Best running headphones 2020: best workout buds to get fit with music
For entertainment while you exercise, these are the best running headphones.
Sometimes you have to suffer for your art, so we did. We sweated the details while testing a raft of the best running headphones on the market, racking up the Strava miles over a period of two months.
UPDATE:We're currently trialling adidas' FWD-01 sports headphones which are strong contenders when it comes to Shortlist additions. Serving up 16 hours worth of playback times (that's pretty much 4 consecutive marathons to you and I), the rugged design is sweatproof (I mean, you'd hope that's as standard), offers passive transparency to ensure you hear your surroundings and feature a tangle-free neck chord to ensure you don't loose a bud mid-run. Let's see what our verdict is.
And as if that wasn't enough, there's been a pretty big breakthrough when it comes to running music. Scientists claim to have found the perfect running track - well, created it anyway. We know it can be a hard old slog getting into the rhythm of a run, but thanks to Professor Costas Karageorghis at Brunel University - alongside a team of music producers - the perfect running song claims to have been created. The track claims to boost your mood mid-run by 15% in comparison to those who do not listen to music, so there's got to be something in it, right?
The pairs that ended up on our comprehensive shortlist all have their benefits, but top of the tree by some margin were the Jaybird Tarah Pro. Their combination of long battery life, amazing sound quality and super-secure fit make them the perfect choice for most users.
For anyone on a modest budget but still wanting decent quality, we plumped for the Urbanista Boston, good all-rounder earphones at a very wallet-friendly price. Here's the run down of the 10 pairs you should consider.
Best running headphones: best buys
The Urbanista Boston are decent jack-of-all-trades headphones. With a lack of pretension and a pleasing simplicity, they combine more than acceptable comfort and functionality at a price most runners will be able to afford. They offer the best value on test.
Amazing sound quality, rock solid grip in the ears, long battery life, an impressively short charging time and excellent durability are just some of the reasons the Jaybird Tarah Pro deserve to be at the top of your shopping list. Quite simply the best running headphones by a four-minute mile.
Related: best wireless headphones, if you'd prefer a less sporty pair
The best running headphones shortlist
1. Adidas FWD-01
Keeping things simple with a tri-button control located on the band, they feature 16 hours playback time, super-fast USB charging, multiple interchangeable ear tips, magnetic earbuds and are IPX4 rated sweat and water resistant.
2. JBL Endurance Peak
Twenty-eight hours of playback (four-hour battery life plus 24-hour power in charging case), separate mono and stereo modes for phone calls and music, fully waterproof, ‘Powerhook’ function turns earphones on and off automatically when you insert or remove them.
3. Sennheiser CX Sport
Four earbud size options, six-hour battery life, ten-minute ‘quick charge’ gives one hour playback, very lightweight: 15g (about the same as 2 x 10p pieces).
4. Bose Soundsport Wireless
Six-hour battery life, two-hour charge time, Tile location tracker function, nine-metre range, sit outside ear canal to allow ambient noise in for safety.
5. Jaybird Tarah Pro
Battery life of 14 hours, magnetic clip-together buds, reflective cord, auto-stop function, customisable sound profiles, accompanying community app, ‘find your buds’ facility.
6. Plantronics Backbeat Fit
Fully water- and sweat-proof, links to third party coaching apps, on-ear controls, stable neckband design, eight-hour battery life.
7. AfterShokz Trekz Air
Open ear bone conduction design, titanium frame, noise-cancelling microphone, six-hour battery life, standby time 20 days, charge time two hours.
8. Monster iSport Victory
Five-hour battery life, easy in-line volume and microphone controls, 30m Bluetooth range, water resistant, sweatproof, two sound profiles: ‘normal’ and ‘turbo’.
9. Snugs Wireless Magnet
Bespoke fit (custom moulds taken of ear openings), sweat-, water- and degradation-proof silicone ear buds, five-hour battery life, standby time seven days.
10. Urbanista Boston
Magnetic earbuds, clip-on cable cord, standby time 15 days, battery life six hours, water resistant.
11. SkullCandy Method Sport Wireless
Noise isolating, nine-hour battery life, stable neckband design, sweat resistant, self-cleaning earbuds, two-year warranty
The expert's view
We selected 24 pairs of running headphones across 18 different brands.
The manufacturers that made it into the final 10 all have a demonstrable track record in
fitness audio and all the models on test showcased the ability to offer a
decent level of fit, durability, comfort, user-friendliness,
sweatproofing and sound quality – in other words, the basics that users
look for first of all when considering a purchase.
Best running headphones: how we selected
We chose to test ‘middle of the road’ headphones that fall into the £50-£150 price bracket because that’s what experience tells us most people are prepared to spend. Any less and there’s a risk they might not be of sufficient quality to survive in the long-term, while any more puts them into the niche bracket for those who are either huge technophiles or obsessive music lovers.
We also wanted to compare models that were roughly like-for-like in what they offered. For this reason (and with price a consideration) we left out ‘smart training’ headphones, which can offer metrics such as heart rate, audio coaching and other premium features.
Best running headphones: how we tested
Each pair of running headphones were put through the same testing process to ensure as much consistency as possible. First of all we looked at how easy or difficult they were to set up and use. It should be possible to get them out of the box, onto your ears and get out the door without having to either a) read the user manual from cover to cover, or b) have a degree in advanced electronics.
In these time-poor times, the best tech is intuitive.
Next up, what did they feel like on the run? Did they slot into place easily? Did they hurt or pinch anywhere after a while? Did our sweaty lugholes force them to pop out? Could we leave them be or did we have to fiddle with them during the run?
When it came to sound quality we made sure we played different types of music to assess how bass, mids and treble performed. Was the sound a little fuzzy or crystal clear? Did the volume have to be turned up to the max for us to hear small details?
Durability is also a key consideration for running headphones. We were unable to test how the earphones responded to the potentially corrosive effects of sweat over time, but we did measure their weatherproofing by either running in the rain or, if it was dry, dunking them in water and wearing them afterwards.
We also dropped them on the ground, slung them into gym bags without putting them back in their case and generally treated them sloppily (as most of us do in the real world) to see if any internal parts moved or if they suffered any loss of functionality.
Overall, each pair was run in four to six times. At the end of the testing period we took all the above feedback, considered the RRP of each pair, and gave them a rating out of ten.
Best running headphones: The test results
The Jaybird Tarah Pro was the best performer by far. They get all of the basics right and add some neat design features on top – such as magnetic buds which clip together, an auto-off function if you take them off and forget to power them down, and a reflective cord to help in low-light running.
Their durability was both impressive and immensely reassuring – a quality they shared with the Sennheiser CX Sport and the Plantronics Backbeat Fit, which both also demonstrated excellent waterproofing and the resilience to be treated lazily without having any bits go wrong or fall off.
They each offered excellent fit, too, which was a feature all the earphones on test shared. Special mentions on that score go to the Monster iSport Victory, which come with five different sets of bud sizes and wing tips so you can mix and match – especially handy if your earholes are different sizes, as is often the case.
Snugs goes further. Its Wireless Magnet includes a bespoke fitting service at a local participating audiologist. This ensures that not only is the fit perfect for your lugs but they won’t actually fit in anybody else’s ears. If you have grabby teenage kids this is definitely a win.
When it came to sound quality the Bose Soundsport Wireless were the standout option (unsurprisingly, given the brand’s heritage in this area). The JBL Endurance Peak and Jaybird Tarah Pro also impressed.
The Tarah Pro sync to a proprietary app where you can create your perfect sound profile for different musical genres, as well as search to see what other Jaybird users have done.
Our choice for best value were the Urbanista Boston, a pleasingly low-key and efficient option that just got the job done with a minimum of fuss for less than 70 quid. Sound quality, fit, durability, ease of use and waterproofing were all above average and, while the battery life was only four or so hours, the quality of the mic was surprisingly excellent, which went some way to making up for its shortcomings.
Speaking of battery life – which is one of the most important factors for keen runners, especially those training for a marathon – the Tarah Pro offer a whopping 14 hours, which means you’ll probably get a good fortnight out of them between charges. And if you do run low a quick five minutes will give you a couple of hours’ power.
Next best were the JBL Endurance Peak, which offer ’28 hours of playback’ – four hours of power in the earphones and 24 hours stored in the case, which also serves as a charging dock. These are true wireless earphones, with no cable between the buds.
The Plantronics Backbeat Fit offer a more-than-respectable eight hours.
Skullcandy’s Method Sport Wireless and the AfterShokz Trekz Air running headphones took contrasting approaches to noise isolation, in that the Skullcandy are completely sealed (you can’t hear a thing other than those big beats in your ears), while the whole point of the bone conduction AfterShokz (which sit outside your ear on your cheekbone) is to free you up to hear ambient noise. If your primary focus is safety on the run, these should be your preferred option.
The best running headphones reviewed:
Jaybird Tarah Pro, £139.99
Running headphones have almost become like smartwatches, in that brands clamour to build bigger and bolder functionality into what should be quite a simple device. And often these innovations come at the cost of the basics – sound quality, comfort and battery life.
What made the Tarah Pro stand out was that Jaybird has clearly not lost sight of the bigger picture, ensuring that the fundamentals were taken care of, as well as introducing a few fantastic design touches that make these headphones the winner here by a country mile.
The battery life is sensational. Fourteen hours is the claim Jaybird make and, while we obviously didn’t run for 14 hours without stopping (yeah, proper lazy right?), we were able to fit in ten days’ worth of runs without having to charge. When you eventually have to top up, five minutes in the cradle gives you two hours of charge, while it’ll be back up to maximum power after just an hour. Impressive.
Linked to this is the excellent power-saving functionality. If you remove the earphones and leave them lying around without turning them off, fear not – after 15 minutes they’ll power down automatically. While we found that this auto-stop function didn’t kick in on one or two occasions, overall it worked more than enough to save a fair chunk of power.
Fit has been well thought out and, thanks to two different ways of wearing the earphones, it was the best on test for this. We could choose from either the standard method (cord hangs in front of the ears and round the back of the neck) or alternatively you could rotate the buds 180 degrees to have the cable come out of the top, be looped over the ear and behind your head, then cinched with a pull cord. Both ways offered a brilliant fit.
The thoughtful design continues throughout – the ends of the buds are magnetic so you can clip them together around your neck for security when not in use. Doing so also auto-pauses the music so you don’t have to faff with controls.
The woven nylon cord is extremely tough and won’t kink into awkward positions. It also has flecks of reflective material in it to add a bit more visibility if you’re running in low light.
But if you’re all about the sound quality, rest assured – the clarity is amazing and the balance of bass, mid and treble is exquisite. And if you like to tailor your EQ to the music genre, you can pair the Tarah Pro with an app to play around and match your own preferences. Proper music geekery.
The best running headphones for value reviewed:
Urbanista Boston, £44.99
Fifty quid might not sound like a budget option but, believe us, these days it’s unusual to get good value for less than that. We tested cheaper headphones but chose the Boston because, despite a few small irritations, they offer an above average level of performance across numerous touchpoints. They also have an ease of experience that will appeal to those runners who are just looking for something simple and reliable that doesn’t cost the earth.
Let’s get the snafus out of the way first – battery life is only average, and is actually closer to four hours than the six hours Urbanista claims it is. It’s also not ideal that you don’t get a battery status update (as is now common among Bluetooth headphones), when you turn them on – so to some extent you’re playing battery roulette if you go out for a long run. But the solution to this is just to charge them beforehand if you’re going to be out for any length of time. Happily, one hour is all it takes to get a full charge.
Sound quality is acceptable without being amazing. The bass is booming, so if you love your R&B these will do you a treat, but vocals and softer instruments felt a little weak, although we’re being picky.
Finally, the volume control on the cord is not worth using – it’s much better to get your phone out and control from there as we found, unusually, the volume went up higher using the phone than it did via the cord control.
Among the stand-out positives was the built-in microphone for taking calls. We expected the reception and sound quality on such a relatively low-spec pair of headphones to be poor, but in fact it excelled
and callers could hear us loud and clear.
The fit and comfort are both excellent, thanks in part to the charging module being positioned at the back of the neck, so they don’t tug on your ears.
Magnetised buds mean you can stick them together around your neck when not in use to prevent the cord tangling, and there’s also a clip to attach the neck cord to your top to cut out on any flappage when you’re running. Throw in a couple of additional features such as solid water-resistance and a choice of five different colours and these add up to a pair of headphones that offer reliable performance with satisfying bang for your buck.
Comparing the rest on test
If our overall winner and best value options don’t take your fancy, here’s everything you need to know to find your perfect pair of running headphones from the rest we tested.
Best for durability
Plantronics Backbeat Fit are the Steve McQueen of Bluetooth headphones – rugged and dependable with a consistent level of performance. Aesthetes may not appreciate the army-style look and feel but they stayed firmly in our ears on every type of session, performed brilliantly in torrential downpours and handled being treated indelicately. The controls could be less fiddly but you get used to them and, for the price, they’re lacking in additional features, but overall these were a pleasure to wear.
Best for fit
You can’t get a better fit than bespoke, which is exactly what the Snugs Wireless Magnet offer. Moulds are taken of your ears (at a participating audiologist) and then customised silicone buds (sweat-, water- and degradation-proof) are sent on to you, designed to fit perfectly over the earphone drivers. On the downside, sound quality is a little tinny, the volume doesn’t go up high enough and the four-hour battery life is on the modest side.
Best for safe running
One of the most comfortable earphones we’ve tried, the AfterShokz Trekz Air’s bone conduction technology mean they sit against the cheekbones, not in the ear, transmitting sound to the inner ear. Music quality, especially bass, suffers with bone conduction, and while it was better than expected, it wasn’t as rich as you get with in-ear devices. Battery charge lasts six hours.
They are pricey, but if you want exceptional comfort and the confidence that comes with being aware of ambient sounds, look no further.
Best for low weight
The smart twist-lock feature of the JBL Endurance Peak means they won’t shake loose no matter how much you channel Paula Radcliffe’s nodding dog routine. They’re very lightweight and, on one occasion when not listening to music, we actually forgot we were wearing them.
We loved the ‘powerhook’ technology, which means they automatically turn on or off whenever you put them on or remove them. The microphone was impressively powerful when receiving calls and the controls are logically set out. A pair of running headphones where your money is spent on ease of experience.
Best for out-and-out sound quality
As you might expect from a brand with Bose’s heritage, the best thing about the Soundsport Wireless headphones was the effortlessly great sound quality. The earbuds sit on the outside of your ear canal rather than being twisted partway into it as other models often are.
On the upside, this makes for safer running as you can hear some ambient noise around you, but if you’re wearing them on public transport the likelihood is your neighbours will clock that you’re secretly listening to Enya if you have the volume turned up high.
Battery life is sub-optimal (a shade under four hours) and the placement of the battery pack and remote drags one side down a little unless you use the clip to secure the cable to your top for stability. But if you run for short distances of an hour or less and want crystal clear sound above all else, these are a great option.
Best for easy use on the move
The controls on the Skullcandy Method Sport Wireless neckband are nice and big and incredibly easy to use, Bluetooth connectivity is almost instant every time, noise cancelling is better than average (albeit with some residual leakage), and the battery life is excellent – a 30-minute charge will get you eight hours of use.
There’s just one issue: the one-size-fits-all neckband can be a little rigid and restrictive depending on your neck size, so it’s worth trying before you buy. But overall these do the job, and for your money you get a highly functional, robust pair of headphones.
Best for build quality
The Sennheiser CX Sport certainly passed the weatherproof test – our first run was a 12-miler in a downpour and they sailed through without a hitch. Sound quality was good, offering a nice balance between bass, volume and letting just enough ambient noise in to stay aware of our surroundings. They’re also very comfortable, as we didn’t have to ram them halfway down our ear canal to get them to stay in.
Best for Bluetooth connectivity
The only thing that stopped the Monster iSport Victory from scoring higher was the feeling that we had to handle them with care. Nothing fell apart, but some parts just looked plasticky and we were dubious about longevity – although we must stress they survived the testing process perfectly well and were a joy to wear.
There are five different sizes of earbuds to choose from to help you get a fit that’s rock solid. Sound quality is among the best we’ve come across, with a great balance of bass, mid and treble.