Apple's W1 line of headphones have been on the market for over a year now, and even if you don't love the sound of the company's Beats line, it's hard to argue with extra-long battery life and the W1's convenience. It's why Apple's AirPods and Beats X headphones are staples in my bag wherever I travel — I largely leave my over-ear Bose QC35s at home with my Mac.
But on my most recent derby trip, I shook up my packing list and only brought a single set of headphones: Libratone's new in-ear Track+. With water resistance for the gym, a 8+ hour battery life, CityMix noise isolation, and Libratone's excellent reputation for sound, the headphones are a tempting all-purpose option — so much so that I've had my Beats X in a drawer for the last month.
Form, fit, and style
On first glance, the $199 Track+ look very similar to Apple's wireless in-ear Beats set: they're thin and light, with a cord that wraps around the base of your neck with two weighted battery packs (one with a micro-USB port, the other with headphone controls).
But where the Beats employ a flat cord all the way around, the Track+ swaps for a rounded cable between the batteries and your ears; it makes for a much nicer experience while in your ears or when putting them away in a small pouch.
The buds, too, have superior comfort over the Beats X and many other in-ear models I've tried: I've worn the Track+ for many 6-8 hour periods over the last month, and the only time I felt any ear fatigue or pain was with the optional ear-wings attachment (which I promptly removed).
That in of itself is also pretty special: I have an ear canal that despises traditional earbuds; it usually takes me fifteen minutes or more to tweak a setup with customizable buds that works for my ears, and wingtips are almost always required. With the Track+, I assumed the same would be the case, but I actually found the earbuds much more comfortable without wings or any silicone bud adjustment. I suspect part of this is due to Libratone's pill-shaped earbud: The rear plastic provides enough of a wedge and balance in my ears that I very rarely had issues with headphone slippage.
The one place where I considered installing wingtips: The gym. While the Track+ did admirably during runs, rows, and deadlifts, I had one earbud repeatedly fall out when doing torso-twisting motions like skater jumps.
Battery life has been about on par with Libratone's estimates in the last month, giving me 7-9 hours per charge. Like Apple's offerings, the Track+ communicates decreasing battery life with a series of beeps; it's not my favorite way of communication, personally, but it's effective enough (beeping at 20 and 10 percent, respectively). That said, I still wish more companies would implement Bose's system of speaking the battery percentage level when you turn the headphones on and at low levels.
Sound and noise cancellation
I've always personally liked Libratone's audio, and here again the company has delivered a top-notch experience in the Track+. In side-by-side tests with the Beats X, the headphones rated similarly, but I'd give the edge to Libratone for slightly richer mids and highs; the Beats have a tendency to get flat and tinny on more complex mixes. I have noticed the occasional bass over-vibration, but that may also have to do with my choice of equalizer settings (especially in Spotify).
In addition to solid sound, Libratone offers a version of its CityMix noise cancellation for the Track+, though in practice it provides more noise-isolation-like sound than pure cancellation (mostly due to how well the buds seal against your ears). That said, the addition is noticeable when compared to the Beats X and other in-ear headphones — it may not beat Bose's cancellation technology anytime soon, but it does help mute outside noise and hums. I used the Track+ in lieu of my QC35s or Beats X on two recent flights — one of which involved a propeller plane — and while it didn't completely drown out the noise of the propeller, it made the cabin an infinitely more pleasant place to travel. (Like the Beats X, you should still expect music to be near-max for your best drown-out experience.)
The Track+ has multiple different CityMix options that you can toggle with the Power button, including an app-only pass through option (which mutes your music and routes the cancellation mic through your headphones, so you can hear the outside world). I especially love this last inclusion: It provides just a little more real-world sound than your traditional pause button. (You can activate it either from the app or by double-pressing the Power button.)
A mixed app experience
If I can pinpoint one flaw in the Track+ experience, it's the Libratone app: While it's well-designed, I frequently ran into issues where the Track+ wouldn't appear as connected — even when it was actively playing music through Bluetooth on that same device. It's a shame, because the headphones' Bluetooth switching works pretty seamlessly between iPhone, Watch, and Mac, but switching between devices seems to freak out the app; it often requires a complete re-pair to get it to "see" already-connected headphones.
It's here where I most miss the convenience of Apple's W1 chip: I like knowing my headphones are always going to work with no compromises or confusion. Even though the Track+'s Bluetooth works well, the lack of equally strong pairing in the app takes away some of the headphones' cooler features (including manually tweaking CityMix, using the pass through option, and changing the ambient EQ).
Updated May 9, 2018: Added more information about CityMix controls.
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