Legs beg for a break and lungs inflate for more air all while sweat creates an unsightly Rorschach test down the back of your unfortunately gray t-shirt. I need a break, your internal monologue says, huffing. Then, you hear the intro to “Eye of the Tiger” and exhausted legs reprise for the final dash of your run.
A training session well done.
Okay, so maybe that’s not every run. But the right song can jolt my morale and make that last haul feel a cut scene from “Rocky.” While I appreciate that running with music isn’t for everyone, many of us still choose to liven up our workouts with some boom ba doom boom boom ba doom boom bass (thank you, Nicki Minaj).
Related: Best True Wireless Earbuds
We did plenty of research, bought an unreasonable amount of headphones, and clocked quite a few miles to compile this list of the best Bluetooth headphones for running. However, it should be pointed out: there are a lot of models out there, and you may find that you like something other than our pick. That’s okay, and we’ve included a handful of other standouts for your consideration.
The best wireless Bluetooth running headphones are the Bose SoundSport Wireless
The Bose SoundSport now come in three versions: wired, true wireless, and wireless. Although the wired version was fine and used frequently by many (our own Adam Molina included) the wireless iteration comes with much needed improvements. We’re not going to claim that the SoundSport Wireless is the end-all-be-all regarding sound, fit, or features—but they do better in all of these categories combined than their competition. The SoundSport Wireless are sweat-resistant and feature a bulky plastic housing. Given just how large the earbuds are, I was expecting to get some impressive battery life. Alas, these guys will only keep up with you for six hours before throwing in the towel.
Bose Soundsport WirelessFull Review
That said, these are excellent for running, because they actually stay in. The StayHear+ tips mitigate jiggling and jostling. Plus, the in-line mic and remote is great for when you need to skip ahead to a more motivating song. It also has a nice curved design which allowed for greater distinction between the buttons. When listening, I thought the low end was pretty good. Due to their smaller footprint and more stable connection, the Bose SoundSport Free defend their title as the best all around running earbuds.
The Jaybird X3 easily offer the best fit. They include six pairs of ear tips (three foam, three silicone) and three pairs of wingtips—all varying in size—to ensure that that the right combination fits you. Also, the included cable clips mean that you can adjust the length of the wire to your liking. Personally, I prefer it to be snug against the back of my head to counteract microphonics. The ear tips are ergonomic and angled around 60 degrees. Upgraded from the X2’s, the wing tips now feature a thicker, sturdier silicone structure. Not only do the X3 stay in for your entire run, but they remain comfortable the whole time. Whether I was in the gym, on a walk, or at one of the five Keurigs my former office had, I never felt discomfort.
The X3 controls are easy to navigate and the in-line mic/remote—which also received a face lift—is tactile and responsive. A downside of Bluetooth earbuds is that we often forget to charge them. Even if the ‘buds are low on juice, it only takes 15 minutes to get an hour of charge. While testing, I did find the X3 charging mechanism to be a bit of a nuisance. Docking it in the cradle felt cumbersome. Not to mention, it adds another dongle to my life (ugh). Thankfully, connecting was quick. I never had an interrupted connection during my usage. Speaking of “never,” I also never used the carrying pouch, but appreciated the inclusion. The sound quality of the X3 was clearly made for athletes. Bass is exaggerated while attention to mids and highs falls to the wayside. In a typical earphone, I’d knock this kind of skewed signature but deem it appropriate for running.
Bose SoundSport Free
Bose wisely decided to enter the true wireless ring with the SoundSport Free. Don’t worry, you’re not seeing double. The SoundSport Free are the true wireless king of the hill, dethroning the Jabra Elite Sport. Meanwhile, the SoundSport Wireless retain their heavyweight title of best all around. Confusing. We know. Though they lack any IP certification, the SoundSport Free have the best standalone battery life of any true wireless earbuds that we’ve tested at a whopping five and a half hours, thirty minutes more than Bose’s official runtime.
Battery life aside, the proprietary StayHear+ ear tips provide an unmatched fit. Shaking my head with the vigor of a wet dog in a Chicago snowstorm couldn’t even get these to budge. These are sure to stay in and sound good doing it. Plus, Bose has preserved the same playback functionality that we love with the SoundSport Wireless; though, these buttons require more force for the controls to register. If you get the sudden urge to ask Google what the day’s headlines are, Bose is one step ahead of you. They’ve included a multi-function button, which allows users to prompt their respective virtual assistants
If $100 is too much to spend
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, get yourself a nice family bucket of KFC with the saved $30. For just shy of $80, you get 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 FIT
Bluetooth 4.1 means that these headphones connect quickly and, more importantly, 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. For those dubious about on-ear headphones for cardio, cast your doubts aside. 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.
The Aftershokz Trekz Titanium offer one unique safety feature. Unlike the other Bluetooth headphones on this list, these don’t even go in your ear. Instead, they rest on your cheekbones and use bone conduction technology. This creates the vibrations and sends them directly to the cochlea, allowing you to hear sound. Take note, at high volumes, you won’t be the only one enjoying your music. Due to the conductive nature of these headphones, sound leakage is inevitable.
Aftershokz Trekz Titanium
As may be expected, sound quality is lacking, since they don’t create any kind of seal. It does have one huge benefit in that you are completely aware of your surroundings at all times. The titanium frame also makes it durable enough to use for intense activities like running while maintaining a lightweight build. I’ve fallen while skateboarding and threw these around during testing, and they’ve held up like a champ. Truly, you can hardly tell how much handling they’ve been through. While in use, you’ll get six hours of playback time and will find controls built into the headband, allowing you to keep your phone protected in a pocket or armband
What you should know
There are a few things to know about running earbuds before buying since these will be roughed up quite a bit more than something like the Monoprice M1060.
- IP ratings denote if and to what degree a product is water-resistant or waterproof. The “IP” stand for Ingress Protection and while the “X” that often sits between the numeric ratings (e.g. IPX7) is just a place holder, meaning that the product has yet to receive an official dust-resistant rating.
- Here’s the important split seen in the listed headphones:
Water-Resistant Waterproof IPX4 IP67 IPX5 IPX7 IPX6 IPX8
Full charts are available here if you’re so inclined.
- Proper fit is especially important with running earbuds. After all, how good are earbuds if they can’t stay in to be heard? Standard in-ear design is the most traditional and what will likely cast the widest net in terms of preference. They isolate well and tend to stay put while moving around. Another popular style would be around the ear. These are a bit of an in-ear hybrid as the buds are still inserted into the canal and hook over the top of the ear to allow for a more secure fit. I personally tend to prefer wearing my earbuds like this when running as it reduces microphonics, or the reverberation of sound up the cable when rustle against something.
Why you should trust me
Hey, I’m Lily. In college, I worked for the radio station and racked up countless hours with studio-level microphones, headphones, speakers and recording software. All the while, deepening my understanding of the technical side of audio.
I’m always on the lookout for runner-friendly earbuds that allow function to precede form . . . I place a lot of weight on secure fit, comfort, and durability.
Of course, like anybody, my curiosity guided learning beyond work. I continued to self-produce YouTube videos, reviewing headphones from the Skullcandy 50/50s to the original Sennheiser Momentum. Hi-Fi Heaven reached out for my first collaborative project, and I got down to business. We teamed up to review Bluetooth, exercise, and consumer headphones.
Naturally, being the child of two lawyers—and with a brother finishing up his third-year in law school—I’ve learned the importance of seeking outside counsel and studying potential rebuttals. Often, I reach out directly to the manufacturer to clarify technical details. General research often includes straining my eyes to read as many articles as possible from relevant sources such as Forbes, PC Mag, and CNET.
Moreover, I’m an avid runner. My love for cardio predates my love for headphones, but I have always listened to music on my runs. Therefore, I’m always on the lookout for runner-friendly earbuds that allow function to precede form. My priorities align with most runners’ in that I place a lot of weight on secure fit, comfort, and durability. I want headphones that can keep up with me, something that doesn’t make me think when I’m using it. Simplicity in design is brilliance and that’s something I looked out for when researching this for this best list.
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, I’ve concluded that these are the standouts for my fellow cardio kids. Prior to the salience of sweat-proof earbuds, I had wasted way more money than I needed to on run-of-the-mill earbuds for exercising and am stoked to be able to share the crème de la crème with you guys.
Furthermore, if you find your current pair of workout earbuds are impeding on your ability to workout, any of these will certainly be a welcome upgrade. Prior to committing to Bluetooth earbuds, I rocked the Klipsch Rugged S4i. As much as I love those earphones, I’ve retired them from workouts, because the cord kept getting in the way. I’d be doing bicep curls and the cord would get caught on the dumbbell only to rip out of my ears. Half the time, I found myself opting to hear staccato grunts of burly men over aggravating my ear canals and disrupting my workout.
How we picked
I began by reviewing what Adam Molina had already chosen from our initial posting of this best list. As any good consumer does, I thumbed through Amazon and a range of review sites to get a feel for what works and what doesn’t. From there, I was able to read user-based reviews and understand common trends among successful exercise headphones. Among my findings were that many people sought products with an IPX4 rating or greater, remote functionality, and a secure fit. We are talking runners here—have to make sure those ‘buds stay in while you’re bobbing up and down with every step.
Specifically during testing, I made sure to actually go running with these, multiple times and in varying environments. I ran through Chicago’s West Loop, on treadmills, and through a forest preserve. While doing so, I took studios mental notes regarding the seal, fit, comfort, sound quality, and connection reliability.
Fallible but not a failure
In the pensive words of Miley Cyrus as Hannah Montana “nobody’s perfect,” and that sentiment applies to Bluetooth wireless headphones as well.
An issue that I came across with the Plantronics BackBeat 500 FIT is their inability to stay clamped on while horizontal. This may seem odd at first, but if you’re looking to stretch or use a bench for free weights post-workout, these will quickly get annoying. The frictionless headband just slip, slides on down and off the crown of the head.
Somewhat frustrating, the Aftershokz Trekz Titanium were slightly unstable due to the unbalanced weight distribution from my jawbone to the back of my head. This wasn’t too noticeable unless I vigorously shook my head. For people who warm up with jumping jacks or want to do burpees with these as a post-run workout, you may have to remove the Aftershokz before doing so. Also, for cyclists, they didn’t play nicely with my skateboarding helmet. Though this may have been different for a more traditionally shaped cycling helmet.
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