Best Exercise Headphones of 2020
No matter your preferred workout the Jaybird Vista will be able to keep up. These truly wireless earbuds are so light it's easy to forget you're wearing them and are so stable that even intense sets of burpees or squat jumps won't dislodge them. Every single one of our testers ranked these buds as both the most comfortable and most stable of all the models on this list. The IPX7 waterproof rating means they can survive a complete dunking. 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 provides exceptional sound quality considering the small stature, delivering thumpy bass and clear articulation through the mid and treble ranges. No matter your musical proclivities, these buds will make it sound just about as good as earbuds can.
The only complaint we can rightfully lobby against the Jaybird Vista is the price. These buds sit comfortably in the more expensive end of the spectrum. Notably, however, they are not the most expensive on the market, yet we feel they offer the best overall experience for those seeking exercise headphones. Therefore, if you don't mind paying a little extra for the best, we think the Jaybird Vista is worth every penny.
Read review: Jaybird Vista
You certainly don't need to make a huge investment to enjoy good tunes while working out. Enter the JBL Reflect Mini 2. By eschewing some of the bells and whistles present in most of the latest workout headphone iterations these buds manage to deliver the kind of bass that can motivate you to finish that last, muscle-burning set and the kind of crisp vocals that will have you singing along to your favorite tracks, all while costing much less than most of the competition. It also offers IPX5 water resistance to assuage any worries about sweat or rain-induced damage, and sports an impressive 11.5 hour battery life.
The biggest drawback to these buds is the wire that connects them. While this simplifies the technology and allows for the lower price tag, it inevitably bounces against your neck with every jump or stride. The resulting sensation is fairly innocuous, but some people find it annoying. Additionally, some of our testers with larger ears struggled to find a solid and secure fit with the Reflect Mini 2. Overall the JBL Reflect Mini 2 is able to provide a great and cost-effective experience for the majority of people seeking headphones to use the next time they exercise.
Read review: JBL Reflect Mini 2
If your preferred workout fare 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 clear choice. These truly 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 even elicit a disconcerting tug from these buds, nevermind get one to actually fall out (there's a reason they filmed a commercial of Simone Biles flipping while wearing a pair). To boot, they feature the warm, bass-heavy, and clear sound we've come to expect from Beats.
You do make some sacrifices for this extra stability. The first is monetary — the Powerbeats Pro sell for significantly more than average. The second is sunglasses — if you like to take your workout outside there's a good chance the temples of your sunglasses and the hooks of the Powerbeats Pro are going to be vying for the same real estate. Finally, we found the design of these buds to not 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 are 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. This is thanks to the effective active noise cancellation, which 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 noise of the treadmill our ears were left ringing, to not even noticing 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 silicon 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 with the AirPods Pro sporting one of the biggest price tags of this list. Also, non-iOS users may be disappointed that certain settings and customization options are not available to them. But if you constantly find yourself cranking your music uncomfortably loud in order to drown out the din during your workout, the Apple AirPods Pro are well 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 just want to be able to hear the kids in the other room when you sneak in a quick cardio session-- the AfterShokz Air offers the best solution. These "bone conduction" headphones sit in front of your ears on your cheekbones and use those bones to vibrate sound into your eardrums. This allows you to hear and enjoy music while leaving your ears completely uncovered and able to hear your surroundings. The design is also quite stable and comfortable.
Expecting cheekbones to function similarly to high-quality audio drivers is a bit optimistic, thus the AfterShokz Air sound relatively thin and hollow when compared to more traditional earbuds and headphones. Additionally, it can get in the way of eyeglasses and sunglasses. These, however, are small sacrifices to make if you need to exercise without inhibiting your hearing.
Read review: AfterShokz Air
If you want a super 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 confidently stay put even when jumping and flipping. They also offer deep bass and relatively good clarity, making for a great listening experience.
While these buds will stay put no matter how much you move, the wire that connects them will inevitably flap around. This can get a bit 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 that is balanced by powerful and controlled bass. These buds also offer an exceptional 11-hour battery life and IP55 water/dust resistance for extra sweat protection (if you want totally waterproofness you can upgrade to the Jabra Elite Active 75t, but that extra 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 either absolutely loved how these buds fit and could comfortably wear them all day, or found them almost unbearably uncomfortable within minutes of having them in their ears (with a bit more than half of our testers falling into this latter category). Those that could find a comfortable fit considered these the best exercise headphones on the market, while those that could not find a good fit 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 said headphones in the gym, on mountain bike trails, during long runs, and during 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 the athletic prowess of each pair, we then listened to a wide variety of music and podcasts with each model, one right after the other, 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. Within each of these metrics we conducted multiple tests 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 truly wireless models, as the lack of wires and light weight left little to tug at our ears as we moved. The best of these models is the Jaybird Vista which excelled in all of our tests. The Jabra Elite 75t can offer similar levels of athletic performance, but its fit is less universal.
Though we had very few problems with earbuds actually falling out of our ears while exercising, for more intense activities it can still be nice to have a bit of extra support. For those situations models that sport over-ear hooks like the Powerbeats Pro and the Powerbeats3 are a great choice.
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. This 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 (in 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 though the mid and treble frequencies. This results in the most nuanced listening experience of the bunch, one that can equally flatter everything from hip hop to acoustic folk music.
A number of models fall just 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 bit 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 are 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 that can be stored in the corresponding charging cases. Spoiler alert, every model is going to be able to 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 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