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 September 16, 2019, to account for price changes and include information regarding how music impacts workout performance.
Related: Best true wireless earbuds
What you should know about running headphones
|IPX1||✓||Dripping water (1 mm/min)
Limit: vertical drips only
|IPX2||✓||Dripping water (3 mm/min)
Limit: Device max tilt of 15° from drips
Limit: Device max tilt of 60° from sprays
|IPX5||✓||Water jets (12.5 L/min)
Example: Squirt guns
|IPX6||✓||Strong water jets (100 L/min)
Example: Powerful water guns
Limit: 1 m. for 30 min
Limit: 3 m. for 30 min
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.
A brief rundown on Bluetooth codecs
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. Plus there are plenty of cheap earbuds with aptX support to combat this.
A proper fit improves sound quality
Proper fit is especially important with running earbuds. After all, how good are earbuds if they can’t stay in to be heard? A standard in-ear design is the most traditional fit and will likely cast the widest net in terms of preference. If the provided ear tips don’t fit well, take a few minutes to test out any alternatives.
Getting the pair that works best for your ears improves isolation which translates to marked audio quality improvements. Why? It’s because the ear tips are able to form a physical barrier between you and the outside world. Thus, you’re avoiding the common phenomenon of auditory masking. That said, if you’re running outside, be sure to get a pair of earbuds with safety features like Ambient Aware mode or one with specialized ear tips like the Plantronics BackBeat Fit 3100.
Listening to music may improve 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.
The best running headphones are the Bose SoundSport Wireless
The Bose SoundSport now comes in three versions: wired, true wireless, and wireless. Although the wired version was fine and beloved by many, the wireless iteration comes with much-needed improvements. Though the SoundSport Wireless isn’t the end-all-be-all regarding sound, fit, or features—they generally outperform the competition in all of these categories, which is why these ‘buds are some of the best running headphones. The SoundSport Wireless are sweat-resistant and feature a bulky, plastic housing.
Bose Soundsport WirelessFull Review
These are excellent running headphones because they actually stay in despite their size. The StayHear+ tips mitigate jiggling and jostling. Plus, the in-line remote is great for skipping tracks. It also has a nice curved design, allowing for greater distinction between buttons, which is crucial when you’re in the last leg of a workout.
The low-end differs from the traditional Bose sound signature. It’s emphasized at the expense of the midrange and treble frequencies. Though this can be annoying for daily use, it plays well for running. Due to their small footprint and stable connectivity, the Bose SoundSport Wireless defend their title as the best all-around running headphones.
Who should buy these?
Runners. Generally speaking, athletes and the profusely sweaty. After combing through a range of reviews and lists, comparing what’s what in this specific class of earphone, 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.
For a good fit, listen with the Jaybird X4
The Jaybird X3 was on this list previously, but the X4 has taken its spot as one of the best running headphones. If you caught the full review, you know that Jaybird added an IPX7 certification, meaning that now the ‘buds are completely waterproof. But one other feature that hasn’t gotten all the attention it deserves is an improved cable cinch for keeping the earbuds in place while exercising.
Jaybird X4Full Review
It isn’t the most flashy or noteworthy feature, but it’s one of the most practical. The X3’s had a cable cinch as well but for some reason, we were never able to get it to stay secure when it was wrapped around the back of the head. Thankfully, that isn’t a problem with the Jaybird X4 earbuds. If you’re tight on cash and want most of what the X4 has to offer, the company’s Tarah model is a fine alternative.
Need true wireless earbuds? The Jabra Elite 65t is your best bet
When it comes to running headphones, if you want true wireless, the Jabra Elite 65t is the newfound champion. These earbuds are decked out with features such as IP55 certification if you get the active version, meaning that it’s sweat- and dust-resistant; have wind noise-protection; and one-touch access to Siri, Amazon Alexa, and Google Assistant.
Jabra Elite 65tFull Review
Aside from that, these have great battery life. During our objective battery testing, we found that these are able to maintain 5.85 hours of constant playback at 75dB SPL. The earbuds create a cogent seal with your ear canal, which is great for filtering out the noise of a treadmill but a liability for those of us who enjoy running outside. If you’re not a fan of the true wireless build, the Jabra Elite 45e are a great wireless neckband alternative.
Read about the Beats Powerbeats Pro
If $100 is too much to spend go for the Plantronics BackBeat 500 Fit
Plantronics is no stranger to our best lists. As a matter of fact, the BackBeat Fit previously held this spot. Plantronics’ BackBeat 500 Fit headphones, however, are even more affordable—that’s right, go get a nice family bucket of KFC with the saved $30. For just shy of $80, users are afforded 18 hours of playback time, a P2i liquid-repellent nano-coating, and lightweight housing. Plus, users get to enjoy the same 40mm drivers found in the BackBeat 500.
Plantronics Backbeat 500 FitFull Review
Bluetooth 4.1 means that these running headphones connect quickly and stay connected during your runs. Plus, with an 18-hour battery life, only the rare breed of ultra-runners have to be concerned about playback duration. The clamping force is just enough to keep these stable without paining the ears or head for about 30-45 minutes. After that, though, the top of the ears and head start to feel pained from the uneven pressure distribution. Me? I take it as a cue to take a well-deserved break from running.
Put safety and stability first with the JLab JBuds Air Sport
These IP66 dust- and water-resistant earbuds can handle the workout of your choice. You can press and hold the earbud panel to enable Ambient Aware mode. This allows you to be aware of your surroundings, making them a great pick for anyone engaging in outdoor activities. The ear hooks are easy to loop around the ear and they keep things stable. What’s more, the touch panels are great at registering controls: they worked even when my hands were chalked up from rock climbing.
JLab JBuds Air SportFull Review
The charging case adds 5.5 charge cycles to the earbuds before needing to be topped up. Doing so is a breeze thanks to the integrated USB charging cable located at the bottom of the case. Standalone battery life for the earbuds is above average clocking in at 4.5 hours. Plus, if you forget to charge the earbuds before a run, 15 minutes in the case affords one hour of playback.
On the whole, if you’re a runner—particularly an outdoor one—the JLab JBuds Air Sport is an affordable, versatile option. If you have a bit more to spend or want a completely streamlined experience with your iPhone, get the Beats Powerbeats Pro instead. The H1 chip allows for voice-activated access to Siri and makes the earbuds power-efficient, hence the 10-hour battery life.
- Jaybird Tarah: The new Jaybird Tarah might not have the same customizable ear tip options as the X4 has, but it’s still a great pair of IPX7 ‘buds that cost ~$30 less than the X4. Full review
- BeatsX: These are a great pair of sleek, unobtrusive earbuds. You can check out our comparison of the BeatsX, Beats by Dre Power Beats, and Apple AirPods here.
- Fitbit Flyer: They’re similar to the Bose SoundSport Wireless but lack the Bose’s IPX4-rating. Our full review is available here.
- Anker SoundBuds: They’re similar to the Aftershokz Trekz Titanium but the connectivity is less stable. However, they are more affordable; the full review can be read here.
- Jabra Elite Active 45e: If you want neckband style earbuds with extreme durability and great safety features, these are the ‘buds you should look into.
- JLab JBuds Air: These true wireless earbuds cost just under $50, fit well, and are IP55 certified.
- Aftershokz Trekz Titanium: These bone conduction headphones promote safety, like the Plantronics BackBeat Fit 3100, but fit, sound quality, and functionality are lacking.
- JLab Epic Air Sport: These are a more expensive version of the JBuds Air Sport. The Epic edition includes a dual-purpose charging case which, when combined with the nearly 10-hour standalone battery life of the earbuds, provides a combined total of ~70 hours of playback.
- Beats Powerbeats Pro: If you have an iPhone, these are the best workout option out there. The earhook design 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.
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 us
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 we recommend break after a week, we try to narrow it down to the products we would spend our own money on.
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