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 10, 2019, to include pertinent information regarding music’s impact on workout performance.
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 is what kind of headphones do you 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.
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 500 Fit.
Related: Best running earbuds
Most people should get the Plantronics Backbeat 500 Fit
If you want a pair of workout headphones that aren’t earbuds, you’re going to have to make some compromises. Whether that means water-resistance, isolation, or sound quality, it’s hard to find one pair of headphones that get it all right. But the headphones that get closest to the perfect trifecta is the Plantronics Backbeat 500 Fit. These on-ears were designed specifically for working out, and although they aren’t made of the most premium materials, the plastic build keeps them lightweight.
Plantronics Backbeat Fit 500Full Review
But what the headphones lack in fancy materials they make up for in durability thanks to a P2i water-repellent coating that protects against moisture. The Backbeat 500 Fit also has a solid 18-hour battery life, but thankfully, you can always plug in the included audio cable if the battery dies on you. On the downside, these don’t have the best sound which could also be due to the poor isolation, but for around $80, these are the pretty much the standard for dedicated workout headphones.
If you like bass, go with the JBL Live 650BTNC
JBL produces products that sound good for the price, and the JBL Live 650BTNC is no different. These cans house 40mm dynamic drivers, which pump out exaggerated bass. What’s more, the headphones provide effective noise cancelling especially considering that the Live 650BTNC is $100-plus cheaper than Bose or Sony flagships.
JBL Live 650BTNCFull Review
These also have an 18-hour battery with noise cancelling on, so even if you work out for two hours a day will last you about nine days before needing a recharge. The removable cable lets you hardwire a device if you forget to charge them, and the headphones also have playback controls on the ear cup. Although the buttons could be more defined, they work nonetheless.
The downside to these is that there’s no water or sweat resistance, so if you sweat a lot these might not be for you. But if you like headphones that emphasize bass frequencies with great ANC and don’t want to spend too much, these will get the job done.
For the longest lasting battery get the Beats Solo3
One pair of workout headphones you’ll see around the gym all the time are the Beats Solo3 on-ears. But why? They’re not sweat proof and aren’t the most durable. The reason is battery life and fit. Let’s start with the fit because these are admittedly pretty good at staying on your head thanks to a rubberized plastic along the bottom of the headband. In the full review, we mentioned it isn’t the most comfortable material, but it does its job. But then there’s the battery life.
Beats Solo3Full Review
The Beats Solo3 don’t chug away at battery life, they sip it. On max volume, we squeezed out 31.5 hours of constant playback. Now, as we mention in the noise-induced hearing loss tidbit down below, you shouldn’t be using these on max volume to begin with as they get really loud. So you can easily get a solid 40 hours of constant playback with more reasonable volume levels. Plus they have quick charging, so if you do forget to charge them, just five minutes on the charger will give you a quick three hours of battery life.
Are they expensive? You betcha. And you’ll never hear us say that the Beats Solo3 cans are the greatest headphones ever, but for this use case, they’re a solid pick. If you don’t want to buy into the Beats brand but want something similar, there are plenty of viable alternatives too.
If you care about comfort get the Anker Soundcore Vortex
Up until this point, none of the workout headphones we’ve mentioned can be described as particularly comfortable. If that’s something you prioritize over all else, then go with the Anker Soundcore Vortex headphones. Again, these aren’t water-resistant so beware. But they do have an excellent battery life, comfortable ear pads, and the whole package costs about a quarter of what you’ll pay for a pair of Beats.
Anker Soundcore VortexFull Review
These also support aptX, so if you have a compatible phone, you can get higher quality streaming out of them. Unfortunately, these also suffer from poor isolation because of the build materials, which takes away from their potential sound quality. But on the bright side you do a fairly reliable Bluetooth connection as well as 20-hours of constant playback. Plus, you can fold these up easily when you’re done and throw them in your bag. Not bad for around $60.
Don’t want to spend too much? Get the JLab Rewind Wireless
If you go to the gym rocking a too-small tank top and knee-high socks, then the retro-styled Rewind Wireless from JLab is all you need to complete your look. For the rest of us, these are just a solid little 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.
JLab Rewind Wireless RetroFull Review
For one, the JLab Rewind Wireless headphones are, as their name implies, wireless. You can use these with no fear of getting tangled up during your workout, and to top it off the battery in these will last you around 11 hours of constant playback. But one of the better features that make these so great is just how lightweight they are. You’ll barely notice you’re wearing them. Of course, the sound quality is going to be lacking and these are terrible at isolating noise, but that can be spun as a positive if you prefer to hear what’s going on around you at the gym. Let’s be honest, though, the real reason the JLab Rewind Wireless is worth bringing to the gym is because of how cheap it is. You can get four of these and still be under $100.
What you should keep in mind
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.
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 headphones to the gym, no matter how good they sound. 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 them before needing to spend more money to replace them.
Comfort, fit, and isolation
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 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.
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 inevitably of damaging your headphones, we tried to keep most of the picks affordable.
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 workout 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
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.
Why you should trust us
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.
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