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Posted: June 27, 2020:  

Athletics: Product Review - Adidas FWD-01 Sport Headphones

By Veronica Allan

Veronica is a freelance journalist and sport research consultant living in Ottawa, ON, where she is a member of the OAC racing team. She holds a PhD in sport psychology from Queen’s University, and works with organizations in the sport sector to create and share knowledge widely within the Canadian sport system. She was introduced to the sport of cross-country running in Grade 4, and has been running ever since.

Last year, Adidas entered the sport headphone market with the FWD-01. And while several tech companies have partnered with sports apparel brands to sell headphones, Adidas is one of the few sport-based companies to develop and market its own wireless headphones designed with the active person in mind. According to Adidas:

The FWD-01 offers 16 hours of wireless playtime in a sweat proof design that’s optimized for your workout. Ergonomically designed earbuds use passive transparency to keep you in touch with your surroundings, and all the controls you need are on a lightweight, knitted, tangle-free cord, ensuring frictionless movement and unbeatable performance, from warm-up, to workout, to recovery. Sport is constant. So are you.

Over the past few weeks, I have been using the Adidas FWD-01 sport headphones to listen to music and the occasional podcast during a variety of activities—ranging from light stretching and yoga to dog-walking and training runs. The verdict: The FWD-01s delivered solid audio performance and comfort for exercise at low to moderate intensities (e.g., walking, stretching, strength training), but I struggled to find a level of fit and unimpeded sound quality that could stick with me through longer, faster-paced workouts.

Initial Impressions

True to the Adidas brand, the FWD-01 sport headphones arrived in a sleek and sporty package. Inside the package, the headphones were carefully wrapped in white tissue paper. In addition to the headphones, the package housed a “quick start guide,” a USB charging cable, a soft pouch for earphone protection during storage or transportation, and four different sizes of ear tips and ear wings that could be mixed and matched to find the right fit for your ear size and shape.

The headphones themselves have an athletic yet industrial aesthetic. The earpieces are dark grey and black with metallic flecks. They are quite large and chunky, but not heavy. A white LED light on the right earbud indicates when they are turned on, and flashes from red to yellow to green when they are charging.

The earpieces are connected with a grey-and-black “lightweight, knitted, tangle-free cord” that resembles a shoelace. When wearing the headphones, the cord hangs around the back of the neck while the earpieces are inserted in each ear. The earpieces can be linked magnetically at the front of the neck when you are not using them—a convenient feature that automatically pauses the audio. They can also be linked for hassle-free storage when you are not wearing them.

Getting Started

Having never owned a pair of wireless headphones, I was surprised to find myself facing two unanticipated challenges. First, I did not know how the earpieces were intended to fit in my ears. Second, I did not know how to pair the headphones with an audio source (e.g., a phone, tablet, computer) using a Bluetooth connection. The Adidas FWD-01 Quick Start Guide offered very limited instructions, and I primarily relied on YouTube videos to get set up.

In terms of fit, the FWD-01 headphones come with four different sizes of silicon ear tips (i.e., a small rounded piece that gets inserted directly into the ear) and ear wings (i.e., a spiral-shaped piece that twists into the antihelix of the ear to hold the earphones in place). I experimented with different combinations until I found a fit that appeared to work for me, although it still takes me a few tries to get them into a snug position in each ear every time I use them. They passed the “headbanger” test, but the earpieces do tend to fall out easily with contact. For example, I often have to reinsert the earpieces after touching my head or adjusting my hair.

They were very easy to pair with my phone via Bluetooth, even though there is a typo in the Quick Start Guide that took me a few minutes to figure out (the instructions state that the power button needs to be held down for two seconds to connect with Bluetooth at first, but state four seconds a few lines later—the correct answer is four seconds). After pairing the FWD-01s with my iPhone 7, a notification popped up on my phone to let me know that I did not have the app required to use the Adidas FWD-01 sport headphones. I went to the App Store to download the Adidas Headphones app, but it was “not available in my country or region.” Fortunately, the headphones worked with the other audio apps on my phone (e.g., Spotify). The downside of not having access to the Adidas Headphones app is that I cannot customize the buttons on the FWD-01 cord, or use voice control. Another downside of the headphones more generally is that they cannot be paired with a laptop or computer.

Pressing Play

The first time I used the FWD-01s, I was at home doing some stretching and core exercises. The audio was very clear, and I had no issues keeping them in place. They worked so well that I decided to take them on my next run… but I only made it about 300m down the street before the battery died. Although they are marketed as having 16 hours of wireless playtime and I had only used them for about an hour or so prior to this run, I had forgotten to power them off in between uses. Now, I always make sure they are turned off when I finish using them, as the battery continues to drain even when left in standby mode.

After charging them up, I started using them while I walked the dog, and eventually tested them out on full run. While walking outdoors, I enjoyed the quality of the sound and appreciated the passive transparency feature—living in an urban area, I like being able to hear what’s going on around me (e.g., passing cars or cyclists). Of note: these may not be the headphones for you if noise cancellation is your preference. I also liked how the buttons on the cord simplified volume (up/down) and playback (play/pause) control without needing to access the device.

While running, it was a different story. Every time the hair in my ponytail swished against the cord that connects the earpieces (which happened with every stride), or when the cord bounced up and down on the back of my neck (which also happened with every stride), I would hear a rustling in the earpieces that muffled the sound of the audio. The sound was distracting, and diminished the enjoyment that I would typically experience during an outdoor run—not to mention the fact that it was quite difficult to hear the music or podcast!

Final Thoughts

All things considered, I didn’t find the Adidas FWD-01s to be a particularly user-friendly or comfortable pair of sport headphones. They delivered solid audio performance and a decent fit for exercise at low to moderate intensities (e.g., walking, stretching, strength training), but faster-paced runs or workouts requiring overhead movements and direction changes limited their comfort, utility, and sound quality.

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