The best headphones for running and sport
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.
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.
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.
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.
Headphones are listed roughly in the order we rate them, starting with our current favourite, which now also happens to be £50 cheaper than when it launched…
Gibson Trainer Ti100
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. We have been using 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.
There's also your more traditional silicone earphone tips. These are pointless for running, in our opinion, but the audio on these earphones, and their actually pretty stylish design does justify using them as everyday earphones, rather than for exercise only.
The Trainer Ti100 is definitely not the most rugged earphone in its class, but we've used it most days for eight months now, and it's still going strong. This could be down to the 'Zylon fibre-reinforced cable, the same used in cutting-edge F1 cars.'
It's not surprising the Ti100 feels a little flimsy as it weighs just 14g, and looks and feels very nice indeed compared to the chunky plastic aesthetic nightmare wrought by most running-specific earphones.
Whenever we've used other other sports headphones over the past six months, we've always ended up going back to the Trainer. The design of its remote, the quality of its audio, the way it fits in the ear and the overall weighting of it is exemplary.
Audio is better than any rival here, except perhaps the Sennheiser. The six hours or so of battery life is rather good, when you consider the incredibly light weight.
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 launched at £150, which was perhaps pushing it a bit, but is now heading south of £100.
T3 rating 4/5
£100 | Buy Gibson Trainer Ti100
Monster ROC Sport SuperSlim
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, really.
T3 rating 4/5
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.
T3 rating 4/5
£100 | Buy Panasonic BTS50
Aftershokz Trekz Titanium
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.
T3 rating 4/5
Bose isn't the first brand you'd think of when it comes to sporty audio, but it's actually the official provider of wireless headsets to coaches in the NFL, so there's actually quite the athletic pedigree to these (non-wireless) earphones.
The brand 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.
T3 rating 4/5
£80 | Buy Bose Soundsport
Sennheiser PMX 686G
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.
T3 rating 4/5
£70 | Buy Sennheiser PMX686G
Monster Adidas Sport Response
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.
T3 rating 4/5
From £40 | Buy Monster Adidas Sport Response
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…
T3 rating 3/5
£50 | Buy Sony MDR-AS600BTB
If your budget is more Gola than Nike, these sporty, wired headphones are well worth a look. They’ll stay in place thanks to a clip that goes around your ear, and have an adjustable earbud nozzle to ensure a perfect fit. Partner this with a dual-coiled cord that you can tie around the back of your neck, and you’ve got a pair that aren’t going anywhere.
They even sound pretty good. Bass is impressive, and the 9mm speaker unit gives tunes plenty of oomph. Runners on a shoestring, look no further.
£30 | Buy Pioneer SE-E721
Jabra Sport Pulse Wireless
In-ear headphones with a heart rate monitor and virtual personal trainer built in, these really are some of the best running buds you can buy. They've always had reliability issues, but as they're now more than £100 cheaper than when launched, that's easier to live with.
They're wireless, so there are no cables to get caught up in your running kit and flailing arms, but it's the nifty pulse tracking that steals the show. Not only is it accurate enough to be useful - not something that can be said for every HR tracker that doesn't strap to your chest - but it also, via an Android and iOS app on your phone, gives live audio feedback on your current beats per minute and heart rate zone.
You can choose a workout beforehand and it'll tell you to work harder to push your heart rate up through the zones, and you can also call on your phone's GPS to get distance updates and map your run. Data collected is then available for further perusal, post-workout.
We'd question the short, four-hour battery life, and we never managed to get them to work consistently, but these are still a decent pair of cans for the money, with punchy, clear audio.
T3 rating 3/5
Gibson Trainer TH100
A on-ear sibling to the Ti100, these Bluetooth, wireless headphones are unusual in the fitness market.
With Gibson's pedigree and the size and price of these things, it's not surprising to find that they sound excellent. In fact, probably the best of all the headphones on this list. There's plenty of volume if you need it, enough bass, without being overbearing, and exemplary clarity.
They're very light, but perhaps inevitably, comfort is not as good as with the best in-ears. We started to get a bit weary of wearing them after 45 minutes or so, but that's fine for most runs or gym visits.
They also don't stay in place as well as the best in-ears, although a second, pop-out headband does give impressive stability when you're being poetry in motion.
There are some negatives here. The main one being that we contrived to break the thin, pop-out band by putting it in a gym bag. It's still usable with just the main band, but you do lose the extra stability. Yes, we should have been more careful but fitness headphones should be able to take a bit of abuse. They also acquire a bit of an aroma if you sweat on them a lot.
Volume up and down buttons a bit on the small side and harder to find when running than we'd like, and there is a LOT of sound leakage, so wearing them on the tube to the gym might be ill-advised. Run instead.
So while we've got reservations, overall the Gibson Trainer genuinely made us look forward to a run. They sound great, feel comfortable when you're working out despite their comparative bulk, and battery life seems to be around 10 hours, which is fine.
A lot of people can't stand in-ear headphones. They should give the Gibson Trainer a listen - just don't batter it about too much when the second band is popped out. The price is a bit much, though.
T3 rating 3/5
£200 | Buy Gibson Trainer TH100
SMS Audio BioSport
This really is wearable tech, rather than just a pair of earphones; as with the Jabra Pulse, there's a built-in heart rate monitor in the SMS Audio BioSport. That means you don't have to strap one to your chest or wrist, which can only be a good thing.
Intel’s inbuilt optical sensor is sufficiently subtle that you wouldn’t guess these lightweight, waterproof headphones really can measure your heart rate as you exercise. But they can and they do so without the need of a battery - they draw power from your smartphone, which also displays your HR data via the RunKeeper app.
Even better, the monitoring is reasonably accurate, although if you're really into strict zone training, maybe not accurate enough. The fact that there's a mic and control button but no volume controls is irksome, as is the fact that HR tracking cuts out if you activate the mic, but the main problem with this is they sound fairly mediocre. However, they do deliver a lot of tech for your money, undeniably.
Bottom line: if you fancy Jabra's similar earphones but don't have quite the necessary budget, or are put off by their short battery life, these are a decent enough alternative, especially now the price has plunged from the original £100+ RRP, as retailers dump remaining stocks.
T3 rating 3/5