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Best workout headphones for 2021

Keep a steady workout rhythm with wireless headphones

In this article: Our top five headphone picks for running and working out...

  1. Best headphones for running — Jaybird Vista 2
  2. Versatile and rugged true wireless headphones — JBL UA Flash
  3. Best on-ear headphones for working out — JBL UA Wireless Train
  4. Best noise cancellation — Sony WF-1000XM4
  5. Best bang-for-your-buck true wireless earbuds — Bose Sport Earbuds

... plus, some advice on the features to look for in sports headphones.

From a boxer’s hustle up the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art to a hopeful Jamaican bobsledding team learning the ropes of the sport, it seems that there’s always a song playing to motivate movie protagonists as they progress and improve. One thing’s for certain — in the real world, music helps increase performance and endurance. In fact, the National Center for Biotechnology Information did an in-depth study showing just that.

If you’re looking to really push yourself and train harder, you’ll need good tunes and an equally good pair of wireless headphones to help you along. There are a few things to consider.

Style and comfort

Wireless headphones come in two flavors: truly wireless and mostly wireless.

Mostly wireless headphones are earbuds that have a cable connecting them that goes behind your neck. True wireless headphones are just as their name implies. There’s no cable connecting the headphones to your phone or to each other. They provide you with a wire-and-tangle-free listening experience. Both styles use Bluetooth to connect to your smartphone.

jbl wireless headphones

True wireless sport headphones don't use a connecting cable, providing a hassle-and-wire-free workout.

Either style will work for most workout routines. If you don’t want the feeling of a wire behind your neck interrupting your reps, go with a truly wireless model. If you’re worried you might lose an earbud while doing burpees or running, then I’d recommend going with a mostly wireless model.

There’s no point in listening to music while you’re pumping iron if the headphones are uncomfortable or constantly falling out. It’s crucial to get a pair that stays firmly in place no matter the intensity of your workout. Thankfully, most earbuds come with different sizes of tips and fins to ensure you get the right fit for your ears.

Sound quality

Being able to get into the groove of your music during a workout is paramount. It’s hard to do that if your headphones are bass-shy, tinny, or otherwise lackluster. Having your ears blasted by weak sound can really mess with your rhythm and grind, so you’ll want to grab a pair that can easily carry all the energy your playlist contains.

vista headphones worn while hiking a tough trail

Whether you're hiking or jogging, sport headphones can keep up even in the most demanding environments.

Weather/sweat resistance and ruggedness

Some years ago, I broke my first pair of true wireless earbuds (cheap-ish ones, thank goodness) while I was hitting the heavy bag in my dad’s garage. I wasn’t aware that the earbuds didn’t have much in the way of sweat/water protection, and after only two sessions, they bit the dust. My disappointment was immeasurable, and my day was ruined. Don’t put yourself in that same situation.

Make sure your workout headphones have, at minimum, an IPX4 rating. If you’re wondering what an IPX rating is and what each rating means, we did an article all about them.

Battery life

Say you have a long gym routine or you're planning on going somewhere after you’re done; you’ll want your headphones to keep up and stay charged while you’re doing your thing. Most models have five or six hours of battery life.

klipsch wireless headphones

True wireless headphones, like Klipsch's T5 II True Wireless Sport earbuds, come with a charging case that stores extra power and extends your listening time.

True wireless earbuds have about the same amount of battery, but there's a nifty twist — their carrying cases double as a charger and offer an additional ten to twenty hours of music playback to your headphones. Some models even feature quick charging, where just a few minutes of having the earbuds in the case nets you an hour or two of listening time.

Controls

Pausing your workout to pick up a call or switch tracks from your smartphone can be a real pain since it breaks up your pace. Wireless headphones typically have onboard controls to alleviate that issue. Most wireless models that have a neckband will have a strip with buttons for answering and hanging up a call, turning the volume or down, and for changing tracks.

True wireless headphones, on the other hand, have a single multifunction button on an earbud that lets you do things with a tap or two. In any case, make sure the pair you’ve set your sights on gives you convenient controls to reduce interruptions.

Android or Apple control

Smartphones typically won’t have an issue connecting with most wireless headphones. However, you wouldn’t want to pick up a pair of Apple AirPods Pro for your Android smartphone. Double-checking for compatibility never hurts and it’ll prevent bumps in the road later down the line.

Noise cancellation

Earbuds do a good job at blocking out the gym by themselves, but for true isolation, you’ll want a pair with noise cancellation built in. They use special circuitry to block out external noise and keep you distraction-free.

Stay safe

Cranking music to power your workout is good and all, but if an emergency happens or if you’re running near traffic, you need a way to be able to hear what’s going on. I’d recommend checking to see if the pair you’re checking out has a pass-through mode that lets in ambient sound.

With all those considerations in mind, here are my top five picks.

jaybird vista wireless 2

Best headphones for running — Jaybird Vista 2

The Jaybird Vista 2 true wireless earbuds were built from the ground up to be a runner’s go-to companion. They’re remarkably comfortable, lightweight, and the ear tips and fins they use are some of the snuggest I’ve ever tried. Their compact carrying case is easy to tote around and has a sixteen-hour charge, so they'll keep going no matter your schedule.

The Vista 2s have deep, punchy bass, tight mids and highs, and an immersive soundstage. If you’ve got a playlist you enjoy running to, rest assured that these will have no trouble elevating your workout.

Details:

  • 6mm dynamic drivers
  • proprietary Bluetooth 5.0 chip for a stronger, more stable connection
  • 6 hours of listening per charge
  • carrying case banks up to 16 hours of power
  • IP68-rated waterproof and dustproof
jbl flash ua wireless headphones

Versatile and rugged true wireless headphones — JBL UA Flash

When Under Armour® and JBL collab on anything, the result is always a hit. They wanted to produce a pair of earbuds that met the needs of the most demanding athletes and came up with the UA Flash. With their rugged housing and IPX7 waterproof rating, there’s not much these true wireless earbuds can’t withstand.

They also sport a couple “bionic hearing” modes that allow users to be more aware of their environment. One tap on the left earbud activates “TalkThru” mode, which uses the earbuds’ built-in microphones to amplify speech and lowers the music volume. That lets you can carry on a conversation with a fellow gym goers without taking the earbuds out.

Two taps on the left earbud puts the UA Flash headphones into “Ambient Aware” mode. This helpful mode lets in ambient noise in (otherwise called sound pass-through) so you can be aware of what’s going on around you while the volume of your music stays where it was set.

Sound-wise, these earbuds sport a massive amount of bass. If you use EDM, dubstep, or hip-hop to charge your runs or reps, then you’ll be a big fan of these. The highs and mids are sparkly without being overly sharp.

You also get a free 12-month membership ($30 value) to the Under Armour Map My Run app. The app lets you track your runs and gives you detailed information about them, like your average pace, heartrate, and cadence. It also has training plans and audio coaching to keep you motivated.

Details:

  • 5.8mm dynamic drivers
  • "bionic hearing" modes help keep you aware of your surroundings during workouts
  • 5 hours of listening per charge
  • water-resistant aluminum carrying case banks up to 20 hours of power
  • IPX7-rated waterproof
JBL UA Wireless Train headphones

Best on-ear headphones for working out — JBL UA Wireless Train

Maybe you don’t like having stuff in your ears while you’re hitting the treadmill or the bench. JBL has you covered there, too, with their UA Wireless Train headphones. These rest on your ears and use UnderArmour’s breathable SuperVent fabric to keep your ears from getting hot. Their form-fitting design keeps them in place during workouts without using an uncomfortable amount of clamping force.

You’ll find controls for calls, volume, and music playback on the left earcup. It also features the same TalkThru mode that the UA Flashes have, so having conversations with them on is easy. They’re pretty stout on bass, too, serving up plenty of low-end goodness to keep you going.

Details

  • features premium, fast-drying Under Armour fabrics for durability and comfort
  • 40mm drivers
  • 16-hour battery life
  • convenient earcup controls for music playback and calls
  • IPX4-rated for sweat-and-water resistance
Sony wireless headphones

Best noise cancellation — Sony WF-1000XM4

Boasting best-in-class active noise cancellation, a hefty eight-hour battery life, and an IPX4 rating, the true wireless WF-1000XM4s from Sony offer a premium, quiet workout experience. The earbuds have touch controls that let you answer calls, control music playback, and turn the noise cancellation on and off. The included charging case banks up to an additional sixteen hours of power.

The earbuds' tuned 6mm drivers deliver smooth, detailed sound and stout bass. The WF-1000XM4s are also compatible with Sony’s Headphones Connect app, which allows you to manually adjust the level of noise cancellation and customize the sound of the headphones.

Details:

  • active noise cancellation blocks out external noise
  • Headphones Connect app lets you fine-tune your experience
  • Sweat-resistant IPX4-rated design
  • 8-hour battery life with noise cancellation turned on; extra 16 hours of charge in case
bose sport wireless headphones

Best bang-for-your-buck true wireless earbuds — Bose Sport Earbuds

These are the current version of one of my favorite Bose true wireless earbuds. The Sport Earbuds have an excitingly energetic sound and are a great bang-for-your-buck option to fuel your cycling or squats. They also come with Bose StayHear® eartips, which ensure a consistent, comfy fit.

The Bluetooth connectivity is something worth noting, as the earbuds stay connected to your phone even if you’re jumping around or moving quickly. I’ve used other pairs in the past that have cut out while I was doing endurance training or while I was out on a jog and it annoyed me to no end. The Sport Earbuds hardly ever seem to lose connection, so kudos to Bose for ensuring they stay connected no matter the activity.

Details:

  • 5 hours of listening per charge with an additional 10 hours in the carrying case
  • 15 minutes inside the case nets enough power for 2 hours of listening
  • IPX-4 rated water and sweat resistance
  • three sizes of proprietary StayHear ear tips to ensure consistent fit
  • touch control on left earbud gives you control over calls, music playback, and voice assistants

Need help?

With the growing number of wireless headphones out there, picking out the right pair can be difficult. Thankfully, our advisors have done countless demo sessions with the headphones we carry and can help guide you along. For free one-on-one shopping advice, contact us and we’ll be happy to help.

Last updated 8/6/2021
  • Steve Stevenson from Aurora

    Posted on 4/13/2018

    I agree with Chuck--a runner should not interfere with his own ability to hear threats. Plus, when I used to run all the time, if I even got distracted by random thoughts, forget music, I would slow down and not maintain my target speed.

  • Commenter image

    Deb Gilbert from Crutchfield

    Posted on 4/11/2018

    As a runner and a former race director, I see both sides of the headphone discussion. Safety is a huge concern when running outside, but many people use the motivation and pacing of music to help get them through the run. You need to hear traffic, race instructions, animals, and other people around you. That's why the headphones with an open design are listed prominently. I've been to many a group run where someone didn't notice traffic or didn't hear someone coming up behind them to pass. Open design is the best suggestion for people who still want to wear headphones. I personally only use headphones when I'm running on a treadmill. It really helps break the monotony of the indoor run, and makes it a bit more enjoyable.

  • Chuck from Morehead City

    Posted on 10/28/2016

    I have been running/jogging/walking for over 40 years. I suggest that a runner not use earphones or anything that interferes with their senses. A person constantly needs to be aware of cars, predators etc. and you can't do that with your ears plugged up! For example, I can see a car coming at me from the front but also can hear one coming from behind and will pass each other right where I am at. Need to know information for obvious reasons.

  • chris

    Posted on 7/30/2016

    Safty is important. A tragic moment happened near my home when a jogger was killed by a falling tree. I wonder if the jogger would have heard the tree falling or notticed something was wrong if it were not for the headphones. Same thing can happen with traffic, we need our hearing not just for entertainment but also to keep us alive.