The good: The Denon AH-W150 Exercise Freak in-ear Bluetooth headphones offer wireless audio streaming from Bluetooth-enabled devices, they’re sweatproof, relatively comfortable to wear, and offer decent sound for wireless headphones. They have a built-in microphone for cell phone calls, as well transport and volume controls. The included carrying case is nice.
The bad: They’re fairly pricey and they won’t fit everyone equally well (which can affect sound quality).
The bottom line: While their design may resemble a pair of jumbo hearing aids, the Denon AH-W150 Exercise Freaks are among the better wireless sports headphones available.
Design and features
To put the Exercise Freaks on properly takes a bit longer than how long it takes to put on your typical pair of in-ear headphones. First, you have to hook each earpiece onto each ear, after which you guide the articulating ear pieces into your ear canal (I tried trying to jam the eartip in so it fits snugly). It’s a little bit of a process, but once you get everything lined up, the earphones fit very securely and really don’t move at all now matter how much you shake your head.
As part of the design mix, there’s also a patent-pending air cushion that the company says both mitigates “the centrifugal force of pressing a button to control music while jogging” and provides “ventilation in between the earpiece and your head.” I’m not sure that it merits a patent, but hey, it serves as a dime-size bit of padding that seems to work as advertised.
According to Petro Shimonishi, Denon’s senior global product manager for headphones, the company’s designers paid special attention to the fit of the Freaks, recruiting close to 100 “frequent exercisers” to test early prototypes to ensure that the final design would deliver the “most secure and lightweight fit.”
The Plantronics BackBeat 903 sports Bluetooth headphones offer a similar design, but the Denon’s are a little more comfortable to wear, sound better, and seem a little sturdier. That said, the BackBeat 903s are available online for just less than $50.
The Plantronics aren’t considered noise-isolating headphones because the eartips’ design allows some sound leakage. In contrast, you can go either way with the Exercise Freaks. If you want to maximize sound quality, you can attempt to jam the eartips into your ears and get a tight seal (the tighter the seal you achieve, the better the bass response). However, Denon reps said the Freaks weren’t necessarily designed to have a tight seal because a lot of runners and bikers want to be able to hear ambient noise, namely traffic, for safety reasons. So you can wear them a little looser, with the eartips sitting in your ear canal but not jammed into it.
Like virtually all stereo Blueooth headphones, this one also has the requisite built-in microphone for making calls from virtually any Bluetooth-enabled smartphone. You can pause/play your music by pressing down on pressing the pause/play button on the right earpiece, where the volume-control buttons also reside (they’re a little small but you can operate them by feel without taking the headphones off). Press that pause/play button twice quickly, you’ll skip a track forward. Press it three times and you’ll skip a track back.
To accept an incoming call, you press the call/end answer button on the left earpiece. It worked just fine in my tests.
In terms of other specs worth highlighting, this is a Bluetooth 3.0 device that has a built-in rechargeable battery that’s rated to deliver up to 7 hours’ use.
Like a lot of companies, Denon is also touting a set of free companion apps, including the Denon Sport app, that allow you to track your workouts. I should also point out that the headphones ship with a very nice carrying case that’s equipped with a detachable carabiner. To protect your investment, you’ll want to keep the headphones in that carrying case when you’re not using them.
The sound quality for wireless Bluetooth headphones has improved over the years, but Bluetooth compression schemes often make your music sound less dynamic and clear. I can’t say I was blown away by the sound quality of the Exercise Freaks, but I thought they sounded good for Bluetooth headphones, offering decent clarity and bass response so long as I got a tight seal. From a performance standpoint they were neck and neck with or even slightly better than the JayBird BlueBuds X, which cost around the same price, and overall I preferred their fit slightly more.
Bluetooth has a range of about 33 feet, which allows you to stream audio from a Bluetooth-enabled device to the headphones at up to that distance (and sometimes even a little farther). But Bluetooth headphones are prone to the occasional drop out, and from time to time my music would very briefly cut out.
Using the Freaks as a headset, call quality was decent, though not great. I could hear fine, but in polling a few callers, the verdict was that my voice sounded slightly muffled.
When judging sports headphones, one of the biggest things I look for is a comfortable, secure fit. Sound quality comes second, followed closely by durability, which is much harder to judge because I’m posting this review after only using the headphones for a couple weeks. They held up fine after my handful of workouts on a treadmill, where I varied my pace between 6- and 10-minute miles, working up a good sweat. However, I can’t tell you how well they’ll hold up after months of use.
As I said, the Exercise Freaks sound good for Bluetooth headphones. There are other competing models that cost less — the aforementioned Plantronics BackBeat 903+, as well as certain JayBird models and the Arriva Leo. For those on a budget, those may be better choices.
The risk you run with these is that they’re not the type of headphones that will offer a universally excellent fit and experience for everyone. And when you’re spending $150 for a pair of headphones, you tend to have fairly high expectations. For many people, the Exercise Freaks with live up those expectations. But for others, they won’t. So you’re safest bet is to buy them from a retailer or e-tailer that offers a good return policy, for these are headphones that you should ideally try out before totally committing to them.
All that said, I can’t think of any wireless sports headphones that are really any better (they all are less than perfect). But as noted, several models cost less.