Enter the natural habitat of any gearhead—a Best Buy, maybe, or a coffee shop in San Francisco’s SoMa neighborhood. If you’re lucky, you will soon hear the gearhead’s plaintive call. “But it’s worth it!” someone will cry. Whether they’re pointing at a $900 tablet or holding a $2,800 camera, it’s usually true that you get what you pay for.
It can be really hard to reconcile our expertise with a normal person’s budget. Before this week, if you’d asked me for a great pair of wirefree workout headphones for around $40, I would’ve told you that barring very few exceptions, you get what you get.
When I tried the Back Bay Tempo 30, I had to check and double-check the price before immediately making my colleague Parker Hall try them too. I wore the $40 earbuds running and walking my dog in the rain, and dangling upside down in the climbing gym, and I couldn’t shake them. They’re so good, I feel bad recommending any other workout headphones.
Back Bay Audio is a Boston-based startup. Founder Jeremy Abend spent a year developing workout headphones that would have a premium fit and sound, without the retail markup.
From the moment I took them out of the packaging, I was shocked. The case is aluminum and tiny, noticeably smaller than my AirPods Pro case. They come with six different rubber ear tip sizes. I tried the rose gold version, but they also come in black.
Unlike other buds, the ear tips vary not only in size but in depth. I have extremely small and shallow ears. Fitting is normally a tedious process, and I still get nervous if there’s no additional ear fin or wing to hold the bud in. The shallow, medium ear tips that came on the Tempo 30 out of the box fit me securely and perfectly. That never happens.
Pairing was simple. I just selected them in my iPhone 11’s Bluetooth menu. They don’t have an app to tinker with EQ, but they do have active noise canceling that is pretty effective. I had to take them out to hear my kids talking to me when I got home from a run.
Tapping the right bud activates Bass Boost mode. It was hard to tell when it was active, because tapping the right bud is also how you turn up the volume. You can turn the volume down by tapping on the left. I tried to switch to Bass Boost several times, but as befits a pair of workout headphones, the bass is heavy even without it.
In fact, the drums on Elle King’s “Drunk and I Don’t Want to Go Home” were so heavy that I actually took the buds out of my ears at the gym to check. It seemed impossible that no one else could hear the low end besides me.
These buds have a bunch of market-beating specs. The battery life is eight hours and 32 with the case. After four days of wearing them more or less constantly, the battery is still at 80 percent. They’re rated IPX7, which means they can be submerged to a depth of 1 meter for 30 minutes—I ran while wearing them in pouring rain (thanks, Oregon), and they felt and sounded fine.