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Are you seeking a soundtrack for your next run? We researched the best running headphones on the market then bought and tested the 6 most promising pairs head-to-head. Our testers ranged from seasoned ultra-marathoners to recreational joggers that, in total, racked up over a hundred miles in the quest to find the best running headphones. A great pair of running headphones can keep you motivated and entertained well after you've entered the pain cave. We've tested everything from comfort and stability to sound quality and battery life to ensure that you end up with a pair that makes your next run more pleasant.
More than any other earbud in our review, the Jaybird Vista 2 universally wowed our testers with its comfort and stability. Regardless of ear size or shape, all of our testers felt that the fit was comfortable over multiple hours of wear and stayed securely in place even when tired legs led to heavy strides. Perhaps most importantly, the impressively light weight of the Vista 2 buds eliminates the annoying tugging sensation that can accompany running with buds in your ears. Their IP68 waterproof rating means they can 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 2 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 2 offers field-leading and uncompromising performance.
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 is minimal, it is noticeable, and some might find it annoying. Additionally, though most of our testers easily found a comfortable fit, some with larger ears struggled to find an earpiece/ear fin combo that was comfortable and stable. Still, the JBL Reflect Mini 2 will offer most people excellent all-around performance at a competitive price.
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. We felt much more aware of our surroundings than traditional earbuds 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.
As it turns out, cheekbones have primarily evolved to take a punch (no, really, look it up) rather than 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. Additionally, since the headphones rest on top of your ears, they sometimes end up jockeying for position with the temples of sunglasses. With that in mind, we still think the AfterShokz Air offers an excellent entertainment solution for times when covering your ears isn't prudent.
Have you ever cranked the volume of your earbuds to uncomfortable levels to sufficiently drown out the din of 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 scenario 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.
The drawback is the noise cancellation technology comes at a high 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 the cost, we would have appreciated the addition of ear fins for 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.
Sometimes, running in an expensive pair of true wireless earbuds can be stressful. If you can't shake images of your pricey buds falling out and dropping into 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 most extended battery life of all the models we've tested.
Our main issue with these running headphones is that the over-ear hook is not the most compatible with sunglasses. And though they're comfortable enough for most runs, they began 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, the Powerbeats Pro is a clear choice for those who value stability over everything else.
In the world of earbuds, finding impressive sound quality that throws down robust 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 fit was the major downside we discovered with the Jabra Elite 75t. 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 situation is high-risk/high-reward. If these buds happen to fit your ears well, you'll likely love them, but based on our experience, there's a pretty good chance they just won't fit at all. We suggest purchasing them from a retailer with a flexible 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.
We enlisted a team of runners to test our running headphones' stability, sweat resistance, and long-term comfort. 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.
Our testing of running headphones is divided across three rating metrics:
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 from these runners concerning comfort, stability, and general sound quality. We then brought the headphones into the lab for 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 fully charged each pair and ran them until they died to measure battery life.
Analysis and Test Results
Within each of the three metrics, we conduct multiple tests to ensure that you can find a pair that will stay secure and comfy throughout your run while sounding great and lasting long enough to keep you motivated through the final mile.
Our testing team of runners wore each model on numerous 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 headphones were lightweight and fit securely enough to be barely noticeable while pounding the pavement, as well as which pair annoyingly tugged on their ears with every stride. They also paid close attention to how perspiration affected each model's overall stability and comfort.
Our favorite model in this regard is the Jaybird Vista 2. The different-sized earpieces included with these earbuds allowed all of our testers to find a comfortable, stable fit. The feathery weight all but eliminated any annoying tugging sensations in the ears. These buds are also IP68 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 are the least stable of all the products we tested. They lack ear fins, making them feel less stable than some other contenders. However, most testers found the silicone earpieces to provide a secure enough purchase for running.
We assess sound quality in two ways — the first is somewhat subjective while running to our favorite playlists. We also put these earbuds through a more objective testing routine similar to that of other headphone styles we test, we use them in our testing lab and compare clarity, separation, and fullness side-by-side. Running our tests in this manner, we are able to find the best-sounding running headphones, regardless of 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 builds from the bass power and 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 2 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 of the Beats models, the Powerbeats Pro and the Powerbeats3, offer a warmer and more bass-forward sound. This combination works perfectly for upbeat running tunes, but you lose some detail if you delve into acoustic compositions or podcasts.
It's borderline devastating to have 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.
Even the worst performers in our battery life tests — the Apple AirPods Pro (5 hours) — are more than capable of lasting through the entirety of a marathon. They come with a carrying case that will recharge the earbuds 1-2 times. If you want constant tunes, but know you won't be near an outlet anytime soon, you can always bring along a portable charger to keep the music flowing.
Whether you are a serious runner, or just like to get out for a casual jog, logging miles can be infinitely more enjoyable with a good pair of running headphones. In contrast, the wrong pair can quickly become an unbearable annoyance and ruin your outing. We purchased and tested the top earbuds for running, and compared them not only to one another but also compared them to over-ear versions, waterproof designs and other models made for a variety of scenarios. We hope our testing results will help you find the right pair that fits both your needs and your budget.
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