When the Walkman first hit stores in ‘79, portable headphones became a necessity for music lovers on the go. Ever since, they’ve become increasingly popular and high tech.
That brings us to the headphones of today! With so many options out there, how’s a runner to choose? Here, we break down some frontrunners that stay functional even when doused in sweat.
We know how important it is to get the right gear for your runs (if you’re looking for the best running armband, check out our guide from earlier this summer). That’s why we’ve done our research to bring you The Best Running Headphones of 2016!
Note: All of the headphones featured in this post are sweat and water resistant. They’ve been ranked consistently high by consumers, critics, and of course, your friends here at Runkeeper.
Wired headphones are less expensive than their wireless counterparts, so you can get a great sounding pair at a relatively low cost. Because they don’t need to be charged, you never need to worry about whether your music will cut out during a long run or plane ride. Durability, however, is often a problem with wired phones, as it can be difficult to prevent damage along the jacks no matter how light your touch is. Keep reading with these caveats in mind, or skip ahead to learn about the best wireless sports headphones around.
Quick Facts: moderate price, wired, partial seal
Special Features: Skullcandy is known for its trendy designs, but its sports headphones prove they aren’t letting style trump functionality. The XTPlyo makes use of small fins that help the buds conform to the shape of your ear, and StickyGels™, which get increasingly secure as you sweat. Needless to say, these headphones will stay put during your toughest workouts. But Skullcandy has also crafted these earbuds with safety in mind—they’re designed to let in some ambient noise to be sure you’re aware of your surroundings while out on a run. The XTPlyo’s microphone and inline remote makes for an easy transition from listening to music to answering a call. And with a lifetime manufacturer warranty, durability is a non-issue.
While there’s a reflective clip included, the cable on the XTPlyo isn’t adjustable, so be sure those 3.5 mm won’t bother you. And if you’re looking to lose the wires, the XTFREE features the same technology as the XTPlyo, but without the cable; there’s also a separate XTFREE model designed with female athletes in mind.
And finally, a note to audiophiles: Skullcandy’s headphones sound great for their price, but do trend towards bass boosting. This one’s about personal preference. So if you’re a purist, you may want to steer clear, but if a deep, strong bass keeps you going on those hills, Skullcandy’s headphones could be the perfect option. Check them out on the Runkeeper Store!
Quick Facts: low price, wired, sealed
One of our top picks for cheap, in-ear headphones, Skullcandy’s Method has many of the same great qualities as the XTPlyo, and is also available on the Runkeeper Store. The Method features an Off-Axis™ design, that helps establish a seal with the ear, letting in less background noise than the XTPlyo. Users reported similar bass intensity.
Christina, one of our QA engineers, said the Method earbuds “were a little windy at first,” but when she changed up the tip size (the Method comes with several of these), “they were way better.” Because they effectively block out sound, Christina also recommended them for travel.
Sennheiser OCX 686 Sports
Quick Facts: higher-priced, wired, sealed, sound quality
These were recommended to me by a self-proclaimed audiophile checking out my groceries at Whole Foods. Sennheiser is a trusted brand for sound lovers, making these a fantastic option for higher-end wired sports headphones. The over-ear hook design ensures a secure fit, and the earbuds form a tight seal to block out noise, but that style may not be for everyone (those who run with sunglasses may find the extra hook a bit cumbersome). But Paul Heayn, one of our product managers, notes that Sennheiser’s attention to hooks and notches is ideal for those with small ears, who may struggle to find earbuds that won’t fall out. And finally, with two cables included (one asymmetrical, one symmetrical), you have two reinforced options to ward off the fate of all too many wired headphones.
Durability tip: store your headphones safely and avoid twisting them, which will almost certainly cause damage. Most headphones, like these Sennheisers, will come with a protective pouch!
Bose SoundSport in-ear
Quick Facts: higher price, wired, unsealed, sound quality
Like Sennheiser, Bose is a name known for its audio quality. So while unsealed headphones often risk compromising on sound in the name of safety, this pair achieves the best of both worlds. Their StayHear® tips (that clear wing protruding from the buds) function like the Skullcandy XTPlyo fins by conforming to the shape of your ear to guarantee stability. Wireless more your jam? CNET also gives top marks to the Bluetooth prototype of the SoundSport, which has recently been updated to address reports of sweat-damage.
Yurbuds Inspire 200
Quick Facts: low price, wired, unsealed
There’s some debate about whether unsealed headphones are worth splurging on; are any open design buds worth paying a steep price when they’re built to let in ambient noise? The Wirecutter didn’t think so, so recommended the Yurbuds Inspire 200 as an affordable alternative to top-tier safety-focused running headphones. While this pair won’t sound like you’re running in a concert arena, they’re durable, they’re made of comfortable medical-grade silicon, and they help you hear approaching cars—not an awful trade off.
With Bluetooth technology getting better, wireless headphones are becoming more and more popular. Going wireless makes a lot of sense for runners. Wires can tangle and get in the way of movement, and there’s nothing more jarring than having a bud wrenched out of your ear mid-Justin Bieber on your Upbeat Pop Half-Marathon playlist. These headphones tend to run a bit more expensive (the pairs on our list run around $100-150), but most pairs offer considerable warranties with purchase. And with rumors flying that the iPhone 7 won’t include a headphone port, it may just be the time to stay ahead of the curve by riding that wireless wave. Here are your best options for cutting the cord:
Quick Facts: Sealed, wireless, music quality
Price: $149.95, but keep an eye out in the Runkeeper app for special discounts and promotions!
With an eight-hour battery life, three different adjustable features to customize fit, and impressive audio quality, it’s difficult to find anything faulty with these headphones. Their silicon ear fins (we like to think of them as wings), conform to the back, top, and lower surfaces of your ears, and the foam tips help stabilize the buds and block out ambient noise. The headphones have less than five percent total harmonic distortion (you won’t find bass boosting in Jaybirds, although those lows are still powerful). And if durability is a concern, the X2s come with a lifetime warranty against sweat, making them worth the investment. The Wirecutter ranked them just below the JLab Epic2s because of the time it takes to set the phones up with the right fin and foam/silicon tips, but those extra few minutes are a relatively painless ordeal to perfect the fit. Take those extra steps before your first use to set up, and you’ll be totally set for the rest of your time with Jaybird.
Jaybird X2s are the indisputable favorite on the Runkeeper Team. Check out what a few of us had to say: Katie, our ECommerce Buyer, said, “Music is crisp and clear and volume controls sync super easily. I can hear my playlist but don’t feel totally isolated.” Paul, our Store Manager, encourages users to “Take your time to get the fit just right, and check out the X2 fitting video for assistance…Once you’re sized up correctly, you’ll feel unstoppable on your workout.” And Terry, our Manager of Media Operations, said her only issue with the headphones was that “they are almost too good at blocking sound out.”
Check them out in the Runkeeper Store!
Note: If you love the Jaybird brand and are looking to upgrade, the Jaybird Freedom can pair with smart watches so you can ditch your phone on runs, can connect to two devices at once (allowing you to listen to music from your laptop and accept calls from your phone, for example), and features sweat-proof metal buds that optimize sound quality. Freedoms run $199.95.
Urbanears Hellas Team
Quick Facts: on ear, wireless
The most obvious feature distinguishing the Urbanears Hellas are their on-ear design, which makes them ideal for those who hate the feeling of buds in their ear. The earpads are washable, so don’t worry about the sweat-factor that accompanies covered ears. Another unique feature is the touch interface on the right earphone that manages volume control, track-switching, and phone calls. The Urbanears Hellas are champs when it comes to battery life, with an outstanding 14 hours of use between charges. And sound is solid: CNET praised them for their balance, but critiqued them for some harshness on the treble. Because these phones don’t seal your ears off completely, they let in some ambient noise to keep you safe while biking or running outside.
Plantronics BackBeat Fit
Quick Facts: unsealed, wireless, waterproof
CNET gave this set high praise, calling it the “Best corded Bluetooth sports headphone” around. Its design features more of a band than a cable, which rests along the back of your head to connect the earbuds. The band obviously can’t tangle, which is a major plus, but some users criticized its tendency to flop against the head. The BackBeat Fit scores bonus points for having the most safety features of the Bluetooth options; its unsealed style helps you hear potential dangers, and its reflective color options lets those potential dangers see you! Described as “rugged” in several reviews, these headphones aren’t just water-resistant, but waterproof; they can withstand up to thirty minutes submerged in fresh water. And if you’re someone who tends to lose…err… misplace things, Plantronics has a “Find My iPhone”-like app for the headset.
Free swag alert: every BackBeat Fit comes with a reversible running armband that doubles as a headphones storage pouch from Plantronics!
JLab Epic2 Bluetooth Wireless
Quick Facts: sealed, wireless, waterproof
With an impressive 12-hour battery life, these buds have stamina to rival the best distance runners. And as The Wirecutter’s top pick for best wireless exercise headphones, critics are taking note. Feel free to wash the sweat off these guys without fear of damage, because they are 100 percent waterproof. With its titanium ear-hook design for added stability and eight sizes of gel tips, Epic2 headphones require little effort to achieve a secure fit. Once again, just be sure that you’re comfortable with the look and feel of an over-ear piece before committing.
Quick Facts: cordless, BlueTooth, waterproof, biometrics
The only truly wireless device to make our list, the Bragi dash made headlines last spring for its innovative design and crazy extensive features. Even though these free-standing buds look like they’d just pop out of your ears, their four different fit sleeves allow you to get a stable fit and seal. Completely waterproof up to one meter deep, the Bragi dash may be the ideal headphone for swimmers and triathletes alike. And for data nerds, these buds record biometrics like heart rate, cadence, and calories burned, among other metrics.
One of the most exciting features of the Bragi Dash is their storage capability: you can store up to 4GB, or 1,000 songs, right in the buds. But before you leave your smartwatch or phone behind, note that the tracking feature may not be totally up to snuff just yet; Users complained that their distances were off when compared to those tracked on apps like yours truly, Runkeeper. These all-in-one buds may be the way of the future, but the technology is still a work in progress!
We hope this guide helped you find your perfect pair of headphones! Didn’t see your favorite on our list? Are you like our copywriter, Jill, who still swears by the pair that comes free with your iPhone? Let us know why your headphones are the best in the comments!