Best Running Headphones of 2021
More than any other earbud in our review, the Jaybird Vista universally wowed our testers with its comfort and stability. Regardless of ear size or shape, all of our testers were treated to a fit that felt comfortable over multiple hours of wear and stayed securely in place even when tired legs led to heavy strides. Perhaps most importantly, the impressive light weight of the Vista buds eliminates the annoying tugging sensation that can accompany running with buds in your ears. Their IPX7 waterproof rating means they're designed to survive total submersion in a meter of water for a full 30 minutes, so you don't have to panic if dark clouds start to appear halfway through your run. And, of course, there's the sound, which is top-notch. These buds excellently render everything from powerful, motivating bass tracks for sets of sprint intervals to crystal clear podcasts or audiobooks for enlightenment during your cool down.
As you might expect, the best running earbuds on the market have a correspondingly high price — the Jaybird Vista is one of the pricier models on this list. However, if you want the best of the best and don't mind paying a little extra, the Jaybird Vista offers field-leading and uncompromising performance.
Read review: Jaybird Vista
Adding an enjoyable soundtrack to your runs doesn't have to cost top dollar, and no earbuds prove this point better than the JBL Reflect Mini 2. These buds manage to provide great sound quality as well as impressive comfort and stability at a fraction of the cost of most of the true wireless models. An IPX5 water resistance rating means they can also shrug off rainstorms and excessive sweat with ease. We got 11.5 hours of juice on a single charge in our tests, meaning they can likely last through your next ultra-marathon (or at least forgive the fact that you forgot to charge the buds after your last run).
Our chief complaint with this budget option involves the wire connecting the two buds, which drapes behind your neck. When running, this wire tends to bounce, dropping onto your neck with every stride. Though the sensation this causes is minimal, it is noticeable, and some might find it to be annoying. Additionally, though the majority of our testers easily found a comfortable fit, some with larger ears struggled to find an earpiece/ear fin combo that was both comfortable and stable. Still, the JBL Reflect Mini 2 will offer most people great all-around performance at a competitive price.
Read review: JBL Reflect Mini 2
Running in cities presents multiple potential hazards — cars, busses, trains, distracted pedestrians — and plugging your ears with earbuds can make you oblivious to these dangers. The AfterShokz Air is one of the few devices on the market offering a reasonable compromise between going without music entirely and significant hearing impairment. It does this by vibrating sound into your ears through your cheekbones just in front of your ears, leaving your ears themselves completely uncovered so you can still hear the world around you. Compared to traditional earbuds, we felt much more aware of our surroundings while listening to music with the AfterShokz Air. They manage to do all this while fitting comfortably and remaining stable, no matter the size or shape of your ears.
It turns out that cheekbones have largely evolved to better take a punch (no really, look it up) rather than to act as musical instruments. Therefore, we found the bone-conduction style of these headphones to generally produce a shallower and more tinny sound than traditional earbuds. Also, since the headphones sit on top of your ears, they sometimes end up jockeying for position with the temples of sunglasses. Despite these drawbacks, we still think the AfterShokz Air offers a fantastic entertainment solution for those situations when covering your ears isn't prudent.
Read review: AfterShokz Air
Have you ever cranked the volume of your earbuds to uncomfortable levels to sufficiently drown out the din a noisy gym, only to leave the gym with your ears ringing? Even when running on home treadmills, we've committed the same sin to block out the sound of the motor bouncing off the walls. This is where the Apple AirPods Pro excel. Out of all the athletically inclined earbuds we tested, these offer the best active noise cancellation, allowing you to block out the noise of the gym or treadmill and listen to your music at a reasonable and safe volume. This noise cancellation is accompanied by great sound, intuitive controls, and a comfortable fit.
Unfortunately, this noise cancellation technology comes at a price — the AirPods Pro are some of the most expensive earbuds on the market. They are light enough and, given the three sizes of silicone earpieces included, fit securely enough that our testers didn't have any stability issues. Considering how expensive the buds are, though, we would've appreciated if they had ear fins on them for the extra peace of mind. But if you often feel like you've just left a concert when you step off the treadmill, the Apple AirPods Pro can provide excellent sound while protecting your ears.
Read review: Apple AirPods Pro
Sometimes, running in an expensive pair of true wireless earbuds can be a bit stressful. If you can't shake images of your pricey buds falling out and being lost to a sewer drain or mud puddle, check out the Beats by Dre Powerbeats Pro. Their over-ear hooks make them incredibly secure, and the chances of one of them falling out are slim to none. That extra scaffolding also allows for slightly beefier technology, providing these buds with some of the best bass and longest battery life of all the models we've tested.
Our main gripe with the Powerbeats Pro is that the over-ear hook can get in the way of sunglasses. Additionally, while we found them comfortable for most runs, they started to feel cumbersome when worn for more than two hours, somewhat negating the benefit of their long battery life. They're also quite spendy. However, for those that value stability over all else, the Powerbeats Pro is a clear choice.
Read review: Beats by Dre Powerbeats Pro
If you want the added stability of over-ear hooks but don't want to pay top dollar, the Beats by Dr. Dre Powerbeats3 is a perfect choice. These wired Bluetooth earbuds provide rotund and immersive sound, a long battery life, and the added security of over-ear hooks for less than most of the true wireless competition.
Like all over-ear models, the Powerbeats3 can sometimes get in the way of sunglasses. Additionally, the wire that drapes behind the neck tends to bounce when running, creating a sensation that is usually easily ignored but can sometimes get irritating. However, for those seeking extra stability for a reasonable price, these should just be minor drawbacks.
Read review: Beats by Dr. Dre Powerbeats3
In the world of earbuds, finding impressive sound quality that throws down powerful yet well-defined bass notes and still maintains clarity through the higher registers is a rarity. The Jabra Elite 75t manages to accomplish all the above with ease. You can also get 11 hours of playback before having to put the buds back into their charging case, making them perfect for long runs or for pulling double duty on long flights or bus rides. The IP55 dust and water resistance rating means sudden rainstorms or being dropped in the dirt shouldn't be an issue.
The major downside we discovered with the Jabra Elite 75t was the fit. These buds tend to be quite polarizing, with just under half of our testers absolutely loving them — as in, never wanting to take them off — while everyone else found them almost unbearably uncomfortable and unstable. This is a high-risk/high-reward situation. If these buds happen to fit your ears well, you'll likely love them, but based on our experience, there's a fairly good chance they just won't fit at all. We suggest purchasing them from a retailer with a great return policy. If you're seeking more waterproofing, the upgraded Jabra Elite Active 75t offers total IPX7 protection but suffers from the same polarizing fit issue as the non-active version. Additionally, the extra protection dampens the sound quality a bit. That said, if they fit, they'll be a hit.
Read review: Jabra Elite 75t
Why You Should Trust Us
We enlisted a team of runners to test the stability, sweat resistance, and long-term comfort of our running headphones. Leading this team is Laura Casner, a seasoned runner who has been consistently participating in ultra marathons for the past 12 years, the longest of which was 50 miles. Authors Michelle Powell and Max Mutter led the audio portions of our testing. The duo has been assessing the relative audio quality of consumer products for the past five years, having now tested and reviewed more than 150 products, including headphones, earbuds, speakers, soundbars, and turntables.
To determine the running prowess of each of these headphones, we had our team of runners use each pair multiple times in various conditions, racking up well over 100 miles in the process. After garnering opinions concerning comfort, stability, and general sound quality from these runners, we then brought the headphones into the lab for some rigorous, side-by-side sound quality testing. We used a multitude of musical genres and podcasts to determine each pair's relative bass, mid, and treble quality, overall clarity, and fullness. After all of this was said and done, we then fully charged each pair and ran them until they died to measure battery life.
Analysis and Test Results
We divided our analysis into three main categories: running performance, sound quality, and battery life. Within each of these metrics, we conducted multiple tests to ensure that you can find a pair that will stay secure and comfy throughout your run while sounding good and lasting long enough to keep you motivated through the final mile.
The runners on our testing team used each pair of headphones on multiple runs, ranging from sweat fests in the midday heat to chilly dawn adventures to long sessions on the treadmill. They took careful note of which models were lightweight and fit securely enough to be barely noticeable while pounding the pavement, as well as which models annoyingly tugged on their ears with each stride. They also paid careful attention to how perspiration affected each model's overall stability and comfort.
Our favorite model in this regard is the Jaybird Vista. The different-sized earpieces included with these earbuds allowed all of our testers to find a comfortable, stable fit, and the feathery weight all but eliminated any annoying tugging sensations in the ears. These buds are also IPX7 waterproof, so no worries if one of them happens to fall in a puddle.
The Beats by Dre Powerbeats Pro and the Powerbeats3 use over-ear hooks that create a rock-solid fit and will be appreciated by those seeking extra stability with their headphones. However, those hooks can interfere with sunglasses, making them a poor choice if you like to run in shades.
Conversely, the Apple AirPods Pro lack any sort of ear fins, making them feel a bit less stable than some of the other contenders. However, most of our testers found the silicone earpieces to provide a secure enough purchase for running.
The Jabra Elite 75t has an odd design that tends to fit people's ears either perfectly or terribly. In the case that you fall into the former category, these are great running buds. However, if you fall in the latter category, we doubt you'll want to wear these buds for more than a few minutes.
We assessed sound quality in two ways — somewhat subjectively while running to our favorite playlists, and then more objectively in our testing lab by comparing clarity, separation, and fullness side-by-side. Running our tests in this manner, we were able to find the best-sounding running headphones, regardless of your musical preferences.
Though we found the fit a bit polarizing, the Jabra Elite 75t was unequivocally the best-sounding pair of earbuds we tested. This sound quality is built off the bass power, which is impressively round yet well-controlled. That detail and control continue through the mid and treble ranges with great clarity and good separation.
Though the Jabra Elite 75t set itself apart from the rest of the field when it comes to sound quality, many models fell just slightly off the pace in our testing. For example, the Jaybird Vista offers great clarity and quality from the bass through the treble frequencies but lacks some of the bass power of the Jabra Elite 75t. Both the Beats models, the Powerbeats Pro and the Powerbeats3, offer a warmer and more bass-forward sound. This works perfectly for upbeat running tunes, but you lose some detail if you delve into acoustic compositions or podcasts. The AirPods Pro sound just a bit thinner than most models on this list, but engaging the noise-cancelling technology can often lend the music more body, particularly when listening in noisy environments.
It's borderline devastating to having your playlist cut out before the end of your run. Luckily, all of the buds we tested can easily last through an average run, but some are better suited to ultramarathoners or those that often forget to charge their electronics. We tested battery life by putting every fully-charged pair of headphones on 75% volume and looping the same 2-hour playlist until the batteries gave out. For true wireless earbuds, we considered the battery life of the buds themselves, not of the battery in the charging case.
The winner in this metric is the JBL Reflect Mini 2, which lasted an impressive 11.5 hours in our battery test. Closely following were the Jabra Elite 75t and the Beats By Dre Powerbeats Pro, which both lasted 11 hours. The Powerbeats3 also hit the double-digit mark, posting a time of 10 hours. All of these models would be a good choice for ultramarathoners looking for exceptional battery life.
Following these over-achievers, battery life drops off somewhat precipitously, with the next closest competitor being theAftershokz Air with 7.5 hours of life. The Jabra Elite 75t clocked in at 7 hours.
Even the worst performers in our battery life tests — the Jaybird Vista (5.75 hours) and the Apple AirPods Pro (5 hours) — are more than capable of lasting through the entirety of a marathon.
Logging miles can be infinitely more enjoyable with a good pair of running headphones, but a bad pair of running headphones can quickly become an unbearable annoyance and ruin your outing. We hope our testing results will help you find an enjoyable pair that fit both your needs and your budget.
— Max Mutter and Michelle Powell