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Adidas FWD-02 Sport review: Cool-looking buds but flaky functionality

Appealing bass and design aren’t enough to make the sporty Adidas FWD-02 a mid-range threat

The Adidas FWD-02 wireless earbuds resting next to a pair of Adidas running shoes
(Image: © Alex Bracetti/Future)

Tom's Guide Verdict

The Adidas FWD-02 is certainly cut from the same aesthetic cloth as the brand’s running shoes, but it lacks quality in multiple areas.

Pros

  • +

    Punchy sound

  • +

    Comfy and secure fit

  • +

    EQ customization and Spotify Tap support

Cons

  • -

    Buggy pairing connectivity

  • -

    Controls can be unreliable

  • -

    Middling battery life

  • -

    Impractical charging case

Adidas FWD-02 Sport: Specifications

Colors: Black; gray

Battery life (rated): 6 hours; 24 hours (charging case)

Connectivity: Bluetooth 5.2 (codecs SBC, AAC, aptX)  

Water resistance: Yes (IPX5 rated)

Size: 2 x 2 x 1 inches (per bud), 2.4 x 2.2 x 0.8 inches (charging case)

Weight: 1.94 ounces (earbuds + charging case)

The FWD-02 is the latest entry in Adidas’ expanding true wireless lineup. Boasting a similar aesthetic as some of the brand’s popular running shoes, along with a secure fit and Zound-led audio technology, the FWD-02 strives to become one of the best workout headphones available. 

However, several missteps keep this mid-range model from competing with the upper echelon. Short battery life is an issue Adidas continues to ignore. The charging case doesn’t provide full protection. Then come the bugs that affect different functions.

See which models rank among the best running headphones we’ve tested. And if a bargain is what you really seek, then look at our picks for the best cheap running headphones.

In the meantime, read our full review of the Adidas FWD-02 to see whether these buds should join you at the gym. 

Adidas FWD-02 Sport review: Price and availability

You can purchase the Adidas FWD-02 Sport for $170 via the Adidas website (opens in new tab) or through online retailers including Amazon (opens in new tab) and Best Buy (opens in new tab) . They're available in light gray or night gray. Inside the box are a charging case, USB-C charging cable, quick start guide, three sets of different sized ear tips, and four sets of different sized ear wings. 

The market isn’t short on mid-range workout headphones. Two of the more popular selections out there include the Beats Fit Pro ($199), which is essentially a sporty version of the AirPods Pro with the same features, and the five-star-rated Jabra Elite Active 75t with its excellent overall performance.

For all of the latest wireless earbuds sales, bookmark our best headphones deals page.

Adidas FWD-02 Sport review: Design and comfort

The FWD-02 pairs perfectly with many of the brand’s black or light grey sneakers. Even some of the details are spot-on, from the embossed logo to the etched patterning to the plastic wings that resemble the clear sole of some Adidas shoes.   

The plastic used to construct these buds is sturdy and staves off scratches and scuffs. IPX5 certification makes them sweat and water resistant.

The Adidas FWD-02 wireless earbuds resting on a pair of Adidas running shoes

(Image credit: Alex Bracetti.Future)

Adidas got creative with the charging case. It’s compact, slim, showcases the buds nicely, and has a pairing button in the middle to assist with connectivity when Bluetooth acts up. As appealing as the thin synthetic mesh covering looks on top, it’s also a major liability. Adidas claims the material is used to ventilate and air out the buds after workouts. What happens if the case falls into a pool or huge puddle of water? The mesh isn’t thick enough to stop water from seeping in and damaging the entire product. At least with a fully covered lid the case and buds have a stronger chance of survival.

The Adidas FWD-02 charging case sitting atop a pair of sneakers

(Image credit: Alex Bracetti/Future)

I did find the FWD-02’s comfort equal to the Adidas Z.N.E. 01 ANC. The oval design rests gently on the concha and the contoured bottom makes it easy to grab and remove each bud. Fatigue sets in after wearing the buds for 2.5 hours straight, though that is considered high for many sport headphones. 

Our reviewing working out with the Adidas FWD-02

(Image credit: Alex Bracetti/Future)

Fit is another area where the FWD-02 hits its mark. Adidas’ ergonomic wings seamlessly mold and latch onto the cymba, while the silicone tips form a tight seal around the canal to keep the buds locked in.

Adidas FWD-02 Sport review: Controls and digital assistant

Adidas claims that both earbuds take on multiple functions. My experience showed otherwise. None of the assigned commands (call management, customized action) on the right earbud worked. I had to rely on the left bud to do everything, and even then, touch accuracy was so bad that it required performing tap gestures a few times to execute something as simple as skip track.

The Adidas FWD-02 wireless earbuds being held in hand

(Image credit: Alex Bracetti/Future)

The long hold gesture was the only touch control that functioned properly, which the custom action feature is tied to and lets you assign one of four different commands. You can enable noise control (more on this later), digital assistance, Spotify Tap to access your favorited playlist or jump right into the Adidas Running app.

I found the FWD-02’s motion detection more reliable than its tap gestures, automatically pausing music whenever taking off the buds and resuming playback when placed back on my ears.

Selecting a custom action on the Adidas FWD-02

(Image credit: Alex Bracetti/Future)

Google Assistant and Siri are compatible, but neither digital assistant is fun to use. The feature is buggy (something I suspect the touch controls suffered from too), lag is common, and can be a hassle to activate on iOS/macOS devices. Google Assistant isn’t any more user friendly, failing to execute basic tasks like opening an app or website, which often led to a blank screen.

Adidas FWD-02 Sport review: Sound quality

Since partnering with Zound Industries (the team behind Marshall headphones), Adidas has put out acceptable-sounding wireless earbuds. The Z.N.E. 01 ANC’s sound profile was well balanced and produced just enough oomph to kickstart intense workouts. These buds carry the same bass-heavy resonance, though the midrange isn’t as clean as what you hear from their noise-cancelling sibling. 

The booming drums on Jamiroquai’s “Shake It On” knocked hard and revitalized my energy levels near the end of runs. That’s what you want most from a pair of sporty wireless earbuds. I thought the synths and vocoded vocals were also reproduced well. Other models in the category can pull off this same sound and not damage certain elements in a song, which, unfortunately, the FWD-02 is guilty of. Hearing the soft-spoken chorus slightly recessed wasn’t so pleasing.

Jamiroquai’s “Shake It On playing on the Adidas FWD-02

(Image credit: Alex Bracetti/Future)

If the default sound profile doesn’t do anything for you, there’s an EQ to play with in the Adidas app. You can either create your own profile by manually tweaking frequencies or select from five different presets: Rock, Pop, Hip Hop, Electronic or Vocal Boost. Some of them sound identical to each other (Electronic and Rock are nearly the same), but they each serve well for their respective categories. 

Vocal Boost made a significant difference on neo-gospel gems like Laura Mvula’s “That’s Alright,” making the singer’s voice clearer, granted the low end still came in too heavy to fully hear the soaring chorus.

The Adidas Headphones app EQ being swapped out

(Image credit: Alex Bracetti/Future)

These buds support AAC, SBC, and aptX audio codecs. The latter was clutch for playing Spotify playlists on my Google Pixel 6 Pro, providing high-quality streaming over Bluetooth. My MacBook Pro served as my main audio source during the day and delivered similar results when indulging in Apple Music tracks. 

Noise isolation isn’t that great. I could hear my mom-in-law chatting with clients over speakerphone, as well as other mid and high-frequencies noises. The FWD-02’s inability to passively block out these noises means you won’t get much peaceful time at home.

Adidas FWD-02 Sport review: Special features and app

The Adidas Headphones App is the hub for extended functionality. I already touched on a few perks, including control customization, Equalizer, and select third-party integration (Adidas Running, Spotify). What else is there? 

Awareness mode is the last big feature. This is Adidas’ ambient listening mode designed to let you hear your surroundings clearer. While not as effective as the Z.N.E. 01 ANC’s version, it allowed me to identify certain noises like cars passing by and dog barks from a few yards away. Anything farther than a block was inaudible. In addition, vocals weren’t as transparent as I would have liked.

Our reviewer testing the Adidas FWD-02's Awareness Mode in a backyard setting

(Image credit: Alex Bracetti/Future)

As previously mentioned, the FWD-02 can connect with the Adidas Running app to automatically start/stop runs when enabling the custom action command. Any activity tracking recorded is done through your smartphone, not a smartwatch, so take any recorded stats with grain of salt.

Adidas FWD-02 review: Battery life and charging case

Adidas needs to step it up in the battery life department if they want to compete with the big boys. The FWD-02 gets you 6 hours per charge. This might be sufficient for 4 days of workouts, but there are many rivals that offer more playtime. Two that come to mind are the Beats Powerbeats Pro (9 hours) and JLab Epic Air Sport ANC (11 – 15 hours), the latter selling for nearly $100 less. I guess we should be grateful for the FWD-02 not falling into AirPods Pro territory (4.5 – 5 hours), though bear in mind that Awareness mode and high volume can drop playtimes by about an hour.

The Adidas FWD-02 charging case being charged via USB-C cable

(Image credit: Alex Bracetti/Future)

A 15-minute quick charge nets you 1 hour of playtime, which is low compared to most other true wireless models. 

The charging case holds up to 24 hours (four extra charges). It’s the same amount of portable power held by the AirPods 2 and AirPods Pro cases.

Wireless charging is not included on this model.

Adidas FWD-02 Sport review: Call quality and connectivity

The FWD-02 is sufficient for voice and video calls, but there is occasional muffle, and the mics pick up lots of ambient noise. Only when it was quiet outside could my wife hear me loud and clear; cars, wind, and other incidental sounds caused interference. I preferred using the buds indoors, especially for business calls; clients were impressed with the clarity on my end. 

A phone call being taken on the Adidas FWD-02

(Image credit: Alex Bracetti/Future)

Bluetooth 5.2 range is strong, but pairing connectivity can be unreliable. Getting up to 60 feet of wireless range allowed me to move freely around the house without any dropout. One-tap Google Fast Pair also simplified the pairing process for Android devices. Oddly, the buds would randomly unpair from my devices, and sometimes wouldn’t play music despite successfully reconnecting to my last recognized device.

Adidas FWD-02 Sport review: Verdict

The Adidas FWD-02 presents engaging ideas in a fun package, but nothing that warrants the $170 price tag. A water-resistant design (buds only), bold audio, and companion app support with unique features are all hallmarks available on other competitors in the same price range. None of them come with a cool-looking charging case like the one bundled with these buds. Then again, the compromise of function over fashion is one that many are willing to make.

The bigger problem, however, lies in the bugs that Adidas forgot to flush out, bugs that hinder usability on multiple levels. If it isn’t the erratic touch controls, then it’s the finicky voice assistant or unstable connectivity. The substandard battery life isn’t anything to brag about either.

Consider the Adidas FWD-02 Sport if you like your wireless earbuds to match your workout gear and pump out strong bass. Otherwise, look at top performers like the Jabra Elite Active 75t or Beats Fit Pro to meet your exercise needs.

A lifestyle journalist with an affinity for consumer products, Alex has over a decade of experience and has worked with popular publications such as Complex, Thrillist, Men’s Health, Gear Patrol, AskMen, and Hoop Magazine. He currently focuses on audio, reviewing the most coveted headphones in the market for both Tom’s Guide and Laptop Magazine.