Adidas may not be the first brand you think of when it comes to headphones, but it has quietly been releasing some surprisingly impressive buds in the past year or two. The RPD-01 wireless headphones – with 12 hours of battery life, a secure neckband fit and offering decent value at £85 – are the pick of these. At least, they were until now.
This year Adidas has moved into true wireless buds with three new sets of headphones – the Z.N.E. 01 (opens in new tab), Z.N.E. 01 ANC (opens in new tab), and FWD-02 SPORT (opens in new tab). The Z.N.E. 01 are the entry-level buds at £85 and have an open-fit design, while the Z.N.E. 01 ANC are in-ear buds with active noise cancellation that cost £170. The forthcoming FWD-02 SPORT cost £139.99 and have an in-ear tip, a wing for an extra secure fit, increased water resistance and an IPX5 rating (the Z.N.E. 01 models are rated IPX4).
While the names are, in my opinion, a confusing mess, I was keen to test the Z.N.E. 01 in particular, because they could potentially be a great alternative to the Apple AirPods, offering the same open-fit design.
Well, not quite the same. The Z.N.E. 01 do have an unobtrusive earbud, which doesn’t have an in-ear tip or wing, but the silicone coating on the headphones should make for a more secure fit than you get with AirPods or other smooth open-fit buds like the Huawei Freebuds 4.
Although I have no problems with those smoother buds, many do, and adding a silicone coating to the Z.N.E. 01 is a smart move by Adidas. I found the buds stayed in place reliably through runs, cycles and strength workouts.
Using the Z.N.E. 01 headphones is pleasingly simple as well. They are comfortable to wear, since they have no wings or tips that might cause irritation to your ear, and they have connected reliably to my phone when using the buds together or independently.
As well as the auto-pause feature that kicks in when you remove the headphones from your ear, they have controls that are simple to use – one tap on the top of the stem of either bud for play/pause, two for skip, three for skip back. There are no volume controls, and you can’t customise either the controls or the EQ, but it’s an enjoyably faff-free experience to use the buds.
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At five hours in the buds plus 20 more in the case, the battery life is good, if not great, despite the case itself being chunkier and less pocket-friendly than many others, including the AirPods’ and the Huawei Freebuds 4’s.
Where the Z.N.E. 01 buds fall down is the sound quality. It’s passable, with no significant distortion, but the sound lacks power, there’s not a great deal of bass, and I found that the instruments and vocals mashed together.
They’re not awful to listen to, and in general I don’t expect wonders from the sound quality of open-fit buds, but both the Freebuds 4 and especially the AirPods 3 sound much better. If you want an open-fit design and don’t want to compromise too much on sound quality, the Apple buds are the best option.
However, at £169 the AirPods 3 are much more expensive than the Z.N.E. 01 buds. Even the cheaper AirPods 2 are £119, and the Freebuds 4 are £130 (though often reduced to £110). If you’re looking for a simple set of buds that are comfortable and fit securely for sports and don’t like using wings, in-ear tips or earhooks, the Z.N.E. 01 are certainly a good-value option.
Nick Harris-Fry is a journalist who has been covering health and fitness since 2015. Nick is an avid runner, covering 70-110km a week, which gives him ample opportunity to test a wide range of running shoes and running gear. He is also the chief tester for fitness trackers and running watches, treadmills and exercise bikes, and workout headphones.
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