Review: SOUL Combat+ and Transform performance headphones

Can SOUL Electronics bridge the gap between clarity and comfort under the harshest of conditions?

Most mixed martial arts (MMA) fans who visit with any degree of regularity are familiar with my Fitness Friday columns that tend to run from time to time. Their purpose is to generate discussion among the community about the highs and lows of working out and staying in shape.

And like we discussed earlier this year, you can't have a good workout without a good playlist.

What's unfortunate is how over the years, I had resigned myself to the fact that I was never going to be "in the zone" when getting my sweat on at the gym. That probably had a lot to do with my equipment, as I was wearing earbuds to the gym every morning and those little fuckers do a piss-poor job of delivering workout-friendly music.

Try AC/DC's "Thunderstruck" through a pair of earbuds.

The output is laughable, and more often than not, helpless against the sweathogs on the stationary bikes in that stuffy room next to the free weight area. They pump the music so loud in there that it drowns out the finer points of whatever it is I'm usually listening to.

Not that earbud clarity is so great to begin with.

I happened to be talking shop with one of my fitness friends the other day -- and by talking I mean pissing and moaning -- and he told me that one of his broskis could hook me up with a pair of performance headphones that would likely solve all my problems.

Thanks, but no thanks.

I tried the over-the-ear headphone thingy about two years ago and it was an unmitigated disaster. I have to workout at 5 a.m. in the morning to be home before my kid gets on the bus, so I don't have a lot of time to be dicking around at the gym and having a cup of coffee in between sets.

I'm in and I'm out.

That said, it's balls-to-the-wall while I am in there, so that means I get sweaty and gross after about 15 minutes of hauling ass or tossing around some kettlebells. Wearing a pair of expensive headphones -- that make me look like a Shemale version of Princess Leia with those giant ear buns -- was a huge distraction.

My focus needs to be on the equipment.

For starters, the flimsy plastic band on the top was sliding up and down my bald, sweaty head and nearly blinded me in the middle of a set. And I'm sure I don't have to graphically detail what happens to ear pads after a week's worth of sweat. They looked and smelled like tiny little catcher's mitts.


I told my buddy to spare me the angst, but he sent them anyway. In fact, he sent two pairs, both from SOUL Electronics, with a Post-it note informing me that I had an obligation to try them out because "Usain Bolt and Tim Tebow are wearing them," further proving he has no clue what it is I actually do for a living, but whatever, I decided to give 'em a shot.


What's funny is I had no idea the recording artist Ludacris was behind these until just a few days ago, but knowing that now, I can understand why these headphones sound the way they do. Musically, the Combat+ (see them here) are as good as Beats by Dre (BBD), but superior to them in construction.

I don't have time to pussyfoot in the gym or worry about protecting a pair of expensive headphones.

I have to handle my BBD with kid gloves, whereas Combat+ is designed for the rigors of intense exercising. Not only do they fold up to fit in your gym bag, they have detachable earpads so that when they get all sweaty and gross, you can just pop them off and wash them.

One pair is mesh, the other is memory foam.

The overhead band has a wide, open strip running down the middle to let air escape, so my head doesn't get all sweaty where it makes contact. Speaking of, it fits like compression gear with a close hug. Using the bench or doing rope work was never an issue.

In addition, each side is low profile and doesn't bulge out.

The Kevlar audio cable -- with volume control for iPhone/Pod/Pad -- is detachable, so if you're a klutz like I am and get it wrapped up in the weights, you won't rip your headphones off in the middle of the set, you'll simply lose sound until you can re-adjust and clip it back on to your shirt.

And they look badass (even on girls).

But having worn the two, I think I would have to recommend the Transform headphones (see them here) over the Combat+ for fitness enthusiasts. They don't look as hot as the beefier model, but I just couldn't get over how light they were. Without exaggeration, they are over-the-ear headphones that are as light as earbuds.

Without sacrificing clarity.

I actually heard less outside noise with the Transform and there was zero movement from them when I was high-tailing it on the treadmill. After using them both for a week, I think I would use the Combat+ for mountain biking, or hiking trails, but inside the gym where I'm transitioning from low-to-high impact exercises or working the heavy bag, I would stick with Transform, which also has a breathable headband and washable earpads.

Of course, none of that means squat if they sound like shit.

Wasn't an issue with either of the SOUL headphones. As expected, the bigger and more capable Combat+ sounded like you were alone inside a concert hall, but both models had incredible bass. Not just the whump-whump-whump bass, either, because I play a lot of hard rock and metal, which can sound like hot garbage on speakers designed for electronica.

Not this time.

No matter the genre, each headphone handled it like it was specifically designed for that song. It took some getting used to, partly because my music used to be all scratchy and distorted, but mostly because I was so accustomed to wearing earbuds.

Now that I've had a taste of what it's supposed to sound like, I'm never going back.

For more on the SOUL line of headphones and earphones click here.

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