Looking to soundtrack your path to fitness? These are the best running earphones to plug in and help you stay motivated whether you're hunkered down in a gym, hitting the road, biking, kayaking, or running to the hills, like Iron Maiden.
The Optoma NuForce BE Sport3 is the best pair of running headphones for pure audio quality. They're comfortable, sound excellent, they're very light and well weighted, and the battery life of 8-10 hours is pretty impressive, considering their tiny size.
However, if you prefer something more pumping and rugged – I've seen some very negative feedback around the BE Sport 3's longevity, although mine is still going strong after six months of sweaty abuse – I also highly recommend the slightly less sweet-sounding Monster iSport Victory.
How to choose the best running headphones for you
A decent pair of sports headphones are a very worthy investment. Research has shown that the right type and tempo of tune can keep you in the zone for longer, and we've all ran up park steps to a suitably bombastic soundtrack like we're Rocky. Even if we've then keeled over at the top.
The key here is a secure but comfortable fit, with sound performance good enough to keep you motivated and happy when you're pushing yourself to the limits.
After years of using headphones during runs, gym visits and rugged, outdoor pursuits of all kinds, we'd say fit is more important than being rugged. In fact, a pair of standard, non-sport earphones can work perfectly well if they anchor in your ears well.
Presumably some people sweat more profusely than us - Christiano Ronaldo, for one - or live in places where it rains torrentially at all times, or are particularly rough with their headphones. If that's you, go for one of the chunkier models here.
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The other main thing to consider here is whether you want traditional wired or Bluetooth wireless 'phones.
The former offer an unshakeable audio connection with no battery life issues, but the latter gives more freedom, and less risk of yanking out/breaking the cable (because there isn't one) albeit at the expense of having one more thing to charge and occasional audio drop-outs. These are inevitable if you keep your music player in a hip pocket but tend to be less frequent if you have them higher up your body.
Most of these are Bluetooth, though, cos that's the way the market's going.
They're also suitable, to a greater or lesser extent, for cycling (be aware of the safety implications here though, please guys), pumping iron, cross training, and anything else you can do whilst listening to music and sweating profusely.
The 12 best fitness headphones you can buy today
1. Optoma NuForce BE Sport3
Great fit and sound, incredibly light
One of the two choices for the ultimate running/fitness earphones, the NuForce BE Sport3, from the Optoma stable offers the best sound quality of any of these products.
They are easily good enough to use as day-to-day headphones, in fact, with fantastic clarity and plenty of bass.
Comfort is exemplary, although if you prefer to be able to hear the world around you whilst exercising – I don't – these won't be to your liking, because their noise isolation is very good.
The choice of tips includes different size buds and a choice of in-ear hooks. These give very anchoring without sacrificing comfort. The Monster iSport Victory is even better in terms of unshakeable fit, but they're not quite as comfortable.
The price is also very reasonable given the quality of the Optoma NuForce BE Sport3. That name is the only unwieldy thing about them, too: they're incredibly light, yet that tiny battery still lasts 8-10 hours between charges.
My one major criticism is that the Bluetooth pairing is curiously slow – you have to hold down the power button for six agonising seconds – and even once it announces that your 'primary device is connected', audio continues to come out of the phone's speaker for a few more seconds.
I also have to acknowledge that 20 or so punters on Amazon have encountered technical and/or longevity issues with their BE Sport3. I can only say that apart from the irritatingly slow Bluetooth connectivity, mine are still going after six months of very vigorous and sweaty use.
2. Monster iSport Victory
The best pure 'sports' earphones you can get
These are an interesting counterpoint to the NuForce BE Sport 3. There's not a great deal to tell between them, and your choice could boil down to whether you value sound quality or more traditional 'sports headphones' design.
Thanks to a wide range of tips and wings, the iSport Victory can be made to sit pretty much unshakeably in your ears. As such, although they are slightly less comfortable than their NuForce rival, they are better suited to really vigorous exercise.
They also pair via Bluetooth more quickly and reliably than the NuForce, with a clear voice announcing the battery level (high, medium or low) as well.
Although it's hard to be certain about such things until the earphones actually wear out, Victory also feels more ruggedly constructed than the NuForce.
On the other hand, this is a bit less musical than its rival, with Monster going for a more standard 'pumping' sound. But then, to be fair, nobody listens to Donovan or Vivaldi at the gym, and they do sound suitably 'motivational' when pumping out bass-laced power tunes. I just wouldn't use them for general, non-exercise-related listening, which I do with the NuForce.
One other thing to note: they actually only sound suitably motivational, pumping (etc) so long as the 'Sport' mode is activated (by pushing down both volume controls for a few seconds). In standard, 'Warm Up' mode they're a bit weedy.
As I felt the need to permanently keep it in Sport mode, battery life also suffers slightly in comparison to the NuForce. I'd say I get about 6-7 hours per charge, to the NuSport's 8-10.
Overall, the qualitative difference between the Monster and the NuForce is so slender that I've copped out and made them joint top. In a nutshell: NuForce = better sound and battery. Monster = better pairing and gym-friendliness.
Your choice could easily come down to which happens to be cheaper this week.
3. Bose SoundSport Pulse
Best sports headphones with pulse tracking
Bose might be better known for its pricey audiophile fodder, but these are its first headphones with a built-in heart rate monitor. And it’s integrated the tech very nicely indeed.
Jabra is Bose's obvious rival in this field but I've always found its Pulse earphones to be unreliable and not great sounding. To be fair I've not tried its more recent Elite offering, but that's because they have a battery life of three hours and look like that thing Uhuru used to wear in her ear in Star Trek.
This Bose offering, despite not being noticeably bulkier than a standard pair, manages to sound better than Jabra's older model, and reads your heart rate at least as well.
Unlike Jabra, Bose hasn't bothered to knock up a training app, but that's fine as instead it works with any Bluetooth-accessory-compatible third-party app, from Strava to Runkeeper.
The headphones are intelligent enough to know when they’re not in correctly. On one run, when I tried to read my heart rate, the voice instructed me to adjust the left earpiece – and sure enough, that worked.
Not only do the SoundSport Pulse fit firmly yet comfortably, they also sound very good, for running headphones. There's plenty of motivational bottom end, but without muddying the mids and highs excessively. They sound notably better than the Jabras.
There are three caveats here and they all relate to the inclusion of pulse tracking. Firstly, battery life is a sub-par 4-5 hours. Secondly, the price is way higher than the two models above the SoundSport Pulse in this list.
Thirdly, and perhaps this is just a personal thing, I don't quite see why you'd want to track your pulse via your earphones. Just get a 50 quid chest strap and a cheaper pair of earphones, would be my advice.
4. Gibson Trainer Ti100
Top quality audio
The Ti100 is a comfortable, excellent sounding pair of Apt-X Bluetooth earphones that's very light, well weighted, and has a flashing light on the back for night running. This can be turned off via the main button, although because it controls the light, you can't use it to skip tracks in the way you do with most earphones.
A choice of in-ear tips is provided. I used the athlete-specific, hooked style, which are far better for running and other exercise. With the hooked tips, the Ti100 feels well anchored in your ear, but without the "deep-penetration" feel of many sports headphones. Crucially, although they feel looser and less invasive, they don't fall out.
If you're a runner or gym goer who demands better audio, and rates lightness and comfort over ruggedised isolation, the Trainer Ti100 is right at the top of the heap.
It used to be my favourite, in fact, but mine died after just less than a year of use, which seems a bit poor at the price.
5. Panasonic BTS50
Olympic quality headphones
This is a much more traditional type of sports headphone than the Gibson Trainer Ti100, and is the official headphone of Team GB for Rio 2016, no less.
As such, it hooks over your ears - which is a little tricky if you wear glasses, but fine with practice - before the rubber tips plunge into your ear canals for an unshakeable fit that blocks out the world around you.
The fit is hard to argue with, and sound quality, via Apt-X Bluetooth, is very good. However, neither comfort nor audio are as good as Gibson's headphones. It's just not as 'musical' as the Trainer Ti100, nor as lightweight.
The remote control could use some rethinking too. The buttons are too close together and not raised or textured enough, which makes finding the button you want more of a chore than it should be when you're trying to exercise, or upping the pace of a run.
We are nitpicking slightly here, however, and if you want an Olympic-grade workout buddy, the Panasonic BTS50 delivers.You also get blue LED lighting, a mic for calls and a slightly disappointing six hours of battery life - the same as the Trainer Ti100, even though there appears to be far more space into which to cram the battery.
6. Bose SoundSport
Not your regular sporty headphone
Bose might not the first brand you think of when it comes to sporty audio, but it's actually the official provider of wireless headsets to coaches in the NFL, so that shows what YOU know, buster.
There's actually quite the athletic pedigree to these (non-wireless) earphones.
Bose has covered these earbuds, which come in three sizes, with a hydrophobic cloth that keeps sweat out while not restricting the sound quality and flow. They come with an in-line mic and an extension cable for versatility, plus a carry case, because Bose. Does anyone actually ever use headphone carry cases? There's also a choice of five colours.
Sound quality is excellent, but do note that there's a model for iPhone and a model for Android (and no model for any other type of phone), so do pick the right one.
They'll work as audio products with any music player, but your choice of model determines whether the call receive and music control buttons will work properly.
7. Sennheiser PMX 686G
Very strong, wired option
This headset isn't wireless, but it's the next best thing. The cable has an oval cross-section, meaning it won't get tangled when you toss it in your bag post-workout, and is also made of kevlar, so it's ultra strong.
Sound is typically good, for Sennheiser, but because these are designed for 'situational awareness' rather than isolation, you shouldn't expect huge swathes of bass. If you prefer something deeper in terms of both music response and ear canal penetration, consider the Sennheiser CX686G instead.
The round-the-back-of-your-head fit is a bit fiddly, but workable.
There are versions of this for Android and iOS, so the cord-mounted controls behave as you'd expect on your device, and a mic is also provided for calls.
8. Monster Adidas Performance Response
Straight-forward, s**t-cheap, in-ear headphones
An excellent, few-frills, in-ear headphone from Monster, these are discontinued and basically being given away.
The great thing about these, for those who aren't averse to shoving things down their ear canals, is that once in place they are pretty much impossible to dislodge, thanks to the hooks that sit within the curves of your outer ear. Despite this, they're not uncomfortable at all, and are able to withstand sweat, "look at me, I'm tired" head waggling and the usual tugging and shifting that you always get with wired earphones.
Sound quality, clearly, is not going to be audiophile grade, but full credit to Monster: these sound good for what they cost, even when first released (about £50) with plenty of bottom end, though admittedly the upper mid to treble range is quite muddy.
Considering they now cost about the same as a bottle of protein shake, and are more than good enough to carry a pumping, run-friendly tune, these are now actually very recommendable, while stocks last.
Continuing our habit of destroying headphones, we did once manage to kill a pair of these stone dead by putting it in a water-filled, post-shower ear. That was a bit disappointing, but at this price, who gives a toss?
9. Monster iSport Freedom 2
Best on-ear running and gym headphones
Who in their right mind wants to have on-ear headphones on when their head is a sweaty mess?
I dunno, but such people could definitely fulfil their bizarre needs in worse ways than with the Monster iSport Freedom headphones.
Yes, they're bulky compared to everything else here, expensive, and the touch controls take considerable work to get used to.
But on the other hand they're sweat-proof – which of course they need to be, as you will sweat BUCKETS of ear sweat – and, in fact, washable. They also sound great, and due to being huge, can fit a battery that lasts for 24 long, sweaty, hot-eared hours.
I'm not sold on the concept, but if you actually prefer old-school headphones to in-ears for gym and running, you go right ahead and be my guest, now.
10. Aftershokz Trekz Titanium
Best bone conduction headphones for running
The big advantage of the Aftershokz Trekz Titanium is that it doesn't block your ear canal, meaning that as well as enjoying the music, you can hear approaching cars and buses. Which is particularly handy for cyclists who want to go on living.
It's able to do this because of bone conduction technology – the heads sit just next to your ear, and transmit sound through your cheekbone to your inner ear. That also means you won't damage your ears from excessive volume.
We've heard bone conduction headphones before and been a tad disappointed, but these ones work. Even with the volume cranked up, we were able to hear every bus and angry cabbie while cycling down London's Holloway Road, and the Aftershokz Trekz Titanium is so lightweight and comfortable it's easy to forget you're wearing it.
By definition, you lose some of the sound quality as a result, and so, while the sound is punchy, bass is lacking, and like other open-ear headphones, everyone else can hear what you're listening to.
Connecting to your phone via Bluetooth is simple, and its waterproof, sweatproof and dustproof. The Aftershokz Trekz Titanium also scrunches up to fit in a pocket, before pinging back to its normal shape when required, so it'll withstand being buried at the bottom of your bag.
The Aftershokz Trekz Titanium is not for musical purists, but for soundtracking your cycling, it's hard to beat.