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, -- because who needs a wire getting in the way, right?
Secondly, and more importantly, they should give you a secure and comfortable fit, whether they're over-ear headphones or wireless in-earbuds. 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.
With those criteria in mind, I've come up with a selection of wireless headphones I've tested that I think are well-suited for running. I'll update these picks of the best running headphones as I review more of them.
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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 earlier this year, was well-designed but had some small performance issues that held the wireless earbuds back from being great. But its wireless 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.
At $180 (£160, AU$280), the Jaybird Vista is a little more expensive than it should be, but it's one of the better true wireless headphones to hit the market in 2019. The Jaybird Vista will appeal to those looking for a more discreet set of totally wireless running headphones that are fully water resistant. Read Jaybird Vista review
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.
New for 2019 is the Aeropex ($160, £150) over-ear headphones, which AfterShokz describes as its "lightest, highest-quality headphones yet." 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 ($119 at Amazon), 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 AfterShokz Aeropex first take
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 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. Read the Beats Powerbeats Pro review
Totally wireless Jabra Elite Active 65t is the sportier version of the Elite 65t. The wireless earbuds offer slightly better sweat resistance, which is why I'm recommending that runners should spend the extra $20 on the Active version. These true wireless earbuds may not look like they'd stay in your ear, 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 noise. Read the Jabra Elite Active 65t review
If you're someone whose ears are a good match -- and comfortable fit -- for the AirPods, Apple's true wireless headphones do have some small performance advantages, particularly when it comes to call-making. But these earphones sound as good, if not better, than the AirPods, and they fit my ear better -- and more securely. In short, as long as you're OK with a noise isolating design, the Anker Liberty Air true wireless earbuds are an excellent AirPod alternative that happens to cost half the price. They're also sweat-resistant so you can run with them.
If you don't want to shell out $160 for AfterShokz' new Aeropex bone-conduction wireless headphone, the Trekz Air -- or Air, as it's now called -- retails for about $40 less. This pair of headphones does have some design and performance upgrades, but the AfterShokz Trekz Air is still very good for a bone conduction headphone (again, beware that the sound doesn't measure up to that of a traditional headphone). Read the AfterShokz Trekz Air review
Apple's AirPods are actually great workout headphones for runners because the earphones are so light and also have an open design, which allows you to hear traffic noise. The only issue -- and it's a big one -- is that they have to fit snugly in your ear to work for running. Alas, I can't run with the wireless earbuds (they fall out of my ears), 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.
Bose's totally wireless earphones, the SoundSport Free (the true wireless earbuds version of the SoundSport Pulse), are comfortable to wear and deliver very good 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 -- early next year.
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-$30, and Glassesusa.com sells discounted prescription lenses for them. Read full review of Bose Frames
I like the fit of Anker's Soundcore Liberty Airs better, but the sound of the wireless Soundcore Liberty Neos is as good, and it costs less (around $50). The earphones are sweatproof and rated for 3.5 hours of playtime (a little short) with an additional 8 hours or so of extra battery life 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 headphones "designed for runners by runners." They're technically the first truly wireless earbuds from the duo, and as far as truly wireless sports headphones go, they're quite good, although some of their allure is tempered by a rather large charging case to increase battery life that's probably three times the size of Apple's AirPods' charging case. Read the UA Flash True Wireless review
This story was originally published June 28, but it has been fully updated with new product picks of the best running headphones.