Choosing the best pair of workout headphones is like picking the perfect workout: tough to track down, but so worth the effort. Whether you’re new to the fitness game or you’ve been a gym-goer for years, it’s probably about time to treat yourself an upgraded pair.
Of course, there’s no one ideal pair of headphones for any particular type of athlete, but there are a few key features (Bluetooth, high sound quality, tight fit) that set certain models apart. And remember: As long as your headphones keep you motivated to get moving, they’re a success.
How to choose the best pair of workout headphones
With literally thousands of workout headphones to pick from, it would be so much simpler if they were one-size-fits-all. But the advantage of so many options is that you can zero in on the features that best suit your workouts, then find a pair that has them all. Here are the major factors to focus on:
Consider all shapes and sizes.
We all work out in unique ways, meaning our headphones should perform differently, too. If you’re planning on doing a ton of cardio, your headphones should remain in your ears during even the most vigorous movements. Bikers might not actually want anything in their ears, and some states even restrict the kinds of headphones that they can wear. If you like to use machines at the gym, you might prefer over-ear models that are easy to slip on and off.
Another big thing to consider is the way the headphones fit inside your ears. If you’ve found, for example, that squishy earbuds don’t usually work for you, your workout headphones probably shouldn’t rely on them to stay in your ears, explains Sonja R. Price Herbert, an antiracism educator and the founder of Black Girl Pilates. Ear hooks, straps, or over-ear headphones could fix this problem. (Herbert herself can’t keep those squishy buds in her ears, so her headphones of choice are made of hard plastic.)
Check the IPX rating.
Shocker: Athletes sweat. Some headphones aren’t up to the challenge, so keep an eye on the waterproof rating on your pair of choice. The IP (or “ingress protection”) standard is the most widely used measure of waterproofing, ranging from IPX0, meaning the tech has no protection from liquids, to IPX8, meaning the tech is able to be submerged deeper than one meter of water. IPX ratings are not permanent, meaning that your headphones could become less resistant over time.
Start looking around IPX4, which means that the headphones are rain- and sweat-resistant. IPX6-rated devices should be able to hold up to quick rinsing after a particularly sweaty workout, and IPX7-rated ones can withstand being submerged in less than a meter of water for up to half an hour. (IP55- and IP57-rated tech is graded on a different scale, but is sweat-resistant.) Non-rated headphones should be fine if you don’t plan on getting particularly sweaty.
“Cardio enthusiasts should make sure that they are using headphones that are water- and sweat-resistant,” says Natalie Hanson, champion powerlifter and owner and coach at Corvus Strength Co. Lifters and machine-users, however, will likely be able to get away with less waterproofing, she says.
Calculate the battery life.
Obviously, ultra-marathoners and HIIT devotees are going to be working out for different lengths of time. But no matter where you fall on the scale, you should at least consider how long you’ll need your headphones to be working consistently—or how quickly (and how easily) they can charge.
Earbuds, for example, might have shorter battery lives, but many come with special charging cases that can provide an extra hour of play in just a few minutes. On the other hand, wired headphones usually don’t need to be charged, but they must remain plugged into your phone for the entire duration of your workout, which can be a drag. If you can’t work out without music, this might just be the most important step of your decision.
To pick out the very best workout headphones available right now, we combed through countless online reviews, quizzed fitness experts, and even tested a few for ourselves—and we’re confident that these Bluetooth-enabled, sweat-resistant picks will keep you moving well into 2021 and beyond.
Jaybird Vista Earbuds
$149.99 (17% off)
IPX7 | 6 hours
Jaybird’s Vista earbuds offer just about everything you’d want in a pair of Bluetooth workout headphones, including hardy construction, a design that keeps the buds firmly in your ears, and a great range of sound. Trainer Adele Jackson-Gibson also recently named them our favorite headphones in Prevention’s 2021 Fitness Awards—they really are the best of the best.
Mpow Flame Headphones
IPX7 | 7 hours
Great workout headphones don’t have to cost an arm and a leg. Case in point: these over-ear options, which are ideal for cardio lovers and have over 40,000 5-star ratings on Amazon. Flames don’t have the bells and whistles of more expensive models, but they hold an impressive charge and fit comfortably and securely for less than $20, reviewers report.
Not rated | 5 hours
Apple’s now-ubiquitous AirPods are both Herbert’s and Hanson’s top pick. “These work so much better [than others], especially with movement,” Herbert says. Hanson, meanwhile, calls these options the only ones she’s found with no “significant drawbacks.” (We’ve also tested them at the gym and can confirm that they’re more sweat-resistant than advertised.)
Best for Cardio
Jabra Elite Active 75t Earbuds
$149.99 (25% off)
IP57 | 5.5 hours
Cardio junkies will get a ton out of Jabra’s time-honored ear buds, which boast active noise-cancelation, deep bass, and a slim profile that’s tough to accidentally knock out of your ears. And don’t worry about intense workouts: “I couldn’t get them out of my ears unless I physically took them out,” one reviewer writes. “Sweat all you like, these buds will keep going.”
Best for Runners
Beats Powerbeats Headphones
$119.00 (21% off)
IPX4 | 15 hours
With an impressive battery, adjustable sound quality, and easy integration with Apple products, Powerbeats are a great pick for just about anyone. Runners, especially, love these things, which stay in place with handy ear hooks and a connecting wire. Amazon shoppers have also awarded them an impressive 4.6-star average.
Best for Cyclists
AfterShokz Titanium Headphones
IP55 | 6 hours
AfterShokz’s signature headphones don’t contain speakers at all—they use bone conduction, which sends mini-vibrations through your cheekbones, to transmit your music. (It sounds weird, but that’s also how we hear our own voices.) Because they don’t block your ears at all, you’ll also be able to hear everything around you with zero impediments, making them ideal for outdoor cyclists and runners.
Best for Gym Rats
Bose SoundLink II Headphones
Not rated | 15 hours
Bose’s ultra-long-lasting headphones aren’t technically waterproof, but that hasn’t stopped machine-lovers from taking them to the gym. “I love that they are wireless,” one reviewer writes. “I don’t have to worry about a cord getting in the way when working out.” And their top-shelf sound quality also means you can use them for streaming, gaming, or work, too.
Best Fitting Earbuds
Bose Sport Earbuds
IPX4 | 5 hours
Bose’s Sport earbuds can pick up a two-hour life from just 15 minutes of charging, a feature Hanson recommends for lifters and gym-goers. If your headphones die, it’s not the end of the world—just pop them in the case and take a breather. Reviewers also love their fit and audio quality, making them a good overall pick.
Best Wired Headphones
Skullcandy Set in-Ear Earbuds
IPX4 | N/A
If you’re not working with a smartphone or Bluetooth-enabled MP3 player, these wired earbuds are the best way to enjoy your music. Detachable wings keep the switchable buds in your ears, while an attached mic and no battery keep the experience simple. One reviewer even machine washed their pair—and they came out as good as new. (But, you know, try not to do that).
Best Noise-Canceling Headphones
Apple Airpods Pro
IPX4 | 4.5 hours
If you already own an iPhone and want to make the most of your workout headphones, AirPods Pro should be your first choice. Their ear-friendly pods, impressive noise-canceling, ultra-quick charging, and wind-filtering mics make them ideal for athletes of any stripe. And because they’re an Apple product, they integrate seamlessly with your iPhone’s tech—no headaches necessary.
Best Battery Life
Samsung Galaxy Buds+
IPX2 | 11 hours
Endurance athletes, you’re in luck: Galaxy Buds+ hold an 11-hour charge out of the case, plenty of time to last through even the most strenuous workout. But it’s also good news for everyone else, since the long-lasting buds are also ideal for getting through an entire workday plus a workout without stopping the music.
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