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Best headphones for running in 2020

An assortment of the best running headphones to help you get the most out of your workout.

I've tested a lot of sports headphones and wireless headphones over the years and have found that some work better for running than others. So what makes for decent headphones for running? Well, for starters, the best running headphones should be wireless -- and ideally, true wireless earbuds -- because who needs a wire getting in the way of their stride, right?

Secondly, and more importantly, they should give you a secure and comfortable fit, whether they're over-ear headphones or wireless in-ear buds. This is especially important because losing one earbud on your run would be the worst. Decent sound quality is also a requirement, as are battery life, durability, noise cancellation and reliable performance (with minimal dropouts). And lastly, they need to be sweat resistant, for obvious reasons. That's why the otherwise awesome Sony WF-1000XM3 isn't on this list of best running headphones. (While Apple does not claim water resistance for the standard AirPods, they're on the list because we've found them to handle sweat reasonably well.) 

After many tests (and many miles run), I've formed strong opinions on which headphones are the best for running. To share my hard-earned knowledge, I've put together a selection of wireless headphones I've tested that I think are well-suited for runners. I'll update this list as I review more of them.

Read more: Best headphones of 2020

Sarah Tew/CNET

Water-resistantYes (IPX7 rating -- fully waterproof and sweat-proof).

Jaybird got off to a bumpy start in the world of true wireless -- that's "AirPods-style headphones" -- when it released its Jaybird Run wireless workout headphones back in October 2017. That model, updated to the wireless in-ear Jaybird Run XT in early 2019, was well-designed but had some small performance issues that held the wireless earbuds back from being great. But its wireless earphones successor, the Jaybird Vista (cue the Windows Vista jokes), includes design, battery life and audio quality performance improvements that make it the product I'd hoped the Jaybird Run would be. The Vista will appeal to those looking for a more discreet set of totally wireless running headphones that are fully water-resistant. Read our Jaybird Vista review.

Read more: Best headphones for Samsung Galaxy Note 10 and Note 10 Plus

David Carnoy/CNET

Water-resistantYes (IP67 rating -- can withstand immersion in 1 meter of water for 30 minutes).

AfterShokz bone conduction wireless headphones deliver sound to your ear 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 wireless headphones. That openness allows runners to hear traffic sound, an important safety feature. Also, some race coordinators don't allow runners to wear anything in their ears, which is where over-ear headphones like this come in handy, particularly for people who need to listen to music while they run.

Aeropex ($160) over-ear headphones, which AfterShokz describes as its "lightest, highest-quality headphones yet," were released in 2019. From my initial testing, sound quality in this pair of headphones is definitely better than the company's previous flagship model, the Trekz Air -- or the Air, as it's now called. It's also slightly more comfortable to wear with a comfortable fit. However, while AfterShokz continues to make small improvements to performance with each new iteration of its wireless headphones, the sound quality still can't match that of a traditional headphone. Read our AfterShokz Aeropex first take.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Water-resistantYes (IPX4 rating -- splashproof).

Yes, the Beats 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 quality and better battery life in a wireless earbuds design that won't fall out of your ear (ear hooks for the win!) ultimately is a winning proposition for earbuds for running. Just make sure you buy these running earbuds 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 the buds. Note that these headphones are frequently reduced from $250 to $200 -- don't pay more than that if you're buying them. Read our Beats Powerbeats Pro review.

Read more: Powerbeats Pro: Master your new wireless earphones

Angela Lang/CNET

Water-resistantYes (IPX4 rating -- splashproof).

Even if they don't sound quite as magical as you'd hope a $249 model would, the AirPods Pro still manage to be a great pair of truly wireless earphones. That's largely due to their winning design and fit, improved bass performance, effective noise cancellation and excellent call quality. While I can't run with the standard AirPods (they don't fit my ears securely), I had no trouble running with the AirPods Pro, which have a noise-isolating design with a silicone tip that sits snuggly in your ear.

For runners, it's worth noting that there's a transparency mode that allows sound to leak in. You'll still have to lower the volume of your music to hear traffic noise. The AirPods Pro are also officially rated as being sweat-resistant. Read our Apple AirPods Pro review.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Water-resistantYes (IP55 rating -- can withstand heavy sprays of water).

At first glance, the Elite 75t seems more like an evolutionary upgrade from the highly rated Elite 65t. But the updates turn out to be a little more substantial than I first thought. The Elite 75t's smaller size will allow more people to get a comfortable, secure fit, and its boosted battery life and USB-C charging are significant upgrades. And then there are the smaller changes, like the new charging case design with magnets inside it that make it easier to open and close and to keep the buds inside. 

While the Elite 75t isn't quite as comfortable to wear as the AirPods Pro and doesn't have active noise-canceling features, it does sound better. It has clearer overall sound and better bass definition, so long as you get a tight seal. 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 noise. The Active, which offers slightly better sweat resistance, will be out in February for $20 more. Read our Jabra Elite 75t review.

Read more: The best true wireless earbuds of 2020

Sarah Tew/CNET

Water-resistantYes (IPX5 rating -- can withstand heavy sprays of water).

If the AirPods don't fit your ears securely for running, the Soundcore Liberty Air 2 may good alternative that costs much less than the AirPods Pro but has a similar noise-isolating design in a "pipe" shape. These earphones sound as good, if not better, than the AirPods, and they fit my ear better and more securely, making them excellent running earbuds. They're also sweat-resistant and are excellent for making calls. In short, as long as you're OK with a noise isolating design, the Anker Liberty Air 2 true wireless earbuds are an excellent AirPod alternative that happens to costs less than $100. They're available in black or white. Read our Anker Soundcore Liberty Air 2 review.

Read more: Best noise-canceling headphones of 2020

Sarah Tew/CNET

Water-resistantYes (IP55 rating -- can withstand heavy sprays of water).

If you don't want to shell out $160 for AfterShokz's new Aeropex bone-conduction wireless headphone, the Trekz Air -- or Air, as it's now called -- retails for about $60 less. This pair of around-the-neck headphones does have some design and performance upgrades, but the AfterShokz Trekz Air is still good for a bone-conduction headphone (again, beware that the sound doesn't measure up to that of a traditional headphone).  Read our AfterShokz Trekz Air review.

Read more: Best sports headphones for 2020

Sarah Tew/CNET

Water-resistantYes (IPX4 rating -- splashproof).

Bose's totally wireless earphones, the SoundSport Free (the true wireless earbuds version of the SoundSport Pulse), are comfortable to wear and deliver excellent sound for true wireless. These SoundSport wireless headphones have a few small downsides (both the wireless earbuds and carrying case are a bit big), but they have a secure fit, work reliably, and are water-resistant. Note that Bose will be bringing out its next-generation true wireless headphones -- the Earbuds 500 -- in early 2020. Read our Bose SoundSport Free review.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Water-resistantNo (Apple does not claim water resistance, but they handle sweat reasonably well)

If they fit your ears securely, Apple's AirPods are actually great workout headphones for runners because the earbuds are so light and also have an open design, which allows you to hear traffic noise. Alas, I can't run with the standard AirPods (they fall out of my ears), only the more expensive AirPods Pro, but many people can. You can buy third-party wings (ear hooks) to make them fit securely, but you have to take the wings off every time you put the buds back in their charging case. That's a pain.

Note that Apple does not offer a water-resistance rating for the standard AirPods. They seem to withstand light sweat just fine -- and plenty of people use them at the gym and for running -- but it's unclear how much moisture they can withstand. 

You can pay extra for the model with the wireless charging case, but it's not really worth it -- spend up for the Pro models instead. Otherwise, the baseline 2019 model lists for $159, but it's often sold for as low as $129. Don't pay more than $144, which is the normal street price. Read the AirPods (2019) review.

Read more: Best-sounding true wireless headphones

Best waterproof true wireless under $50

Earfun Free

Sarah Tew/CNET

Water-resistantYes (IPX7 rating -- fully waterproof)

What's most impressive about the EarFun Free is the features: Bluetooth 5.0, both USB-C and wireless charging and fully waterproof (IPX7), according to their specs. Do they sound fantastic? No, but they sound pretty good. They don't have the clarity of higher-end true wireless earbuds that cost $150 or more, but they do have plump bass and enough detail to avoid sounding dull. They're also pretty solid for making calls. An excellent value at less than $50, they may not fit everybody's ears equally well (they're slightly bulky so they may not work for those with smaller ears). However, they're relatively lightweight and they fit my ears securely enough to run with them.   

Sarah Tew/CNET

Water-resistantNo (Bose does not claim water resistance)

Bose's Frames audio sunglasses are surprisingly good wireless running headphones, with decent sound quality from their embedded micro speakers. What's also good about them is that since there's nothing in your ear, you can hear traffic sound 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, the audio quality won't be great. 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 to $30, and Glassesusa.com sells discounted prescription lenses for them.   Read full review of Bose Frames.

Read more: Best cheap true wireless earbuds

Originally published earlier and periodically updated with new recommendations.