Australian headphone maker BlueAnt has caught our eye of late, delivering solid products at competitive prices in what has become a huge market. Consumers are spoilt for choice, so companies are specialising their products to attract customers, and BlueAnt’s focus on active audio places them in the fitness category, where they’ve been able to bring features in at a lower price point than their competitors.
Last year Duncan took a look at the Pump Mini 2 in-ear headphones, and liked them so much he set up their own dedicated charging cable (a sure sign that a device has arrived in any of Ausdroid household). I’ve been checking out the Pump Mini’s big brother, Pump Soul.
The Pump Soul is an on-ear headphone, featuring the wireless Bluetooth 4.1 connectivity you’d expect, on-ear controls, NFC pairing and an IP54 rating making them sweat-proof for use during your workout. It comes in at a $169 price point (still comfortably under $200) and offers 24 hours of playback. Our review unit features pink rose gold aluminium arms and highlights against the main black colour, although they’re also available in an attractive teal colour, and fully black (where’s the fun in that, though?).
Physically, the headphones are a pretty standard design – an arc over your head features a grippy rubber finish on top and comfortable silicone padding below, and large chunky hinges support light aluminium metallic arms that fold in on each other for storage. Each can is covered in a pleasant faux-leather material that’s easy on the ears and is soft enough to provide a decent seal over your ears when in use.
Buttons, controls and functions are all physical buttons under a rubber surface on each side. Playback controls are arranged in a cross on the right cup, while the left cup is dedicated to NFC pairing. Each control is physically raised from the surface so you can find them without fumbling around. There’s also a 3.5mm headphone jack on the right – Bluetooth functionality is disabled when it’s connected, turning the Soul into a standard set of headphones in case you run out of battery – and a capless Micro USB charing port on the left.
BlueAnt also gets a tick from me for its inclusion of a foam-molded pouch to protect the headphones when they’re not in use. It’s got a suitably large zipper across the top in the highlight colour of your cans, and has a small area inside that can hold accessories as needed – I kept a 3.5mm headphone cable and Micro USB charging cable inside. It’s a thoughtful inclusion that’s lacking even in some higher-priced alternatives.
Amusingly, when you power on the headphones there’s a brief didgeridoo sound instead of a beep or recorded voice – a neat reminder that BlueAnt is indeed an Austrlalian company.
The only physical problem I found in day to day use of Pump Soul was that the on-ear nature of the headphones means they’re less comfortable if I’m wearing my glasses, as the pressure applied by the hinge to keep the cups in place pushes on the arm of my glasses. That’s really more on me than it is the headphones though. If you’re working at a desk like me, you could probably make do with a lighter option like the Pump Mini.
With no noise cancelling features, Pump Soul really relies on the padding on each cup to isolate your audio from the environment around you. For the price point it actually works as a pretty good alternative, making the headphones good for use on public transport and even, at a stretch, inflight.
BlueAnt boasts powerfull bass performance in the Pump Soul, and the headphones do indeed deliver a deep, satisfying bass that sounds great and stirs your performance a little if you’re working out at the gym or keeps you focused on work at your desk.
My personal musical tastes extend to mostly instrumental soundtracks – a good range of subtle electronic or orchestral performances that occasionally go big across the soundscape. Pump Soul didn’t disappoint on any of my standard gotos, providing all the highs and lows I expected and, surprisingly, at a satisfyingly high volume. Vocals were also clear. For voice performance, Podcasts were also loud and clear.
Bluetooth range is a fairly typical line of sight – if you’re seated at a desk in an office, you’ll have no issues getting up and moving around a bit, but once you put a wall or two between your headphones and your audio source you’ll find you lose audio fairly easily. It’s fair to note though that BlueAnt’s active audio focus means that the real intended use of these would be at a gym during a workout or on a run, where you won’t be so far from your device.
Sticking with Bluetooth range though, I did find some initial disappointment with the range. When I opened the box and took Pump Soul out for a walk, I found some jumps and dropouts occurred with my phone in my pocket. I figured out pretty fast though that bringing the headphones up to full charge addressed that, so you could take those jumps or dropouts as an indication that you should charge the battery — it’s actually the only indicator you’ve got.
Battery life also gets a big tick. With a few hours use each day you’ll likely get a week or so between charges, and I found I putting the headphones on charge about that often kept them from running flat at inconvenient times.
The $169 price point and feature set also makes a great case for buying local in what’s now a fiercely competitive sub-$200 market. There’s a nice amount of frills to justify the extra cost over the likes of Skullcandy and JBL, and BlueAnt’s focus on audio performance and battery life is especially welcome.
We like to see local companies do well, and it’s good to see that BlueAnt’s making inroads at Australian retail – you can find Pump Soul on sale at the usual stockists, including JB Hi-Fi, Officeworks and Harvey Norman.