The Best Running Headphones For 2021
Every runner finds a different form of motivation to keep them on track during their run. One of the most popular ways is music, transmitted into our ears through some sports headphones. Since regular exercise is one of the few outdoor activities allowed during lockdown, many of us have come to rely on our daily runs more than ever before - our appreciation for sports headphones has grown to match!
But which are the best headphones for running? Read on to find out! The best running headphones are different from the best headphones for listening at home, so we’ll start by explaining the sorts of features that you should be looking out for and then suggest a few of our top picks for 2021!
What are the best headphones for running?
The best kind of headphones for running are undoubtedly wireless headphones. Wired headphones are fantastic for listening at home, but their wires can get tangled, trapped in objects or caught by your hands - absolutely not what you’re looking for if you’re using your headphones for exercise. With many excellent wireless headphones at every price point filling the market, cutting the cable has never been easier.
Something else worth thinking about if you’re buying headphones for exercise is water resistance. Almost all headphones will cope with the sweat dripping down from your brow, but rainfall is a different matter entirely. If you run no matter the weather, the best running headphones for you will be ones with an IP rating. IP ratings are an international standard for dust and water resistance. An IP rating has two numbers, and it’s the second number you should be looking at - the higher the better.
What are the best in ear headphones for running?
In-ear headphones (also known as earbuds) are a type of earphone with a flexible tip made from silicone. These silicone tips are designed to be pushed into the entrance of your ear canal, where they form a tight seal. This seal gives you great noise isolation against background sounds, which means you won’t have to crank up the volume high if you’re exercising in a noisy environment.
Even better, this seal makes for a tight, secure fit so your earbuds won’t slip out of place as you exercise. Many in-ear headphones are specifically designed to be sports headphones, and the manufacturers have included in the design long, curving hooks that wrap around the tips of your ear for even more stability. If you can get a comfortable fit, these are usually the best headphones for running.
As with normal headphones, you’ll want to pick wireless earphones over wired. Many wireless earphones still have a cable that connects the two earphones together for proper stereo sound, but don’t worry: this shouldn’t be a problem when you use the headphones for exercise as the cable wraps around the back of your neck, well out of the way of hazards. If you’d like to eliminate wires completely, true wireless earbuds should be your sports headphones of choice. These headphones have earbuds that pair with each other wirelessly. It’s a relatively new headphone design, but most of the top headphone manufacturers have released at least one model in 2021.
What are bone conduction headphones?
Bone conduction headphones are another new design of headphones. Most headphones use the air between your eardrum and the headphone driver to carry the sound of music. However, bone conduction headphones send vibrations through your skull to the inner ear. That means they’re positioned away from your ear canals, leaving them open.
This makes them a popular choice for sports headphones, as you don’t lose any situational awareness when wearing them. If you’re worried about not being able to hear traffic or other signs of danger when you’re exercising to music, choose a pair of bone conduction headphones.
And we’re off!
We’ve covered the general types of headphones you can use to run with, but if we’re going to find the best running headphones of 2021, we’ll have to get specific. It’s time to look at a few examples! We’ve collected a few truly great sports headphones from the three categories we’ve mentioned, ranging from budget to luxury in their price points.
Pros: Driving sound is perfect for workouts, very comfortable
Cons: Bulky charging case, not the best noise isolation
Beats by Dr Dre headphones are often seen on the ears of professional athletes, and the Power Beats Pro certainly demonstrates why this is the case! The combination of high build quality and comfort places these earbuds in contention for best headphones for exercise.
The most noticeable quality of these headphones is how comfortable they are to wear, even for long periods. The silicone tips are very slim, and a special laser-bored hole on the side of each earbud reduces the pressure in your ear canal. One side effect of this hole is a reduction in noise isolation, but if you find most in-ear headphones uncomfortable, the trade-off is well worth it.
Like most Beats headphones, the Power Beats Pro tend to emphasise the bass frequencies of music, leading to crunchy guitar riffs and pounding drums. The bass-heavy nature of these earphones lends themselves to fast-paced EDM, hip-hop and pop music - the most popular music genres for workouts. If those are your favourite genres, the Power Beats Pro are probably the best running headphones for you.
The Power Beats Pro are true wireless headphones and come with a charging case. Unfortunately, this case is a little too bulky to carry to the gym - it’s great in a backpack, but you might struggle to fit it alongside your trainers and workout gear in a kit bag. That said, the Power Beats Pro have an eight hour battery life, which is more than enough time for your run.
Pros: Low price, easy-to-use microphone and controller
Cons: No replacement ear tips, short battery life
The XB Wireless Sport Headphones have a very low price compared to many of the other sports headphones we’ve included on this list - but don’t let that put you off! For that small price tag, you get a pair of Bluetooth-enabled in-ear wireless headphones with ear hooks.
Both the silicone tips and the ear hooks are made to be soft, ergonomic and comfortable. Even better, if you don’t like how the ear hooks feel, you can remove them from the main headphone housing at any time. We can’t say the same about the silicone tips, however. Most in-ear headphones come with multiple ear tips in different sizes so you can find the best fit for your ears, but the XB headphones only come with one pair. They should be comfortable enough for most people, though.
Battery life is also shorter than most of its competitors. At four hours of playtime, the battery will last for the whole of your routine and then some, but you’ll have to remember to charge it after every session if you don’t want your music to cut out. These headphones are very easy to use though, particularly for phone calls. A control panel built into the wire allows you to answer phone calls, pause your music and skip tracks with no effort. If you’re looking for bargain priced sports headphones, these might be what you’re after.
Pros: Very light, thick soft cushioning
Cons: Small ear cups, thin headband
If you’re going to be using a pair of over-ear headphones for exercise, you’ll need to make sure that they’re light - too heavy and they’re likely to fall off your head. These headphones from German technology specialist, Philips, live up to their name. The Flite Everlites weigh under 150g, which is very light for a pair of on-ear headphones. With the headband supporting them, you’ll barely feel them as you run.
In order to make the headphones as light as they are, Philips have made the Flite Everlites almost entirely out of plastic. The headband is quite thin and feels a little flimsy, particularly as it’s a folding design. However, Philips’ reputation for making quality products is an assurance that they won’t break anytime soon.
These headphones use an on-ear design, meaning that their cups are too small to fully cover your ears. Their noise isolation isn’t particularly good as a result, but you might prefer that if you want to keep your ears open for traffic. The thick, soft cushioning on the cups means that they should be comfortable, even if you have large ears.
Just so you’re aware, Philips makes a range of headphones with very similar names and appearances. If you want to use these headphones for exercising, ensure you’re getting the wireless version.
Pros: Comfortable design, sweat resistant pads
Cons: Poor noise isolation, padding could be a little thicker
In-ear headphones are very popular for runners, but some people find their silicone tips uncomfortable to wear, even for a few minutes. If you’re one of these people, the solution might just be the Groov-e wireless headphones.
These wireless headphones have a distinctive design that mixes the comfort factor of regular headphones with the practicality of in-ear sports headphones. A pair of lightweight headphone cups are fixed onto earhooks. These earhooks are connected by a wire that winds around your head. This design won’t feel uncomfortable at all.
The small headphone cups rest against your ear with a little bit of protective padding to stop them from rubbing. This padding is quite thin, but it's made from sweat resistant material and, because they don’t weigh too heavily on your head, your ears won’t get hot like they would with larger headphones.
One in-ear headphone feature that the Groov-e wireless headphones can’t replicate is noise isolation. Although the pads against your ear will stop some background noise, they won’t block out as much as a pair of silicone-tipped earphones. They’re not the best headphones for running down a busy road, but they’re a great option if you exercise in the gym or on quiet country lanes.
Pros: Good sound for the price, NFC connection
Cons: Not the lightest headphones, no water resistance
Next up is the August EP650, a pair of over-ear headphones. For a pair budget headphones, the sound quality of the August EP650 headphones sets them apart. They deliver a warm, analogue-style sound that works well with classic rock, soul music and other tunes from the Hi-Fi era. As well as superior sound quality, the August EP650s have a large, easy accessible control panel on the front of one of the cups.
One feature that’s a welcome surprise on headphones in this price range is the NFC (Near-Field Communication) chip. NFC chips allow you to pair these August headphones with your smartphone very quickly, which means you won’t have to wait around to start your run.
Although these headphones are feature-rich, one thing missing from their list of specifications is any water resistance rating. They should deal with your sweat without any issues, but a lack of a proper IP rating makes their use during a rainstorm risky.
These headphones are not as light as the Philips Flite Everlite that we included earlier on in this buyer’s guide (the headband’s metal core adds some bulk). However, they’re still far from heavy, coming to a little over 210g. Plus, as they favour an over-ear design, they provide better noise isolation. The August EP650s are certainly among the best headphones for running.
Pros: Stable design, decent sound quality
Cons: Uncomfortable tickle at high volumes, relatively expensive
The AfterShokz Trekz Air are quite possibly the best bone conduction headphones on the market right now, and certainly among the best headphones for running. Some bone conduction headphones can slip from your head as you run, but the Aftershokz won’t, thanks to their high friction silicone pads and tight ear hook design.
This design also keeps them comfortable for long periods of time, but be aware that if you play them above a certain volume you might start to feel a strange tickling sensation around your cheekbones.
The sound quality of the AfterShokz Trek headphones is among the best in its class. Bass response - important for sports headphones - is particularly good. It’s not as good as traditional headphone and earphone designs that cost the same amount of money, but that’s to be expected with bone conduction headphones. If you’re intent on getting bone conducting headphones for exercise, you won’t be disappointed with a pair of these.
Pros: Budget friendly bone conduction, IP55 water resistance
Cons: Inflexible headband, inferior sound compared to Trekz Air
Bone conduction headphones are typically quite expensive, but the Tayogo S2s prove that they don’t have to be. Their low cost puts them firmly in the range of budget headphones. Despite being a budget pair, these headphones have some of the best water resistance of any sports headphones around. At IP55, they’ll survive not only sweat but high pressure jets of water from any direction.
The Tayogo S2 headphones are comfortable to wear for long periods, as they have similar padding to the AfterShokz Trekz Air. There’s one hitch when it comes to comfort, and that’s the inflexible headband. This band stretches around the back of your head, which is common in many wireless earbuds, but there’s no give at all with the Tayogo S2’s headband. This is a deliberate choice, as it keeps the headphones secure on your head, but it still means you can’t wear these headphones along with a hat.
Sound quality is quite good for bone conduction headphones. It’s certainly inferior to the AfterShokz Trekz Air, but you’ll still be able to hear most of the details of your music. Your ears remain completely unobstructed too, which is the main appeal of bone conduction headphones. All this considered, it’s safe to say that the Tayogo S2s are some of the best headphones for running.
The final lap
We’ve hit the home stretch of our buyer’s guide - with all of our best running headphones of 2021 properly examined, it’s time to wrap up with a cool down! If you want to explore audio delights not covered in this guide, our headphones and earphones categories are bursting with many other excellent options waiting for you. If you’re looking for further advice on buying headphones in general, one of our other guides will clue you into everything you need to buy the best headphones.
A great pair of sports headphones will look even better when matched with some quality activewear. Among our selection of clothing, we have all the exercise essentials that both men and women need to keep warm, dry, comfortable and stylish during workouts. And don’t forget the golden rule of exercise - keeping hydrated! Making sure you’ve got the right amount of water will be easy with one of the water bottles you can buy on our website.
Once you’ve got all the gear you need, you’re sure to be smashing your fitness goals in no time at all. So, slip into your favourite workout ‘fit, pop on a pair of headphones with your favourite high-BPM beats, and prepare to get physical!
Please note: The information in this buyer’s guide is correct at the time of publishing but may be subject to change.