Just about every manufacturer now offers some form of headphones for sport. It's easy to see why too, with a smartphone in every pocket, music options galore and many gyms offering headphone sockets on equipment, you can plug-in and lose yourself in the music as you work out.
But sport is hard on headphones. The sweat, the abuse and the living in the bottom of a gym bag all takes its toll. As such, sports headphones need to be given something of the tough treatment: sweat-proofing, flexibility, but more importantly, to stay in place when you're pounding along the pavement.
The Philips SHQ5200 is a set of on-ear headphones designed for sport, making them something of a rarity, as most sports-specific 'phones are in-ear. As on-ear headphones, naturally, they are larger than in-ear headphones, but the advantage you get in return is a headband to keep them in place, and you won't have to stick earbuds in - something that some listeners will always reject as an option.
The SHQ5200's headband is flexible and adjustable, but also light in weight. It's finished in a grippy silicone that's designed to stay in place on your head. The headband is split into two sections at the top, opening it up for airflow while securing enough area from the two positions to grip on to your dome without adding weight and bulk. This combination faces the biggest challenge, as between the flex and the grip, these headphones have to stay in place once you start running. They almost succeed too, as our initial experience with the SHQ5200 was very good: they stayed in place.
But then we had a hair cut and found that they started to slip around. It's hardly scientific research and something we only really discovered by accident, but if you have close cropped hair, or nature's taken its toll on those follicle, then there's a chance that these headphones won't work for you. Of course, running is likely to be the most disruptive sport. If you're riding a static bike, or using something like an elliptical trainer, then your headphones are much more likely to stay in place.
That potential issue put to one side and there are other design perks we're fond of, including the SHQ5200's removable earpads. They can be pulled off for rinsing under a tap to rid them of any sweat and general nastines. Make sure you dry them though as putting wet headphones on is not pleasant.
Finally there's a Kevlar-reinforced cable. This comes in two pieces so if you have an iPod or phone in an arm strap then you won't have lots of excess cable to deal with. The extended version will then let you plug in to the treadmill or your music player clipped to your waistband or in your pocket. There's a clip on the cable that's less than useful - the first time we tried to move it along the cable it came off and we couldn't reattach it.
The Philips SHQ5200 claim they are tuned for sport. The problem to overcome is that the design needs to preserve the bass, without needing to be too heavily isolated, which would otherwise be far too hot on your ears. Fortunately there's plenty of bass, so those pumping energy tracks will sound great. But it's not just bass that's delivered and it doesn't overpower everything else. We listened to a range of up-tempo tracks while exercising and found that we could pick out some of the more subtle details too.
There's plenty of volume on offer too with respectable performance across the volume range, but there's also a lot of sound leakage. If you turn the volume up then others will be able to hear what you're listening to - not a problem when running forest trails (even if the birds might not appreciate it), but if you're using these sitting on the bus, then you'll have to keep the volume down to avoid annoying your neighbours.
We're impressed with the sound quality from the Philips ActionFit headphones, as they meet our requirements when it comes to sports and the on-ear delivery will deliver a cut above for those who don't like in-ear designs. We wouldn't choose them as our daily commute headphones, however, because of the sound leakage and the simple fact that they're not designed with that in mind - there are better performance products to be found at this price point if you're after a more casual on-the-go experience.
Of all the things we found most useful it was the ability to pop on the SHQ5200 on-ears and head out into the rain for a run. Without the worry of them getting wet there's no concern about frazzling the brain either. The design of the earpads also means that your ears don't get too hot, as we've found that some in-ear sports headphones trap sweat inside the ear and eventually become muffled. No such concern from these Philips.
Overall, we like the performance of the Philips ActionFit SHQ5200: they sound great and are comfortable and light enough to wear on the run. The detachable pads and water-resistance also means they are happy to get sweaty, so there's no concern when it comes to exercising either indoors or out.
But they will take up a little more space in your sports bag than in-ears and if you've got short hair then you might find that they won't stay in place at all. If you get the chance, we'd recommend you try on a pair to see how they fit to your head - there's no point in parting with your cash if they're not going to stay on.
The price of £65 may sound a little expensive, but if you're after sports headphones that are on-ear then your current choices are limited. The Philips ActionFit SHQ5200 do the job, and well at times - it's just the fit we find to be potentially problematic.
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