You shouldn’t start to exercise with the goal of getting a six-pack. The motivation is too far in the future and eventually, most people will run out of dedication, skip a day or three, and end up watching Netflix on the couch. We’ve all been there. When it comes to fitness, it’s recommended to start with small, attainable goals so you can keep getting that dopamine hit that’s going to reward you for all the hard work you just put in. What you need, is a good pair of workout headphones.
Editor’s note: this list was updated on July 2, 2021, to add the Jabra Elite 85h in the Notable mentions section.
What makes a good pair of workout headphones?
There are a few factors to consider when looking for headphones to bring to the gym. The first thing to consider is what kind of headset you actually want. Do you want wired or wireless? Over-ear headphones or wireless earbuds? Everyone has their own preferences, but in this list, we’re going to be going over the best over-ear and on-ear headphones for working out. If you prefer earbuds, don’t worry we have you covered there too.
Related: Best running earbuds
Now that we’ve narrowed that down, some other important factors you should keep in mind are cost, sweat resistance, comfort and fit, durability, and battery life. We go into each of these in greater detail further down in the article, but if you just want to know what the best workout headphones are then let’s get into it. For most people, you should go with the Plantronics BackBeat FIT 6100.
Most people should get the Plantronics BackBeat FIT 6100
If you want a pair of workout headphones that aren’t earbuds, you’re going to have to make some compromises. Oftentimes you have to choose between water resistance, isolation, or sound quality when buying headphones, but that isn’t the case with the Plantronics BackBeat FIT 6100.
Plantronics BackBeat FIT 6100Full Review
This set of over-ears was designed specifically for working out. The headband features an adjustable mechanism, so you can temporarily tighten the fit for vigorous workouts. The BackBeat FIT 6100 has an IPX5 rating, which means it can withstand all the sweat you throw at it. Battery life is very good: you get 27 hours of playtime from a single charge, and the headset supports fast charging. When you plug in the microUSB cable for 15 minutes, you get six hours of playback. It supports Bluetooth multipoint, so you can connect to two devices at a time, which is great when working out from home: you can keep an ear on incoming work chats from your computer while enjoying music from your phone.
Related: Best Bluetooth workout headphones
Sound quality is only okay because bass notes make it hard to hear midrange notes. This is called auditory masking, and it’s something we encounter every day. Normally, we ding points for this, but the BackBeat FIT 6100 are workout headphones, not audiophile cans. For the price, it’s hard to find fault with the BackBeat FIT 6100.
If you like bass, go with the JBL Live 650BTNC
JBL headphones typically sound good for the price, and the JBL Live 650BTNC is no different. This headset houses 40mm dynamic drivers that pump out exaggerated bass. JBL’s noise cancelling is decent for the price but can’t compete with Bose or Sony’s flagships.
JBL Live 650BTNCFull Review
You can enjoy 18 hours of music streaming with noise cancelling on, so it’ll get you through at least a week’s worth of workouts before you have to charge it. The removable cable lets you hardwire the headphones to a smartphone if you forget to charge them. When you stream over Bluetooth, you can control playback from the headphone buttons. The JBL Live 650BTNC isn’t water or sweat-resistant, so if you sweat profusely (and no shame), these may not be for you.
The Bose Sport Open Earbuds are for outdoorsy folk
Bose has a vast portfolio of headphones and earbuds, and its sport line of earphones can be found in many gym goer’s bags. The Bose Sport Open Earbuds features a completely unoccluded fit as the earphones descend from the top of your ear and rest above and outside of your ear canal. This is great for people who like to exercise outside because the design keeps you completely aware of your surroundings while letting you listen to stereo audio playback.
Bose Sport Open EarbudsFull Review
The earphones merit an IPX4 rating and ear hook shape that keeps the earbuds in place but isn’t very comfortable for long workout sessions. You mainly control the earbuds via a button on either earpiece and can download the Bose Music app to enable touch controls (the Bose-branded glossy panels); this lets you adjust the volume output. The right earbud houses both microphones and voice transmission isn’t great.
Bose doesn’t include a charging case, rather it separates the charging technology from the case. You have to place the Sport Open Earbuds on a proprietary USB-A dock to recharge them; the carrying case is purely protective. This is a bit inconvenient as it leaves you out and about without an easy way to charge the earbuds, but it can also extend the life of the Sport Open Earbuds since it’s not subjected to the same constant charge-deplete cycle as other true wireless earbuds.
The JBL UA Sport Wireless Train is a favorite among athletes
JBL and Under Armour often collaborate on workout headphones and earbuds, and one of the earliest iterations of the companies teamwork is the JBL UA Sport Wireless Train. This is a very popular gym accessory because of its lightweight and compact design. The breathable ear pads make it easy to exercise in these headphones without making your ears uncomfortable hot.
JBL UA Sport Wireless Train
The headset is sweat-resistant and supplies you with 16 hours of playtime, and like other options listed here, the UA Sport Wireless Train supports fast charging: just five minutes of charging via microUSB yields 60 minutes of battery life. The side of the ear cup houses large, tactile buttons that are easy to recognize by touch. If you want a pair of headphones that can endure all of your workouts, get this.
You might like: UA True Wireless FLASH X by JBL review
Don’t want to spend too much? Get the JLab Rewind Wireless
If you’re of the variety that loves Stranger Things, and squared-off, oversized glasses, then the retro-styled Rewind Wireless from JLab is all you need to complete your look.
JLab Rewind Wireless RetroFull Review
For the rest of us, this is just a solid pair of wireless on-ears that, and here’s the important part, only cost about $20. If you know you’re going to destroy your headphones anyway, then there’s no point paying a crazy amount of money for them. Luckily, you can get a lot for a $20 bill these days, and these headphones are just another example.
For one, the JLab Rewind Wireless is wireless, so you can use it without getting tangled up during your workout. The battery in these will last you around 11 hours of constant playback. This is about as lightweight as Bluetooth headphones come and you’ll barely notice you’re wearing it. Sound quality isn’t great as the ear pads do little to isolate you from the environment. But that can be spun as a positive if you prefer to hear what’s going on around you at the gym.
If you have money to burn, get the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700
The Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 features an IPX4 rating, meaning it can resist rain and, more importantly, your sweat. Ergonomically, this isn’t the most comfortable option for working out but at least you don’t have to worry about water damage. Sound and microphone quality are both very good, but noise canceling is just middling and actually less effective than the older and cheaper Bose QuietComfort 35 II.
What you should know about the best workout headphones
As with any kind of headphone, there are a few things you should keep in mind when perusing for your next pair of workout headphones. We’ve broken down the key points for you; think of it as a cheat sheet of sorts.
The bulk of the cost goes to durability
You’re going to beat the hell out of any pair of workout headphones you get, it’s inevitable. That’s the point. You’re not bringing your $700 Beyerdynamic Amiron Wireless to the gym, no matter how good it sounds. So why pay so much for something you’re probably going to destroy? Well, you don’t. We’re not saying to only buy cheap headphones, but at least you know you can get a solid few months or even a year or two out of something before needing to spend more money to replace it.
Comfort, fit, and isolation are all important
As is the case with almost every pair of headphones, a good fit is going to be essential for keeping the bad sounds out and the good sounds in. Outside noise can really get in the way of a good listening experience because of auditory masking, which is the natural way that your brain perceives sound. That’s especially true when it comes to on-ears because they don’t completely surround your ears, so they usually aren’t great at blocking outside noises.
But isolation aside, what’s arguably more important is how well the headphones fit. Who cares how good they sound if they keep falling off your head? You’ll want a pair of headphones that find a nice balance between clamping force and comfort, so they won’t fall off during a workout and they also won’t hurt your ears while you wear them.
What are IP ratings?
If you’re going to be working out, chances are you’re going to be sweating. And as we all know water and electronics don’t mix. So the best workout headphones for you will probably be the ones that have protection against water damage. In technology, you can tell which products do or don’t have sweat and water resistance by the IP rating. You can read all about it here, but the chart below will explain everything if you’re in a hurry.
|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
Admittedly, a water-resistant or waterproof pair of over-ears/on-ears is pretty rare, but there are options that have sweat protection. This is usually a feature you’ll find in workout earbuds. So just know that if you pick a pair of headphones that don’t have sweat protection, the chances of damaging them while sweating increases dramatically. Unfortunately, this doesn’t leave us with many options, but because of the inevitability of damaging your headphones, we tried to keep most of the picks affordable.
How much does battery life matter?
Headed to the gym? How long do you typically listen to music while exercising?
— Sound Guys (@realsoundguys) September 11, 2018
If you’re going for a wireless pair of workout headphones, one thing to keep in mind is battery life. The last thing you want is to show up at the gym all hyped up and ready to exercise only to find you forgot to charge your headphones and you’re going to be without music. Sure, most people don’t exercise more than 1.5 hours (which most true wireless earbuds can easily handle), but a bigger capacity means you can go a few days without charging them.
Noise-induced hearing loss is a real problem
It’s hard to argue that the louder your music is, the easier it is to get pumped up. A higher volume usually helps you feel the bass more. Plus, you probably want to block out the sounds of weights being dropped and the pop music they play at the gym anyway by blasting your headphones. That’s not a good idea.
Noise-induced hearing loss is a real thing, and it sucks. If you consistently play your music too loudly you can damage the cochlea cells in your inner ear over time. As a general rule of thumb, you probably shouldn’t play your music any louder than 85dB. If you’re at or around 85dB and still can’t hear your music properly, you might have a bad fit. Definitely adjust the headphones and pads before you go putting your phone on max volume.
Best workout headphones: Notable mentions
- Jabra Elite 85h: This pair of wireless noise cancelling headphones features a water-resistant nano-coating that protects it from sweat droplets. The noise cancellation isn’t great but the sound quality is good for those who enjoy vocal clarity from their music.
Why you should trust SoundGuys
SoundGuys has been around for a few years now, and in that time we’ve managed to get our grubby hands on as many pairs of headphones as we can get. Not only do we have plenty of hands-on experience with many of the top brands of headphones, but we also make sure to run each pair of headphones through our objective tests. This helps us clearly demonstrate how a product sounds and performs when it comes to frequency response, isolation, and microphone quality.