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.
Editor’s note: this list was updated on February 27, 2019, to include new notable mentions and account for price changes.
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.
Related: Best true wireless earbuds
What you should know about the 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.
- Noised-induced hearing loss (NIHL) is a self-induced affliction caused by exposing oneself to prolonged, repeated loud listening sessions. It’s tempting to max out the volume during a run, but our hearing can be irrevocably damaged by this.
- 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. They isolate well and tend to stay put while moving around.
- 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.
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 $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 a 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 first with the Plantronics BackBeat Fit 3100
The dust- and water-resistant Plantronics BackBeat Fit 3100 can handle the workout of your choice. The Ambient Aware ear tips promote, well, environmental awareness and make the earbuds a great pick for anyone engaging in outdoor activities. Since the earbuds don’t seal to the ear, sound quality is poor, but the sound quality isn’t meant to blow listeners away here.
Plantronics BackBeat Fit 3100Full Review
Each earbud is adorned with a holographic panel, the left of which is a touch-capacitive component for volume controls while the right one operates playback and call controls. If virtual assistant access is important to you, you may be disappointed to discover that these earbuds don’t allow listeners to “OK, Google” their ways through moments of curiosity. That said, the integrated microphone is fine for making brief calls.
On the whole, if you’re a runner—particularly an outdoor one—the Plantronics BackBeat Fit 3100 is the safest, most functional option.
- 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
- Soundpeats Engine: If you’re not looking to spend too much on a pair of headphones you’re going to beat up anyway, check out the Soundpeats Engine earbuds. You’d be hardpressed to find another pair of ‘buds that offer this much for this little.
- 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.
- Under Armour Sport Flex Wireless by JBL: If you want an all-included one-year premium membership to Map My Run with your best running earbuds, this is a good option.
- 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 Sport Wireless: These are the predecessor to the Jabra Elite 65t for which we have a full review.
- 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 Elite: If you like the Plantronics BackBeat Fit 3100 but want something with a slimmer profile, these IP55 earbuds are a solid choice that also feature touch controls.
- Under Armour True Wireless Flash by JBL: Safety comes first with these ‘buds, just toggle Ambient Aware mode on to hear your surroundings. If you’re a die-hard trailblazer who likes to log your runs, the 12-month premium membership to MapMyRun is a huge perk.
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
SoundGuys has been around for a few years at this point, and in that time we’ve had plenty of headphones come and go. So we’ve seen the best that companies have to offer along with the not-so-great products.
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.
Chris comes from a testing background, having spent many years reviewing products for the likes of USA Today and Reviewed.com. And because of his not-so-secret disdain for Bluetooth, any wireless product that gets his stamp of approval is damned good.
Lily is no stranger to audio either as she used to work at a radio station and review audio gear independently before joining us here at SoundGuys. Plus, she exercises way more than anyone else on the team so we trust her when it comes to fitness gear.
Adam has spent the better part of four years reviewing and testing audio products for SoundGuys, and has heard the best and the worst that the market has to offer. Although the site does make its money from affiliate links, our writer’s don’t see a dime from it. We get paid by output, not deals with audio companies. So you can be sure whatever we say is exactly how we feel about a product.
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