Gear: Sound systems to tune up workouts

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Sound systems for workouts

Sound system options for workouts include the wired headband RunPhones, the shoulder-harness Creanovative Sonicwalk Lightning and the helmet-mounted O-tus SafeSounds. (RunPhones photo: Acoustic Sharp; other photos: Roy M. Wallack, For the Los Angeles Times / June 4, 2012)

Music may be the ultimate performance-enhancing drug. It makes long runs shorter, big hills smaller and hard stuff easier. In fact, studies have shown it can speed your warm-up by raising your heart rate, motivating you to move faster, even enhancing your coordination. On the other hand, wearing earbuds can be dangerous — and illegal — for cyclists and runners because they can seal out ambient sound; in fact, Florida and Rhode Island prohibit headphone use in any vehicle; California, Maryland, and Delaware legally limit their use to one ear. Here's some innovative, sports-friendly sound systems that either get around those legal limitations or stay in place better, making them safer and more convenient ways to feel the beat.

Good helmet vibrations

O-tus Safe Sounds helmet speakers: Tiny near-ear 15-watt speakers, mounted to a bike or skate helmet by Velcro tabs, that provide stereo sound without sealing out ambient noise.

Likes: Effective and safe. Positioned near your ears but not in them, O-tus delivers personal surround sound that no one else can hear, without blocking out nature. I'd never ride with earbuds for that reason, but with these you get the music and the magical sounds of birds crying, snakes slithering through the brush and your partner complaining about the endless, grinding climbs. O-tus and my iPod definitely made a recent five-hour mountain bike ride in the Santa Anas go by a lot faster. It comes with enough extra Velcro stickers for several helmets.

Dislikes: It's compatible with an iPod but requires a stereo Bluetooth receiver to work with a smartphone.

Price: $42. (951) 252-5780; http://www.o-tus.com

A concert while you workout

Creanovative Sonicwalk Lightning: Spandex/neoprene shoulder harness for runners that includes two speakers, volume control, a battery and a flashing red rear light. Your phone or iPod fits in a pocket in one of the straps.

Likes: It turns you into a running, rolling DJ. Just hope your training partners like your music choices, because they'll hear them 50 feet away at max volume. When the lightweight (9-ounce) product is tightened snugly, your phone or iPod doesn't bounce around and you forget you're wearing anything. The battery is rechargeable by USB, with a claimed full charge of eight to 10 hours. The rear flashing LED red light is extremely visible at night. For cyclists and hikers, the Sierra model attaches to conventional backpack straps for hiking and cycling.

Dislikes: Hard to clean. While it's washable after taking out the speakers, wires, battery and control unit, doing so is such a hassle (we couldn't disconnect the wires) that we gave up. It ought to have a zippered compartment for easy removability. I experienced some underarm chafing while running, although my skinny son didn't. Also, you can't see the speakers' on-off light in the daytime, so you can mistakenly drain the battery.

Price: $99. http://www.sonicwalk.com or amazon.com

Music in a sweatband

RunPhones: Headband with two small speakers inside that you connect to a music player.

Likes: Comfortable and safe alternative to ear buds. So lightweight (2 ounces, including a 4-foot cord and plug) that you forget it's there. Since the tiny speakers are on top of your ears, not inside, they can't move around or fall out like ear buds and don't block ambient noise. The simple design — a Polartec polyester-spandex mesh tube housing the padded speakers and their wires — allows for easy washing; just open the Velcro-sealed slot and pull them out in seconds. Stuffing them back in takes a minute or two.

Dislikes: Threading the speakers into place through the Velcro slot is a minor hassle; a lengthwise zippered opening would simplify the task.

Price: $34.95. (877) 838-4790; http://www.runphones.com

Stick it in your ear

Klipsch Image S 5i Rugged headphones: High-end ear buds with a design that prevents them from falling out and a remote control with big, tactile buttons that are easy to control by feel.

Likes: A secure and comfortable fit, great sound quality, a convenient remote and practical phone conversation capability. The angled, mushroom-shaped speaker covers, made of soft silicone, unobtrusively conform to the shape of your ear canal; they didn't come out during several hours of running and mountain biking. No ambient noise leaks in, making for great sound quality. The 2.4-inch-long remote includes a pinhole microphone for hands-free phone calls and three big, tactile, raised volume and phone-answering buttons (+, -, and a triangle for pause; numerous presses give more commands), allowing the phone to stay safely tucked away in a pocket or pack. It comes with four replacement silicone heads and a clamshell case with a built-in flashlight and clip.

Dislikes: The remote control only works with the newest iPhone and iPod models. Since it blocks out all ambient noise, it's dangerous for outdoor riding and running, especially on roads. Keep this one for the treadmill.

Price: $129.99. (800) KLIPSCH; Klipsch.com

Wallack is the coauthor of "Barefoot Running Step by Step" and "Bike for Life: How to Ride to 100." roywallack@aol.com

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