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Best running earbuds and headphones to use for 2021

An assortment of top headphone options for both casual joggers and more serious runners.

There are plenty of factors to take into consideration when choosing a pair of headphones for your run, but perhaps the most important one is fit. You want a pair that's both comfortable and secure -- you don't want to lose an earbud while you're hitting the pavement.

There are other things to think about as well. Decent sound quality is essential in the best running headphones, as is durability, battery life, noise cancellation and reliable performance with minimal dropouts. And running headphones also need to be sweat-resistant, for obvious reasons, which is why the otherwise awesome Sony WF-1000XM3 isn't on this list. (While Apple doesn't claim water-resistance for the standard AirPods, they're highlighted here because we've found them to handle sweat reasonably well.) Further, if you're already a runner, you're probably well aware that the best running headphones need to be true wireless earbuds or at least wireless because headphones with a wire can get in the way of your stride. 

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After years of testing wireless headphones and sports headphones, I've found the most ideal running headphone models. 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. This list of the best running headphones includes in-ear headphones, on-ear headphones, Bluetooth headphones, headphones with noise isolation, bone-conduction headphones, true wireless buds and many others, so we've got good options no matter what you need for your running headphones. I update the list periodically as I review new products.

David Carnoy/CNET

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

AfterShokz bone conduction wireless headphones aren't quite what many people picture when they think of an earphone because they don't go on your ears -- these headphones actually deliver sound to your ear through your cheekbones. The big benefit of this technology as running earphones is that, thanks to its open design, you can hear ambient noise and 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, as being able to hear external noise and ambient sound is an important safety feature in any workout headphones. 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.

 

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

AfterShokz' new entry-level OpenMove bone-conduction headphone lists for $100 but is currently selling for $80. It replaces the older Titanium model, which is still on sale (it also costs $80), and features some small design upgrades. I found it comfortable to wear and while it doesn't sound great, it sounds relatively good for a bone-conduction headphone (again, keep your sound quality expectations in check or you'll be disappointed). It's very good for listening to podcasts, audiobooks and news broadcasts while you run (I have a tendency to listen to XM radio while running). 

This model charges via USB-C and includes a simple carrying pouch. Battery life is rated at up to six hours.

David Carnoy/CNET

Water-resistant: Yes (IPX5 rating -- can withstand a sustained spray of water).

We had the cheaper EarFun Free on this list, but the newer and more feature-rich EarFun Free Pro buds are the ones I'm using more for sporting activity these days. They have active noise cancellation with a transparency mode, wireless charging and Bluetooth 5.2. Rated for seven hours of battery life without the noise-canceling function on, or about six hours with it on, they're IPX5 water-resistant, which means they can withstand a sustained spray of water.

They sound very good for the money, with relatively clean, balanced sound and bass that has some kick to it -- they're pretty open-sounding. Lightweight and comfortable to wear, they have little fins that help keep them securely in your ears, and they're fairly discreet-looking.

Don't expect them to cancel noise as well as the AirPods Pro, but they do provide some decent muffling. It's worth noting that you can use either the left or right earbud independently and there's a low-latency mode for video watching (and presumably gaming). Call quality was decent, too: Callers said they heard some background noise but it wasn't intrusive and they could hear my voice well. The touch controls were responsive. 

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Water-resistant: Yes (IPX68 rating -- dust-proof and fully waterproof)

Known for their secure fit, decent sound and durability, Jaybird's Vista sport earbuds ($150) have been on our lists of best workout headphones and best running headphones since 2019. Now the Vista 2, an upgraded version that features a similar design and higher price tag ($200), has arrived with a couple of key upgrades missing from the original: active noise canceling and a transparency mode called SurroundSense, which allows you to hear the outside world, an important safety feature for runners and bikers. 

The updated earbuds essentially have the same design as the originals. However, Jaybird has added some fabric to the outside of the buds, which helps cut down on wind noise (think of the fabric as a dampener). There's also an ear-detection sensor, so your music automatically pauses when you take the buds out of your ears.

The Vista 2 buds have an IPX68 water resistance rating, which means they're both dust-proof and fully waterproof. Jaybird says they're also sweat-proof, crush-proof and drop-proof. And the compact case is now splash-proof and dust-resistant, with an IP54 rating.

They sound quite good once you tweak the EQ settings to your liking, but their sound quality isn't quite up to the level of some other premium earbuds in the $200 price range. Their noise canceling, transparency mode and voice-calling are decent though unspectacular (the AirPods perform better in all departments). But if you're buying these, you're buying them for the secure fit and durability.

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Water-resistant: Yes (IPX4 rating -- splash-proof)

The Beats Studio Buds look a lot like the rumored stemless AirPods we've been waiting for. Geared toward both iOS and Android users, they are missing a few key features on the Apple side of things (there's no H1 or W1 chip), but they're small, lightweight earbuds that are comfortable to wear and offer very good sound. While their noise cancellation isn't as good as you get from the AirPods Pro, they do have a transparency mode that lets ambient sound in and they're decent for making calls. Ultimately, their fit and sound quality are their strongest selling points -- and they are about $50 cheaper than the AirPods Pro.

They fit my ears securely (I ran with them without a problem), but you could get some slippage if you sweat a lot. In that case, it may be a good idea to invest in some foam ear tips, which improve grip a little (I use them with the AirPods Pro). Read our Beats Studio Buds review.

David Carnoy/CNET

Water-resistantYes (IPX4 rating -- splash-proof).

As far as headphones go, Bose's Sport Open Earbuds are pretty funky. Not to be confused with the company's more traditional in-ear Sport Earbuds and QuietComfort Earbuds, they feature an open design without a tip, meaning the earpiece sits on top of your ear and doesn't penetrate your ear canal. 

Geared toward runners and bikers who want their ears open to the world for safety reasons -- or to people who don't like to have any sort of bud in their ears -- they sound surprisingly good. I ended up liking them, but their design isn't for everybody, and how comfortable you find them will determine how much you like them.

Read our Bose Sport Open Earbuds review.

 

Angela Lang/CNET

Water-resistantYes (IPX4 rating -- splash-proof).

While they're not advertised as sports earbuds, the AirPods Pro are very good truly wireless headphones for running. That's largely due to their winning lightweight design and fit, improved bass performance, effective noise cancellation and excellent call quality. While I can't run with the standard AirPods (those in-ear headphones 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 snugly in your ear. That said, I got an even more secure fit by using a pair of Comply foam ear tips ($25).

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 the sound of traffic noise. The AirPods Pro are also officially rated as being sweat-resistant. Read our Apple Airpods Pro review.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Water-resistantYes (IPX4 rating -- splash-proof).

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 bluetooth earbuds. Note that these headphones are frequently reduced from $250 to $200 or even less -- don't pay the full price if you're buying them.

Read our Beats Powerbeats Pro review.

 

David Carnoy/CNET

Water-resistant: Yes (IPX4 rating -- splash-proof)

Google's Pixel Buds A-Series are kind of unusual, in that they're new but not exactly an upgrade. They look and sound very similar to last year's Pixel Buds 2, which debuted at $179 but are now selling for less. However, instead of getting new features -- like active noise canceling -- they've actually lost a few. Why? The "A" stands for affordability: They only cost $100. That new lower price is the real story here, making these a bona fide true-wireless value, particularly for Android users. And the integrated stabilizer arcs (aka sport fins) help keep the buds securely in your ears during sporting activities. Read our Pixel Buds A-Series review.

Bose

Water-resistantYes (IPX4 rating -- splash-proof).

The Bose Frames is one of those products you have to try to fully appreciate -- or dismiss. The concept is you're getting a decent pair of sunglasses with a pair of headphones that don't actually go in your ears. Rather, integrated micro speakers in each arm direct a beam of sound to your ears. That design could be appealing to people who don't like having headphones in or on their ears, and also offers a degree of safety for runners and bikers who want their ears open to the world.

Bose has updated its line of audio sunglasses with three new models, including the Tempo sports model, which offers better sound and battery life than the more traditional-looking Tenor and Soprano. The Tempo has better specs all-around, with USB-C charging and larger 22mm drivers. It also delivers up to eight hours of battery life.

Their sound is definitely improved from the original Frames. Bose says the Tempo plays "deeper and louder -- loud enough for cycling at 25 mph -- while still able to hear traffic and your training partners." They're sweat-, weather-, scratch- and shatter-resistant, according to Bose and fit under most protective helmets. (I had no problem using them with a couple of bike helmets.) They also work really well for making calls, thanks to a new dual-microphone system. Optional lenses are available for $39 and you can order prescription lenses through Lensabl.

Read our Bose Frames review.

 

David Carnoy/CNET

Water-resistant: Yes (IPX8 rating -- fully waterproof)

TaoTronics' SoundLiberty P10 earbuds are another AirPods Pro knockoff, but they're one of the better ones out there for the money, with good sound and decent headset performance for making calls. The noise canceling isn't up to the level of the AirPods Pro, but it's reasonably effective and there's also an ambient mode that lets sound in (the equivalent of the AirPods Pro's transparency mode, just not quite as natural-sounding), as well as an anti-wind mode.

I've tried many TaoTronics headphones over the years and these may be the company's best earbuds yet. While they're not fancy, they fit my ears well, their case is compact and the instructions clearly spell out how to use the touch controls. They're equipped with Bluetooth 5.2 and are fully waterproof with an IPX8 rating. Battery life is rated at six and a half hours with noise canceling on and volume at 50%.

Juan Garzon/CNET

Water-resistantYes (IPX2 rating -- sweat-resistant and protects against light splashes).

Say what you will about the Samsung Galaxy Buds Live's bean-shaped design, but they might just be the most innovative new true wireless earbuds of the year. Like the standard AirPods, they have an open design -- you don't jam an ear tip into your ear -- and they're quite comfortable to wear and fit my ears more securely than the AirPods. These wireless buds are discreet and basically sit flush with your ear, which reduces wind-noise while biking. I regularly use them for running and biking, and they're great for sporting activities if they fit your ears well, but one warning: Some people won't get a secure fit, so buy them from a retailer that has a good return policy.

They deliver good sound and work well as a headset for making calls, with good background noise reduction so callers can hear you clearly even when you're in noisier environments. While they feature active noise canceling, it's mild compared to the noise canceling in earbuds that have a noise-isolating design. In other words, buy them for their design and sound, not their noise-canceling features.

Read our Samsung Galaxy Buds Live review.

 

David Carnoy/CNET

Water-resistantYes (IPX4 rating -- splash-proof).

Both Bose's QuietComfort Earbuds and Sport Earbuds make good workout headphones, thanks to their StayHear Max tips and secure fit, but the Sport Earbuds are more compact and lighter and also more affordable (the QuietComfort Earbuds do have excellent active noise canceling, however).

They have the same IPX4 splash-resistant rating as the QuietComfort Earbuds, are equipped with Bluetooth 5.1 (my connection was rock solid) and share a similar design aesthetic, with three color options available. Unlike their step-up sibling, they have no active noise canceling and an hour less of battery life -- five hours instead of six -- as well as no wireless charging. While they do stick out from your ears, they're noticeably smaller and lighter than the QuietComfort Earbuds and their case is about 30% to 40% smaller. The case still isn't as small as the cases for such competitors as the AirPods Pro, Samsung Galaxy Buds Plus, Galaxy Buds Live and Jabra Elite 75t. But it feels reasonably compact.

Read our Bose Sport Earbuds review.

 

David Carnoy/CNET

Water-resistant: Yes (IP55 splash-proof)

Unlike the WF-1000XM3, Sony's new WF-1000XM4 earbuds are water-resistant. But if you don't want to spend $279 for Sony's latest and greatest buds -- they are very good -- Sony's more affordable WF-SP800N "sports" earbuds are a decent alternative and sometimes sell for less for $100 in certain colors.

No, the noise canceling and sound aren't as good as you get from the WF-1000XM4 (or WF-1000XM3 for that matter), but there's still a lot to like about these 'buds, including very good sound, solid noise canceling and good call quality. It's definitely a nice upgrade over the WF-SP700N, which came out in 2018, and the "arcs" (sports fins) lock the earbuds in your ears. Just make sure you get a tight seal from one of the included ear tips, or else both the sound and noise canceling will be lackluster.

Read our Sony WF-SP800N review.

 

Sarah Tew/CNET

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

While the Elite 75t has been out a while, it's still one of the best true wireless earbuds out there and recently added noise canceling via a firmware upgrade. Earlier firmware updates improved voice-calling performance. 

The Elite 75t buds aren't quite as comfortable to wear as the AirPods Pro, but they do sound better, with clearer overall sound and better bass audio quality definition, so long as you get a tight seal.

The slightly more rugged Elite Active 75t is also available for about $20 more, but with the new Elite 85t's arrival we are seeing some sales on the Elite 75t.

Read our Jabra Elite 75t review.

 

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 top-of-the-line Aeropex bone-conduction wireless headphone, the Trekz Air -- or simply Air, as it's now called -- retails for about $40 less. This pair of around-the-neck headphones was AfterShokz' top model a couple of years ago and isn't a big drop-off from the Aeropex, but has less battery life (up to six hours instead of eight) and is a little less water-resistant (IP55 vs. IP67 for the Aeropex). Still, the Air sounds good for a bone-conduction headphone. However, again, keep in mind that the sound doesn't measure up to that of a traditional headphone.

Read our AfterShokz Trekz Air review.

 

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