When it comes to true wireless earphones for fitness, there’s more choice in 2022 than you’ll find at a five-star breakfast buffet. And now Adidas has sauntered into the mix, releasing three sets of Three-Striped earbuds in quick succession: the ZNE 01, the ZNE 01 ANC and more recently the FWD-02 Sport.
Priciest of the trio, the ZNE 01 ANC pack active noise cancellation, in-ear detection with auto-pause, and 20 hours total ANC battery life (with 4.5 hours in the earphones, plus 15.5 more in the compact, weather-protected case).
On paper, that makes for a pretty competitive package. But with the similarly-priced Beats Fit Pro, Jaybird Vista 2 and Jabra Elite 7 Active setting a high benchmark, can Adidas’ sporty buds really compete with the audio specialists? We put them to the test to find out.
Adidas ZNE 01 ANC price and rivals
At £165, the Adidas ZNE 01 ANC drop in towards the top-end spend for a set of fitness-friendly true wireless earbuds, alongside the Jabra Elite 7 Active (£170). They’re considerably more expensive than the very capable and compact Jabra Elite 4 Active (£120) and the stem-design Nothing Ear (1) ‘buds (£99), less expensive than the Jaybird Vista 2 at (£190) and a good chunk cheaper than the Powerbeats Pro (£220) and the Apple Airpods Pro (£249).
If your budget doesn’t stretch to the ZNE 01 ANC, you can pick up the non-ANC Adidas ZNE 01 for £85, where the main trade-off is the absence of ANC and some of the custom EQ smarts. Alternatively, the stem-free, in-ear FWD-02 Sport will set you back £140. These don’t offer ANC, but you do get the custom EQ and controls.
Adidas ZNE 01 ANC battery life
At £165, the Three Stripe-branded ZNE 01 ANC pack a solid – if not world-beating – range of features. They’re sweat- and water-resistant, come equipped with 6mm drivers, and benefit from a handful of EQ presets and customisable levels in the Adidas headphones app. Standalone battery life runs to 6 hours (with ANC off), with a further 20 served up by the compact and durable case. You also get decent 15 mins-for-an-hour rapid charging, plus support for wireless charging.
But when you consider that the ZNE 01 ANC are priced against some very serious competition, they, unfortunately, come up short on almost every metric: build, sound quality, battery life and ANC. They also lack some of the neat extra features that make rivals like the Vista 2, Jabra Elites and Beats Fit Pro such cracking fitness and everyday all-rounders.
For a start, the non-ANC and ANC workout times – both on the ‘buds and in the case – lag behind the competition. The rapid charge is three times slower and even a full charge takes 30% longer.
The 6-hour regular playback battery life falls short of the Jaybird Vista 2 (8 hours) and the Jabra Active 7 Elite (8+ hours). That said, you get 26 hours of listening time when case and earphones are combined, which is a little more competitive.
Adidas ZNE 01 ANC features & performance
The ANC and awareness modes on the ZNE 01 ANC do a reasonable job of controlling outside sounds. Sadly, the 6mm drivers deliver audio that’s plenty loud but a bit tinny – and the six EQ presets (including hip hop, electronic and pop) do little to remedy that. You can boost the bass a bit, but not to the level of other headphones.
We like that you can use each earbud independently to extend that battery life, but sadly the sound quality drops a lot with the left bud carrying more bass than the right.
Features are a bit thin on the ground, too. Each ZNE 01 ANC earbud does feature a contact sensor which can detect when you remove it from your lughole and automatically pause the music, no tapping necessary. But otherwise, the smarts are pretty limited: there’s no locator to help you track down misplaced earbuds; the controls, while fairly easy to use on the move (unless you’re wearing gloves), can’t be customised; and the durability rating isn’t as robust as other true wireless options at this price.
The compact case is ergonomic, well-engineered and nicely stashable in pockets, but the stem-design of the earphones themselves feels a bit plasticky. The ZNE 01 ANC are among the lightest earbuds around, so that might be a deliberate decision to keep things easy on the ears. And despite the lack of wingtips, the lightness certainly helps to create a lock-tight, stay-put fit. However, it also makes the ‘phones feel a little cheap, and the plastic shell can be a bit abrasive against delicate ears.
On the flip side, you do get reliable auto connection when you pull them out of the case. In fact, connectivity overall is solid.
Adidas ZNE 01 ANC comparisons
The ZNE 01 ANC face some stiff competition in the sporty true wireless world and they don’t fare all that well. The audio performance isn’t up to the likes of Jabra, Jaybird and Beats. And if you like the stem design, you can definitely find equal or better sound on much cheaper alternatives, such as the Nothing 1 Ear.
For that extra spend, you’d expect a full suite of tricks and tools. But the ZNE 01 ANC don’t carry the full suite of clever features that you find on rival earbuds, either. Things like bud locators, audio personalisation and fits tests. And the tools they do have – such as the custom EQ – just aren’t as good. By comparison, both Jabra and Jaybird allow you to create and save sound profiles, which the ZNE 01 ANC don’t.
In fact, if you’re willing to forego ANC, the Jabra Elite 4 Active and the Apple AirPods 3 both offer bigger battery life and better sound – although the ZNE 01 ANC’s excellent stay-put fit might put them ahead if you struggle with standard in-ear buds.
Adidas ZNE 01 ANC verdict
Adidas’ ZNE 01 ANC are generally an OK set of true wireless headphones for fitness. But their price tag demands a bit too much buck for the bang.
Snug and secure fit aside, they just don’t quite deliver enough overall quality. You can find better sound, longer battery life, tougher durability and better extra features for the same spend – or cheaper.
In fact, they’re arguably not even the best true wireless headphones in the Adidas line-up: we preferred the all-round performance of Adidas’ cheaper FWD-02 in-ears.
Overpriced, hit-and-miss ‘buds that lag behind the rivals on sound, design and playback endurance.
Compact, portable case
A bit plasticky
|Active Noise Cancellation||Yes|
|Water-resistance||IPX5 (buds), IPX4 (case)|
|Battery life||4.5 hours (ANC), 6 hours (ANC off)|
|Case battery life||20 hours|
|Rapid charging||15 minutes for 1 hour playback|
|Weight||4.2g (buds), 37g (case)|