Powerful audio performance. Sweatproof design. Ships with multiple eartips and fins for a wide variety of fit combinations. Includes charging clip.
Expensive. Can sound wildly different with different eartip combinations.
- Bottom Line
The gym-friendly ZipBuds 26 earphones deliver strong audio performance and a cool extra battery clip, but are priced higher than most quality Bluetooth options.
By Tim Gideon
There's no shortage of neckband-style wireless earphones at this point, most of which are geared toward exercise enthusiasts. The Zipbuds 26 join this crowded field, and feature an in-ear water-resistant design with strong bass response and an extra charging clip for more battery life on the go. The battery clip is a nice touch, but the price feels pretty steep. At $199.95, the Zipbuds 26 are about twice as expensive as models that provide similar audio performance.
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Available in black-and-gray or rose gold-and-white, the Zipbuds 26 are neckband-style earphones with two inline compartments of identical shape and size. There's a cinch to adjust slack at the midpoint of the cable, and the cable itself is on the thin, lightweight end of the scale. Zipbuds claims the earphones have an IPX4 rating, which is somewhat surprising, given the lack of rubberized surfaces we typically see on water-resistant designs. Regardless, the earphones can withstand splashes and even be worn in the shower, but shouldn't be submerged for more than very brief periods.
The layout of controls on the righthand inline compartment is somewhat confusing. There's a large rocker-style button that toggles volume when you tap it quickly (it works in conjunction with your mobile device's master volume levels) and track navigation when you hold it. It's therefore easy to accidentally skip a track when meaning to adjust the volume. The playback/call management button is smaller, and there's another identically sized, unlabeled button that handles power and pairing.
The earphones ships with three pairs of silicone eartips and three pairs of foam eartips—small, medium, and large for each. There are also three pairs of "fitness lock stabilizers" and three pairs of "C-lock stabilizers" that utilize the familiar fin that rests against the ear—both styles slip over and behind the eartips at the base of the earpiece to offer a more secure in-ear fit. You may choose to wear the earphones without the stabilizers—the foam tips alone will be secure enough for some. Regardless, we were able to get several secure-feeling fit combos using the foam tips and the two styles of stabilizers—so if the tips aren't enough for you, there are more options.
As mentioned, the earphones also ship with a unique charging system. A small magnetic charge clip snaps on and the included micro USB cable connects to the clip—not the earphones. Both the earphones and the compartment receive a charge simultaneously, and the clip can be snapped on to increase battery life when the earphones are in use. Unlike the earphones, the charge clip is not moisture-proof.
Zipbuds rates battery life—with the clip and earphones combined—to be roughly 15 hours. However, the earphones without the clip get more like 7.5 hours of battery life, and this number will fluctuate with your volume levels.
The mic offers solid intelligibility. Using the Voice Memos app on an iPhone 6s, we could understand every word we recorded. There were some added audio artifacts, as is typical with most neckband-style Bluetooth mics, but things were always clear enough to be understood.
Zipbuds claims there's a built-in subwoofer, and on tracks with intense sub-bass content, like The Knife's "Silent Shout," the earphones deliver some powerful deep bass. They also get quite loud, and at top, unwise listening levels, the strong sub-bass doesn't distort. At more moderate listening levels, the lows are still robust. It's important to note, however, that much of this depends on fit—with different eartip combinations, you might not get nearly as much bass depth. The foam tips proved to be the most secure and best for bass response in our tests.
Bill Callahan's "Drover," a track with less deep bass in the mix, gives us a better sense of the overall sound signature. The drums on this track get a heavy dose of added bass depth, and Callahan's baritone vocals receive some added richness as well. There's also a prominent high-mid/high frequency presence that imbues the vocals and guitar with a crisp, clear sheen. This is a clean, clear sound signature with some added low end.
On Jay-Z and Kanye West's "No Church in the Wild," we can hear the boosted high frequency response immediately in the form of the vinyl crackle that is usually relegated to the background—it's front and center here. The sub-bass synth hits are quite powerful on this track, as well, while the vocals are delivered cleanly without any added harshness or sibilance.
Orchestral tracks, like the opening scene in John Adams' The Gospel According to the Other Mary, get some added bass depth that will appeal to many listeners, though purists might find it a little much. It's not an unnatural boosting, however—the lower register instrumentation slips out of its supporting role and moves a little forward in the mix, but the spotlight still belongs to the bright, crisp presence of the higher register brass, strings, and vocals.
At $200, the Zipbuds 26 are overpriced. The most comparable competition rings in at far less—we're fans of the Jaybird X3, the Bose SoundSport Wireless, the JBL Reflect Mini BT, and the Beats BeatsX. All of these models are neckband-style Bluetooth in-ears with some degree of water resistance, and all of them cost less. You can argue the clip-on battery adds value, but it's not water resistant, so it's impractical to use during a workout. Still, the earphones deliver strong audio performance, and the clip is useful in scenarios that don't involve moisture, so there's not much to complain about here outside of price.
By Tim Gideon Contributing Editor, Audio
Contributing Editor Tim Gideon has been writing for PCMag since 2006. He specializes in reviewing audio products, and is obsessed with headphones, speakers, and recording gear. More »
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