(Pocket-lint) - New Balance is no stranger to fitness, with sports gear and footwear already established, but gadgets are a newer complement to its product rosta.
In 2017 we've already seen the company's RunIQ Android Wear smartwatch to assist fitness and workouts - a product which we had some reservations about - and now there's the Jabra-powered PaceIQ earphones to fill such workouts with music to your ears.
The PaceIQ offer plenty of positives for an affordable pair of workout-friendly in-ears, but do these hook-design earphones perform well enough to keep you away from the competition?
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New Balance PaceIQ review: Design
- Over-ear hook design
- Weigh 21.6g
- Inline remote
- IP54 water/sweat/dust resistant
As design goes, the New Balance PaceIQ earphones are pretty basic, even for the budget end of the earphone market. To compare them to a more popular product, they almost look a little like stripped back versions of the Powerbeats 3 wireless earphones.
Except, unlike the Powerbeats, the New Balance feature a plastic ear hook on each side which leaves the internal cable almost entirely exposed. Combined with the rather plain plastic ear hook material, and lack of any soft/grippy coating, it feels like a compromise.
However, there is one huge upside to having less physical material: weight. The New Balance only weigh 22 grams. The last thing you want when bursting your lungs and sweating from your eyeballs is a pair of earphones that feel heavy and tug on your ears. These don't do that at all, their lightness ensures they move with you easily, with no resistance. This, in turn, means they stay in your ears without any effort.
What's more, the ear hooks are incredibly durable, thanks to being strong and flexible. We twisted and pulled them every which way, and they returned to their original position every time.
Also on the upside is that the cables hang towards the back of your ear, unlike from the front like with the Powerbeats, which makes a lot more sense.
The PaceIQ ships with three different sizes of ear tip - or EarGel, as they're officially called - which are more of a squashed, round shape than the usual style. They fit onto the protruding disc-shaped earbud very snugly, which itself protrudes from the plastic casing again, in a similar design to the Powerbeats.
This means all the internal components and battery are housed inside the plastic casing, featuring a round edge one side and flat, angled edge on the other. On the left ear's housing, there's a dedicated sports button for performance prompts - which only works if you have a RunIQ smartwatch paired - and the Micro-USB port which is sealed under a rubber flap on the underside.
For those worried about sweat destroying your earphones, you'll be pleased to know these are rated against water and dust ingress, so it should survive all your sessions, regardless of levels of sweat, or rain.
New Balance PaceIQ review: Performance
- 5-hour battery per charge
- Fast charging
- Reliable Bluetooth connection
Where the New Balance sports earphones fall down compared to much of the competition is in battery life. This is where the small, lightweight design forces a compromise. While a pair of Powerbeats 3 can deliver almost 10-hours of use, and Sony's ExtraBass pair offer seven hours, the PaceIQ max out at five hours in our experience.
In our testing, we easily managed more than four hours per charge, which means even your longest training sessions are covered. It would be nice to have a longer use time, as five hours feels like the bare minimum a pair of wireless earphones should offer.
On the plus side, the earphones charge pretty quickly, offering a full hour's use from just 15-minutes plugged into a power outlet.
Another consistently good area of performance is the Bluetooth connection. Being powered by Jabra you'd expect as much, as the connection between earphones and paired device was always rock solid in our use, regardless of what exercise we happened to be doing at the time.
As a bonus, using a technology the company calls Advanced Multiuse, the PaceIQ can stay connected to two different sources at once. In real life use, that means you could have it connected to your smartphone for music and have it connected to your smartwatch for prompts during a running session. We tested this and found that it retained two such connections (as long as we connected the smartphone first and, in this instance, RunIQ smartwatch second in that scenario).
New Balance PaceIQ review: Sound quality
Given the pricing, the sound quality from the New Balance PaceIQ is surprisingly decent. It's bassy and punchy, definitely immersive enough to keep you entertained while your running shoes pound the Tarmac. It's not with audiophile-grade cleanliness, but it is loud and only distorts ever so slightly when high frequencies peak at maximum volume (which is far too loud for comfortable listening in any situation).
As an overall soundscape, the audio seems a bit more balanced and slightly clearer than the similar-price Jaybird X3 we tested, although unlike Jaybird you can't adjust it to suit your preferences. There's no dedicated app with an equaliser, so you're pretty much stuck with the default - unless your favourite music app happens to have a built-in EQ.
Despite the lack of adjustability, we were happy with the overall quality of the sound. The PaceIQ handle treble, mid and bass levels well, with a slight preference for the bass - just as expected from a pair of modern sports earphones.
As an overall package, the PaceIQ is promising, especially at its £100 price point. Lightweight, durable, and with decent sound that stays connected consistently, they sound almost unbeatable.
The problem is battery life. With just five hours of play time, that sees the PaceIQ sit noticeably behind virtually all of the big players. That's three hours less playback time than the Jaybird X3, or two hours behind the Sony XtraBass. As a more extreme comparison, this is half the battery life compared to the Powerbeats 3 wireless.
In short, the New Balance earphones are good, but there's plenty of competition, and it's only real sports-beneficial function - that dedicated hardware switch - only works if it's connected to the RunIQ smartwatch rather than anything else (which is some distance from being the best sports watch around).
The alternatives to consider...
They're roughly the same price as the New Balance, and don't feature as clean a sound, but they are lightweight, easy to wear, and really versatile. With their customisable EQ that's easy to change through the intuitive app and the ability to wear them below, or over your ears, there's a lot to like about the X3. They're also really easy to charge and last three hours longer than the PaceIQ.
Read the full article: Jaybird X3 review: Affordable sports earphones without the compromise
Beats Powerbeats 3 wireless
Without meaning to direspect New Balance, the Powerbeats 3 wireless are essentially the earphones that the PaceIQ are trying to be. They cost £69 more, but last twice as long, are more durable, arguably better design and their W1 chip makes them really convenient to connect.
Read the full article: Powerbeats 3 Wireless review: Beats and bass