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 October 29, 2020, to replace the Jabra Elite 65t with the Jabra Elite Active 75t, to replace the Plantronics BackBeat 500 Fit with the Plantronics BackBeat FIT 6100, and to replace JLab JBuds Air Sport with the Aftershokz Aeropex.
Related: Best true wireless earbuds
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.
See also: Best Bose Headphones
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.
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 Vista
The Jaybird X4 was previously listed, but the Vista true wireless earbuds are some of the best running headphones for those in need of a secure fit. Just like the Jaybird X4 and Tarah earbuds, the Vista feature a swanky IPX7 certification which denotes complete water-resistance. You can submerge the earbuds for 30 minutes to depths of one meter before running the risk of water damage.
Jaybird VistaFull Review
Unlike Jaybird’s first attempt at true wireless earbuds, sound quality is much improved as is connection stability. The Vista earbuds use Bluetooth 5.0 firmware and feature a new JBS1 chipset to ensure immediate and reliable connecting to your phone. The same chip allows users to listen to one earbud in mono mode, which is great for outdoor exercise.
Battery life is pretty good: you get 5.62 hours of playtime before needing to pop the ‘buds back into the compact charging case. If you’re just going to the gym, five minutes in the case provides one hour of listening. Another great feature of the earbuds is found in Jaybird’s app: you can create custom EQs and test out other athletes’ sound profiles.
Related: Best true wireless workout earbuds
Need true wireless earbuds? The Jabra Elite Active 75t is your best bet
When it comes to running headphones, if you want true wireless, the Jabra Elite Active 75t is the newfound champion. These earbuds feature an IP57 certification, meaning that it’s dust resistant and waterproof; guaranteed to keep up with even the most intense runs.
Jabra Elite Active 75tFull Review
For roughly $200, these earbuds offer a great value. It features Bluetooth 5.0 with support for multipoint, a four-mic array that makes it great for taking phone calls, and a sound signature that appeals to bassheads. The Elite Active 75t also sports great battery life for a pair of true wireless earbuds, clocking in at around 7 hours and 14. Plus, if you’re in a hurry, 15 minutes of charging yields about an hour of listening time.
A free firmware update through the Jabra Sound+ app unlocks active noise cancelling on the Elite Active 75t, allowing you to block the world around you—at the gym or on the road to work. Its active noise cancelling may not be as effective as the Jabra Elite 85t, or even the Sony WF-1000XM3, however it’s still a welcome edition that improves the product’s value.
If you prefer to run with headphones, check out 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 water resistance rating, meaning hat it won’t break a sweat when you’re sweating from your runs.
Plantronics BackBeat FIT 6100Full Review
The BackBeat FIT 6100 is designed with several features that make it ideal for runners. Firstly, it 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.
Put safety and stability first with the Aftershokz Aeropex
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, the 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.
Recommended reading: Bone conduction headphones: Gimmick or godsend?
Best running headphones of 2020: notable mentions
- 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: These are one of the best earbuds from Beats’ product lineup. 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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