The other day Riyad wrote an editorial explaining why, in his opinion, nobody should ever wear headphones while cycling. I second that opinion and also believe that having music playing in your ears while running outdoors is far from ideal.
Nonetheless, I fully accept that there are occasions when a little musical encouragement is welcome. Indeed, I’ve had the benefit of a personal coaching session with Dr Costas Karageorghis a specialist in using music for sports motivation who has worked with some of Britain’s top athletes (as part of a guest entry from Sony Ericsson to the Run To The Beat half marathon) and he very much helped me see the light on that front. Those who regularly run in a gym with their personal music choices may well also use music for motivational purposes.
I know Riyad plans to review some earphones for use in safe situations, and today I’m going to do that too in the shape of a pair of Radiopaq dots. These are relatively low cost, and not specifically designed for running, but does that mean they can’t meet a runner’s requirements?
The Radiopaq dots get their name from the tiny round in-ear bud that is a very different design to the more common longer in-ear bud. In fact, Radiopaq says the dots are 50 percent smaller than the norm. They feature what Radiopaq claims is the world’s smallest sound driver.
More importantly for most of us though is that Radiopaq says the dots give you better quality sound output for the price and are lightweight and comfy to wear. Their tight fit in the ear helps with noise isolation, and they have a gold plated 3.5mm jack which is also claimed to help with sound quality. Though considering that high-end monitors from the likes of Shure and Ultimate Ears don’t sport gold connectors it is unlikely that you’ll be getting great benefit from this feature.
The cabling is silicone which means it is less prone to tangling than some others earphone cables are. In my experience it is almost inevitable that headphones do get tied in knots, and the dots were no exception. But I did find that the knots here were easier to untangle than some.
Those with an eye for fashion can choose from a range of colours – take your pick from red, green, purple, pink, blue, black or white. The cables are finished in a matte version of the earphone colour, with the visible portion of the in-ear bud being shiny. Someone I showed my green dots to said they looked like Christmas tree decorations! They are certainly a bit bling!
What’s in the box?
You don’t get much at all in the box. Just the earphones and three different sized ear tips made from white silicone. There’s no protective pouch, so you’ll have to find one yourself if you think you’ll need it.
The earphones certainly feel rather more snug and tidy in the ear than standard earbuds. Their small size helps here, and I’m sure the use of silicone for the ear tips helps too. This material is so malleable that it can cope well with oddly shaped ears. I know that many, including Riyad, prefer foam tips for their earphones. But whether using silicone or foam tips, ear canal type ‘phones like these always provide a far better fit than the bog standard earbuds that ship with most players and phones. I have always had a problem keeping flat buds in my left ear, for example, but the dots were quite happy to sit in place during runs.
They were very comfy to wear too – I hardly noticed they were present. While not specifically designed for sports use Radiopaq does claim that they’ll stay securely in place during even vigorous sporting activities. I’m not sure that going for a run counts as vigorous, but I certainly had no problems at all with either earphone dropping out of an ear.
Now, that noise isolation question. Radiopaq flaunts the noise isolating quality of the dots, saying, quite rightly, that the snug fit helps in this respect and means you can listen comfortably at lower volumes. And as we all know, excessive headphone volume can cause irreparable damage to your ears. If your ears are still in fine shape, using lower volumes can help keep them that way.
Hearing protection aside I really like the idea of low volume clarity when using earphones on a run outdoors because I do feel I need to hear other sounds – a barking dog coming up behind me, a cyclist tinkling their bell to let me know they are going past, a car behind me that might try to cut me up at the road junction I am about to speed across, and so on.
Did it the noise isolation / low volume combo work? Well, I was able to have music at a remarkably low volume and still get its motivational benefits while not feeling I was loosing any sound quality. But the noise isolation isn’t total. With truly noise isolation earphones you can’t hear a thing that’s going on in the outside world but with the Radiopaq dots I was able to hear enough to feel fairly confident I knew what was happing nearby.
Now, I have to come clean at this point and admit that I am not, by any means, a complete geek about headphones and I did find I was able to use the dots even for general listening without tutting too much at their poor sound quality. There is a certain muffling of bass tones, and most certainly all round the quality is of a lower standard than I am used to, but it is passable.
Those with a higher quality threshold might find my views here laughable, but even they might agree with one important point. I don’t actually think you need super top-notch quality output from a headset when you are running.
Where the Radiopaq dots do fall down is on runner specific features. There are two significant potential problems. First, there is no clip for your clothing. So, using the up-the-back-of-the-running-top technique has to be achieved without a clip taking up the slack at the back of the neck of your top. That might mean, for some people, that the wire is tugged as you run, which could in turn pull the earphones out of your ears. It didn’t happen to me, but I can see how it could happen to others.
Second, when the cable splits into left and right ear sections, both sets of cable are of the same length. There is a good 37cm available to both left and right ears, which should give enough leeway for most of us to get the cabling to both ears comfortably. But some people prefer uneven cable lengths so they can run the wiring down one side of their body.
The Radiopaq dots don’t have runner specific features. If you are a bit of a petrol head about earphones you may find the quality is not right for you. And you might feel like a bit of a ninny having the shiny (Christmas tree decoration-like), ‘phones in your ears, but you can mitigate that problem by going for the most nondescript white or black colour variants.
The ‘non-tangle’ silicone cable is quite handy when you are roaring to go for a run and don’t want to spend minutes fiddling with your earphones, and the sound quality is, for me, absolutely good enough. But truly noise isolating the Radiopaq dots are not.
On balance, for a shade under £15 I’d say the Radiopaq dots represent a reasonably good buy for quality and ease of use, and they stay in the ear well. And there is another bonus – at that price you probably won’t be too upset if you happen to leave them in the changing room at the gym.
- Fit well in the ear
- Good sound quality – for the price
- Easy to untangle
- Noise isolation is far from total (some will see this as a plus!)
- No clothing clip
- Rather blingy looks for some