The best running headphones 2017 for gym, exercise and pavement-pounding

Sweat-resistant, wireless and wired earphones for running and work outs with the best sound, whatever your budget

TODO alt text

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 and the more premium, tech-packed and true wireless Jabra Elite Sport.

If you prefer headphones that let through sound from the outside world (for instance, a double decker bus bearing down on you at 30mph), go for the Sennheiser PMX 686G (wired) or Urbanears Stadion (Bluetooth).

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.

Road runners may well want headphones that let through more background sound rather than blocking it out entirely (I don't, and so far I've never been hit by a truck). Those more cautious outdoor athletes should definitely consider the Sennheiser or Urbanears headphones on this list.

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

These are the best sports headphones to buy, in order of preference, starting with our current favourite

1. Optoma NuForce BE Sport3

Great fit and sound, incredibly light

Reasons to buy
+Astounding audio for the size+Brilliant fit: secure but comfortable+Cheap as chips
Reasons to avoid
-Weirdly slow Bluetooth pairing
Today's best deals

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: they're incredibly light, yet the 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 some 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

Reasons to buy
+Unshakeable fit+Reliable connection+Decent enough sound
Reasons to avoid
-Slightly iffy battery life
Today's best deals

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, most people don't listen to Vivaldi or Tracy Chapman 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. Jabra Elite Sport

The best true wireless running headphones, with pulse tracking too

Reasons to buy
+Cutting-edge tech+Decent sound+Secure fit+Accurate pulse tracking
Reasons to avoid
-Not overly comfortable-Short battery life-Expensive
Today's best deals

If you like to be at the cutting edge of audio-based fitness tech, look no further than the Jabra Elite Sport. 

The most popular types of running and gym headphones in recent years have been Bluetooth ones with a cable between them. These are great, but that cable, no matter how secure the hooks on the earbuds themselves, will snag on the back of your neck, and the little volume control bit, will mean weight distribution is uneven. And that, to a lesser or greater extent, depending on the headphones in question, will irritate you.

With 'true wireless' buds, that's not a problem as there are no wires and no remote control units. Most true wireless earbuds aren't sealed against sweat, but Jabra's Elite Sport are, as the name suggests.

They also boast accurate pulse monitoring – yes, via the blood moving through your ears – and an Android/iOS app that can keep you up to date with speed, distance, average pulse rate and workout intensity, all via voice cues.

The app also tries to sort out an exercise programme for you to hit goals such as maintaining or increasing overall fitness. I found this didn't work very well at all, as it just never seemed to learn or adjust to my fitness level. 

As a result, I gave up on that element, but despite that and the high price, I do like these Jabras a lot. They are about as good as true wireless buds get in terms of battery life (4.5 hours per charge, which is actually long by true wireless standards), the forceful sound quality is quite impressive – certainly well suited to most peoples' workout-type music – and although I wouldn't exactly call these bulky buds comfortable, they're bearable for 1-2 hours – long enough for most of us – and the fit is very secure indeed.

Given they also give a lot of potentially useful metrics when paired with your phone, I'd say the Jabra Elite Sport are worth a listen.

4. Urbanears Stadion

Best running headphones for situational awareness

Reasons to buy
+Secure fit but ambient sound does penetrate+Good value for money 
Reasons to avoid
-Control via the back of your neck

Rather like the Optoma BeSport 3, I didn't necessarily expect much from the Stadion headphones from hipsters' fave, Urbanears. However, it's actually a great pair of headphones for running.

Because the Stadion has a solid (but not uncomfortable) neck band, and springy, coiled cables, running to hooked earbuds, it pulls off the unlikely feat of an unshakeable fit, without totally blocking out the world around you.

Personally, I don't like that, but I know many runners and cyclists would like to be able to hear large, wheeled objects bearing down on them when on the roads, and some people, more bizarrely, even want to be able to hear the ambience of their local gym.

Well, the Stadion is just the ticket for those people. Add perfectly decent audio, 7 hours of battery life per charge and a choice of attractive colourways, and you can even forgive that the control buttons are, mystifyingly, placed on the part that sits directly on the back of your neck, thereby rendering them largely useless. 

5. Beats Powerbeats3

Among the better Beats by Dre heapdhones

Reasons to buy
+Gym-friendly sound+Decent battery life
Reasons to avoid
-Not the snuggest fit-A bit overpriced
Today's best deals

A lot of punters moan about headphones from the Apple-owned Beats by Dre being overtly bassy and punchy, but that is no bad thing when you're talking about running/gym headphones.

These offer rapid pairing with Apple devices via the W1 chip (a sort of typically Apple-esque 'Bluetooth with knobs on' concept) and also pair perfectly fine via 'normal' Bluetooth with non-W1-compatible devices.

I enjoyed using the Powerbeats3 a lot; the sound is great, battery lasts a good 10-12 hours and you can also charge them up for 5 minutes and get an hour's play out of them – very handy at times.

On the other hand, I found the ear-hook design didn't give as good a fit as the headphones above it in the list, and the price consequently feels too high, compared to the Monster, Urbanears and Optoma offerings.

6. Bose SoundSport Pulse

Best sports headphones with pulse tracking

Reasons to buy
+Very good sound+Comfortable fit+Reliable heart-rate tracking
Reasons to avoid
-Expensive
Today's best deals

 

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. 

…And if you must have everything one by device, the true wireless Jabras are a better option, for about the same money.

7. Panasonic BTS50

Olympic quality headphones

Reasons to buy
+Good sound quality
Reasons to avoid
-Difficult remote control-Disappointing battery life
Today's best deals

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 – you'd think with their relative bulk, there'd be room for a bigger battery.

8. Bose SoundSport

An audio-only version of SoundSport Pulse

Reasons to buy
+Excellent sound quality
Reasons to avoid
-Separate models for iPhone and Android
Today's best deals

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.

9. Sennheiser PMX 686G

Very strong, wired option for positional awareness

Reasons to buy
+Bulletproof build+Decent sound
Reasons to avoid
-Fiddly-Not much bass
Today's best deals

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.

10. Monster iSport Freedom 2

Best on-ear running and gym headphones

Reasons to buy
+Decent sound+Robust build+Long battery life
Reasons to avoid
-On-ear headphones for exercise?-Dodgy touch controls
Today's best deals

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.

11. Aftershokz Trekz Titanium

Best bone conduction headphones for running

Reasons to buy
+Cool bone conduction tech+Comfortable
Reasons to avoid
-Lack of bass-Not for musical purists
Today's best deals

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.