Over the years I've tested a lot of sports headphones, and some work better for running than others. What makes for a good running headphone? Well, for starters, it should be wireless -- and ideally totally wireless -- because who needs a wire getting in the way, right? Secondly, and more importantly, they should give you a secure and comfortable fit. Decent sound is also a requirement, as are durability, decent battery life and reliable performance (minimal dropouts).
With those criteria in mind, I've come up with a selection of headphones I've tested that I think are well-suited for running. I'll update these picks as I review more headphones. (Heads up: The new $230are possible additions once they hit in August.)
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The totally wireless Jabra Elite Active 65t is the sportier version of the Elite 65t. It offers slightly better sweat resistance, which is why I'm recommending that runners should spend the extra $20 on the Active version. They may not look like they'd stay in your ears, but they do. While they may not fit everybody's ears equally well, I found them quite comfortable to wear. There's a HearThru setting in the app that allows some ambient noise in, but even with it on, you do have to lower the volume of your music to hear traffic.
AfterShokz wireless bone-conduction headphones deliver sound through your cheekbones. The big benefit of this technology is that, thanks to its open design, you can hear what's going on around you while listening to music or having a phone conversation through the headphone. That openness allows runners to hear traffic, an important safety feature. Also, some race coordinators don't allow runners to wear anything in their ears, which is where a headphone like this comes in handy, particularly for people who need to listen to music while they run. The Trekz Air sound still isn't great, but it's better than what I experienced with earlier AfterShokz models. The step-down Trekz Titantium weighs more but can be had for less than $100.
Yes, the Powerbeats Pro's jumbo charging case is a notable drawback. But the combination of incorporating all the features that make Apple's AirPods great while delivering richer sound and better battery life in a design that won't fall out of your ears ultimately is a winning proposition. Just make sure you buy them somewhere that has a good return policy in case you're in the small minority that has ears that aren't quite a match for them.
Apple's AirPods are actually great for runners because they're so light and also have an open design, which allows you to hear traffic. The only issue -- and it's a big one -- is that they have to fit snugly in your ears to work for running. Alas, I can't run with them (they fall out of my ears), but many people can. You can buy third-party wings to make them fit securely, but you have to take the wings off every time you put the AirPods back in their charging case. That's a pain.
If you're someone whose ears are a good match -- and fit -- for the AirPods, Apple's true wireless earphones do have some small performance advantages, particularly when it comes to call-making. But these sound as good, if not better, than the AirPods, and they fit my ears better -- and more securely. In short, as long as you're OK with a noise-isolating design, the Anker Liberty Airs are an excellent AirPod alternative that happens to cost half the price. They're also sweat-resistant so you can run with them.
Bose's totally wireless earphones, the SoundSport Free, are comfortable to wear and deliver very good sound for true wireless. They have a few small downsides (both the buds and carrying case are a bit big), but they have a secure fit, work reliably, and are waterproof. Note that Bose will be bringing out its next-generation true wireless earphones -- the Earbuds 500 -- later this year.
Bose's Frames audio sunglasses are surprisingly good for running, with surprisingly decent sound from their embedded micro speakers. What's also good about them is that since there's nothing in your ears, you can hear traffic and have a conversation while wearing them. While the arms are slightly bulky, the sunglasses don't feel heavy on your head and are comfortable to wear. They also work well for making calls.
If it's really windy, you won't be able to hear the audio as well. The wind factor also makes them less suitable for biking. They're available in two versions -- Alto and a smaller Rondo style -- for $200 and support Bose's AR (augmented reality) audio platform. Additional lenses are available for $20-$30 and Glassesusa.com sells discounted prescription lenses for them.
I like the fit of Anker's Soundcore Liberty Airs better, but the Soundcore Liberty Neos sounds as good and cost less (around $50). They're sweatproof and rated for 3.5 hours of playtime (a little short) with an additional 8 hours or so extra from the charging case. How good they sound is dependent on how good a seal you get from one of the included ear tips, but they do offer very good sound for the money if you get a tight seal.
JBL and Under Armour bill their True Wireless Flash ($170) as totally wireless sports earphones "designed for runners by runners." They're technically the first truly wireless earphones from the duo and as far as truly wireless sports earphones go, they're quite good, although some of their allure is tempered by a rather large charging case that's probably three times the size of Apple's AirPods' charging case.
This story was originally published earlier, but it has been fully updated with new product picks.