Best Exercise Headphones of 2021
No matter what kind of workout you throw at it, the Jaybird Vista will handle it. You may not even remember you're wearing these earbuds because of how lightweight they feel. They stayed secure while doing intense sets of squats and burpees, earning the highest marks in both stability and comfort from all of our testers. The IPX7 waterproof rating means they can be submerged completely and persevere. While we've never experienced any sweat-induced issues with the earbuds we've tested, this extra waterproofing did add some peace of mind when we were excessively perspiring during hard intervals on the stationary bike. To round it all out, the Jaybird Vista has a small stature but provides exceptional sound quality, delivering thumpy bass and clear articulation through the mid and treble ranges. As far as earbuds go, these will sound great with any genre of music that you want to enjoy.
The only real downside we see with the Jaybird Vista is the higher cost. These buds are at the high end of the price range. Notably, they are not the most expensive on the market. Still, if you are looking for the top choice for exercise earbuds, we think these are the best overall. If you don't mind doling out the extra cash for the earbuds that outshine the rest, we think you'll be pleased with the Jaybird Vista.
Read review: Jaybird Vista
If you want to work out to the sounds that keep you motivated, maintaining your budget is still possible. Enter the JBL Reflect Mini 2. These buds keep the price down because they don't contain all of the accessory features that you will find in a number of other workout models. Yet these buds still manage to deliver the kind of bass that can motivate you to finish that last muscle-burning set and crisp vocals that will have you singing along to your favorite tracks, all while keeping a few extra bucks in your pocket. It also boasts an impressive 11.5-hour battery life and an IPX5 water resistance to assuage any worries about sweat or rain-induced damage.
The main callout that we have for these buds is the connecting wire. While this simplifies the technology and allows for the lower price tag, it inevitably bounces against your neck with every jump or stride. The sensation isn't overly offensive, but you might consider it if you are particularly sensitive to a brush from a wire while in motion. Additionally, some of our testers with larger ears struggled to find a stable and secure fit with the Reflect Mini 2. That being said, if you want a budget-friendly option, the JBL Reflect Mini 2 will be a good choice for your workout-accompanying tunes.
Read review: JBL Reflect Mini 2
If your preferred workout includes Crossfit or some of the more intense P90X-style programs that are filled with jumping, twisting, and quick changes in direction, and you want to be 100% certain your headphones are not going to fall out, the Beats by Dre Powerbeats Pro are the obvious choice. These true wireless buds use over-ear hooks that essentially plaster them to your ears, making it near impossible for them to fall out. No matter how fast we jumped, rolled, and twisted, we failed to elicit a disconcerting tug from these buds, let alone have one fall out (there's a reason they filmed a commercial of Simone Biles flipping while wearing a pair). They also feature the warm, bass-heavy, and clear sound we've come to expect from Beats.
There are some sacrifices for this extra stability. The first is monetary — the Powerbeats Pro sell for significantly more than the average wireless buds. The second is wearability — if you like to work out outside, there is a good chance the temples of your sunglasses and the hooks of the Powerbeats Pro will be vying for the same real estate. Finally, we found the buds' design not to be amenable to long periods of wear — we were inevitably itching to take them off around the 2-hour mark. Despite these flaws, we think Beats by Dre Powerbeats Pro is the best option for intense and fast-moving workouts.
Read review: Beats by Dre Powerbeats Pro
If your favorite workout location tends to be accompanied by a cacophony of noisy gym-goers, passing cars, or youth soccer practices, the Apple AirPods Pro can create a blissful cone of silence in which you can enjoy your music at a reasonable volume. The effective active noise cancellation can block out most of the ambient noise, providing you with a quieter and more pleasant listening environment. Upgrading to these buds, we went from blasting our music so loud to drown out the treadmill's noise our ears were left ringing, to not even being able to notice the treadmill noise despite our music only being played at a moderate volume. Though certainly not the most stable of the buds we tested, the silicone earpieces allowed most of our testers to confidently run and do jumping jacks without fear of the AirPods Pro falling out.
That noise cancellation technology does come at a price. The AirPods Pro sport one of the largest price tags of those tested here. Also, non-iOS users may be disappointed that specific settings and customization options are not available. But if you frequently find yourself cranking your music uncomfortably loud to drown out the din during your workout, the Apple AirPods Pro are worth the extra cost.
Read review: Apple AirPods Pro
If maintaining situational awareness during your workout is important --whether you want to remain attentive to cars or want to be able to hear your kids in the other room while you sneak in a quick cardio session — the AfterShokz Air offers the best solution. These "bone conduction" headphones sit on the cheekbones in front of the ear and vibrate sound off the cheekbone into the eardrum. It allows you to hear and enjoy music while leaving your ears uncovered to be aware of your surroundings. The design is also relatively stable and comfortable.
Expecting cheekbones to function similarly to high-quality audio drivers is a bit optimistic, so the AfterShokz Air sound relatively thin and hollow compared to more traditional earbuds and headphones. Additionally, it can get in the way of eyeglasses and sunglasses. These are small sacrifices to make if you need to exercise without inhibiting your hearing.
Read review: AfterShokz Air
If you want a very stable pair of headphones for your hard-charging workouts but don't want to pay top dollar, the Beats by Dr. Dre Powerbeats3 offers a reasonable compromise. The over-ear hooks allow these earbuds to stay put even during jumps and flips. They also provide deep bass and relatively good clarity, creating a great listening experience.
While these buds will stay put no matter how much you move, the wire that connects them will eventually flap around. It can become annoying, particularly during fast-paced workouts. The ear hooks also make it difficult to wear sunglasses on top of the buds. If you're looking for extra stability, however, these are worthwhile sacrifices.
Read review: Beats by Dr. Dre Powerbeats3
The Jabra Elite 75t is one of the most impressive sounding pairs of earbuds we've ever tested, producing great clarity and separation through the treble and mid frequencies, which is balanced by powerful and controlled bass. These buds also offer an impressive 11-hour battery life and IP55 water/dust resistance for extra sweat protection (if you want total waterproofness, you can upgrade to the Jabra Elite Active 75t, but that additional protection muffles the sound quality a bit).
Apart from a high price tag, the thing you need to be aware of with these buds is the fit. Our testers fell into two camps; half absolutely loved how the buds fit and could wear them all day comfortably, and a little more than half found them unbearably uncomfortable within minutes of wearing them. Those that had a comfortable fit considered these the best exercise headphones they tested, while those who were uncomfortable considered them a waste of money. It's certainly worth taking a shot on the Jabra Elite 75t and seeing if they happen to fit your ears. Just be sure to order them from somewhere with a reliable return policy.
Read review: Jabra Elite 75t
Why You Should Trust Us
Authors Michelle Powell and Max Mutter have been using and testing athletically inclined headphones for the past 5 years. In that time, they've enlisted a team of athletes that have used tester headphones in the gym, on mountain bike trails, during long runs, and in day-to-day life. They've also personally assessed the sound quality of more than 150 consumer audio products, allowing them to accurately compare the listening experience provided by each of these headphones.
To find the best headphones for every type of exercise, we spent more than 100 total hours lifting weights, doing plyometrics and calisthenics, running on tails and treadmills, and sweating on stationary bikes. Once we'd ascertained each pair's athletic prowess, we then listened to a wide variety of music and podcasts with each model to accurately compare their relative quality and clarity through the bass, mid, and treble ranges, as well as the overall fullness and separation.
Analysis and Test Results
To find the best exercise headphones, we divided our testing into three separate metrics: athletic performance, sound quality, and battery life. We conducted multiple tests within each of these metrics to find the best model for every use and application.
To determine the workout prowess of each of the headphones we tested, we had multiple testers engage in a wide variety of workouts. These included high-intensity and fast-paced programs full of squat jumps and burpees, weightlifting, running, and using various cardio machines. Through it all, we paid attention to the overall stability and comfort of each pair and whether or not sweat negatively impacted those attributes.
The best performers in this metric tended to be the small and light true wireless models, as the lack of wires and little weight didn't tug at our ears as we moved. The best of these models is the Jaybird Vista, which excelled in all our tests. The Jabra Elite 75t offers similar athletic performance levels, but the fit is not as universal as other buds.
Though we had very few problems with earbuds falling out of our ears while exercising, it can still be nice to have some extra support for more intense activities. For those situations, models that sport over-ear hooks like the Powerbeats Pro and the Powerbeats3 are great choices.
The JBL Reflect Mini also offered a comfortable and stable fit through all of our workouts. However, during more intense workouts, the wire that connects the buds whipped around a bit, which was sometimes annoying.
Over the years, we've developed a tried and true sound quality assessment that involves listening to each pair of headphones, side-by-side, using a wide variety of musical genres. It allows us to determine each pair's relative quality and clarity through the bass, mid, and treble frequencies. For this review, we made sure to assess sound quality both in an ideal listening environment (a quiet room) and while working out in areas with plenty of ambient noise.
The best-sounding pair of earbuds we've tested is the Jabra Elite 75t. These buds manage to produce surprisingly powerful bass that is balanced by great clarity and separation through the mid and treble frequencies. This results in the most nuanced listening experience of the bunch, which can equally flatter every type of music from hip hop to acoustic folk.
Many models fall slightly behind the Jabra Elite 75t when it comes to sound quality, all with slightly different sound profiles. The Jaybird Vista, for example, sports a similarly well-balanced and clear sound, but with just a little less bass power. The Beats by Dre models lean into a warmer, bass-forward sound that is perfect for most workout playlists but loses a bit of expression in the higher frequencies. The Apple AirPods Pro is a bit thin in the bass department, but the addition of active noise cancellation substantially elevates the listening experience, particularly in noisy environments.
To test battery life, we created a 2-hour playlist with a mix of varying types of music. We then charged each pair of headphones fully and played that playlist on a loop at 75% volume until the headphones died. For the truly wireless earbuds, we considered the battery life of the buds themselves, not the number of extra charges from the corresponding charging cases. Spoiler alert; every model will last through your workout (unless you're an Olympic endurance athlete, then all bets are off).
The best performers in our battery life tests are the JBL Reflect Mini 2, the Powerbeats Pro, and the Jabra Elite 75t, all of which lasted over 11 hours. The Powerbeats3 followed closely behind, clocking out at the 10-hour mark.
The AfterShokz Air ran for 7.5 hours before dying in our test. The Jaybird Vista ran for 5.75 hours and can store a few additional charges in the charging case. The Apple AirPods Pro lasted 5 hours and can store a few more charges in their charging case.
A good pair of exercise headphones can at best make working out fun, and at its worst, make it slightly more bearable. Whether you're looking for the best-sounding pair possible or want a reasonably priced way to add a motivating playlist to your next workout, we hope our detailed testing results have helped you find the perfect model.
— Max Mutter and Michelle Powell