To jam or not to jam …. headphone review

Posted: March 9, 2010 in Product Review
Tags: , , ,

A week ago Sunday I was heading into the final mile of my 12-mile long run when one of my all-time favorite songs (running or otherwise) greeted me on the footbridge near my home – Springsteen’s Born to Run.  After my run it got me thinking about a new playlist for the Boston and Pittsburgh Marathons – we even took some requests and got a few recommendations in the comments section on the blog:

I have always trained to music and really enjoy it.  I currently have 1,044 songs in my iTunes library with 15 different playlists that I rotate around between my long runs, tempo runs, speed work or recovery runs.  In fact over the last 5 years of running essentially 5 times a week there have been fewer than 10 occasions where I did not run while listening to music. 

Philly Marathon 2006

My first marathon at Philadelphia in 2006 I ran without music.  I remember running my final 20 mile training run before Philly without music to simulate race conditions.  On a fishing trip with a friend in 2007 we decided to knock out a quick 5-miles and did so talking and chatting.  And over the years I’ve had a few occasions where on the road I forgot my Nano or experienced a technical difficulty with my charger or earphones.  That’s it.  1,300 runs +/- and all but 10 of them I’ve been jamming to more than 1,100 hours of music.  I would say that places me firmly in the “Run with Music” camp of distance runners.

There are a lot of runners who really would rather hear the world around them when they are on the road or trail and do not train with music.  That’s what is so great about the sport of distance running; everyone finds their own solitude in a different way.  Whether it is chatting with their running club friends, listening to their feet pound the pavement or rocking out to Bruce and the E. Street Band.

But last week when I was reading through some postings on Daily Mile there were quite a few runners that cited the reason that they did not run to music was they could not find a comfortable and/or affordable set of ear buds that would stay in place.  So they simply ran without.

Like most things that I learned about running and specifically running equipment, I learned about earphones through trial and error.  But about 3 years ago I stumbled upon a set of earphones that worked so well and have become so comfortable – frankly it never occurred to me to share them with everyone.  So if you have been looking for a new pair of ear buds or are simply thinking about giving running with music another try – I wanted to introduce you to the Arriva line of headphones.

The Arrivas were originally designed for snowboarders and rock climbers who needed headphones that would not move around.  They are constructed from a zig-zag wraparound wire that clings to your head like “tentacles”.  The ear phones are completely flexible and soft but at the same time just rigid enough to keep light pressure on your head so they stay in place even at a full out sprint.

If you can imagine a tension like mechanism with “memory” that is how the earphones are constructed.  The ends loop over the tops of your ear and down into your ear canal with three different sized soft-plastic buds that you can switch out for the best fit.  I use the largest bud inserts and once I work with a new pair for five minutes or so to get the fit right I do not have to mess around with them again unless I pack them up for a trip or they get stretched back out due to me taking them on and off.

The sound quality is good to very good compared with other ear buds I had tried in the past and the wired version costs just $19.95.

Another feature I like is that the cord comes straight down the middle of the back of the ear phones – keeping it from swinging around in front of me interfering with my arms or my water bottles during a long run.  To me this is honestly a 5-star product:

It looks as if they have actually started producing a “wireless” version of their ear buds to work with the iPod Shuffle.  I am still running with my trusty Nano – so I have not made the switch over to the wireless model – but if they function anything like the wired version – it should be a two thumbs up product as well.

I have gotten about 9 months out of each pair I have owned before I’ve had any issues with a short in the wire or a bad connector.  Traveling and packing the earphones for work trips close to 25 times per year as well as my high running mileage I think categorizes me as a “hard user” of their product.  But even if I replace the product slightly more than once a year on average – I couldn’t be happier with the performance and value.

Arriva Ear Buds in Action - Austin 3M Half Marathon

I am really struggling to decide whether I will run with music at Boston or decide to go without.  Part of me would like to really soak in every mile of that race and hear everything going on around me.  Another part knows that I am so accustomed to running to my own beat I may miss it along the course.  I may just split the difference and run at a greatly reduced volume.

Boston had been a goal of mine since 2007 – somehow I think that missing out on even one shout of encouragement from the crowd or one sound from the course will take away from the experience. 

That said somehow it doesn’t seem right not to carry along with me the people I’ve spent so much time with over the years training like Bruce, Clarence Clemons, The Clash, Green Day, Eminem, The Smithereens, The Replacements and The Ramones … seems a little unfair, shouldn’t they get to run Boston as well?

  1. David H. says:

    Great post! I’m currently a former “running with music” person, but when I regularly ran with headphones, the cheap Sony brand from Target that wrapped around the ears always worked great for me. This winter though, as I have gotten my dog to become a regular runner and the fact I’ve been doing a lot of running with a good friend, has made me a “running without music” person. Both have their advantages and disadvantages, so I see both sides of the “argument.”

    • joerunfordom says:

      Thanks David! Just got back from a 10-miler out here in California – out to Santa Monica and back along the ocean – was rocking out to some great music this morning which makes it feel like the 10 miles are “all mine” — I’m still very much on the fence about Boston, but for the rest of my training cycle I say, “rock on!”

  2. Jay Parker says:

    Nice review! I’ve had good luck with the Sennheiser MX-75, but it looks like they’ve stopped making them. I’ll give these a try next time. It was an interesting discussion last week on dailymile. My poll is also still open if you want to vote:

    • joerunfordom says:

      Thanks for the visit Jay! I will definitely get my vote in – I thought that was a great discussion. I think you’ll really like the Arriva’s they really do a great job of staying in place over long runs and I hardly remember their even there. Take good care! J

  3. naomi says:

    Thanks for sharing this. I am definitely going to check it out!

  4. Thanks for the tip! I haven’t found any headphones that I can say that I truly LOVE… much less truly LIKE. I always feel like I the cord wrapped up in awkward ways while I run. I’m going to check out the website now!

  5. Keith Peters says:

    Very timely post. I started running with music, then decided I preferred silence. Now I’ve been really enjoying some podcasts during long runs. But find I’m constantly having to push my right Sony ear bud back in. So I was just yesterday trying to research good running buds. These look pretty cool. Thanks!

  6. Sarah says:

    I run with music most of the time, with occassional runs sans earbuds when I’m with a friend or just to mix it up. I’m definitely a music kind of runner though. Thanks for the tip on the great buds and possibly wireless. The only thing I hate is the wires so wireless might be just what I need!

    • joerunfordom says:

      Thanks for the visit Sarah! It sounds like they are developing a blue-tooth compatible version as well. They really make a great product. Take good care! Joe

  7. tbrush3 says:

    Thanks for the review, I go through ear buds like water and can’t find a good set. That is great. Also I love the picture. Never really looked at it very good but I can see your mind working as you check behind you and might be thinking not a chance you are going to pass me bud!

    I am with you as I do a little of everything. I always need to change it up. Somedays running podcast and someday humor other days music and still others nothing. Happy running!

    • joerunfordom says:

      Thanks for the visit Trey! That guy never stood a chance! You know how it is when you pin that number on. Best of luck with he headphones, these really have held up well for me. Take care, J

  8. onelittlejill says:

    I used to be “run with music only” but have let up a little because of group training. That said, I don’t think I will ever race without it, if I know I will be alone. I, like you, am so used to my beat…plus, some songs really change my ‘tude if I am feeling crappy.

    • joerunfordom says:

      Hi Jill! I keep going back and forth on what to do about Boston – I think that I’m leaning towards running w/ for the race. Can always drop the buds out if I want to take in the course. I agree that when you are starting to feel a bit “rough” it’s nice to have some friends in your ears to push you onward. I think I’ll regret leaving the tunes behind …. take good care! Joe

      • onelittlejill says:

        Yeah…if you take them, you can at least decide as you go. If you don’t have them you are stuck within that decision! Music is a big deal- who doesn’t love a little Born To Run??!?!?!

  9. strikeone says:

    great review on the headphones, I think I’ll pick a pair up.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s