Best Workout Headphones of 2020
Best Overall Sports Headphones
The Jaybird Vista is the best pair of workout headphones we have tested. These buds managed to feel comfortable and stable throughout our testing, even when hitting big bumps on mountain bikes or doing squat jumps. They make everything sound fantastic, from the thumping bass ballads that power you through hard intervals to the podcasts you listen to during cool down. They offer some of the best bass power and overall clarity in the field, and it's all backed up with an IPX7 waterproof rating — so you never have to worry about sweat or a surprise rainstorm damaging your precious earbuds.
The only big con with these buds is that they are quite expensive. They offer premium performance at a premium price. 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
The JBL Reflect Mini 2 is the best pair of earbuds for those on a budget but still looking to add a high-quality soundtrack to their workouts. They provide enough bass to make workout tracks sound motivating and thumpy, and provide exceptional clarity through the mid and treble ranges, which round the bass out into a full and engrossing sound. The majority of our testers found these buds' fit to be more than stable enough for jumping, running, and even mountain biking. Though not completely waterproof, these buds' IPX5 rating is more than enough to shed sweat or rainstorms that sneak up on you. They do all this for a mere fraction of what many of the top-tier models cost.
The biggest sacrifice you make 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, but in a world where true wireless earbuds are quickly becoming the standard, this minor drawback becomes even more noticeable. Additionally, while most of our testers found these buds to fit comfortably, those with 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 High-intensity Activities
Beats by Dre Powerbeats Pro
If you are a person that wants 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 sure their earbuds are not going to fall out, the Beats by Dre Powerbeats Pro is where you should start. These buds' unique over-ear hooks make them one of the most stable we have tested, easily shrugging off even the biggest bumps without a hint of discomfort. They also offer an excellent, bass-forward sound that flatters most workout playlists.
The biggest con to these buds is the price — they are one of the most expensive buds on the market. Additionally, depending on what type of sunglasses you wear, the over-ear hooks can sometimes get in the way. 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, most of our testers had zero issues doing jumping jacks, running, 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 a nice touch, as it lets you drown out whatever music is playing at the gym and listen to your own playlist without cranking the volume uncomfortably high.
The price is likely the most significant thing that will dissuade some potential buyers from these buds. However, if you have been searching for a pair of workout headphones and are a big fan of products that seamlessly integrate into the Apple ecosystem, the Apple AirPods Pro will not disappoint.
Read review: Apple AirPods Pro
Best for Unencumbered Hearing
There are some activities — like trying to sneak in a workout while still paying attention to the baby monitor, or running or biking on crowded streets — where leaving your hearing unimpeded is critical. Most workout headphones fit either in or over your ears, limiting your hearing quite a bit. Enter the AfterShokz Air. The "speakers" of these headphones sit on your cheekbones and vibrate sound through the bones into your eardrums — a technology known as bone conduction. This technology allows you to listen to music privately without disturbing anyone else and leave your ears uncovered to hear ambient noises.
Though this pair allows you to listen to music and maintain awareness of your surroundings, the music is lower quality than what is produced by most other models. It depends on your cheekbones' anatomy, but we've failed to find a cheekbone that is as good of an instrument as a traditional set of headphones. That said, we still love the AfterShokz Air for its ability to provide a soundtrack to workouts where it otherwise would not have been convenient.
Read review: AfterShokz Air
Why You Should Trust Us
Authors Max Mutter and Michelle Powell have spent the past 4 years immersed in the consumer audio market and have tested more than 150 headphones, earbuds, speakers, and soundbars. They live in a mountain town and spend countless hours biking or running on trails and generally recreating outside, most often with earbuds in their ears. That mountain town locale provides dozens of natural workout headphones testers, making it 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 to get a wide range of opinions on the overall fit, stability, and general athletic prowess of each pair of headphones and earbuds. Those testers logged hundreds of miles on the road, on trails, and spent dozens of hours in the gym in that pursuit. We then conducted more controlled testing in the lab, including battery life tests and side-by-side sound quality trials.
[related=How We Tested Earbuds and In-Ear Headphones]
Analysis and Test Results
We divided our testing and ranking of workout headphones into four weighted metrics. We assigned the most weight to athletic performance, closely followed by the sound quality. We also consider ease of use and battery life.
Related: Picking the Right Bluetooth Earbuds
High-quality workout headphones often require paying top dollar, but luckily there are some exceptions. Though certainly not cheap, the exceptional Jaybird Vista provides exceptional performance for significantly less than many of the high-priced models currently prominent in the marketplace. The JBL Reflect Mini 2 also offers excellent sound quality and a very stable fit for much less than many of the more expensive true wireless models.
Spending your entire run worrying about an expensive earbud falling out and down a storm drain or having to constantly adjust your earbuds in between sets 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 ability to enhance various physical activities head-to-head. While working out, these testers paid close attention to each model's stability and comfort and whether sweat negatively impacted stability. We also considered the water-resistant or waterproof levels of each model.
The clear leader in our athletic performance testing was the Jaybird Vista. All of our testers found these buds 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. These buds boast IPX7 total waterproofness.
Closely following the Jaybird Vista in our athletic performance ranking is the Beats by Dre Powerbeats Pro. Though this pair is a bit heavier, the over-ear hooks of these buds make them incredibly stable. Though we had no issues with the Jaybird Vista stability, those who participate in particularly high-impact activities may appreciate the extra peace of mind offered by the over-ear hooks. The only downside is the hooks can get in the way of sunglasses, depending on the temples' design.
The Powerbeats3 are essentially the same as the Powerbeats Pro, but without the true wireless form factor, which means there is a small wire draped behind your neck. We quickly noticed that this piece 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 while sweating buckets. The IPX5 water resistance offers great protection from sweat. The only minor complaint is the same as the Powerbeats3 — the cable that connects the two buds can bounce 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 is a massive improvement over its predecessors in terms of athletic performance. The silicon earpieces fit tightly into the ears, and the IPX4 water resistance alleviates worries about rain and sweat. The lack of ear fins can make them seem less stable than some of their competitors, but most of our testers found them plenty stable in practice.
The AfterShokz Air and its unique bone-conduction design leave your ears completely uncovered, which is fantastic for running or cycling on crowded streets. The wrap-around fit is very stable, and it is light enough that we didn't experience uncomfortable bouncing while running. However, it is almost impossible to find a pair of sunglasses that won't be impeded by the AfterShokz 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 felt discomfort almost immediately upon putting the buds in their ears, and things only got worse once they were moving around in their workouts. However, others found these buds extremely comfortable and likewise found them to provide exceptional athletic performance. You should always buy items like earbuds from a retailer that allows returns. That recommendation goes double for the Jabra models we tested.
While we feel all the models we've tested sound good enough to motivate you effectively with your favorite workout playlists, there are certainly some that are better than others. We tested sound quality by listening to varying music genres with each pair of workout headphones, one right after the other, which 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.
Though polarizing in terms of comfort, the Jabra Elite 75t gained unanimous praise for their impressive clarity, deep and rotund bass, 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 some of the Jabra Elite 75t's bass power, they still manage to provide a well-rounded and clearly defined overall sound.
The Powerbeats Pro and the PowerBeats3 both had a similar performance in our sound quality testing. Though not field-leading, both pairs produce a fair 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 it's relatively good nuance and separation through the mid and treble ranges make for a good overall listening experience. We discovered if you engage the active noise cancellation, the bass tends to round out a bit.
The JBL Reflect mini 2 lacks some bass power compared to the more expensive true wireless models. However, we found it's low-end still has enough oomph to make workout tracks sound acceptably thumpy. It manages to create quite a full overall soundscape.
The extra waterproofing of the Jabra Elite Active 75t makes it sound a bit muffled compared 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 Air is that you can listen to music without covering your ears, but the music will not sound particularly good. Sound quality largely depends on your cheekbones' anatomy (as the headphones vibrate the sound to your ears via your cheekbones). Still, all of our testers reported a relatively thin and tinny sound. If you need to leave your ears unencumbered, it is undoubtedly 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 models are better for people that often forget to charge their headphones between workouts or also want to use the buds 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 individual buds held instead of how much additional extra battery the charging cases had.
The Beats by Dre Powerbeats Pro and the JBL Reflect Mini 2 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 Air all lasted about 7 hours, making their battery life performance just about average.
The Jaybird Vista and the Apple AirPods Pro both lasted about 5 hours in our battery life tests. Though this is shorter than most competitors, it is plenty of juice for getting through most workouts. Also, both models are true wireless and come with charging cases to 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 offers some of the most intuitive controls of all the models that we tested. The pinch gesture of the Apple AirPods Pro is both easy and produces a clear 'click' letting you know your command has been registered. This is in stark opposition to most buds that require you to push the buds sometimes uncomfortably far into your ears to activate a control.
We still prefer the pinch gesture of the Apple AirPods Pro overall, but the Jaybird Vista is a close second. This pair features large buttons on each bud that are easy to press.
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 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.
We spent hundreds of hours working out, running, and biking to find the very best model for every activity. The right pair of workout headphones can be a gamechanger, making getting to the gym or out on a run infinitely more enjoyable. 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