes but they're not as simple as regular earphones to just throw on. The case does a great job of protecting the earphones, and recharging them while not in use, but it's pretty large. That's not a biggie if you're out for a normal ride, as you'll have ample battery life to get you through, but if you're on a multi-day, off-grid bike adventure (i.e. bikepacking) then you'll need the charging capability of the case, and if you're packing ultra-light you probably won't have room for it. I do wonder if the brains of the Earbuds, which sit behind each ear, might come into contact with some helmet straps depending on model and size? This is not something I’ve come up against personally, but might be worth keeping in mind. The only other feature which would be handy is a volume control on the earphones themselves, rather than needing to fish your phone from your pocket.
The bottom line is, if you like to ride with music or podcasts and you're still rolling around with wires between your device and your ears, you're missing out on the freedom, security, and audio quality of the wireless Earshots. Ditch the wires… even derailleurs are doing it these days.
Suggested bangers for your Earshots:
Radiohead - In Rainbows Live From The Basement
Shy FX - Roll the Dice ft Lilly Allen
Protoje - Who Knows feat Chronixx Shy FX Remix
Dub FX & Stamina MC - Only Human
MEUTE - You & Me (Flume Remix)
System Of A Down - Toxicity Live from BDO 2002
LCD Soundsystem - Someone Great (Live on Austin City Limits - Web Exclusive)
Bon Iver - Full Concert | NPR MUSIC FRONT ROW
Rage Against The Machine - The Battle of Mexico City
Distributed by Earshots
Reviewed by Lester Perry