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Best workout headphones in 2021: Apple, Beats, Sony, Bose and more compared

An assortment of the best earbuds and headphones for working out and running.

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After trying out plenty of wireless sports headphones and earbuds over the years, I've found that some models are better suited for workouts than others. The best workout headphones or earbuds should be wireless -- and ideally, true-wireless earbuds -- so there's no cable to restrict your movement in any way. 

More importantly, they should give you a secure and comfortable fit, whether they're over-ear headphones with a plush ear cup or in-ear earbuds with silicone ear tips. Needless to say, losing an earbud during a run or bike ride is a serious bummer. Decent sound quality is also essential, as are durability, reliable performance (with minimal dropouts), battery life and noise cancellation (as well as hear-through or transparency modes). And lastly, they need to be sweat-resistant, if not fully waterproof, for obvious reasons. While Apple doesn't claim water-resistance for its standard AirPods, those particular earbuds do make the list because we've found they handle sweat reasonably well.

After many outdoor runs and gym sessions, I've formed strong opinions on which are the best workout earbuds and headphones. To share my hard-earned gym headphone knowledge, I've put together a selection of wireless gym headphones I've tested that I think are well-suited to being your go-to exercise headphones. I've included all kinds of headphones on this list, so if you're partial to earbuds with an ear hook, open earbuds like the standard AirPods or bone conduction headphones that allow ambient noise to come through, there are options. After all, the best workout earphone is the pair that motivates you to get out and get moving. I'll update this list as I review more of them.

David Carnoy/CNET

Water-resistant: Yes (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 -- 5 hours instead of 6 -- and they don't have 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 (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.

David Carnoy/CNET

Water-resistantYes (IP55 splash-proof)

With so many new wireless earbuds and headphones being released on what seems likely a weekly basis, it's not easy for companies to differentiate their products in the marketplace. Skullcandy hopes its new voice-driven platform, Skull-iQ Smart Feature Technology, will do just that. Similar to the Apple AirPods' "Hey Siri" feature, Skullcandy's version allows you to say "Hey, Skullcandy" to issue hands-free voice commands without touching a button. Skull-iQ debuts on the sports-oriented Push Active (and $100 Grind Fuel), which will be firmware updatable via the Skullcandy App.

With their ear-hook design, they're essentially a more affordable version of the Beats Powerbeats Pro and they actually fit my ears slightly better than the Powerbeats Pro (I'm not usually a fan of ear-hook style buds, but this is one of the better ones). 

The Push Active True earbuds are equipped with Bluetooth 5.2, are IP55 splashproof, have built-in Tile Finding Technology and are rated for up to 10 hours of battery life on a single charge at moderate volume levels. 

Angela Lang/CNET

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

While they're not advertised as sports earbuds, the AirPods Pro are very good true-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 because 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 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 sweat-resistant.

Read our Apple AirPods Pro review.

 

David Carnoy/CNET

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 splash-proof)

I liked Shure's original Aonic 215 true-wireless earbuds, but they were buggy and Shure pulled them off the market. From a design standpoint, this Gen 2 version is essentially identical but not all the performance kinks have been smoothed out. 

Weirdly, they're kind of the audiophile equivalent of the Beats Powerbeats Pro. They have a hook that wraps around the top of your ear and they stayed in my ears very securely (even more securely than the Powerbeats Pro earbuds). And like that Beats model, they have a jumbo charging case. Even though it's technically bigger than the Powerbeats Pro's case, it doesn't feel bigger, perhaps because it's slightly thinner.

What's interesting about them is that the Bluetooth module is detachable (they have physical a physical control button as opposed to touch controls, which I liked). As its name implies, the Aonic 215 True Wireless Noise-Isolating Earphones incorporates Shure's SE215 buds , the $99 entry-level model in its line of earbuds that have detachable cables. But the modules, which can be bought separately for $230, are designed to drive any Shure earbuds that have a detachable cable, including the $1,000 SE846.

Headset performance has improved (they're no longer mono but stereo for calls) and they now have an IPX4 splashproof water-resistance rating. They have clean, well-balanced sound with nicely defined bass -- but they just don't have a ton of bass. I'd like to see them cost about $50 less, but they do make for good sports earbuds that you don't have to worry about falling out of your ears.

David Carnoy/CNET

Water-resistant: Yes (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. 

This model charges via USB-C and includes a simple carrying pouch. Battery life is rated at up to 6 hours.

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.

David Carnoy/CNET

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

The 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 for sport 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.

Released in 2019, AfterShokz describes the Aeropex ($160) as its "lightest, highest-quality headphones yet." The : 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. They're also slightly more comfortable to wear. However, though 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 traditional headphones.

Read our AfterShokz Aeropex first take.

 

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) and 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 6.5 hours with noise canceling on and volume at 50%.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Water-resistant: Yes (IPX7 rating -- fully waterproof and sweat-proof)

While the newer Vista 2 earbuds were released with added features, including noise canceling and a transparency mode, the original Jaybird Vista 'buds remain on sale and are often discounted from their new list price of $150 (look for the price to dip to $99). They're still a good set of true-wireless sports earbuds that lock in your ears and are fully waterproof. Read our Jaybird Vista review.

Read our Jaybird Vista review.

 

Sarah Tew/CNET

Water-resistant: Yes (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 workout-earbuds design that won't fall out of your ear (seriously, 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 earbuds are frequently reduced from $250 to $170 (and sometimes less for certain colors) -- don't pay more than that if you're buying them.

Read our Beats Powerbeats Pro review.

 

David Carnoy/CNET

Water-resistant: Yes (IP54 rating -- splash-proof)

Edifier has a few different new true-wireless earbuds and most, including the TWS 330NB, are very good values. While the TWS 330NB buds are missing a sensor that automatically pauses your music when you take them out of your ears, they feature excellent sound quality for the money, decent active noise canceling with a transparency mode and solid voice calling (they have three microphones in each bud for noise canceling and noise reduction during calls).

They fit my ears well -- they're essentially AirPods Pro clones -- and while the touch controls are a little limited, they're programmable using the Edifier Connect app for iOS and Android; you can also set the level of touch sensitivity. They have an IP54 rating, which means they're splash- and dust-proof, and battery life at moderate volume levels is rated at 4 hours with noise canceling on and 5 hours with it off. That's only OK, but you do get an additional two charges from the charging case. 

David Carnoy/CNET

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

We had the cheaper EarFun Free earbuds 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 7 hours of battery life without the noise-canceling function on or about 6 hours with it on, they're IPX5 water-resistant, which means they can withstand a sustained spray of water.

They sound 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 look fairly discreet.

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.

Water-resistant: Yes (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 with 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.

 

Bose

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

The Bose Frames are 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 it 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 delivers up to 8 hours of battery life.

Their sound is definitely improved from the original Frames. Bose says the Tempo sunglasses play "deeper and louder -- loud enough for cycling at 25 mph -- while [you're] 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.

Read our Bose Frames review.

 

David Carnoy/CNET

Water-resistantYes (IP5X5 splash-proof)

The standard Master & Dynamic MW08 are on our best sounding true-wireless earbuds and best wireless earbuds lists. That model costs $300. This $350 MW08 Sport version sounds essentially the same and looks very similar but the exterior of the MW08 Sport buds are made of shatter-resistant sapphire glass (the MW08 uses ceramic). The case is also made of Kevlar fiber, making it durable and lightweight (the standard MW08's is noticeably heavier). Lastly, in addition to the 5 sizes of silicone tips that come with the MW08, the Sport has two sizes of memory foam earphones that add some additional grip and help keep the buds in your ears (you do need to get a tight seal or sound quality will suffer).

They have active noise canceling (it's good), a transparency mode so you can hear the outside world and a total of 6 microphones for noise canceling and voice calling. They're expensive but they do sound excellent. The MW08 Sport are available in 4 color options. The case offers wireless charging and is also splash-proof, with an IPX4 rating. 

David Carnoy/CNET

Water-resistant: Yes (IP55 splash-proof)

Sony's WF-SP800N "sports" earbuds have been regularly discounted over the last year, and they recently hit a new low of $78 on Amazon and Best Buy. This could very well be a sign that we're going to see new Sony true-wireless sports earbuds in the near future.

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. The "arcs" (sports fins) lock the earbuds in your ears but you just have to 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.

 

David Carnoy/CNET

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

Anker's Soundcore Liberty Air 2 Pro, the company's first earbuds to feature active noise canceling, are mostly an excellent set of true-wireless earbuds that measure up pretty well against Apple's AirPods Pro for significantly less money. Note that they list for $130 but often drop to $100 in certain color options. 

While I had an issue with the included ear tips and had to use some other tips (it's crucial to get a tight seal or both noise canceling and sound quality will suffer), they should fit most people comfortably. Sound quality is better than Anker's earlier Liberty Air 2 and the noise canceling is effective. These also work well as a headset for making calls and are available in multiple color options. Read our Anker Soundcore Liberty Air 2 Pro review.

David Carnoy/CNET

Water-resistant: Yes (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 (mentioned earlier in this roundup) 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.

 

Sarah Tew/CNET

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

Some people, particularly weightlifters, like to work out wearing full-size headphones, and the BackBeat Fit 6100 over-the-ear wireless headphones are a solid choice for both the gym and everyday use. The adjustable sport-fit headband has an IPX5-rated water-resistant and sweat-proof design, 40mm angled drivers and noise-isolating ear cups with an Awareness mode. Battery life is rated at 24 hours. They sound quite good and really stay on your head securely; you can adjust the tension in the headband, which is innovative and ideal for exercise headphones.

Alas, Plantronics has discontinued all its BackBeat headphones, but the good news is you can get them at a discount as they're being phased out.

They list for $180, but Amazon currently has them for $70 in certain colors. They're available in black, camo and gray.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Water-resistant: Yes (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 headphones, the Trekz Air -- or Air, as they're now called -- retail for about $40 less. They were AfterShokz's former top model and feature good sound for bone-conduction headphones (again, beware that the sound doesn't measure up to that of traditional headphones).

Read our AfterShokz Trekz Air review.

 

Sarah Tew/CNET

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

Companies like Under Armour (with the help of JBL) have released sporty on-ear models designed for people who want that type of secure-fit workout headphone that covers their ears. I personally prefer the over-ear Plantronics BackBeat Fit 6100 and this Adidas RPT-01 model, which I think looks and fits better than the Under Armour headphones. 

I found them comfortable for on-ear headphones, which tend not to be as comfortable as over-ear headphones, but those with larger heads may feel they clamp down a little too snugly on both your head and your ears. This set of headphones is sweat-resistant with an IPX4 certification. Also, the ear cushions and inner headband are removable and washable (there are instructions for how to do this, but Adidas should do a how-to video). As far as I'm concerned, when it comes to exercise headphones, the more ways to combat sweat smells, the better.

These were designed by the same Swedish company that makes Urbanears headphones, and they sound quite decent, with well-balanced sound that doesn't push the bass too much. Although the UA headphones cost the same or more, they're expensive at $170. However, they've been on sale for as low as $100, so look for them at a discount.

Further reading for earbud and headphone enthusiasts

More workout essentials