To find the best workout headphones and earbuds of 2020 we bought 11 pairs and spent more than 100 hours using them in the gym, on trials, and in the saddle. After sweating literal buckets in discovering which activities each pair of buds could handle, we conducted controlled, head-to-head listening comparisons to find the best sounding of the bunch. Finally, we tested battery life and judged the user friendliness of each model. No matter what type of workout you prefer, or the type of playlists you enjoy while working up a sweat, our testing results will help you find a great pair of earbuds.
Best Sports and Fitness Headphones for Working Out and Running
Best Overall Workout Headphones
The best pair of workout headphones we've tested is the Jaybird Vista. Throughout our testing these buds managed to feel both comfortable and stable, even while doing squat jumps or hitting big bumps on mountain bikes. Plus they offer some of the best bass power and overall clarity in the field, making everything from the thumping bass ballads that power you through hard intervals to the podcasts you listen to during cool down sound fantastic. All this is backed up with IPX7 total waterproofing, so you never have to worry about sweat or a surprise rainstorm damaging your precious earbuds.
We don't have many bad things to say about these buds, except that they are quite expensive. They offer premium performance, but ask you to pay a corresponding premium for it. Still, if you're looking for great sound in a pair of comfortable buds that can easily handle your toughest workouts, the Jaybird Vista is well worth the cost.
Read review: Jaybird Vista
Best Bang for the Buck
JBL Reflect Mini 2
For those looking to add a high-quality soundtrack to their workouts on a budget, the JBL Reflect Mini 2 is the best pair of earbuds we've found. They provide enough bass to make workout tracks sound thumpy and motivating, and provide exceptional clarity through the mid and treble ranges that rounds that bass out into a full and engrossing sound. The majority of our testers found the fit of these buds to be more than stable enough for running, jumping, and even mountain biking. While not completely waterproof, the IPX5 rating of these buds is more than enough to shed as much sweat as you can throw at them, as well as any rainstorms that sneak up on you. And they do all this for a mere fraction of what many of the top-tier models cost.
The biggest sacrifice you make in going with this more budget-friendly model is the wire that connects the buds and drapes across the back of your neck. When running this wire bounces a bit. The wire is so light that most don't mind the sensation caused by this bouncing, but in a world where true wireless earbuds are quickly becoming the standard this minor drawback becomes more and more noticeable. Additionally, while most of our testers found these buds to fit comfortably, some that have larger ears struggled to find a fit that felt secure enough for running (it's always a good idea to buy earbuds from a retailer with a good return policy). If you can find a stable fit with these buds they provide a great overall experience for much less than the competition.
Read review: JBL Reflect Mini 2
Best for Hard Charging Activities
Beats by Dre Powerbeats Pro
There are those amongst us that want to be able to throw themselves off big drops on a mountain bike, charge downhill with reckless abandon, or launch off large ramps with a skateboard, all while being absolutely certain their earbuds are not going to fall out. If you fit into this category, you're going to love the Beats by Dre Powerbeats Pro. The unique over-ear hooks of these buds make them far and away the most stable we've tested, easily shrugging off even the biggest of bumps without even a hint of discomfort. They also offer a great, bass-forward sound that flatters most workout playlists.
The biggest con to these buds is the price — they are some of the most expensive on the market. Additionally, depending on what type of sunglasses you wear the over-ear hooks can sometimes get in the way of them, forcing a depressing decision between music and eye-protection. If you're looking for unflinchingly stable earbuds for all of your extreme adventures, the Beats by Dre Powerbeats Pro will serve you well.
Read review: Beats by Dre Powerbeats Pro
Best for Apple Users
Apple AirPods Pro
Ever since the original AirPods were released many have been clamoring for a more sports-oriented iteration of the revolutionary buds. Those cries have largely been answered with the Apple AirPods Pro. Despite a lack of the ear fins seen in most workout headphones, the majority of our testers had zero issues running, doing jumping jacks, and pushing through hard and sweaty workouts with these buds. The addition of an IPX4 water resistance rating adds confidence on those sweaty summer runs — we had no sweat-induced issues throughout our testing. The active noise cancellation is also a nice touch, as it lets you drown out whatever music is playing at the gym and listen to your own without cranking the volume uncomfortably high.
The price is likely the biggest thing that will dissuade some potential buyers from these buds. However, if you're a big fan of things that seamlessly integrate into the Apple ecosystem and have been searching for a pair of workout headphones, we don't think the Apple AirPods Pro will disappoint.
Read review: Apple AirPods Pro
Best for Unencumbered Hearing
AfterShokz Trekz Air
There are some activities — like running or biking on crowded streets or trying to sneak in a workout while still paying attention to the baby monitor — where leaving your hearing unimpeded is key. Most workout headphones fit either in or over your ears, limiting your hearing quite a bit. Enter the AfterShokz Trekz Air. The "speakers" of these headphones sit on your cheekbones, vibrating the sound through those bones and into your eardrums — a technology known as bone conduction. This allows you to both listen to music privately without disturbing anyone else and leaves your ears uncovered and able to hear ambient noises.
While the AfterShokz Trekz Air allows you to listen to music in situations where it otherwise wouldn't be prudent, that music is of a lower quality than what is produced by most other models. That quality somewhat depends on the anatomy of your cheekbones, but we've failed to find a cheekbone that is as good of an instrument as a traditional set of headphones. That being said, we still love the AfterShokz Trekz Air for its ability to provide a soundtrack to workouts where it otherwise would not have been convenient.
Read review: AfterShokz Trekz Air
Why You Should Trust Us
Authors Max Mutter and Michelle Powell have spent the past 4 years entrenched in the consumer audio market, having now tested more than 150 earbuds, headphones speakers, and soundbars. Living in a mountain town, they both spend countless hours running and biking on trails and generally recreating outside, most often with earbuds in their ears. That mountain town locale provides dozens of natural workout headphones testers, which makes it quite easy to aggregate dozens of opinions on all of the models present in this review.
In completing this review we employed more than a dozen testers in order to get a wide range of opinions on the overall fit, stability, and general athletic prowess of each pair of earbuds and headphones. Those testers logged hundreds of miles on the road and trails and spent dozens of hours in the gym in that pursuit. We then conducted more controlled testing in the lab, including side-by-side sound quality trials and battery life tests.
[related=How We Tested Earbuds and In-Ear Headphones]
Analysis and Test Results
We divided our testing and ranking of workout headphones into four differently weighted metrics. We assigned the most weight to athletic performance, closely followed by sound quality. We assigned less weight to the results of our battery life and ease of use tests.
Related: Picking the Right Bluetooth Earbuds
High quality workout headphones often require paying top dollar, but luckily there are some exceptions. Namely the JBL Reflect Mini 2 offers grout sound quality and a very stable fit for much less than many of the more expensive true wireless models. While certainly not cheap, the exceptional Jaybird Vista provides premium performance for significantly less than many of the high-priced models that are currently prominent in the marketplace.
Adding a soundtrack to your workouts can greatly elevate the experience, and add extra motivation for pushing through that last set, but only if your headphones stay put the whole time. Having to constantly adjust your earbuds in between sets or spending your entire run worrying an expensive earbud will fall out and be lost to a storm drain can ruin even the best workout-induced endorphin release. In testing athletic performance we enlisted more than a dozen runners, mountain bikers, and self-proclaimed gym rats to compare each model's amenability to partaking in their chosen activities head-to-head. Through it all these testers paid close attention to each model's stability and comfort while working out, and whether or not sweat had any negative impacts on that stability. We also considered the waterproof or water-resistant levels of each model.
The clear leader in our athletic performance testing was the Jaybird Vista. All of our testers found these buds to be comfortable and stable, even when they were dripping with sweat. Perhaps most notably, the mountain bikers didn't notice any discomfort in their ears, even when hitting large bumps on fast downhill runs. To boot, these buds boast IPX7 total waterproofness.
Closely following the Jaybird Vista in our athletic performance ranking are the Beats by Dre Powerbeats Pro. Though they are a bit heavier, the over-ear hooks of these buds make them incredibly stable. While we had no issues with the stability of the Jaybird Vista, those that participate in particularly high-impact activities may appreciate the extra peace of mind offered by the over-ear hooks. The only downside is those hooks can get in the way of sunglasses, depending on the design of the temples.
The Powerbeats3 are essentially the same as the Powerbeats Pro, but without the true wireless form factor. This means there is a small wire draped behind your neck. This wire bounces a bit as you run, but that feels like a minor sacrifice if you're interested in getting a super-stable athletic fit for much less.
The JBL Reflect Mini 2 provided all of our testers with a stable and secure fit, even when sweating buckets. The IPX5 water resistance offers good protection from sweat. The only minor complaint is the cable that connects the two buds, which can bounce a bit as you run. However, this isn't a huge annoyance, and most of our testers forgot about it after a couple of miles.
The Apple AirPods Pro are a huge improvement over their predecessors in terms of athletic performance. The silicon earpieces fit tightly into the ears and the IPX4 water resistance alleviates worries about sweat and rain. The lack of ear fins can make them seem a bit less stable than some of their competitors, but most of our testers found them plenty stable in practice.
The AfterShokz Trekz Air and its unique bone-conduction design leaves your ears totally uncovered, which is fantastic for cycling or running on crowded streets. It is light enough that we didn't experience uncomfortable bouncing while running, and the wrap-around fit is very stable. However, it's almost impossible to find a pair of sunglasses that won't be impeded by the AfterShokz Trekz Air.
The Jabra Elite 75t and its slightly more waterproof sibling, the Jabra Elite active 75t, can be hit or miss when it comes to athletic performance. Some of our testers found these buds to be extremely comfortable, and likewise found them to provide exceptional athletic performance. Others felt discomfort almost immediately upon putting the buds in their ears, and things only got worse once they were moving around in their workouts. You should always buy things like earbuds, which may or may not happen to fit well with your personal ear anatomy, from a retailer that allows for returns. That recommendation goes double for the Jabra models we tested.
While we feel all the models we've tested sound good enough to effectively motivate you with your favorite workout playlists, there are certainly some that are better than others. We tested sound quality by listening to varying genres of music with each pair of workout headphones, one right after the other. This allowed us to directly compare the expression and clarity of each in the bass, mid, and treble ranges, as well as the acoustic separation and overall fullness.
Our favorite sounding pair of earbuds are the Jabra Elite 75t. Though polarizing in terms of comfort, these buds gained unanimous praise for their deep, rotund bass, impressive clarity, and overall engrossing soundscape. You can rest assured the Jabra Elite 75t will do justice to whatever workout track you choose.
A close second in our sound quality testing was the Jaybird Vista. Though these buds lack a bit of the bass power of the Jabra Elite 75t, they still manage to provide a clearly defined and well-rounded overall sound.
The Powerbeats Pro and the PowerBeats3 both put in a similar performance in our sound quality testing. Though not field-leading, both pairs produce a good amount of bass power and back it up with good clarity through the mid and treble ranges.
The bass of the Apple AirPods Pro is a bit on the weaker side, but relatively good nuance and separation through the mid and treble ranges make for a good overall listening experience. Also, the bass tends to round out a bit if you engage the active noise cancellation.
The JBL Reflect mini 2 lacks a bit of bass power when compared to the pricier, true wireless models. However, we found it's low-end still has enough oomph to make workout tracks sound acceptably thumpy, and it manages to create quite a full overall soundscape.
The extra waterproofing of the Jabra Elite Active 75t makes it sound a bit muffled in comparison to its melodious sibling. The overall balance and composition are still good, but everything sounds a bit thinned out.
The selling point of the AfterShokz Trekz Air is the fact that you can listen to music without covering your ears, not that the music will sound particularly good. Sound quality largely depends on the anatomy of your cheekbones (as the headphones vibrate the sound to your ears via your cheekbones), but all of our testers reported a relatively thin and tinny sound. If you need to leave your ears unencumbered it is certainly better than nothing, but don't expect a nuanced listening experience.
The good news is that, unless you're an ultramarathoner, all of the buds we tested have batteries that can easily last through your workout. However, some are more forgiving towards those that forget to plug in their headphones in between workouts, or that want them to pull double duty for use while working or traveling. To test battery life we fully charged each model and then played the same playlist on a loop at 75% volume until the battery died. For the true wireless earbud models we focused on the amount of battery the buds themselves hold, rather than how much extra battery the charging cases hold.
The JBL Reflect Mini 2 and the Beats by Dre Powerbeats Pro led our battery life testing, both lasting over 11 hours. The Powerbeats3 were close behind, managing to play music for 10 hours before dying.
The Jabra Elite 75t, the Jabra Elite Active 75t, and the AfterShokz Trekz Air offered average battery life in our testing, all lasting about 7 hours.
The Jaybird Vista and the Apple AirPods Pro both lasted about 5 hours in our battery life tests. While this is shorter than most of the competitors it is plenty of juice for getting through most workouts. Also, both models are true wireless and come with charging cases, so they can be recharged on the go.
Ease of Use
Every pair of workout headphones has some sort of controls that let you perform basic functions, like play/pause or skip tracks, without taking your phone out of your pocket. Some also have associated apps that allow you to access more advanced features and adjust bass, mid, and treble levels. We compared all of these features to assess which are the easiest to use.
The Apple AirPods Pro offer some of the most intuitive controls of all the models we tested. Where most buds require that you uncomfortably shove the buds into your ears in trying to push a button or to feel around for buttons on a flopping cable, the pinch gesture of the Apple AirPods Pro is both easy and produces a clear 'click' letting you know your command has been registered.
The Jaybird Vista features large buttons on each bud that are easy to press. We still prefer the pinch gesture of the Apple AirPods Pro overall, but the Jaybird Vista is a close second.
Also providing fairly easy to press buttons are the Jabra Elite 75t and the Jabra Elite Active 75t. The buttons require just enough pressure to push that the buds get pushed into your ears a bit, but not to an uncomfortable degree.
The Powerbeats3 and the JBL Reflect Mini 2 place large, easy to press buttons on the cables that connect the two earbuds. These buttons are quite intuitive, but can sometimes be hard to find when the cables are flopping around while running.
The controls of the AfterShokz Trekz Air are fairly intuitive, but it can occasionally be hard to get the right contact between the headphones and your cheekbones to get the sound to vibrate into your ears. Once you find that contact, however, it is easy to find again.
The right pair of workout headphones can be a gamechanger, making getting to the gym or out on a run infinitely more enjoyable. We spent hundreds of hours working out, running, and biking to find the very best model for every activity. We hope our testing results have helped you find the best way to stay entertained and motivated during your next workout.
— Max Mutter and Michelle Powell