These days, you can find a pair of bluetooth headphones or earbuds at every Walmart checkout, truck stop “tech” aisle, or on Amazon’s deal of the day. The trick, for me, has been finding a decent pair that I can wear with comfort while running and working out.
When I was offered the opportunity to check out a pre-launch version of the Shine Earbuds from IEC Technology, I was excited put them to the test against my Beats Powerbeats2, and see if these earbuds could offer similar sound quality and a little bonus feature that made a bigger splash during my workout.
The Shine Earbuds (Pre-orders available on Kickstarter from $59) aren’t your standard pair of bluetooth buds in a variety of ways. The main earbud is affixed to a slightly bulky box, which provides all the inner workings and power for the device. On the top of the right ear, 4 buttons for controlling phone functions (more on these later) from the headset, and on the back-most part, a unique on ear clip system to help hold them in place.
What makes Shine unlike other earbuds, though, is the strap that connects the 2 buds together. Instead of being a flat piece of rubber like my Beats, it’s uses LEDs and fiber optics (I’m assuming) to illuminate the neck strap. This means that when you run in the dark, the glow or flash of the Shine buds help keep you safe, visible, and add an element of “cool” to the in-ears.
What is a headphone or earbud review without focusing on the nuts and bolts of a headphone – audio quality. The Shine earbuds, by all accounts, sound decent. They suffer from the same problem as most in-ear type headphones, in that they tend to distort when there is heavy bass at higher volumes, but other sounds were acceptable. In comparison, the Shine earbuds sounded similar to Apple’s Earpods, but the Powerbeats2 offer a richer, more full sound, from low to high and are of a similar size and build structure.
Call quality with the Shine earbuds was also quite good. I had a 20 minute phone call using the headphones, and my wife on the other end couldn’t tell I was using a headset and said I sounded natural and clear. Her voice came across clearly and I didn’t notice any breakup or distortion during our conversation.
The thing about Shine that killed the audio quality to me is the hum generated by the LED band (a subtle, but noticeable noise). This was quite distracting to me in nearly any listening situation. Wearing the Shine earbuds on an average day at the gym, I was still able to hear the faint tone behind my music, even with music playing on the speakers of the gym, and the general clanging of weights people chatting in the workout area.
Function & Comfort:
Wearing Shine while running spawned another problem for me. While I do most of my running on a treadmill at the gym (mostly out of convenience, and a surprising lack of consistent sidewalks in my neighborhood), I tested the device both inside and out for running. Either way, the earbuds had a tendency to slip out of my ears, which caused more frustration than it was worth. Running outside, I tossed on a beanie (it’s getting cold here), and that helped hold the buds in place a little, but isn’t necessarily a viable solution for everyone. I would have preferred to see an over-ear hook (like the Powerbeats) than the around the edge clip.
Controlling the lights on the buds can be done using their control app (which is almost entirely in Chinese… a language which I am not fluent in nor capable of reading). With the app, you can select from a variety of colors for the Shine’s LED cable, and using a button on the headset, control the pattern for the lights flash.
The Shine Earbuds have 3 distinct “patterns” available for the lighted wire (as far as I could tell) – single color (which can be customized to pulse with your music), slow cycle through the 24 unique colors, or flash at your pace using the built-in motion sensor to illuminate on each step (also a slow cycle through colors). The first and third options made the most sense to me, since the device seems to most closely resonate as a visibility thing, not a fashion accessory, and in my testing, it seemed quite accurate in matching either my steps or the tempo of my music.
The function buttons on top of the device are another missed opportunity (in my opinion). Unlike nearly every other headphone or bluetooth device I’ve used, the 4 buttons aren’t set up like most Apple earbuds, but are instead set up as Power/Play/Pause, then volume up, then volume down, then the light control button. My unit seemed to have a buggy volume up button (but that could be the fault of being a pre-release model). In my testing, I wasn’t able to find a consistent way to skip to new songs (either forward or backwards). Sometimes, double clicking play/pause would skip, other times it wouldn’t do anything, which is quite frustrating. I also ran into occasional issues with the headphones randomly pausing my music whenever my fingers came anywhere near the buttons
Verdict: [rating: 2.5]
I really wanted to love these headphones, because I love the idea of a little pulsing light keeping me safe while I run in the dark (which seems to happen around 4:30PM these days), but there are so many little distractions, complexities, and nuances in the device that make it hard to see myself using regularly. For being a somewhat niche product in the $50-$100 range, I can’t say I’d recommend these for anyone wanting more than novelty out of a pair of earbuds.
- Great battery life
- Lights sync well with motion or music
- Decent sound quality
- Hum/Noise from LED is extremely distracting
- Didn’t stay put when running
- Button are glitchy and confusingly arranged
If you’re in the market for a pair of running earbuds, there are probably better options, but if you’re like me and are a sucker for trying out earbuds and headphones whenever possible, consider the Shine Earbuds (or at least go check out their Kickstarter page) available for pre-order now.