(The Gear Loop) - Soundtracking a run with your favourite music is a surefire way of providing that little boost you so desperately need when hitting the dreaded midway slump, and the best way to provide said uplift is with a pair of dedicated running or workout headphones.
Everything we’ve selected on this list is wireless, negating the painful experience of dangling cables messing up your running gait or getting caught in clothing, with most of them boasting true wireless capabilities. In essence, these are simply small buds you pop into your ears and nothing else.
What’s more, all of the running headphones on the list has been selected for their water-resistant properties… some more than others. This means your expensive new headphones won’t give up the ghost after being dowsed in sweat, rain or dropped on a dank leisure centre floor.
Finally, we’ve also gone into some detail about sound profiles and the ability to adjust EQ, as everyone likes to listen to their music differently.
But a quick word of warning: there is a school of thought that says running out in public with any kind of music device blaring into your lugholes is not the safest way to get fit, but we say be sensible. Avoid road running while wearing headphones and/or look for those with hear-through technology that means wearers are more aware of their surroundings.
As an alternative, we’ve also included a set of innovative bone conduction headphones that avoid blocking the ears in favour of cleverly sending vibrations through the cheek bones. These might not be true wireless in so muich as they aren't two individual buds that slot into each ear, but they are the only ones certified for use in most running races in the UK and further afield.
The best running headphones
Jaybird Vista 2
- Super secure fit
- Adjustable sound profiles
- Great battery life
- Touch panel sometimes misfires
- Grey models prone to dirt
Jaybird has created a fantastic, sports-orientated product with the Vista 2: a set of true wireless headphones that pack just about every desirable feature one could possibly want in a workout headphone.
The diminutive design fits perfectly in the ear, with Jaybird offering several additional tips for those wanting to really dial in fit, while a discreet wing keeps things in place without requiring any elaborate process to put them on, nor having to suffer discomfort.
The left bud is touch-enabled, making it easy to cycle between Active Noise Cancellation mode, which does a great job of blocking out annoying grunting noises in the gym, while a SurroundSense mode is Jaybird’s answer to "hear-through" technology, which allows important sounds to filter through over the music, audio books or podcasts.
Cleverly, Jaybird has mapped key functions, like track-skipping and volume, to the right bud, which uses a physical button rather than relying on touch. This is much more precise to use when running and gives a good amount of haptic feedback.
Like many headphones on the list, these Jaybirds come with a svelte storage and charging case that features a cool magnetic snap mechansim that keeps them in place. Charging takes two hours for a full top-up and users get eight hours of playtime, while the charge case offers two full charges when on the move. That’s a hell of a lot of juice for accompanying even the longest runs.
Better still, the headphones are IP68-rated in terms of water and weather-proofing, which is up there with some of the best you can buy. Plus, the charging case is also IP54-rated, making the entire package great for sweaty gym lockers and damp leisure centre changing rooms.
Jabra Elite 7
- Protective rubber coating
- Solid waterproof rating
- Great value
- Prone to slipping
- Not the greatest sound
With built-in Active Noise Cancellation (ANC), hear-through technology, a tough rubber coating and impressive eight hour battery life, the Jabra Elite 7s were built for those who absolutely cannot run or workout without tunes.
A lack of fin or securing device means they can be prone to moving about in the ear, especially if you’re the type to grimace a lot like this writer. Gurning during a painful run or workout can slowly wiggle them loose from the lugs, which isn’t ideal.
Jabra’s voice assistant is great though, informing the wearer when things are connected or when battery levels are running low. Interaction is via physical buttons on both the left and right buds, which are really easy to locate and operate. Like others on this list, these features can be customised via an app.
On that subject, we were impressed with the amount of personalisation on offer via said app, from a hearing test that sets the buds up perfectly to the user, to an easy-to-adjust equaliser, it’s easy to get a sound you love. However, the sonic experience isn’t mind-blowing, nor is the ANC the best in the business, as it tends to only increase wind noise when out running, rather than increasing the volume of other more important sounds.
Alas, these are still a fantastic option, with a phenomenal 30-hour battery life if you include the case charge, too.
Shokz (formerly AfterShokz) OpenRun
- Promotes awareness of surroundings
- Great fit
- Long battery life
- Sound is comparatively poor
- Not that robust
- Some won’t like the experience
You might have heard of AfterShokz, which has recently changed its name for marketing reasons to Shokz, as they are one of the leading purveyors of bone conduction headphone technology.
Specifically designed for active outdoors types, Aeropex was the company’s best-selling model up until recently, when it was replaced with the quick-charging OpenRun - otherwise identical in every other way bar the faster charging on offer.
OpenRun comes packed with the marque’s latest tech that sends sound via vibrations through the wearer’s cheekbones. Wireless by nature, OpenRun features a flexible band that loops around the back of the neck and two "buds" that sit just in front of the ear and work their magic.
The result feels a little strange at first, as sound is magically pumped into the inner ear, while leaving the ear canals open to take in ambient noise. As a result, Shokz are officially sanctioned for use in many professionally-run events in the UK, be it cycling, running or triathlon.
The sound quality can’t compete with anything else featured on this page, as it is tinny and tends to require higher volumes to enjoy properly. Unfortunately, higher volumes equate to some buzzing and there’s a lot of sound leakage.
But we found them fantastic for cycling or running on the road, where awareness of surroundings is crucial for safety. Plus, the eight-hour battery life is more than enough and they are IP67 rated for fantastic weather and grime resistance.
- They look stylish
- Punchy sound
- Really comfortable
- Not the most robust
- Can move around
These might not be specifically designed with exercise in mind, but the Technics AZ40 manage to pack a fair amount of style and massive audio quality into such a diminutive package. The lightweight exterior and sleek lines also means they are phenomenally comfortable in the ears too, meaning long bouts of exercise sessions don’t weigh heavy on the ears.
Voice control is responsive and the touch controls are among some of the most accurate we’ve used, although we still rate physical buttons when out pounding the pavement or riding the bike, as they’re simply more accurate.
For the money, you get Active Noise Cancellation and an Attention Mode that reduces unwanted external noise to make it easier to hear voices. This isn’t as good as running with the Shokz Open Run in terms of awareness of surroundings, but works well enough to keep runners out of trouble.
Above all else, the sound quality offered by Technics is superb and we found they are among the best at dealing with a wide variety of musical genres, spoken word and live performances.
Like many of the headphones featured here, you can also take calls from a connected smartphone when on the move, and Tehcnics nails that too, with clear mic and call quality.
If you’re a runner or outdoor enthusiast who likes to really get into the music, these are a top choice.
- Great audio clarity
- Awesome Active Noise Cancellation
- Comfortable and stable
- Not the smallest buds around
- Lacks beefy bass
- Battery life down on competition
If you’re keen to drown out the sound of a squeaky treadmill, or simply can’t stand the soundtrack of wheezy lungs when running, Audio-Technica’s Active Noise Cancellation is most certainly worth a look, as it’s one of the best we’ve tried.
Granted, you probably don’t want to drown out too much if pounding the pavement, but it’s still a fantastic piece of technology to have in the arsenal, especially if you want to use them on a plane/noisy office/train when not working out.
That said, the technology means the buds aren’t as small as others on the list and those with really frenetic sessions might find they move around too much.
The neutral sound profile means music isn’t too bassy, something the likes of Beats and Sony often go a tad overboard with, while the overall sound quality is excellent. They look good and sound phenomenal.
Perhaps the biggest downfall is that the battery life is around four hours, while the charging case offers around 14 hours of charge when fully topped up. Plus, the IPX2 rating means they’re not as robust of waterproof as rivals mentioned here.
Adidas Z.N.E 01 ANC
- Small and neat design
- Active Noise Cancellation
- Light and comfortable
- Basic EQ control
- Touch controls not as good as buttons
Small, light and packing some great ANC technology, these stylish numbers from Adidas have been designed and manufactured specifically with active folk in mind.
The IPX5 rating means they are pretty resilient to sweat and the occasional shower, while the fit doesn’t put excess pressure on the ears, making them easy to wear all day.
More akin to Apple’s AirPods than some of the other buds on this list, the stalk of each bud houses mics for the ANC tech and hands-free calls, and these are cleverly laid out in the classic Adidas three-stripe design. It’s a stylish touch.
However, we found the sound to be fairly flat and the built-in EQ settings didn’t really do much to improve sound quality. What’s more, the battery life isn’t as strong (4.5 hours playtime, 15.5 hours on-the-go charging) as rivals here, but it’s made up for with very good noise cancelling, which is great for busy gyms or working out on a noisy turbo trainer.
The Awareness Mode is also very good at letting in important ambient sounds, making them excellent for running out in the wild, although it does have a tendency to make other human voices sound slightly robotic.
Beats Powerbeats Pro
- Very secure fit
- Beefy bass notes
- Works seamlessly with iPhone
- They’re relatively large
- Charging case is equally massive
- Lack noise cancellation
Think running or workout headphones and it’s highly likely a pair of Beats Powerbeats come to mind, probably because all of the adverts feature the great and the good of the sporting world sweating profusely in a pair.
The Powerbeats Pro sit at the top of the wireless headphone spectrum from Beats and arguably offer the most secure fit on the list. This is down to the adjustable and aptly-named "secure-fit" ear hooks that wrap around the back of ears and keep everything in place.
They look and feel much larger than anything we tested, while the charging case is understandably big and bulky too. Not great for stashing in the pockets when out for a run or cycle.
There’s up to nine hours battery from the headphones and up to 24 hours when you combine it with that large charging case, and the chunky units are well protected against sweat, water and any impromptu drops on the floor mid-run… although that’s almost impossible thanks to the ultra-snug fit.
The sound is predictably bass-heavy, something Beats has always prided itself on, but keen audiophiles will argue that it's not as clear nor as crisp as some rivals, many of which are slightly cheaper.
There’s also no ANC and they’re much bulkier than most on this list, but the upside is the secure fit, only really matched by the Jaybird Vista 2.
What to look for in running headphones
The fit is right
Most wireless headphones come with a variety of silicone tips that help users get the most secure fit, but that doesn’t necessarily mean all buds are going to be comfortable for everyone. Generally, the lighter they are, the easier they are to wear over longer periods, but different brands will be preferable for different ears. We found the Jaybird Vista 2, the Adidas Z.N.E 01 ANC and the Powerbeats Pro offered arguably the most secure fit for running and exercise.
If you’re regularly running in the tranquil surrounds of the countryside well away from public roads, it’s highly likely Active Noise Cancellation isn’t warranted, while others will want to be able to hear their surroundings and won’t like the thought of drowning out important sounds, such as approaching traffic. While this is true, the ANC in some of the models we tested was fantastic for cutting out heavy breathing, the sound of footsteps and wind noise, making it possible to really enjoy the music when running in a safe place. The choice will be down to where you run or exercise and whether you plan to also use the buds on any form of public transport, where ANC is a godsend.
Can’t touch this
A number of the wireless headphones we tested featured a touchpad on one or both of the buds, negating the need for any physical buttons. While this is great for the overall look and slimline feel, it can be annoying when trying to interact with them on the move. The Powerbeats Pro, for example, was the only pair to sport a physical rocker switch for volume, something we really appreciated when adjusting levels on the move. Call us old fashioned, but we like the simplicity of physical buttons, escpecially when running or cycling with gloved hands.