It’s been two years now since Kiwi brand Earshots launched its first set of wireless earphones. Founder James Bell-Booth had been fed up with his headphones falling off or becoming dislodged while training for an adventure race and so he set about designing a set of earbuds that used magnets to stay put.
We reviewed the first-generation Earshots in April 2021 and wrote that they were impressive, apart from a frustrating control button and some average audio quality. Well, earlier this year, Earshots released version two of its eponymous offering, and so we figured we’d see what’s changed and whether the Earshots have improved.
Let’s start with what you get in the box, and it’s a short list: just the headphones in their charging case, and a USB-C cable to plug that charging case in. There’s no manual or instructions included – they’re online-only to reduce paper and ink usage. And the packaging itself is impressively minimal too – just a recyclable cardboard box, with no plastic wrapping or anything to be found. I wrote in my last review that I was impressed with the brand’s efforts to reduce its environmental impact and the same holds true here.
The charging case is noticeably heftier than it was for version one. There was nothing wrong with that original version, but the second-generation case is certainly more rugged, and the latch is also quite a bit sturdier. I also like the way the Earshots sit inside the case now. In the initial offering I often found it took a bit of jiggling to get the earbuds perfectly nestled to ensure they were charging properly. There’s no such faffing with version two: they snap right into place nicely, every time.
Once you pull the Earshots out of their case, they’re a cinch to fit. As before, the main speaker driver fits just inside your ear, and then the main body of the Earshots wraps around your ear, with two magnets helping to keep the unit snug against your ear. It’s just the right amount of hold – once in place, they don’t feel like they’re going anywhere but equally the hold isn’t so strong that they’re pinching your ear or uncomfortable in any way.
The actual Earshots themselves are a little bigger and bulkier than before, with a protruding section on each unit that makes them a little easier to pull out of your ears. I think the original Earshots were a little sleeker-looking and less angular, but really that’s a minor point in the grand scheme of things.
Getting the Earshots connected to your smartphone or either Bluetooth-compatible device is as easy as you’d hope and subsequent connections happen quickly and automatically when you turn the Earshots on.
As before the Earshots are operated by a single button that’s found on each of the two earpieces. Press and hold to turn the Earshots on or off, press once to play or pause Bluetooth audio, and use a double press for skipping tracks – all the usual stuff you’d expect from Bluetooth headphones.
That new button location is worth noting though – it’s one of the biggest upgrades in this version of the Earshots.
I complained in my previous review that the location of the button was a little frustrating. With the button being quite stiff, you had to push quite hard in a direction parallel to the side of your head, which was a little awkward, and for me at least, that meant the earbud came out slightly each time I pressed the button.
This time around the button has moved and pressing it in means you’re pushing it in towards your head. The buttons are still firmer than I’d probably like but at least now your head provides an equal resistance force and the earbud doesn’t come out when you’re pushing. That’s a big improvement.
Speaking of big improvements, one of the things Earshots really worked hard on with this generation was improving audio quality for music, podcasts, and phone calls. I wrote last time that the first-generation Earshots sounded fine, but that the audio was quite thin and especially lacking in bottom end.
There’s been a clear improvement this time around. Audio sounds much fuller and richer, and there’s more than ample bass now. Before I wouldn’t have recommended the Earshots for listening to music (assuming you wanted decent quality) but now I wouldn’t hesitate to do so. Everything sounds much nicer with the next-gen Earshots.
But that brings us to a key point. As with the original design, the second-generation Earshots are designed to let in some amount of external sound, to help keep you aware of your surroundings and, ultimately, as safe as possible.
Staying safe is obviously paramount, but there’s an interesting tension here for cyclists. At lower speeds, you’ll be able to hear whatever your Earshots are playing just fine. But when your speed increases, it can be hard to hear audio clearly over the wind noise that’s rushing in. I found that if I wasn’t wearing a head covering over the Earshots, or had some other way of blocking out wind noise, I’d routinely need to pause whatever I was listening to whenever I was descending.
The Earshots weren’t designed just for cyclists in mind, and clearly wind noise would be less of an issue for runners or the adventure racers that designed them. But for us cyclists, the Earshots’ usefulness is arguably decreased somewhat by their ability to allow external sound in. Whether that’s a problem for you or not is a matter of personal preference. Ultimately, pausing a podcast while you’re descending is probably a small price to pay for greater situational awareness throughout your ride.
When it comes to battery life, there’s plenty on tap here. The Earshots offer 10 hours of runtime when fully charged and the case itself can reportedly give you up to 150 hours without itself being recharged. When you compare those numbers to the four hours and 16 hours available with the original Earshots, that’s a considerable improvement (and explains why the charging case is significantly bulkier now).
The Earshots have an IPX 5 waterproof rating, which means they “can resist a sustained, low-pressure water jet spray.” That’s an improvement on the IPX4 rating from the first generation, which already seemed to perform fine in the rain.
On the issue of moisture resistance, I’ve found the second-generation Earshots to be a step up when it comes to dealing with sweat. The original Earshots had four grub screws on the head-facing side of each unit and I found that over time, these screws started to rust a little. The second-generation Earshots don’t have those screws. I’d still recommend giving them a wipe down after each ride though – the connector pins for the charging case sit on the head side of the unit, and these can corrode if left to marinate in sweat.
So what about the cost? Well, the second-generation Earshots will set you back AU$199, with free shipping, globally. That price is AU$40 more than the originals sold for.
To me, that price is reasonable, if perhaps a touch expensive. It makes them about 50% more expensive than the Tribit MoveBuds, for example, but quite a bit cheaper than the very popular Jabra Elite Active 75T.
Overall, I’ve been impressed with the second-generation Earshots and I’d say they’re a clear improvement over their predecessor. The biggest upgrade is certainly the audio quality but the improved ergonomics of the new button location have offered me just as much satisfaction. I didn’t realise how much the old button placement was irritating me until I tested the new version, then compared the two side by side.
But as with any headphones used in a cycling context, a lot of the value of the Earshots will come down to your own situation and how much external noise you’d like to hear. Some riders vociferously denounce the use of headphones while riding in any context, others are comfortable with something that offers some awareness, while others still will happily ride with noise-cancelling headphones on. I’d say that if you’re in either the first or last of those three camps, the Earshots aren’t for you, but if you fall in the middle, there’s a lot to like here.
For more information, head over to Earshots.com.