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 were these headphones tested?
Kieran Alger is an ultramarathon runner and professional product tester for The Run Testers. He tested these running headphones across the summer and autumn months of 2023, over a range of distances and terrains.
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These are the best running headphones and earbuds
- Best for sound quality: Jabra Elite 8 Active (amazon.com)
- Best for low weight: Nothing Ear (2) (amazon.com)
- Best for versatility: Apple AirPods Pro 2 (amazon.com)
- Best for fit: Shokz OpenFit (amazon.com)
- Best for value: JBL Endurance Peak 3 (amazon.com)
Jabra Elite 8 Active
Best for sound quality
RRP: $199 / £199, jabra.com
- Great battery life
- Excellent customisable sound
- Good reliable fit
- In-ear style might not work for all
- Might shake loose on steep downhills
Battery life: 4.5/5
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.
- Read our full Jabra Elite 8 Active review
Nothing Ear (2)
Best for low weight
RRP: $149 / £129, nothing.tech
- Great battery life
- Good all-round value
- Excellent versatility
- Battery could last longer
- No map location on the buds finder feature
Battery life: 4/5
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.
- Read our full Nothing Ear (2) review
Apple AirPods Pro 2
Best for versatility
RRP: $249 / £229, apple.com
- Excellent sound quality
- Seamless connectivity for Apple users
- Good versatility
- You’ll pay a premium
- Not the most secure fit
- Bud have a fairly short battery life
Battery life: 4/5
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.
- Read our full Apple AirPods Pro 2 review
Best for fit
RRP: $197.95 / £179, shokz.com
- Better sound than classic bone conductors
- Good for awareness at lower volumes
- Versatile enough for running and general use
- Sound leaks at higher volumes
- Ear hooks move around
Battery life: 3.5/5
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.
- Read our full Shokz OpenFit review
JBL Endurance Peak 3
Best for value
RRP: $99.95 / £89.99, jbl.com
- Unshakeable fit
- Month-long battery life
- Good durability
- No ANC
- Bulky case
- Fiddly controls
Battery life: 4/5
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.
- Read our full JBL Endurance Peak 3 review
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 Dearden, HYROX 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 running shorts pockets.