The health benefits of running are extensive and well-researched, but for many the activity can quickly become tedious, especially as you start to accrue more and more miles without losing your breath.
This is where music (delivers via headphones, unless you want to be a public menace) can be a lifesaver.
But you don’t want to run with just any pair of headphones on you. First of all, you don’t even want headphones, in the strictest sense of the word – you want earbuds! And as luck would have it, there is no shortage of earbuds designed specifically for running, with long battery lives, convenient stability features, and other aspects that will make running all the more enjoyable.
In this guide, you’ll find four of the best running headphones currently on the market, diverse both in terms of their price range and the features they employ to make running easier.
- Stable fit
- Handy controls
- Limited ear tip options
- Poor soundstage
Opting for budget running headphones does limit what features you can get access to, but you won’t lack any of the basics with the Skullcandy Method Wireless.
This pair of wireless earbuds features a neckband design. A bendable rubber band runs around your neck, and the cords are then attached to the band. What this does is eliminate the annoying flapping of the cord that all other wireless running earbuds are prone to. What’s more, the cords can be inserted into a protrusion that runs along the length of the band, shortening them to your liking.
You might think that the flapping of the cord would just get replaced by the flapping of the neckband, but somehow this isn’t the case, despite its lightweight nature. The neckband barely moves at all while you’re running, but if you do still find it problematic, remember that tucking the ends into your clothes will impede its movement even further.
On one end, the neckband features a three-button remote that’s used for volume control, track skipping, pairing, taking calls, and activating a voice assistant. It’s sweat-resistant, which we find to be a must-have feature for runners. The battery life extends to 9 hours and it takes 2.5 hours to fully charge. The lack of quick charging is sorely missed, but overall the battery life is quite decent.
As far as sound is concerned, the Method Wireless isn’t winning any awards – it’s a budget pair of earbuds. The soundstage is lacking in openness, but the sound quality is otherwise pretty decent, with good bass and clear mids. Of course, the sound, as well as the fit, is predicated upon using the right ear tips. And since the Method Wireless only comes with two pairs of ear tips, you may want to look at this guide just to be safe.
Connection type: True Wireless
Battery life: 9 hours (18 with charging case) with ANC turned on
- IP55 rated
- ANC and Ambient Mode
- Adaptive Sound Control Limited touch controls
- Limited touch controls
What’s better than a neckband? No band at all.
Adjustable noise-canceling and an Ip55 rating are just some of the many things that make them such a standout choice for running enthusiasts. The buds themselves can hold a charge for 9 hours with the ANC turned on, and the bulky charging case packs another full charge inside it. Without the ANC, you’re looking at 13 hours of playback per charge. Best of all, you can get a full hour of ANC-enabled playback for just 10 minutes of quick charging.
The sound quality here is good, with a strong focus on bass. If you’re not a fan of this, you can use the app to customize the EQ to your liking. The app is also used to adjust the level of noise-canceling, which can be turned off to enable a very natural-sounding ambient mode. The ANC here is capable of significantly muting low noises even when no music is playing. It can’t mute out human voices as well, but they should quickly fizzle out once you play your own music.
Possibly the coolest feature here is the Adaptive Sound Control feature can recognize whether you are sitting, walking, running, or in public transport and then apply appropriate levels of noise-canceling for each of these occasions. You can set the presets yourself, and the earbuds are fairly competent at detecting what you are doing.
The app is also used to map out the touch commands, but unfortunately, it’s up to you to decide which functionality you want available at your fingertips, and which you’ll need to whip up your phone to use.
- Customizable EQ
- Stable tip+wing sleeves
- No transparency mode
- Mediocre battery life
In case you were looking for something a bit more premium, we present the Jaybird Vista.
These gorgeous-looking earbuds also feature optional ear wings, but they do it in the best way possible. The problem with ear wings, in general, is that they can get loose over time, consequently offering less added stability. However, the Vistas don’t feature separate ear tips and ear wings. Instead, the tips and wings are part of the same sleeve that is fitted onto the earpieces.
This makes it impossible for the ear wings to grow loose and start spinning around. The device comes with three pairs of these sleeves, giving you the option to choose among larger, smaller, or no ear wings. The downside here is that you can’t use aftermarket ear tips, but given the enduring popularity of the Vistas with runners this doesn’t seem to be an issue.
We should point out that these true wireless earbuds are a bit older than most of the other models showcased in this guide, which means they lack some features we’ve come to expect in headphones for running. In particular, we’re talking about ANC and, more importantly, Ambient Mode. And as they offer great passive noise isolation, the best way to stay aware of your surroundings while using them is to use one bud at a time.
Some folks have actually used this technique to double the battery life, as each earpiece can be used separately and can hold up to 6 hours of battery life. The charging case holds an extra 10 hours and features fast-charging which will net you 1 hour of playback for just 5 minutes of charging.
The Jaybird Vista relies solely on SBC, but you wouldn’t think this was the case when presented with the audio quality. Overall, these earbuds are rather fun-sounding and can handle all genres of music thanks to the customizable EQ.
All in all, while the lack of an ambient mode and an unimpressive battery life may make the Jaybird Vista a dubious pick at first glance, no runner has felt disappointed by them.
- Amazing bass
- Great battery life
- H1 chip
- A bit overpriced
- Vocals don’t sound great
And last but not least, we have the Beats PowerBeats Pro.
Whether or not they were ever worth the original MSRP of $250 is debatable, but the PowerBeats Pro have impressed users and reviewers alike with their incredibly stable fit, solid sound, and extra functionality when paired with iOS devices.
The PowerBeats Pro feature an ear hook design that improves stability while looking stylish instead of bulky. The hooks are malleable and they do not move even during intense exercises with lots of rapid head shaking. They are water and sweat-proof, although they don’t have an IP rating.
They’re very comfortable to wear, but because the earbuds rely on hooks for stability, they don’t have to enter your ear canal as deeply. This in turn means that there’s some level of sound leakage and that passive noise isolation isn’t the best. The level of leakage will vary depending on which of the four pairs of ear tips you use, but none of them will eliminate it entirely. Some might argue this is an upside, given that that ambient awareness is important to many runners and that this device doesn’t feature a transparency mode.
Thanks to the H1 chip, the device offers seamless pairing as soon as you open the charging case. Each earbud can hold up to 9 hours of battery life, with the Lightning-ported charging case adding an additional 15 hours. And thanks to fast-charging that can net you 1.5 hours of playback for just 5 minutes of charging, you’ll never have to endure too long without your music.
Of course, you can’t have a pair of Beats earbuds without some stunning bass, and these live up to their name in that regard. The bass does overshadow the mids a bit, so we wouldn’t recommend the PowerBeats Pro for someone who’s into music with a lot of vocals. That said, if you need that deep, punchy, rumbling bass to help you get through the last lap (or mile) these are the earbuds to get.
How to Choose the Best Running Headphones For You?
A lot of factors come into play when shopping for the ideal running headphones for your needs, even more so than for other types of headphones. Most notably, you have to consider:
- Connection type: true wireless, wireless (with a band or a cord), or wired, if you’re into that…
- Added stability features: ear hooks, ear wings, etc.
- Durability: water and/or sweat resistance.
- Features: ANC and/or transparency mode.
The first thing you need to do when shopping for a pair of running headphones is to decide which of these features are a priority and which you can do without.
As always, we’ve tried to highlight all of these features through the devices showcased in this guide, and we are confident that you cannot go wrong with what is presented here. That said, juggling so many features whilst making sure to also cover a wider price range meant that we couldn’t cover all the niches.
So let’s go over the pros and cons of all the factors we’ve listed to help you organize your thoughts when prioritizing them.
True wireless earbuds have the benefit of completely stripping away the wires that connect the two earpieces. On the one hand, this means that there’s no physical object that can bounce around your neck. On the other, the likelihood of losing your earbuds increases exponentially. Some devices have a Find my Buds type of feature that can help with this, but not all do.
On the other hand, old-school wireless earbuds have come a long way in their effort to prevent continuous wire slapping while running. The band approach we’ve seen on the Skullcandy Method is just one of them. Some, like the Aftershokz Trekz Air, feature a design that we can only describe as reverse glasses, but it doesn’t stop there.
So if that one (admittedly pesky) wire was the only reason you had for wanting to go true wireless, then maybe you can still go a bit easier on your wallet without making any serious compromises.
The amount of running headphones that don’t feature any optional ear hooks, ear wings, or similar features is staggering. Most of them still manage to sit comfortably yet firmly in your ears regardless of how long you run. But most is not all.
The way we see it, having such a feature can go a long way to adding that extra layer of security and peace of mind. This goes double for true wireless earbuds, where having one of them fall out can be much more fatal.
And speaking of things being fatal, one of the key features that you should not go without is water resistance and, more importantly, sweat resistance. This is by no means a ubiquitous feature, even among high-end (non-running) headphones, so you should always double-check to see if it’s there. You don’t want your earbuds to die on you the first time you break a sweat.
Overall, it’s best to opt for a device that has an IP rating. This will tell you exactly how resistant the device is against certain elements. You can find durable headphones that don’t have an IP rating, like the PowerBeats Pro, but that was just Apple flexing on the industry by refusing to disclose key specs about its device since they know it will fly off the shelves regardless (we still don’t know which codecs the PowerBeats Pro use).
Checking the reviews helps a ton, but more often than not banking on non-IP-rated earbuds to provide good water and sweat resistance is a recipe for disappointment.
There are so many types of optional features that may or may not help while running that we wouldn’t be able to list them all here, but the two key features we want to focus on are active noise canceling and transparency modes.
While it is a great feature to have, ANC has traditionally not fared exceptionally well with runners. Even if you don’t need the ambient awareness for safety reasons (say you’re running laps around an empty football field), being on the move while completely detached from the outside world is just too discomfiting.
This is why transparency modes are so valued in this community. They let you stay aware of your surrounding while still letting you enjoy your music with both ears. This is especially important if you’re running around city blocks next to traffic, but otherwise it’s not an indispensable feature.
While the concept of running headphones may sound niche at first, the market offers a preponderance of models various enough to fit the needs of even the pickiest runners.
For runners on a budget that don’t mind a physical connection between the two earpieces, we recommend the Skullcandy Method Wireless. We’re aware that the thought of a neckband doesn’t inspire confidence as far as comfort is concerned, but the Method Wireless blows away all expectations in that regard. Runners looking to nab the best value will find a lot to love about the Sony WF-SP800N, particularly its customizable nature and the wealth of high-end features that include both ANC and a transparency mode. But if you’re looking for the most premium pick, the Beats PowerBeats Pro stand out as the device to have, with their incredible battery life and a design that is as fit for running as it is for everyday use.
Of course, there are plenty of other great models out there. So if none of these tickle your fancy, just keep in mind the tips we’ve provided in this guide and we’re sure you’ll find the device best suited to your needs in no time!