Soundtrack your cardio sessions with professional run-tester Kieran Alger’s pick of the best running headphones and earbuds.

From motivational beast-mode playlists to distracting podcasts, science shows that being immersed in audio on your runs can boost your enjoyment and your performance. So what better way to pump up your potential than with this tried-and-tested selection of the best running headphones and earbuds.   

How we test the best running headphones

Kieran Alger is an ultramarathon runner and professional product tester for The Run Testers. He tested these running headphones over a range of distances and terrains. He based his overall score for each set of headphones primarily on sound quality, but also on fit and running suitability, weight, versatility and value.

The best running headphones and earbuds

It might be a surprise to award this accolade to an in-ear bud, but for us the Jabra Elite 8 Active ticks all the boxes for the best running headphones. Fit feels very secure despite the lack of hooks, sound quality is excellent with plenty of custom options and battery life is great too.

Other running headphones recommendations

Best for versatility:It’s no surprise that the Apple AirPods Pro 2 feature on this list. They would have been in contention for best running headphones if the fit was a bit more secure. But we know how good the sound is and connectivity is seamless too.
Best for fit:You could run full tilt down a boulder-strewn path and the Shokz OpenFit earphones still wouldn’t budge. The sound is richer and bassier than Shokz bone conductor earphones but you can still keep aware of your surroundings.
Best for value:Just pipping the JLab Epic Air Sport to the post is the JBL Endurance Peak 3. For less than $100 / £100 you get robust buds with an unshakeable fit and one of the longest battery lives on test. Now that is a bargain.
Running earbuds from Jabra product shot

1. Jabra Elite 8 Active

Men’s Fitness verdict

Wing-free buds shouldn’t fit this well, but these Jabra Elite 8 Active ones surpassed all our expectations. They sound great custom out of the box and have plenty of custom profiles too.
  • Great battery life
  • Excellent customisable sound
  • Good, reliable fit
  • In-ear style might not work for all
  • Might shake loose on steep downhills

The Elite 8 Active earbuds are the latest in a long line of excellent running headphones from Jabra and offer a surprisingly secure fit for wing-free buds. Sound quality is first class, with a deep, rich sound and no distortion however high you crank them. There are plenty of presets or custom sound profiles available for those who like to tinker and they shrug off showers or sweat as well as any running buds we know. 

running earbuds and case product shot

2. Nothing Ear (2)

Men’s Fitness verdict

These buds don’t just look the business; their sound, robustness and value for money are pretty impressive too. They are also the lightest buds on test.
  • Striking design
  • Good all-round value
  • Excellent versatility
  • Battery could last longer
  • No map location on the buds finder feaure

We think these Nothing Ear (2) offer incredible value. They’re versatile in-ear buds that look as good as they sound. And their running credentials aren’t bad either, with reliable fit, good splash and sweat resistance and the lightest weight of any earphones we tested. Active noise cancellation, transparency modes, 29-hour total run time and custom EQ round out this impressive package.

Product shot of Apple AirPods

3. Apple AirPods Pro 2

Men’s Fitness verdict

We probably wouldn’t buy these Apple buds as specialist running earphones. But that’s not to say they can’t do the job (and they sound incredible). Adaptive and customisable sounds are first class.
  • Excellent sound quality
  • Seamless connectivity for Apple users
  • Good versatility
  • Premium price
  • Not the most secure fit
  • Fairly short battery life

This premium do-it-all set of buds from Apple will go toe-to-toe with most specialist sports headphones, and they’ll look the business while they do it. Their fit is improved on previous models and they’re light enough to stay in place on all but the hilliest of trails. You get 30 hours of total run time and a design that’s sealed against dirt and moisture. But we think its the adaptive and customisable audio features that really steal the show.

4. Shokz OpenFit

Sports headphones product shot

Men’s Fitness verdict

Shokz is better known for its bone conductors but this band-free, traditional hooked design is more versatile with a secure fit and a richer, bassier sound.
  • Better sound than classic bone conductors
  • Good awareness at lower volumes
  • Versatile enough for running and general use
  • Sound leaks at higher volumes
  • Ear hooks move around

You might know Shokz for its bone conduction running headphones, which are better known for their smart tech than their sound quality. These OpenFit buds move away from that pioneering design, and provide a fuller, bassier sound. Without that neck band we think they’re more versatile too, and the ear-hook design keeps them comfy and secure. You get decent splash and dust protection and respectable battery life too.

5. Suunto Sonic

Suunto Sonic headphones on a grey carpet

Men’s Fitness verdict

Likeable running headphones with comfortable design, easy controls, solid battery, and close sound performance to rivals like Shokz OpenRun.
  • Comfortable fit for long runs
  • Running-friendly sound quality
  • Solid battery performance
  • Not the clearest-sounding headphones available
  • Require a proprietary charging cable

Reviewed by Mike Sawh

Suunto is best known for its rugged sports watches, but the Suunto Sonic marks its foray into running headphones. As a runner deep into London Marathon training, I put these open-ear wonders to the test. Designed to withstand sweat and rain, with customizable sound and marathon-worthy battery life, they promise to be ideal companions. Reminiscent of Shokz headphones, they offer comfort even during grueling three-hour runs. While not fully waterproof, they handle light rain and sweat well.

Sound quality, compromised by bone conduction, still impresses with clarity and warmth, especially in outdoor mode. Leakage is a minor issue due to the open-ear design. Battery life holds up, with quick charging as a back-up. Physical buttons and dual connectivity enhance usability, and overall the Suunto Sonic proves to be reliable running partner, albeit with minor adjustments needed for optimal use in different settings.

Product shot of sports headphones earbuds for running from JBL

6. JBL Endurance Peak 3

Men’s Fitness verdict

When you consider how well built these JBL buds are, it’s easy to forget they cost less than £100. Battery life has no right to be this good either and for the price we can forgive the lack of ANC.
  • Unshakeable fit
  • Month-long battery life
  • Good durability
  • No ANC
  • Bulky case
  • Fiddly control

There’s one piece of good news during this cost of living crisis: the quality of running headphones for under £100 has improved drastically over the past few years. These JBL buds have no right offering such decent build quality and battery run time. We particularly like how secure they feel even when you’re hurtling down hills. Durability is remarkably one of the best on test too.

Product shot of running headphones

7. JLab Epic Air Sport

Men’s Fitness verdict

We like the intuitive touch-panel controls on these JLab buds, which respond instantly to the sweatiest of swipes. Dual charging and a rich, bassy sound round out an impressive, inexpensive package.
  • Excellent battery life
  • Good water resistance
  • Dual-purpose case can charge your phone
  • Bass can be a bit overpowering
  • Case is large and slippery

The JLab Epic Air Sport ANC punches well above its price bracket. On top of rock solid fit, great battery life and good dust and water resistance, you also get a chunky 2600mAh case that can charge your phone as well as your buds. You also get a choice of silicone and memory foam ear tips to dial in your perfect fit. If you like bass-heavy tunes you’re in for a treat with the Air Sports; if not, you can dial it back with an array of EG settings.

What makes good running headphones?

The most important thing to look for in a set of running headphones is secure, lock-tight fit. It doesn’t matter how good your headphones sound if they don’t stay put when you pick up the pace. Ear hook designs offer a more reliable fit, so if your ears don’t play nice with in-ear buds, this is the way to go. 

Durability is important too. Reliable waterproofing is a must, but also look for sweat- and dust-proofing. Thankfully, the sound quality of running headphones has massively improved in recent years. Given their compact size, it’s impressive that even cheaper options can now deliver acceptable quality, while the best headphones kick out really rich, nuanced and balanced audio that’s often customisable.

The best running headphones now offer a range of extra smarts like geolocation for misplaced buds and cases or fast charging, so if you get caught low on power you can get a workout’s worth of juice in 5-10 minutes. You can expect other bells and whistles like custom controls, Active Noise Cancellation and awareness modes, plus wind filtering for mid-run all quality.

What the experts say about the best running headphones

We talked to athletes about what they look for in a good pair of running headphones. Jake DeardenHYROX master trainer and 247 Represent head coach and athlete, says: “My headphones have got to be the AirPod Pros, as they’re light – I can’t wear over-ear when running as they make my ears too hot. If you are outside for a run, the AirPods let you choose whether you have noise cancellation or not, which some people prefer not to have if running in a busy area, so they are more aware of their surroundings.”

Jonny Mellor, New Balance athlete and online running coach, adds: “There are many different types of headphones on the market to suit personal preferences and budgets. It’s important to find a headphone that’s comfortable and – it might sound obvious – don’t fall out when running! A good pair of headphones will have a waterproof casing and offer decent sound quality, whilst still letting you hear the traffic. I personally use Apple AirPods because they’re so comfortable and I don’t even notice them in my ears when running. They pair flawlessly with my Garmin Forerunner 965 and offer a transparency mode to ensure I can still hear the world around me when running.”

How are running earbuds different from normal headphones?

While regular headphones prioritise audio quality and easy-listening comfort, running headphones put reliable fit, good durability and easy operation on the move first. Fortunately the days of battling big over-ear cans and fighting wires are gone. Running headphones are now light, compact, wireless and don’t get in the way during workouts.  

The most popular in-ear buds use ergonomic shapes, wing tips and special grippy coatings to keep them in place. But there are also ear-hooks and neck-band options.   

Running headphones and earbuds often kick out louder, bassier sound to help boost motivation. Many also have with Active Noise Cancellation and awareness modes, specially tuned to filter the outside world in or out, depending on your needs. Some open-ear running headphones use bone conduction technology to leave your lugholes wide open to the world around you. 

Sports headphones tend to be more durable than regular buds, generally with higher Ingress Protection (IP) ratings and increasingly they’re even tested to military standards. Battery life tends to be longer and the charging cases – at least on the best running headphones – are designed to be easy to stash in a running belt or the pockets of the best running shorts.