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TechnologyTell Review: BlueAnt Pump HD Sportbuds

Sections: Accessories, Audio, Communications, Headphones, Mobile, Portable Audio, Reviews, Smartphones

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If you’ve ever tried running or working out with a set of cabled headphones, you likely know the feeling of inconvenience they present. If the cords aren’t getting in the way somehow, they’re banging around and generating line noise. When you’re done, they need to get wrapped up without tangling. Depending on the workout intensity, you might need to wipe sweat and/or grime off too.

Wireless headphones make listening to music during rigorous activity a breeze. Try it once, and you’re likely to ditch your old ways and go cordless. While there are a selection of wireless headphones to choose from, very few have water- or sweat-resistance in mind. One such kind by BlueAnt goes a step further with waterproof earbuds you can rinse off for quick cleaning.

Design

The BlueAnt Pump HD Sportbuds may appear to look big and strange for those new to this type of product. By type, I mean wireless earbuds that go behind the ear. The exterior is soft to the touch, and it’s designed to help wick away moisture. A short, flat cable connects the right to left, which is pretty much all you need. The USB port is safely secured under a watertight, silicone seal.

BlueAnt Pump HD Sportbuds

They look bigger than they feel

The controls are located on the right-ear unit. I like how the buttons are raised and far apart from each other to feel them individually. Thankfully, the earbuds stay in place and don’t require adjustment after each button press. A long press on the volume buttons serve to skip and replay songs. The play/pause doubles for power as well as taking hands-free calls. That’s it!

The BlueAnt Pump HD Sportbuds beep at you when pairing has been successful, when min or max volumes have been reached, when it’s turning on/off, and when it’s running low on battery. So long as you’re paying attention, you’ll never have to wonder what’s going on. However, if you have a few questions, the included manual is simple and lays out the main parts you’ll want to know. But if you’re ever paired a Bluetooth speaker or device to your smartphone or tablet, you’ll feel right at home.

These earbuds are designed tough and built to last. You can toss them in a bag with little concern about being crushed (good luck with trying to crush). The short cable is tangle-free and features some durable rubber connections to the main earbud body. These, too, aren’t likely to rip apart unless you’re applying that kind of destructive force. Otherwise, the BlueAnt Pump HD Sportbuds are going to handle everything you’ll be doing in a day.

Despite the diminutive size, these earbuds can deliver at least eight hours of playtime before needing to charge back up. I’ve been able to squeak out a little over nine hours, likely due to lower-volume listening levels. Either way, for most people, the BlueAnt Pump HD Sportbuds can provide music for a week’s worth of workouts.

Comfort

If you’ve never worn wireless earbuds like these before, it’ll take a bit of practice to get them on quickly. The neck part that goes over the ear is flexible, so I just stick the buds in my ears and work the body up and around. Once they’re on, adjust them a bit and you’re probably good to go. Included in the package is an array of different-sized tips as well as stabilizers for better hold. There’s also a set of foam tips to use when you need to have a greater audible awareness of your surroundings. Experiment with the different tips and find the best fit before wearing them for too long.

BlueAnt Pump HD Sportbuds tips

BlueAnt gives serious comfort customization

Comfort with earbuds is subjective, and the BlueAnt Pump HD Sportbuds are no different. I can only talk about how they fit me; it takes a couple of days to determine if comfort is sufficient for any individual. I wear prescription glasses, so that is always the first thing I consider when feeling out any earbud or set of headphones. Personally, I can’t stand wearing anything that will press up against my glasses stems and tweak with my vision.

The BlueAnt Pump HD Sportbuds work totally fine for me. Everyone has a different ear shape, but I can say that these earbuds hang on my ears without nudging up against my glasses. Once in the ear, there isn’t a whole lot of play in terms of how much you can move it around to adjust. I can say that BlueAnt has the angle of the tip going into the ear canal just right. At least for me, it sits pretty evenly inside without pressing so much on any one side.

Despite how it looks, these earbuds don’t bear down on the ear from its weight. They certainly don’t feel as bulky wearing them as one would think. The BlueAnt Pump HD Sportbuds hold in the ear well, even without adding the stabilizers. Stabilizers – I don’t use them. They drive me absolutely nuts, but others can experience no problems (or even be in love) with them.

The connecting cable is stiff enough so that it doesn’t drop on your neck, yet flexible enough that bumping one earpiece doesn’t jostle or tug on the opposing one. Mostly. On occasion it happens, but it might only require a small tweak. Also included in the package is a clip meant to tighten the cord closer to the back of the head. This does actually provide a better, more snug fit with less movement. To BlueAnt’s credit, the Pump HD Sportbuds do stay in through rigorous activity, sweat and all.

For extended wear, I find these earbuds neither comfortable nor uncomfortable. After an hour or a half or so of wearing, my ears want a bit of a break. If I am active, with my mind focused elsewhere, I don’t really notice it as much. But this is pretty standard for me and earbuds overall. The only real discomfort I experience with the BlueAnt Pump HD Sportbuds is when grin or yawn.

The outside edge/rim of the earbud part presses into my right ear, but only on my right ear. Straight-faced, the fit is fine. But as soon as my jaw muscles open up, the behind-the-ear part of the earbuds shifts forward just enough to pinch this one part of my ear. While it’s not unbearable, it’s certainly an annoying nuisance. I’m positive that this has to do with my physiology versus the Pump HD Sportbuds’ shape, and not due to any kind of defect or oversight.

Audio Quality

The first thing I noticed with the BlueAnt Pump HD Sportbuds is that there is no hiss or white noise with the Bluetooth connection. It’s not like I was expecting it, but sometimes that can happen with wireless audio products. Thankfully, the sound comes out clear. These earbuds feature AptX and AAC codecs for wired-quality sound with mobile devices equipped with those same codecs. I have AptX on my Samsung Galaxy Note 2, so everything is good.

BlueAnt Pump HD Sportbuds controls

The controls are easy, intuitive

The overall volume is controlled by both the Pump HD Sportbuds and the connected device. Although maxing out both isn’t unbearable, it’s definitely past my comfort level. With that being said, some (likely few) people will find the max volume to be insufficient.

I think that it should be adequate for most, even in noisy or active environments. At least there’s the peace of mind, knowing you can’t easily (or quickly) blow your eardrums out. Besides, I checked the upper volume thresholds long enough to hear music turn muddy before reaching distortion-levels at the top. These are best to keep toned down for the sake of audio quality.

Although the BlueAnt Pump HD Sportbuds showcase a cozy soundstage, there’s still a good separation between individual elements. It handles complexity pretty well without having instruments step on or overlap each other much at all. The right to left imaging is good, maybe even a bit playful.

Non-metallic instruments, such as piano, string, or wind, have pretty accurate tones that are fun. You hear much of these in Glenn Morgan’s album, Southwind. The detail is good, although the BlueAnt Pump HD Sportbuds can’t deliver the kind of depth one would find in a higher-tier set of headphones. The music is far from sounding flat, and there are many instances of clarity in the highs. I particularly like how violins sound sweet and the way the Pump HD Sportbuds captures transitions between delicate and purposefully energetic. But these sounds can border on sounding artificial, too.

As one might expect, the highs can turn tinny and/or distant, especially at the topmost end. These earbuds add a brightness, which is almost a bit much for my tastes. The metallic taps on cymbals and hi-hats remind me hitting chopsticks on a cooking pan or tin can. Sometimes I find it humorous while listening to some rock songs. Guitars open up, ready for action, and along with the drums kicking in you hear this dinky “tink tink tink tink” that tries so hard to sound cool, yet fails. Other times, that sound is closer to a sliding sizzle instead of a ring. No biggie, since it’s the standard fare for earbuds around this price bracket.

BlueAnt Pump HD Sportbuds USB port

The USB port has a tight seal to keep water out

The vocals are good. Despite how the instruments in the highs sound, the vocals are clear and powerful. This kind of forward vocals extend down into the range of the mids as well. Even with more than one singer, the vocals are distinct and in front of the instruments. This, I like. Unless a song creates it as such, the instruments won’t outshine the vocals, maintaining proper placement and that bit of depth.

I like the sounds of guitars in the mids. They’re enjoyable and good, even while they lack some energy and presence. Compared to the highs and lows, the mids are underrepresented and leave me wanting a bit more. Some music, like A Perfect Circle, sound just ok. Other music, like The Fratellis, sound better since more mids edge closer to the highs or lows. If you’re looking for balanced sound, it’s not going to be with the BlueAnt Pump HD Sportbuds.

If you like low-end power and energy, you got it. While they may not be super deep or full, you’re going to get more than most other earbuds in the same price tier. Between the two, I’d say that the lows are more full than they are deep. Depending on the kind of music you tend to listen to, this may sound good or not enough. With music that is big on lows, the BlueAnt Pump HD Sportbuds might sound a little lacking. Personally, I think they’re good for what they are.

Drum hits go beyond just the top end of the lows. You do get a bit of that boom feeling in your ear while listening. If anything, these earbuds value control over power, keeping the low-end sounds within respectable bounds. Because the BlueAnt Pump HD Sportbuds don’t attempt to go beyond their capability, the music sounds better for it.

Bass and drums are separate and distinguishable when playing simultaneously. Sometimes the lows can sound a little loose and blendy, but for the most part the reproduction is good and solid. The only real drawback, with how the BlueAnt Pump HD Sportbuds emphasize the lows, occurs while listening to music that doesn’t have much going on down there. You’ll hear more low-end sound than is necessary or supposed to be in the song. This is especially noticeable when the bass guitar dominates the lead guitar.

Waterproof & Wireless

The biggest deal, and primary selling point of the BlueAnt Pump HD Sportbuds, is the waterproof feature. These earbuds are IP67 rated, which means they’re dustproof and can handle immersion up to a meter. So long as the Micro USB cover has a tight seal, there’s little concern to have in or around water. I’ve sweat, swam (no diving), and showered with these in, all the time listening to music. It’s really, seriously cool to have that kind of personal music bubble when you normally couldn’t.

The earbuds have a decent Bluetooth wireless range, but nothing spectacular. I’ve been able to walk away from my smartphone by about 22 feet or so before the connection starts to break. Through a wall, I’ll get 18 feet before reaching the edge; 14 feet if that wall is a structure (e.g. garage) wall. So unless the connected mobile device is sufficiently waterproofed, the BlueAnt Pump HD Sportbuds are going to have to stay fairly close. While at a pool, I found it best to leave my stuff on a chair at the middle-point of the pool. When it was left at one end, I’d lose the signal by the time I reached the opposite side.

Verdict

The BlueAnt Pump HD Sportbuds deliver some serious audio, although “audiophile quality” is highly dubious, despite the AptX and AAC codecs. These earbuds are unbalanced, favoring brighter highs and meaty lows. The mids don’t get enough love, which sort of kill it for that audiophile rating. Overall, the sound is enjoyable for the price and function.

But considering that these earbuds are meant to withstand sweat, water, and grime during activity, they get a pass for being unbalanced. When I’m working out, I want that beat to cut through the sound of surrounding noises and my own breathing. Having big highs and lows help to accomplish that (even though the highs get that tinny aspect). Even though the mids lack the oomph, the vocals stay strong.

The BlueAnt Pump HD Sportbuds are not meant for sitting around for general listening. You can, however, but you won’t get the same comfort as a standard set of headphones. These are action earbuds for busy people, who want lasting durability with wireless connectivity. There aren’t many earbuds that you can (safely) take in the shower and rinse off with, let alone the wireless kind. If you’re ready to cut the hassles of having a cable during your workout, the BlueAnt Pump HD Sportbuds make a great pick.

 

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