(Pocket-lint) - Wireless headphones are having their moment in 2018. Thanks to many phones dropping the conventional 3.5mm headphone socket and increasing connectivity from devices like smartwatches, there's never been a better time to be looking at a set without the hassle of wires.
Taking a neckband design, the Libratone Track+ are a natural rival to headphones like Beats X, the lookalike OnePlus Bullets, or any number of sporty alternatives. However, if you've got enough spare cash, the Libratone might just better them all. Here's why...
- Metal and silicone design, 28g weight
- 3x ear tips provided, each with ear wings
- Black or white colour options
We've used a lot of wireless headphones over the years. Most are ok, but only ok, especially when you start asking a little more of them, such as when you take them running, or do anything other than standing still.
The most common problem is a lack of balance. Often there's a mic and control module on one side which bounces and swings, pulling the cable around. When you're walking or sitting that doesn't matter, but up the tempo and any pavement pounding can make this off-balance issue suddenly one of the most annoying things you'll ever encounter. When the module starts pulling an earbud out of your ear, you'll be ready to pull them to pieces and throw them into the hell mouth, cursing the ridiculous naivety of the design.
But that's no problem for the Libratone Track+. These in-ears adopt a neckband design approach, linking left and right to sit around the back of your neck and rest gently around the sides. There are two metal sections which rest towards the front, from which the silicone leads out and up to your ears. This is perfectly balanced, sitting on you securely but gently. There's little weight, unlike the Sony WI-1000X, but there's more substance than the Beats X.
The result is that the Track+ is supremely comfortable to wear: there's no cable swing, no cable noise, these buds just sit and stay put. At lot of this comes down to using the right materials which, although it makes the Libratone look chunky, it doesn't feel it in use. We've been an hour into a run in 30C temperatures, drenched in sweat, and the Track+ hadn't budged.
Simple control and connection
- Bluetooth 4.1 with apt-X
- Micro-USB for charging
- 8 hours of battery life
The two metal sections of the Track+ contain the brains, battery and buttons. The left-hand module has the power button, which also lets you cycle through the noise-cancellation levels. On the right-hand side is the Micro-USB connection for charging (not USB-C, wah!), and the control buttons for playback.
We found pairing to be easy; we tested the Libratone Track+ with a variety of Android smartphones (LG G7, Nokia 7 Plus and HTC U12+), as well as testing it with the Fitbit Ionic, Garmin 645 Music watches and a MacBook Pro. A press-and-hold of the power button initiates pairing and we found moving it to a new device pairing was simple. We found the connection to be solid, too, with no drop-outs. There was only some interference on the HTC U12+ when also using it as a Wi-Fi hotspot, manifesting itself as occasional crackling sounds.
The battery life is around 8 hours, which is par for the course for a lot of these headphones. We've found that to be fairly accurate, with the Track+ giving a little warning beep when its battery was getting low. Charging takes about an hour.
Active noise-cancellation (ANC)
- Four levels of active noise-cancellation (ANC)
- Automatic "smart" option
One of the features that stands the Libratone Track+ apart from other headphones of this style is its active noise-cancellation (ANC) tech. This is controlled by a press of the power button, cycling through the different levels of ANC to select which you want.
ANC isn't as common for in-ear headphones as it is for over-ears cans, as the close fit needed to get them to stay in the ear naturally provides a good deal of physical isolation from the outside world anyway - which on-ear or over-ear cans don't always provide.
As such, some of the cancellation that Libratone offers is actually about ambient passthough - letting the outside world in. There are essentially four levels to this, but it's only really on the top where you have that more pronounced noise-cancelling effect (where you might detect a slight pressure change in the ears, with a noticeable cut to some types of noise - hisses and rumbles, predominantly, like those of passing cars or trains).
At first we weren't sold on the need for ANC, but the longer we used it the more important it became. And, no, ANC here isn't as pronounced as the best over-ear headphones out there, but it is effective, so ideal for those craving a slightly less disturbed commute.
As for passthrough, this is really for those using these in-ears for sports. You don't want to be cut off from the world when you're running - you want to be aware that there's a bike coming along the path behind you, for example. Pressing the power button cycles through these modes, a double beep telling you when you hit the top level.
There's also a complete passthough mode you can activate through the app too, which stops playback so you can hear everything outside. There's no way to access this yourself from the headphones - you'd have to stop the music yourself - so when you'd actually have the app open to do that, we're not sure. Indeed, while the app helps you learn which ANC level is used for what, in reality you don't need the app to select the main settings, so it's only really useful for firmware updates and tweaking equaliser presets.
There's also a "smart" option that will automatically detect motion and adjust the noise-cancellation accordingly. Basically, if you're moving, the noice-cancelling is at a lower level, so you remain a little more aware of your surroundings. If you are still, it's at a higher level so you're not disturbed and can enjoy your tunes.
- Some equaliser (EQ) adjustment
Within the app you can also tweak the EQ slightly, opting for a balanced sound, boosted bass or boosted treble. Ideal whether you're wearing the Track+ for a commute, or out for some exercise.
We opted for boosted bass and found it was well suited to sports and the high-tempo music we like to listen to when out on a run. Dance and bass-heavy tracks are well handled and we're happy with the clarity.
So is all this worth the £169 asking price? That's a lot of money - a healthy chunk more expensive than the Beats X or OnePlus - which will put some people off the Libratone. If it's just a pair of Bluetooth headphones that you're after, then daresay those two other brands will deliver enough.
But if you want exceptional in-ears for when you're out running, the Libratone Track+ is a great shout. There's excellent active noise-cancellation (with adjustable passthrough levels), a balanced fit that won't budge whatever you're doing without compromising comfort, and an adjustable sound profile that simply sounds great.
Probably the defacto choice for Bluetooth in-ear headphones, the Beats X have been around for some time, but using the Apple Lightning connector for charging means they are best suited to Apple users.
Bose SoundSport Pulse
These in-ears are primarily designed for sports, but have found popularity as everyday headphones thanks to the design and sound quality. The Pulse version also includes at heart-rate monitor.