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Best running headphones
Legs beg for a break and lungs inflate for air, while sweat creates an unsightly Rorschach test down the back of your unfortunately gray t-shirt. I need a break, your internal monologue says. Then, you hear the intro to Eye of the Tiger, and exhausted legs reprise for the final dash of your run. There’s nothing quite like a good song to keep you motivated, but you should treat yourself to any of the best running headphones to keep the jams pumping.
Maybe that’s not every run, but the right song can jolt morale and make that last haul feel like a cut-scene from Rocky. Though running with music isn’t for everyone, many still opt to liven up workouts with something from Spotify’s dime-a-dozen curated playlists. To make those heart-pumping songs sound that much better, we present to you the best running headphones.
Editor’s note: this list was updated on April 21, 2022, to expand the Buying guide, add the Jaybird Vista 2, Jabra Elite 4 Active, and Under Armour Project Rock Over-Ear Training Headphones by JBL to the best list. We also included frequency response and isolation charts and a disclosure box addressing old test data.
Runners will benefit most from a dedicated set of running headphones, though athletes at large and the profusely sweaty can appreciate them too. After combing through a range of reviews and lists, we’ve concluded that these are the standouts for cardio kids. Furthermore, if your current pair of running headphones are hindering workouts, any of these will be a welcome upgrade.
The best running headphones is the Plantronics BackBeat FIT 6100
If in-ears aren’t cutting it for your runs, check out the Plantronics BackBeat FIT 6100. These workout headphones come with an IPX5 rating, meaning that they won’t break a sweat when you’re sweating from your runs.
The BackBeat FIT 6100 is designed with several features that make it ideal for runners. Its lightweight construction ensures that you won’t be weighed down by the headphones. Its use of Bluetooth 5.0 helps provide a stable connection, allowing for an uninterrupted listening experience during your runs. Sound-wise, these headphones feature a boosted low-end, where bass synths and kick drums may sound twice as loud as the mids and highs—a common preference for workout headphones.
One of the best features of the BackBeat FIT 6100 is its battery life. From our testing, the headphones provided us with 26 hours and 49 minutes of playtime on a single charge. That being said, these headphones are guaranteed to last several running sessions without the need to charge in between uses.
The Jaybird Vista 2 is tough as nails
The Jaybird Vista 2 is among the best running headphones for those in need of a secure fit. With the Vista 2 wireless workout earbuds, you get IP68-rated buds with MIL-STD-810G certification and a case with an IP54 rating. These earbuds are nearly indestructible, but they have plenty of tech packed beneath their strong shells.
You get active noise cancelling, though it’s not very good, and Bluetooth 5.0 with support for the SBC and AAC Bluetooth codecs. While the codec suite is typical, the app experience is not. Jaybird’s mobile app is one of the best in the business: it’s stable, user-friendly, and feature packed. You can customize the EQ, toggle ANC, check the battery, find your earbuds, test your hearing, and more.
Those who don’t want to mess around with the EQ module to get the perfect sound don’t have to: the Vista 2 follows our house curve very closely along the sub-bass and bass response. The treble response deviates a bit from our house curve, but generally follows it still. This means that music of all kinds should sound good here with little to no tinkering.
The Vista 2 is an expensive pair of buds but it’s worth it for those who want the most durable buds money can buy.
The Jabra Elite 3 is a great pair of budget earbuds for running
If you want wireless earbuds on a budget, you can’t beat the Jabra Elite 3. These earbuds feature an IP55 certification and are dust- and water-resistant.
These earbuds use Bluetooth 5.2 and can stream over the SBC or aptX Bluetooth codec. This is the only headset on the list with aptX support, a rarity among workout earbuds of any kind. With aptX, Android phone owners can enjoy high-quality audio to their devices.
Battery life is average and just shy of 7 hours with the case providing an additional three charge cycles. You should get about 28 hours of battery before you need to top up with the included USB-C cable. You don’t get wireless charging but you do get fast charging: 10 minutes of charge yields 60 minutes of playback.
The earbuds sound good, though bass-heavy, and you can change this with the app. Unlike some of Jabra’s more premium offerings like the Elite 4 Active, you can only select from a handful of EQ presets with the Elite 3, rather than create a custom sound profile. Still, you can enable HearThrough mode through the app and take advantage of Spotify integration. It’s worth a download, and the Elite 3 is definitely worth your money at much less than $100 USD.
Get the Under Armour Project Rock Over-Ear Training Headphones by JBL if you want noise canelling
JBL and Under Armour foster a strong partnership and the Under Armour Project Rock Over-Ear Training Headphones by JBL is a favorite among athletes of all kinds. The over-ear design stays in place, unless you go to do a bench press. At that point, the headset will just slide off your head, something we’ve also experienced with the Sony WH-1000XM4.
The My JBL Headphones app is surprisingly good and allows you to create a custom EQ if you want to tone down its extremely bass-heavy sound. With the app, you can also adjust the active noise cancelling (ANC) intensity and enable TalkThru, which quiets your music and amplifies background noise through the headset so you can have a quick conversation.
The Project Rock Training Headphones use Bluetooth 5.0 and support the SBC and AAC Bluetooth codecs. Android users may experience some lag, but it shouldn’t be too noticeable. Bluetooth 5.0 is fairly energy efficient and it shows given the headset’s 41-hour, 13-minute battery life. It recharges with a USB-C cable and supports fast charging.
By default, the headset sounds pretty good, though there’s some sub-bass emphasis that makes those frequencies sound a bit louder than our house curve recommends. Again, you can fix this in the app.
The Under Armour Project Rock Over-Ear Training Headphones by JBL are expensive, and a mouthful, but if you want one headset that can take everything you throw at it, this isn’t too shabby.
Put safety and stability first with the Aftershokz Aeropex
Shokz, formerly Aftershokz, is known for making some of the best bone conduction headphones on the market, and the Aftershokz Aeropex is no exception. It’s the best that the company has to offer, prioritizing portability and usability above all.
There’s no denying that the Aeropex is a very rugged piece of hardware. It features a lightweight, flexible plastic construction that allows the product to fit comfortably around your head. The Aeropex also sports an IP67 certification, rated against damage from dust and water. On the inside, its battery holds enough of a charge to last roughly eight hours. It connects to devices using Bluetooth 5.0, providing users with a reliable and stable connection.
If sound quality is your priority, bone conduction headphones may not be for you since it doesn’t have any form of isolation. However, if you’re a runner who wants to jam out without drowning the world, the Aeropex should be high up on your wishlist.
The JBL UA Sport Wireless Train is a great set of on-ear headphones for running
The JBL x UA Sport Wireless Train on-ear headphones fit snug against your head without inducing discomfort or pain thanks to the lightweight and breathable ear pads. Sweat resistance protects the headphones from water damage, and the 16-hour battery life lets you get through more than a week’s worth of workouts before you need to reach for that pesky microUSB charging cable. One of our favorite things about this headset is its huge, accessible onboard controls. These are extremely easy to operate without taking away attention from your workout.
The best running headphones: Notable mentions
- Anker Soundcore Life A1: This pair of true wireless earbuds costs less than $50 and includes premium features like an IPX7 rating nd wireless charging case.
- Beats Powerbeats Pro: The earhook design of these earphones is stable and touch controls are easy to use. The defined nozzles comfortably sit in the ear and stay there during vigorous movement. Of course, if you don’t want to shell out for the Beats brand, there are plenty of great alternatives.
- Beats Powerbeats: Traditional wireless earphones that offer basically the same experience as the Pro model, but with better battery life.
- Bose Sport Earbuds: If you value a comfortable fit and a perfect touch control system, get Bose’s workout earbuds.
- Bose Sport Open Earbuds: Outdoor enthusiasts who want to remain aware of their surroundings at all times should pick up this headset, and no, it doesn’t use bone conduction technology.
- Jabra Elite Active 45e: If you want neckband-style earbuds with extreme durability and great safety features, this is what you should look into.
- JLab Audio Flex: This lightweight headset is easy to clean, features an IP44 rating, and 20 hours of battery life. You can compact the headset and carry it from your home to the gym, no problem.
- Shokz OpenRun: This set of bone conduction headphones promotes safety, but fit, sound quality, and functionality are lacking.
Hold up! Something’s different:
Some of our picks’ frequency response and isolation charts were measured with our old testing system. We have since purchased a Bruel & Kjaer 5128 test fixture (and the appropriate support equipment) to update our testing and data collection. It will take a while to update our backlog of old test results, but we will update this article (and many others!) once we’re able with improved sound quality measurements and isolation performance plots. These will be made obvious with our new chart aesthetic (black background instead of white).
Thank you for bearing with us, and we hope to see you again once we’ve sorted everything out.
What should you know about running headphones?
There are a few things to know about running earbuds before buying since they’ll be roughed up a bit.
What does IPX4 mean for durability?
IP ratings denote if and to what degree a product is water-resistant or waterproof. The “IP” stands for Ingress Protection and the “X” that sits between the numeric ratings (e.g., IPX7) is just a placeholder, meaning that the product has yet to receive an official dust-resistant rating. For most running and workout earbuds, the gold standard of IP ratings is IPX4. This means it can handle water sprays from all directions. If you need waterproof earbuds, settle for nothing less than IPX7 or greater.
What is a Bluetooth codec, and does it matter for running headphones?
Bluetooth quality isn’t as good as wired audio quality, but for exercising it doesn’t make much of a difference. After all, you’re running, not analyzing every treble spike in your music. If you want commands to occur immediately, look out for aptX or AAC if you use an iPhone, those codecs reduce delay. This is also important for anyone who likes to stream video from the treadmill. If you get a pair of earbuds that only supports SBC you’ll likely experience some sort of audio-visual lag. While it’s not the end of the world, it can be annoying.
What is isolation?
A headset’s isolation determines how much sound it’s able to block out by creating a barrier between your ears and the world around you. Over-ear headphones tend to have the best isolation performance with in-ears coming in second, and on-ears being the least effective. In order to get your headphones to block out noise, you need to get a good fit. Note: some running earbuds purposefully don’t block out noise in order to keep you aware of your surroundings.
A good pair of running headphones should have an over-ear shape with ear pads that completely encompass your ears without any gaps. With a fit like this, there should be less opportunity for outside noise to make its way through the headphones. Most running headphones also have a greater clamping force than general-purpose headsets because you’re bopping up and down while you jog. This could be uncomfortable after an hour of wear, but most of us don’t exercise for longer than one or two hours anyway.
If you’re getting in-ears, a proper fit is especially important, and requires the ear tips to create a solid seal with the entrances of your ear canal. Make sure the buds don’t shake out as you shake your head. A standard in-ear design is the most traditional fit and will likely cast the widest net in terms of preference when running. Why? Running earbuds are unobtrusive and increasingly more durable, particularly the wireless options. If the provided ear tips don’t fit well, take a few minutes to test out any alternatives.
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Can music improve your workout performance?
No matter where you go to exercise, you probably see other athletes rocking workout earbuds. Many of us agree that it makes exercise more enjoyable, or at the least less painful, but why? Well, studies indicate music may have a positive impact on athletic performance.
In short, music may decrease anxiety levels and temporarily increase pain tolerance while uplifting one’s mood. Even if you’re unaffected by it in a more profound, physiological sense, it serves as an effective distraction from the pain and monotony. This works similarly to auditory masking: our brains only have so much bandwidth to process stimuli. Streaming your favorite tunes creates two different stimuli your brain needs to analyze, which may make it more difficult to perceive pain.
How we picked the best running headphones
While we’ve gotten our hands on plenty of audio products here at SoundGuys, we haven’t tested every product. To counteract our unavoidable biases, we conducted as much objective testing as possible.
Like all of our best lists, this list represents our collective experience as a staff regarding running headphones. At the end of the day, we want to provide you with the information needed to make the best-suited purchase for you. And if you don’t see your favorite product listed, feel free to comment because this list is a living document that we periodically update.
Why you should trust SoundGuys
We focus solely on all things audio. The team has a diversified understanding of audio and respects that certain aspects are objective and quantifiable without disregarding the importance of subjective enjoyment. When it comes to consumer audio, SoundGuys strives to cut through the muck, granting readers more time to enjoy their music. Ultimately, the team hopes to educate readers with each post and pique the interest of fellow audio geeks.
When it comes to making these lists, we do our best to make sure we can stand behind these products. Whether that means getting them in-house to test ourselves or just doing a ton of research to make sure none of the products break after a week, we try to narrow it down to the products we would spend our own money on.