10 best running headphones to soundtrack epic exercise, running the big miles and hitting the gym

Sweat-resistant, workout-friendly earphones with great sound quality, at a price to suit you

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, or running to the hills, like Iron Maiden.

The Optoma NuForce BE Sport3 is the best pair of  running headphones at the moment. 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. 

If you're a runner or gym goer who demands decent audio, lightness, comfort and an unshakeable fit, the Optoma NuForce BE Sport3 is right at the top of the heap. 

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.

So, lace up your running shoes, strap a smartphone to your arm and prepare for musical motivation.

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.

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.

Headphones are listed in the order we rate them, starting with our current favourite, which now also happens to be considerably cheaper than when it launched…

The 12 best fitness headphones you can buy today

These are the best sports headphones to buy, in order of preference.

1. Optoma NuForce BE Sport3

Great fit and sound, incredibly light

Astounding audio for the size
Brilliant fit: secure but comfortable
Weirdly slow Bluetooth pairing
Expensive

Replacing the Trainer in-ears as the ultimate running/fitness earphones is the NuForce BE Sport3, from the Optoma stable.

These are easily good enough to use as day-to-day headphones, 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 great anchoring without sacrificing comfort.

The price is perfectly reasonable given the quality of the Optoma NuForce BE Sport3. That name is the only unwieldy thing about them, too: they're incerdibly light, yet still last 8-10 hours between charges.

My only 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.

2. Gibson Trainer Ti100

Top quality audio

Fantastic audio quality
Not particularly rugged
Quite pricey, considering the above

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.

3. Monster ROC Sport SuperSlim

Secure fastening even under pressure

Noise isolation
Very secure
Bass-heavy

Monster seems to be having the tech equivalent of a mid-life crisis following its divorce from Beats, but it still makes some of the best running/sports earphones you can buy. Cristiano Ronaldo endorses this particular model, but don't let that put you off. Its patented SportsClip keeps it fastened to your shell-likes no matter how vigorous your workout, and it doubles as a handsfree kit, should you want to speak to someone while you're a sweaty, breathless mess.

The Apt-X Bluetooth, coupled with excellent noise isolation from the rock solid fit means audio is forceful and free from background noise. Some people don't like Monster's signature, bass-heavy sound, but for soundtracking workouts, there's just no arguing with it. The on-ear volume/track skip/call controls are very intuitive, too.

This is very expensive, and the gold finish may seem a little vulgar, but there's no denying that this is quality. A perfect audio mirror of Ronaldo himself, then.

4. Panasonic BTS50

Olympic quality headphones

Good sound quality
Difficult remote control
Disappointing battery life

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.

5. Bose Soundsport

Not your regular sporty headphone

Excellent sound quality
Separate models for iPhone and Android

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.

6. Sennheiser PMX 686G

Very strong, wired option

Bulletproof build
Decent sound
Fiddly
Not much bass

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.

7. Monster iSport Freedom 2

The best on-ear option

Decent sound
Robust build
Long battery life
They're on-ear headphones for exercise
Dodgy touch controls

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.

8. Aftershokz Trekz Titanium

Uses bone conduction technology

Excellent bone conduction tech
Comfortable
Lack of bass
Not for musical purists

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.

9. Monster Adidas Sport Response

Straight-forward, s**t-cheap, in-ear headphones

Comfortable
Good audio for the price
Not waterproof (do withstand sweat though)
Muddy upper mid to treble range

An excellent, few-frills in-ear headphone from Monster. The green one (£55) has an in-line mic and buttons so you can make and receive calls and control volume and skip tracks. The blue and grey ones (£40) do not.

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, with plenty of bottom end, though admittedly the upper mid to treble range is quite muddy. They do enough to carry a tune, especially if it's something forceful and rhythmic. We've happily worn these as day-to-day earphones, when not working out.

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 40 quid, it's not like they're a stretch to replace.

10. Sony MDR-AS600BTB

NFC enabled headphones

Typically good Sony audio
NFC for easy pairing
Not overly comfortable or stylish

The styling and comfort levels may not be the best but this is still a Bluetooth wireless steal at under 50 quid.

It lasts a very reasonable 8.5 hours on a single charge, which is long enough for even the wheeziest of us to complete a marathon. And It's splashproof, which will come in handy when the heavens open come mile 17.

Sony's Sony MDR-AS600BTB is also one of the few sports headphones to feature NFC, meaning you can pair them by just touching them with your compatible smartphone. It's not compatible? Jog on, then…