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On-ear headphones are not the typical choice for those intent on getting sweaty with a soundtrack. The two main issues with most sets are that the cushioned pads don’t react well to persistent exposure to perspiration, and they make your ears hot and uncomfortable when working out.
Urbanears aims to buck the trend with the Hellas headphones, which have removable, washable pads that can shrug off a bucketload of sweat without falling apart, meaning committed fans of on-ear headphones have a viable option for their exercise. And mostly, the Hellas are a success, especially as at £75 you’re not paying a huge premium to get a pair of sporty on-ear cans.
Let’s start with those pads, which can be popped off easily and washed by hand or in a washing machine. The band on the Hellas also has a removable pad on it, because the top of your head gets sweaty too. The pads are built for durability, rather than comfort, and they did feel a little scratchy the first time I wore the Hellas. They wear in over time and soften, especially after a wash, but they’re never going to be as comfortable as a more cushioned, less sweat-resistant set.
Fortunately, Urbanears has managed to get the fit of the Hellas just right. They’re not so tight that the pads are pressed against the ears uncomfortably, but also not so loose that they move around or fly off when you’re exercising. Frenetic workouts with plenty of jumping will knock them loose eventually but for running and weight training, the fit of the Hellas is excellent.
They are still on-ear headphones, however, so you do have to accept that your ears are going to get sweatier and hotter than if you were exercising with in-ear buds. If you’re outdoors and it’s not blazing sunshine, it’s not really an issue, but I found for indoor workouts of more than 30 minutes they become a bit uncomfortable unless you’re training at a very stately pace.
The sound quality of the Hellas is solid, if unremarkable. The highs can stray into harsh and fuzzy territory when the volume is turned up, and some will find the bass to be a little underpowered, but they sound good enough that I enjoyed music in the office and while travelling, as well as for exercise.
The good news is you can use them all day thanks to the 14-hour battery life, which outlasts anything you’ll find on wireless in-ear headphones, and they’re easy to take anywhere. The Hellas fold in on themselves to make it easy to shove them in a bag and carry with you.
While wearing the Hellas you can control your music using a clever touch interface on the ear pad. Holding your finger on the pad turns the headphones on and off, you swipe up and down for volume, left and right to skip tracks, and tap to play/pause and take calls, which were impressively clear. The touch interface isn’t infallible – sometimes taps and swipes don’t register correctly or at all, especially when I flailed at the pad mid-run – but it worked well most of the time.
On-ear headphones are never going to be as good an option for workouts as in-ear buds, but the Hellas were more enjoyable and comfortable for running and training than I expected. Your ears will still get hot, but you don’t have to worry about the Hellas breaking when encountering sweat and the extra battery life is certainly welcome. If you want on-ear cans for every walk – or run – of life, the Hellas are a great pick.
£74.75, buy on amazon.co.uk (opens in new tab)
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.