NFL running back LaMichael James appears on the packaging of the Yurbuds Signature Series ITE 100, endorses them in a YouTube video with the claim that they are the "best workout/training headphones on the market," and touts their ability to stay in your ears no matter what you’re doing. While we appreciate LaMichael's skills on the football field, he's not backing a winner among headphones.
Design and Features
The ITE 100 ($60) are technically in-ear headphones, though they're not designed to block out any noise, much like Bose's MIE2i ($130) do. Instead, these bulky earbuds have soft silicone ear adaptors that sit in your outer ear and protrude pretty far into your ear canal, but without forming a seal like most in-ear models (e.g., Sennheiser CX685). The company claims the headphones and controller are sweat-resistant, which we verified by dunking them repeatedly in a glass of water.
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The fabric-covered cabling seems sturdy enough to prevent easy breakage and is reflective, making you easier to see at night. An anti-tangle slider moves up the cable as far as the inline mic/controller, which sits just a couple inches below your chin. The controller itself has only a single button, letting you skip tracks, activate Siri (on an iPhone), and make/end calls but not adjust volume, which is a glaring omission for workout enthusiasts. The button is easy enough to operate by feel, though it seems flimsy.
You get two extra sets of eartips in different sizes, a clip for securing the cable to your clothes, and a neoprene-like zippered pouch to keep the buds in.
Comfort and Isolation
The eartips are soft and smooth, but they protrude much farther into your ear canals than models from Bose (MIEI2 or Quiet Comfort 20i), making it feel like a doctor is scoping your ears. Yet they don't provide the benefit of blocking out external noise. The lack of a proper seal in your ear canal is meant to provide runners with the ability to hear what's going on around them, and Yurbuds specifies that the headphone are "designed to allow more ambient noise than most other earphones at the same volume levels." Unfortunately that comes at the expense of bass. And these cans wouldn't be the best pick for gym rats who want something that blocks out the thumping club hits being piped over the PA system.
The one upside to the ITE 100 is that they will stay in your ears, anchored by your outer ear and stabilized by the eartips going far in-canal. We jumped, twisted and headbanged as hard as we could, but they didn't fall out.
Our audio testing revealed a shameful lack of bass, which is antithetical to most exercisers’ needs and tastes whether outdoors or at the gym. It's not clear if this is due to the drivers in the earbuds or the lack of a proper seal via the eartips, but whether you're listening to tracks like Jay-Z's "Holy Grail," Metallica's "Enter Sandman," or John Coltrane's "Blue Train," the lacking low end sucks the life and impact out of the music. The midrange is also muddy, causing, for example, the piano on "Blue Train" and Jay-Z's vocals on "Holy Grail" to sound muffled and buried in the mix. On Pink Floyd's "Comfortably Numb," the vocals sound harsh and the guitars sound squashed — missing the highs and lows — and what we could hear sounded muddy.
We tried making a few calls via the ITE 100's mic/controller, which is compatible with all smartphones. Siri was able to understand us, but the folks on the other end of the call had a tougher time, and our call partner sounded like she was recorded on an old answering machine.
You can do a lot better for the money than the Signature Series ITE 100 among workout headphones. Several competing models like Sennheiser's CX680i or CX685 are close in price but perform circles around the ITE 100. Even lower-end pairs like the JLab Fit ($30) sound markedly better.