The Bike List

Denon Exercise Freak AH-W150 in-ear headphones £150

Tested by Neil Watterson, tester for The Bike List

The great thing about cycling is it can be as refreshingly analogue as you want it to be. No batteries, no wires, just mechanical components meshing together in perfect harmony.

Want to know where you are? Carry a map and learn how to read it. Want to know how fast you're riding, fit a mechanical speedometer (there are always quite a few for sale on eBay). Need to make a phone call? Er, well, you may find a telephone box, but don't count on it.

Of course, technology does make things easier and it's slowly creeping into our hobby. Electronic handlebar computers were first and they've been followed by smartphones and electronic gear shifting. You can even get units which allow you to charge your gadgets as you pedal along - making you the power plant.

It's rare to see leisure cyclists without some form of technology. And loads of us listen to music as we pedal along. There's a whole argument over whether it's a good idea to ride with headphones on. My view is that as long as you can still hear what's going on around you, then you there's no reason why you shouldn't.

I normally use wired headphones, but the opportunity to test these Denon Exercise Freak Bluetooth units came up, so I decided to give them a try. Priced at £150 these aren't for the cash-strapped, but they've a good spec - sweatproof, anti-microbial ear tips, USB-powered rechargeable battery with seven hours life and carrying case when you're not using them.

They're the hook over ear design with the almost standard soft ear-bud design to seal out noise and enhance the sound. A single wire, with a reflective strip, connects the two earpieces and the main controls: on, play/pause, and phone answer are large soft buttons. Volume up and down are on the back of the right earpiece.

There's a free smartphone app you can download to go with the headphones. As far as I can see, it's a re-skinned version of MapMyFitness, so includes route mapping, access to old workouts,the ability to share your training with friends and all that sort of stuff - but you don't need to download it to get the unit to work.

They're fairly easy to get to pair with a Bluetooth device. I struggled in my workplace as it's festooned with Bluetooth devices, but once away from all of that background noise, my phone picked it up and paired instantly.

Once this is done, your phone should recognise it whenever you switch the Bluetooth on and press the headphone's on button for a second or so. I have my phone set so the music starts playing as soon as headphones are connected and sure enough, as soon as the units paired, music started playing. And it went downhill from there.

I'm looking at these headphones from a cyclist's point of view. I've no doubt that they're perfectly designed for runners or other athletes who have a predominantly upright stance, but for cyclists, where you're bent over, I started to find limitations.

Firstly, the wire round the back is fine if you're just wearing a T-shirt, as most runners would be, but riding all year round sees me commuting at sub-7C for over half of the year, so I wear a jacket with a collar to keep my neck warm. The wire between the earpieces fouls on that so, if you look down at your front wheel, for instance, then up again, you feel the wire pushing the earpieces up.

Turn your head to check behind you and the wire catches again, trying to dislodge the earpieces. I've no doubt that it would be better if I was not wearing a jacket, but I think the main problem comes from the riding position, holding your head up.

Then there's the earpieces themselves. They're comfortable enough and stay in place, but if you wear glasses - I have prescription specs and all my non-visually-challenged cycling buddies wear some form of eye protection - they become very uncomfortable very quickly. The large blocks of plastic required to house the Bluetooth and electrics take up so much space that the arms of your glasses are squashed tight to your head.

But the sound from the units is very good. It has a frequency response of 5-25,000Hz and you can really hear the bass when sitting around. On the bike with more ambient noise - above around 18mph, there's quite a lot of wind noise past the units - it's slightly harder as you have to wind up the volume to appreciate it fully. And then you get into the territory of not being able to hear what's going on around you.

But the sound quality wasn't the issue for me. What was a problem was the connection sometimes dropping out. So there would be short breaks in the sound while the phone and earphones lost contact then re-connected. This was undoubtedly down to the positioning of the phone. The instructions say that it should be mounted above waist height as close to the right earpiece as possible. The only pocket in my jacket is on the inside left breast, so this would account for the problem.

So I tried carrying the phone in the top of my backpack, but it was even worse there, dropping out completely. The solution would be to buy a new jacket with a pocket on the righthand side, or use an armband-mounted phone holder. Or just use my old wired headphones, which never suffer this problem.

You may think I'm being unnecessarily harsh on these earphones, but from a commuting cyclist's point of view, there are more cons than pros. If I ran rather than cycled, spent time on the machines at the gym, or rode the bike sitting upright wearing a T-shirt and no glasses, I'd be made up with them. But I don't and I'm not.

Sometimes technology isn't the way forwards.

Please note, we have rated these headphones from the perspective of a year-round cyclist using them, not a runner, or any other athlete/user.

At a glance

Verdict Designed for runners, not riders.
Value
Performance

Denon says:

Colourful, super-lightweight, durable and wireless fitness headphones that perform the way you do.

Did you know that listening to music while working out can enhance your performance by at least 20%? Denon has developed the ultimate wireless fitness headphones that are your perfect training companion. Sweat proof, featuring stereo Bluetooth® 3.0 wireless connectivity, and an integrated amplifier professionally tuned to energise your workout. Completing the package is a seven hour rechargeable battery and integrated controls and microphones for on-the-go use, meaning the Denon Exercise Freak™ headphones keep the music going without getting in the way of your work out.

Features

  • Integrated amplifier tuned to energise your workout
  • Wireless connectivity, integrated controls and microphone for superior mobility, ease-of-use and convenience
  • Sweat proof earpiece with built-in air cushion for extreme comfort and ventilation
  • Articulating earpiece and flexible back band for superior fit
  • Reflective neckband for safe evening workouts
  • Available in Yellow, Black and Blue
  • Rechargeable battery for marathon long workouts (seven hours)
  • Anti-microbial ear tips (XS, S, M, L) reduce build up of bacteria
  • Mesh carrying case with karabiner

Denon Sport Smartphone Application

  • Denon Sport Smartphone Application, available for iPhone, iPad, or Android phones, an integrated application suite designed for the Exercise Freak in you
  • GPS tracking of outdoor activities
  • Workout Journal to keep track of your fitness goals
  • Online community, update Facebook / Twitter status on workouts and music you like, share workout information