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It makes sense that Rapha would partner with Bang & Olufsen (B&O) for a limited run of the Rapha E8 Sport wireless earbuds. Rapha tends to find the brands that align with its design aesthetic, taste and quality and collaborate. If you are unfamiliar with B&O, the Danish company manufactures some of the best audio speakers on the planet. As an audiophile, I personally own two of its portable, wireless products: Beolit 15 (B&O is now on Beolit 20) and the Beoplay A2 Play. Both have impressive sound quality, ease of use and design. So, it makes sense that the E8 Sport earbuds would render the same characteristics, but in a tiny package. And they do, no question. Aesthetically these earbuds are sleek, clean, light and low in profile. They don’t bulge out like a lot of speakers in their class; and initial fit is spot-on.
Set them up
I’ve experienced agony with setup of generic wireless earbuds. They connect initially but then get lost and the cycle of being connected and then not is frustrating. For the E8 Sports, simply download the B&O app, activate Bluetooth on your phone and the app will find them. Simple and painless. In the app, you can adjust the sound in “Listening Modes” with ranges like “Warmer” and “Optimal” to a mode you can create yourself—and call it “Badass” if you want.
Now you are in
I don’t and won’t use these buds while riding a bike outdoors. I think it’s too risky. No matter how great the fit is it in your ear, why take the chance of throwing $350 into the gutter (literally)? I do use them on walks, while working on my computer and when riding on my indoor trainer. Despite all the potential interference from laptop, phone, trainer, desktop that sits 4 feet away, along with multiple other products vying for Bluetooth connectivity, the E8 Sports never dropped out. The signal strength stands consistently strong, regardless of the “noise.”
Tap and double tap
Tapping the buds is how you navigate through such things as play (tap 1x on the right), next track (2x on the right), volume up (touch and hold the right), voice activation to answer a phone call, and many other things. In the “heat of the moment” while on the trainer I often “paused” when I wanted to skip to the next track, went “volume up” when I wanted to go down and on and on. The point being, while the functionality is welcomed, you will forget what does what. At least I did.
Make no mistake, any B&O product will have impressive sound. Also, you will pay for said sound. I must confess the two B&O wireless speakers I own, I bought used, so $350 for two small speakers you stuff in your ears may seem a bit extreme. However, as a sound-junkie, I would go that extra $100 compared to Apple AirPods Pro. Call it B&O Kool-Aid or naïveté, I’m in. What you get is mind-bending sonics. You won’t get any screeching tin sound and the bass will be just enough to remind you that despite it being a tiny speaker, it’s not messing around. Because of the ability to tune the sound via the B&O app, you’ll never be left wondering what you may have missed at the end of that early 1970s Black Sabbath song…you know the one. They never felt overburdened by any song whether Sabbath, Bowie or that cool, obscure folk-rock band you somehow “discovered.”
Fit and finish
Unlike traditional over-ear, on-ear headphones or even wired in-ear earbuds, the trickiest part of wireless earbuds is the fit. Naturally, not all ears and ear cavities are built the same! That would be weird. In most cases, the “stock” setup will do just fine, but just in case the E8 Sports come with four sizes of silicone Ear Tips (XS, S, M, L), three sizes of silicone Ear Fins (S, M, L) and a silicone Comply tip (M). These are the components I have thrown out in the past (I know I’m not alone). I encourage you to put these in a safe place—hell, you just paid $350, so you may as well keep them! If you can’t dial the fit in with all these options, there’s something wrong with your ear.
Unlike a lot of wireless earbuds on the market, these aren’t bulbous and unwieldy. Push them into the cavity, jiggle them around a little until they meet the section just above your lobe and they will sit flush with the outer part of your ear. There’s no “stick” protruding from the bottom or exaggerated speaker body. You can tell the designers at B&O looked at these in someone’s ear for hours and hours, making sure they are aesthetically pleasing.
The only issue you may have is when you start sweating, whether on the trainer or on a run. I’m grateful that they are sweatproof (they’ll sound good forever) and waterproof (even underwater, I guess) but they tended to slip and slide in my ear. You will find yourself repositioning them here and there, even if the initial fit seemed spot-on. Wet-from-sweat silicone tips in your ear do move around. Don’t be surprised either if in repositioning the buds, you will skip or pause a song or change the volume. The buds are sensitive to touch/tap which is their function and is great, but changes will happen when repositioning.
Cancel noise culture
So, you are digging deep on your trainer climbing the virtual Stelvio. Your noisy portable house fan is humming, the window is open, cold air and noise is rushing in, and the whir of the cassette is happening. You hear nothing but Thievery Corporation. Noise-cancelling is in full effect. Same happens in a plane coming back from a trip. My wife is rolling her eyes because the kid behind her is throwing a fit, as is the one in front of her. I hear nothing. They work because they are properly fit in your ear and you can turn Zeppelin up to a level that makes “little Bobby” go away.
Naturally, anything wireless will have a battery life. Unlike my pair of generic wireless earbuds that hold maybe a two-to-three-hour charge, the E8 Sports will easily go five-to-six hours. The aforementioned flight tested the battery life and the buds stayed fueled throughout. In the event you need some juice, make sure the case is charged. Pop the buds into the molded holes and in no time, you will gain battery life. With anything wireless, the key is to be prepared. The charger case will be your best friend!
Rapha put its name on something good. It’s a collaboration that fits with the company’s aesthetic and attention to detail. Did Rapha make the speaker? No, of course not. The E8 Sport and traditional E8 model are already in its lineup. But it’s a good thing to align yourself with quality, non-endemic companies and products. It opens markets and it fits the Rapha branding mantra.
No doubt, there are several choices of wireless earbuds out there to choose from. Go the cheap route and you will hear it. Spend $100–$150 and you will get good earbuds. Spend $350 and you will truly get what you pay for: B&O quality and sound. Of course, some will ask if there really is that much difference between a $30 pair of buds and the $350 B&Os? Or even, the $100–$249 speakers? Naturally, like a saddle and bike shoes, it comes down to personal choice. Some spend $500 on shoes and $30 on a saddle and vice versa. For me, I think there is a big difference. In our freakishly disposable society, these will truly be the last and only wireless earbuds you buy.
What’s in the box?
• Charging case with built-in wireless charging; USB-C charging cable
• 4 sizes of Silicone Ear Tips (XS, S, M L)
• 3 sizes of Silicone Ear fins (S, M, L)
• 1 size Comply™ tips (M)
• Quick Start Guide
$350. Rapha branded model no longer available. bang-olufsen.com
To get a better understanding of the collaboration between Rapha and Bang & Olufsen, we chatted with John Roberts, head of product for Rapha from the company’s world headquarters in London, U.K.
So, John, why Bang & Olufsen (B&O)? B&O have a longstanding history of being one of, if not the, most innovative and revolutionary audio-visual brands in the world. There is a great deal of synergy between our two brands and we’ve worked together in the past.
Alongside this, indoor training has seen a real resurgence in the past few years. More accessible and relevant now than ever, it seems to have found a place in the home-workout routine of all kinds of cyclists, and as an invaluable training tool when conditions aren’t favorable for riding outside (or when restrictions won’t allow it!).
So, when determining which partner we wanted to work with to continue to round out our Indoor Training proposition, B&O was a pretty obvious choice for us. Their longstanding history of innovative and beautiful designs coupled with Rapha’s expertise in creating the finest products for use on the bike felt like a good match to create something unique and valuable.
Give us some insight as to how the collaboration unfolded? There’s a deep connection between cycling and music, along with the perceived benefits that music can have on performance. Our research behind the collaboration took us back to 1910, when an academic named Leonard P. Ayres made a fascinating discovery while watching the New York Six Day at Madison Square Garden. When the brass band was playing, riders completed a mile, on average, 17 seconds quicker than when the band were not playing. This discovery has led to over a century’s worth of research into the effects of music in improving performance.
The aim of this partnership was to celebrate the role of music when focusing the rider’s mind and improve perceived performance whilst training indoors. The process of collaborating was very rewarding, with both brands working together to engineer a beautiful product optimized for indoor training sessions. They understand our brand and we understand theirs, which always makes things easier and more enjoyable!
Any future partnerships with B&O? A lot of consideration goes into deciding which brands we work with and we tend to work with partners for a number of years; this is not the first time we have worked with B&O and I don’t believe it will be the last; the response to our partnership continues to be extremely positive.
This product focused on the positive effect music can have in improving performance when training on the bike, and while many of us use music as a tool while riding on the turbo, it can also be used for exactly the opposite reason to calm us down and aid in recovery when we’re off the bike. Maybe there’s another story to tell and an interesting product there! We shall see….