Optoma NuForce Be Live5: The earbuds with the wire wrapped around the hand.

If you’re an athlete and prefer working out with music, then it’s worth investing in a separate pair of earbuds for the job. Perhaps you already have a fine pair of earbuds that work well enough, but why subject them to water damage? Ultimately it’s not worth the risk, especially as workout earbuds are only becoming more affordable.

What should workout earbuds do?

Your ‘buds of choice should be durable, comfortable, and feature a variety of ear tips. Currently, you have two main options: true wireless and traditional wireless options, with the former typically being more expensive than the latter. You could go wired, but that would just cause undue aggravation.

One of the most liberating things about workout earbuds is that audio quality doesn’t have to be top-notch. In fact, many of us prefer exaggerated low-end when exercising. After all, we’re focusing on exercising rather than analyzing the harmonic resonance of the second chair violinist in Vivaldi’s Four Seasons.

Water-resistance

The Plantronics BackBeat FIT are in the hand and under a running faucet.

The Plantronics BackBeat FIT are IP57-rated and are some of the toughest headphones available.

One of the first things your eyes should be drawn to on the spec list is whether or not the earbuds in question are sweat or water-resistant. If you’ve ever wondered what “IP” stands for, well, it denotes a product’s ingress protection rating. We have a full explainer here, but IPX1-IPX6 denotes water-resistance while IPX7-IPX8 mean that the item is waterproof within certain constraints.

Fit

Ergonomics is a hot-button topic, but it holds weight. If a pair of earbuds have poor nozzle and housing architecture, they’re not going to be comfortable. This can be mitigated by finding proper ear tips, but even that can only do so much. You’d best look for earbuds with angled nozzles, and if you happen to have smaller ears, be weary of large housings (see: Bose SoundSport Free). If they’re too bulky, the friction against your concha or tragus can get painful, fast.

Materials

And as nice as it is to, well, have nice things it isn’t always appropriate. Sure, leather looks luxurious, but the material will quickly deteriorate when exposed to sweat. Many companies opt for plastic construction as it’s more affordable and durable.

workout earbuds guide: Aside from the standard medium-sized StayHear+ ear tips, Bose provides small and large options too. Pictured: The Bose SoundSport Free earbuds docked in the case with the alternative ear tips (small, medium) laid out beside the case.

The Bose SoundSport Free true wireless workout earbuds are comprised of plastic with the ear tips being made of silicone.

Another question you have to ask yourself is, does the cable material matter to you? Some cables are Kevlar-reinforced, while others are tangle-resistant, and others still are just run-of-the-mill standard cables. Which one is right for you completely depends on your intended usage.

Battery life: It’s not a huge priority, but quick charging should be

If you’re using these earbuds predominantly for exercise, then battery life doesn’t really matter. Although true wireless earbuds may struggle to perform beyond three hours, many traditional wireless earbuds provide at least five hours of playback before needing to be charged. In fact, what matters more than battery duration is quick charge.

Quick charging typically allows you to charge a device quickly when its battery level is low. For instance, the BeatsX uses “Fast Fuel.” This allows the earbuds to provide two hours of playback from a five-minute charging period. Why does this matter more? Most of our training sessions don’t exceed an hour, so nearly any earbuds’ standalone battery life should suffice. But there will be times when you forget to charge the earbuds, and instead of trudging through a music-less work out, you can just push it back a few minutes.

Now that you know what to look for, should you buy true wireless or wireless workout earbuds?

Safe to say, wired earbuds no longer have a horse in the wireless workout earbuds race. Which brings us here: how do you know if true wireless earbuds or traditional wireless earbuds are best for you? Well, it comes down to what features you prioritize. Typically, wireless earbuds are more affordable than their comparable true wireless counterparts. In which case, if you must stay within X-budget, wireless earbuds may be more appealing.

workout earbuds guide: from left - Apple AirPods, PowerBeats3, BeatsX.

Workout earbuds come in all shapes and sizes, which fit is most comfortable to you is completely subjective.

That said, if you truly want to cut the cord, true wireless is the way to go. Although this technology is still novel, it’s matured quite a bit since its inception. True, standalone battery life suffers with these ‘buds, but the complete lack of wires appeals to many of us. After all, the last thing you want to worry about during your record-breaking set is a rogue cable whipping you in the face.

Both true wireless and wireless workout earbuds, though, provide an array of features that you want to look out for including water-resistance, a variety of ear and wing tips, durable materials, and high-quality codec support. How you prioritize those is up to you; although, we suggest that water-resistance is a top priority to save your ‘buds from short-circuiting.


Here are a few lists to point you in the right direction for wireless earbuds:

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