Against the odds, Under Armour, JBL and Dwayne Johnson himself have managed to create a truly impressive pair of headphones. The confident design shows that all three parties clearly understand the needs of gym-goers, while the solid audio quality and ANC modes – although bested elsewhere – are still proficient enough to make a tempting package overall.
- Sturdy, gym-ready build
- Thick, breathable ear cushions
- Great overall sound
- Outstanding battery life
- Some disappointing equalizer features
- Vocals aren’t always as sharp as they could be
- 45-hour battery lifeKeep your workout going for longer
- Made in collaboration with The RockAlongside JBL and Under Armour
- Breathable ear cushionsDesigned to dry sweat quickly
Bringing together the expertise of Under Armour, JBL and Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, the UA Project Rock Over-Ear Training Headphones have to be seen (and heard) to be believed.
Whenever a celebrity gets involved in a piece of tech, I can’t help but wince since it’s usually a warning sign for what’s in store. Will.i.am put his name to a number of bizarre products in the 2010s (does anyone remember the Puls smartwatch?), and who can forget Soulja Boy’s disastrous gaming console? (Clearly most of us have.)
The precedent is hard to ignore, but this time round all three parties behind these training headphones have the nous to deliver the secret sauce to buck the trend.
Dwayne Johnson clearly knows his way around the gym, knowledge that’s key to designing a pair of headphones for fitness-minded folk. Throw in JBL’s track record of producing great-sounding products and Under Armour with its sportswear, and there’s promise. After several weeks of testing, the verdict is in.
- Understated, all-black aesthetic
- IPX4 rating
- Comfortable and breathable ear cushions
Look at the Project Rock headphones and there’s no mistaking that their use isn’t for any venue other than a gym. The all-black design coupled with the two bull icons on both ear-cups show they mean business. Without a discernible stylistic flourish, they’re not going to catch anyone’s attention on the street; but I really enjoy the overall aesthetic.
Unlike a lot of modern headphones, the Project Rock eschew touch controls in favour of large physical buttons. As anyone who’s navigated touch controls at the gym will tell you, sweat and touch technology do not mix, so chunky buttons with a good amount of give in them indicate how much Under Armour understands its target demographic.
The USB-C and 3.5mm port are covered when not in use, and the overall chassis boasts an IPX4 rating, meaning there’s little worry about breaking a sweat on the treadmill whilst wearing the headphones. All the right boxes are ticked, but what really impress are the Project Rock’s ear cushions.
Of all the headphones I’ve tested, none come close to the level of padding on display here. They feel incredibly comfortable, plus the ear cushions are made of a breathable material around the sides that helps to prevent a build-up of sweat, but that also does a great job of drying out quickly if it does become wet.
In the effort to make the ear cushions comfortable, UA hasn’t forgotten about hygiene, either; these cushions can be removed and hand-washed. On the design front, UA clearly understands the needs of its users, and the only issue I had was a slight looseness around the ears when lying on a workout bench.
In addition to a USB-A-to-USB-C cable and a headphone aux cable, the package includes a sturdy travel case. For those who have a tendency to fling headphones into a gym bag, the added protection afforded by the case is a plus.
- Lots of variations for ANC and Ambient mode
- Disappointing ‘Project Rock’ equalizer
- Battery lasts for ages
If Under Armor can be thanked for the design, it’s clear JBL’s sound-engineering expertise drives the device’s feature set. Active noise cancellation is present, and there are two modes to choose from: Everyday and Active.
Everyday is the go-to default, and it does a fine job of keeping unwanted noise at bay. It isn’t quite as powerful as the noise-cancelling on Sony’s premium headphones, but it extinguishes the gym radio to a barely audible hum.
Active mode is best saved for runs, retaining a degree of noise-cancelling whilst letting in some ambient sounds to establish awareness of surroundings.
I’m pleased that JBL has considered outdoor activities; however, personally I’ve had more use out of the dedicated Ambient mode. There are a couple of options to choose from: Ambient Aware pulls in all external noise to be heard alongside music; TalkThru lowers the volume and hones in on nearby conversations so you can engage in chit-chat without removing the headphones.
Both Ambient modes do a great job of allowing the right amount of the outside world to reach my ears without drowning out music completely, and the bull icon on the right ear-cup can be pressed to cycle through ANC and Ambient modes quickly.
All of these settings can be found in the JBL Headphones app, where there’s the ability to tweak the equalizer settings for a sound that best fits. You can create a custom EQ profile, and choose from a number of presets, the most notable being the “Project Rock EQ”.
Designed to the musical tastes of Dwayne Johnson himself, I anticipated something epic. The app describes the EQ as being able to deliver “premium sound quality with rich bass amplified to help you crush your workout”. You can imagine my disappointment when I discovered the Project Rock EQ to be the worst option out of all the presets.
To make sure it wasn’t just my go-to tracks that were the problem, I tested the EQ with a range of genres and bass levels to see if I could find a good fit. But in every scenario the standard Bass preset easily outperformed the Project Rock EQ.
However, as a result of the proficiency of the other presets on offer, this isn’t a dealbreaker; but it does make me wonder how such an oversight could have occurred. After all, Dwayne Johnson’s involvement is all over the box and is the main attraction for anyone after a pair of gym-ready headphones.
Outside of the equalizer settings, there are a few quality-of-life features worth noting. Like the Sony WH-1000XM4, the Project Rock headphones have an auto-pause function that kicks in when the headphones are removed. The feature works well for the most part, but there were instances where it didn’t recognise that I’d taken them off.
There’s also a function button on the left-hand ear-cup to summon the preferred digital assistant on a mobile device, or toggle between the Everyday and Active ANC modes. While I appreciate the button being there, it would have been nice had it delivered a bit more functionality, such as the ability to toggle various EQ presets.
One of the biggest features of the Project Rock headphones is the monumental battery life of up to 45 hours. Of course, it’s difficult to test that in one go, but I found over the course of six hours of continuous playback that the battery dropped by only 10% from a full 100% charge. Charging the headphones to 100% from zero takes two hours – which isn’t fast by any metric, but hardly an issue with such lengthy stamina at its disposal.
- Great overall sound quality that’s a pleasure to hear
- Vocals can get lost in bass-heavy songs
- Non-workout tracks fare just fine
So the build quality of these headphones is great, and the feature set – despite a few issues – is largely solid – but what about the Project Rock headphones’ sound quality? Well, given their intended use, let’s kick things off with one of my favourite workout tracks: Godzilla by Eminem.
Anyone who’s heard it will know the song maintains a heavy bassline throughout, and the energy behind it can be felt right from the off with the Project Rock headphones. I will say that the vocal separation isn’t quite as profound as I’d like, but the mids come through clearly; I was able to distinctly pick up the piano keys that echo through the chorus.
I found this to be the case for other go-to gym anthems such as Kickstart My Heart by Mötley Crüe, with the guitar and drums just about outweighing the vocals throughout the song. In all of these cases, though, switching over to the “Vocal” equalizer worked as a makeshift fix.
However, this doesn’t apply to songs where the mix already favours the vocals over everything other channel. Pop classics such as Gwen Stefani’s The Great Escape and The Beach Boys’ Kokomo – I have eclectic tastes – come through just fine and are a joyful listen.
Should you buy it?
You need gym-ready headphones The Project Rock Over-Ears are easily one of the best pairs of headphones you can take with you to the gym, delivering a rugged design that’s tough where it needs to be but breathable around the ears.
You want best-in-class sound These headphones certainly do an admirable job, but they aren’t in the same league as other pairs such as the Sony WH-1000XM4 or the Bowers & Wilkins PX7.
Despite the odds that are usually stacked against celebrity-endorsed products, the UA Project Rock Over-Ear Training Headphones are quite an achievement, blending great audio with a design that gym-goers will love from the outset.
Not every feature sticks the landing, such as the bizarrely underwhelming Project Rock equalizer, but with plenty of ANC and Ambient mode settings, not to mention monster battery life that’s perfect for all-day workouts, the Project Rock headphones are a fantastic piece of kit.
How we test
We test every pair of earbuds we review thoroughly over an extended period of time. We use industry standard tests to compare features properly. We’ll always tell you what we find. We never, ever, accept money to review a product.
Find out more about how we test in our ethics policy.
Tested over several weeks
Tested with real world use
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Yes, the headphones come with IPX4 water-resistance.
You can connect up to two devices at one time.