We’re not saying you have to wear sport-specific headphones when you run, but if you’re sick of replacing cheap pairs every few months or have trouble with them staying put, they can be a wise investment.
For sport, fit is the most crucial factor and no matter how good a pair sounds, if your headphones fall out as you exercise they’re useless. Neck bands and adjustable over ear hooks provide the most guaranteed fit, but they lack style, while the latest in-ear silicon wings offer a secure fit and can be worn discreetly any time.
Whether you choose the latest Bluetooth technology and free yourself from wires is a matter of taste – many people switch and never go back – but if you like your music really loud, or run for hours on end (battery life can be limited), it might be worth sticking to a traditional wired design.
It can be difficult to try on a pair of in-ear headphones before you buy, so check they come with different sized replaceable buds, wings and hooks – all on test here come with at least two size options.
As for sound quality, even budget headphones have to be enjoyable to listen to, but don’t expect audiophile playback, especially with ‘open’ models that are designed to let in more background noise. What you lose in bass, you make up for by being able to hear the traffic as you run.
We tested each of these pairs over at least 5km and judged them on fit, sound quality and durability (and how they stood up to the sweat-factor).
1. Jabra Sport Pace: £62, Amazon
This is a thoroughly accomplished pair of Bluetooth running headphones with a secure fit. Seriously comfortable, even on long runs, they have impressive noise isolation which helps to improve the already dynamic sound quality. What’s more, they’re designed to work with Jabra’s Sport Life, a free training app for iOS and Android – similar to MapMyRun and Strava – which plots your routes using GPS, calculates pace, speed and can offer training programmes and fitness tests. Push the left ear button at any stage during your workout and get real-time updates on your performance. The five-hour battery life is a bit disappointing but the whole package gives plenty of motivation to keep you going. Even if you don’t use the app they’re a great pair of wireless headphones.
2. Audio Technica SonicSport ATH-SPORT3: £45, Amazon
If you like the noise isolation of good ear buds but hate having to push them back into position every few hundred yards, then this innovative over-ear design is ideal. Looking more like pair of professional monitors than running headphones, the mouldable cable can be bent to hook around your ears, virtually guaranteeing a secure fit, while music sounds terrific whether you’re listening to pounding EDM or guitar-based rock. They’re also IPX5 waterproof, so you can sweat profusely and then safely rinse under the tap. The only thing they’re lacking is in-line control.
3. Urbanista Rio: £18, Amazon
These great-value headphones provide hugely enjoyable sound and a very comfortable fit. The silicon ear wings stay firmly in place without feeling like you have anything crammed in and despite the long cable and in-line control button they weigh just 23g, meaning they don’t tug on your ears as you run. Both sides of the cable are coated in reflective strip which makes a huge difference if you’re out at night.
4. Monster iSport Strive: from £20, Amazon
These are the cheapest model in the Monster iSport range, but even at twice the price they’re still a bargain. The unusual open ear-bud design makes them feel as if they are sitting against, rather than inside your ear, but in our tests they didn’t budge no matter how sweaty we got. Sound is big and impressive, and while the open design means bass and volume is reduced compared to traditional in-ear models, the overall effect means you can enjoy music and be aware of the world around you.
5. KitSound Outrun: £45, Amazon
Given these Bluetooth headphones cost less than many wired models, we weren’t expecting to be impressed, but at just 15g they’re stunningly light and thanks to the large, flexible silicon wings they stayed in place admirably. Don’t expect audiophile quality performance – despite offering hi-res aptX Bluetooth – but they’re loud enough and have a clean, balanced sound with nothing harsh to put you off your stride. One-button Bluetooth pairing makes set-up super simple too.
6. Plantronics BackBeat Fit: £70, Amazon
These are by far the most comfortable and secure Bluetooth headphones on test thanks to the combination of over-ear hook and small in-ear loop, and at 24g they’re light, especially given the robust waterproof rubber casing. The semi-open design lets in plenty of background noise which is great if you’re on a busy road, but does reduce the impact of the music. They don’t sound terrible by any means, but the lack of high volume might put off those looking for an intensive soundtrack as they workout. The eight-hour battery life is healthy enough and the simple on-ear controls makes skipping tracks, adjusting volume and answering calls (if you must) easy.
7. Sennheiser PMX 686G SPORTS: £60, John Lewis
The rigid neckband design might not suit every runner, but if you want a pair of lightweight (16g) headphones that will never fall out, they are close to perfect. There are no silicon wings or memory foam ear buds, just a secure fit and superb sound quality. Audio performance is rich and rewarding with solid bass, extra loud volume without distortion or even a hint of crackle (often caused by sweating). They’re expensive and you’ll never want to wear them on the bus, but if you demand decent sound as you run you won’t be disappointed.
8. JBL Yurbuds Inspire 400: £45, Amazon
Yurbuds has amassed a cult following and for good reason. The combination of great value – the Inspire 100 cost just £16.99 – and unique rubber TwistLock ear bud design (push and turn the tacky rubber buds in your ear for a sweat-defying fit) makes them difficult to fault. The Inspire 400, while a little more expensive, has in-line controls for music/phone and each earpiece has a magnetic back allowing them to stick together around your neck to avoid pocket tangles. You get solid audio performance too, with plenty of volume and little in the way of distortion.
9. Philips ActionFit SHQ6500BL: £40, Currys
So many Bluetooth headphones hide the tech in the earpiece which can make them bulky and prone to popping out. Philips has side-stepped this problem by keeping the ear buds super light while adding an extra battery box onto the cable. At 14g, they’re exceptionally light and despite our initial misgivings the neck cable sat comfortably on the collar and didn’t pull. They’re not without fault – creating a connection can be tricky as the lack of voice prompts makes it hard to tell when they’re ready to connect, and they lack oomph – but they’re so light, comfortable and secure we actually forgot we were wearing them.
If you struggle with headphones falling out as you run, then the Plantronics BackBeat Fit are close to perfect whatever shape your ears. If you’re fussy about sound quality, either the Sennheiser PMX 686G SPORTS or Audio Technica SonicSport ATH-SPORT3 won’t disappoint and offer the loudest volume, but for the ideal combination of wireless convenience, secure fit and sonic performance, it has to be the Jabra Sport Pace.
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