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10 best running headphones to make the miles fly by

Turn your training up to 10 with these fiddle-free devices

Jon Axworthy
Monday 24 January 2022 16:02
<p>We tested these on road, trail and treadmill trudges</p>

We tested these on road, trail and treadmill trudges

However much you love running, whether it’s road, trail or on the treadmill at the gym, it’s undeniable that putting one foot in front of the other can get a little tedious if you don’t have some of your favourite music to motivate you. That’s why it’s as rare to see a runner without headphones these days, as it is to see one without a grimace on their face.

Of course, different kinds of runners will prioritise different features in their headphones, but the one thing everyone’s after is a secure fit. So, we went looking for headphones that occupied a sweet spot between total security, immersive audio quality and in-ear comfort.

While we’re on the subject of sound quality, it’s vital that headphones have some form of Active Noise Cancellation (ANC) – the technology that allows for good isolation, so you can listen to your music without lots of extraneous noise from the world outside. This is what allows for a truly immersive experience, putting you in the middle of your music. However, if you’re not treadmill there also needs to be some degree of situational awareness, so that you can keep alert to car engines, bicycle bells and the other dangers that can befall runners.

How we tested

We borrowed the ears of several runners who regularly use music to get them through their road, trail and treadmill trudge. Eclectic playlists, from hip hop to heavy metal, (with some very guilty pleasures thrown in) meant the audio of all the products was truly tested and we had someone contact us while wearing the headphones so we could judge for ourselves how well the products coped with a call.

Controls also needed to be super responsive, with no lag, so that there’s no fiddling around with taps and double taps to get to favourite tracks. Having a run interrupted by the weather is also inevitable for any runner in the UK, which is why all our featured headphones are rated IP4 or above, so you won’t suffer any technical issues, even if the heavens open when you’re half way round your 5K.

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Finally, we looked at each unit’s claimed battery life to see how that compared to the juice we actually got when we were laced up our runners. So, if you’re off for a run these are the cans you need to carry.

The best wireless headphones for running for 2022 are:

  • Best overall – Adidas RPT-01 sport headphones: £119.99,
  • Best for battery life – Beats Powerbeats Pro:£219.95,
  • Best bone conduction headphones – Shokz openrun sport headphones: £129.95,
  • Best for trail – Skullcandy push active earbuds: £69.99,
  • Best for quick charging – Bose sport earbuds: £179.95,
  • Best ambient mode – Jabra elite active 4: £119.99,
  • Best for features – Jaybird vista 2: £189.99,
  • Best for race day – Jaybird Tarah: £89.99,
  • Best noise isolation – Beats fit pro: £199.99,
  • Best for bass heads – JBL reflect flow pro: £159.99,

Adidas RPT-01 sport headphones

Best: Overall

Rating: 10/10

The well-known sports apparel brand has made a big splash in the world of sports headphones in the last few years and we think the RPT-01s – which have been around since late 2019 – are still the must buy product. The styling often splits opinion, but all our testers liked the knitted fabric that covers the headphones, which felt good and were rather welcome on winter runs where they doubled like a pair of ear muffs. This covering means they are very lightweight for over ears and the fabric can be removed and washed when needed.

We did have some worries about how secure they would be, but they were super solid and there was no slippage whatsoever. Adidas have also put a lot of thought into the controls with a switch which clicks up, down, left and right. After a little bit of trial and error, the innovative switch makes navigation around your playlist, adjusting volume, pairing etc., a total no-brainer. In fact, we would say that the controls were the best on test and we never suffered from the frustrations that can arise when trying to curate your music while on the move.

There’s no quick charge but a full charge will give you an astonishing 41 hours of playback, according to our testing, so you shouldn’t need to worry about them being out of juice when you need them. The cherry on top for us was the audio quality, which was akin to over-ears that sell for twice the price with a broad soundstage to give you a truly immersive experience.

There’s no ANC but you won’t need that because the combination of the very snug fit and the fabric that encases the headphones really does a great job making you feel alone with your tunes. There’s nothing akin to transparency mode though, so if you do need to be more aware of your surroundings these might not be for you. Finally, our caller claimed they had one of the clearest calls they’d experienced when we were wearing the RPT-01s and we certainly had no issues carrying on a conversation at our end.

Beats powerbeats pro

Best: For battery life

Rating: 9/10

They’ve been around for a while now but the design of the Powerbeats could not be better suited to the activity. Their over ear hooks are not only ergonomic, but so secure that even a bout of head banging wouldn’t shift them.

With plenty of sound isolation to enhance the audio, the Powerbeats are able to handle any playlist bangers, as well as more subtle tunes with vocals that resonate with richness. Transparency mode lets in more external sounds without drowning out what you’re listening to. The headphones also come complete with sensors that will handle a range of actions on their own, from pausing the music when they are taken out of the ear to powering down after a period of inactivity. These sensors also improve microphone performance when you’re taking a call in windy conditions, so phone conversations were clear and crisp in all conditions.

This stellar performance is all backed up with unbeatable battery life with almost 11 hours of playback from a single charge; while a 5-minute or 15-minute charge will juice the headphones up for 1.5 and 4.5 hours, respectively.

Shokz openrun sport headphones

Best: Bone conduction headphones

Rating: 8/10

These bone conduction headphones are leading the charge in delivering music via your cheekbones rather than your ears. These are a quick charge version of the popular Aeropex open ear headphones released in 2019, and if you have owned a pair of those, the first thing you’ll notice with the OpenRuns is a significant step up in sound quality. It still may not be as immersive as you would get from in-ears, but these headphones are as close as anything that we listened to in testing.

What you might lose marginally in sound quality you will certainly gain in cognisance and the headphones struck an excellent balance between soundtracking and situational awareness and there are 2 EQs, one for music and one for podcasts and audiobooks.

Pairing was easy and in terms of comfort and security, the OpenRuns excelled with over ear hooks that are so subtle you really won’t notice them – the earphones are attached by a thin yoke to add another level of security. We simply couldn’t shake the Openruns off and they were so light that it’s very easy to forget that you’ve even got them on.

In terms of call quality, the OpenRuns performed well at blocking out a lot of ambient noise and the noise cancelling microphone worked well too, according to our caller. Just 1.5 hours sees them fully charged for eight hours of listening and a 10-minute boost charge will soundtrack a 1.5 hour run.

Skullcandy push active earbuds

Best: For trail

Rating: 8/10

In-ear security becomes a little more important when you’re running trail because rather than the steady stepping of the road, you spend a lot of your run hopping stiles, athletically vaulting downed trees and just generally trying to keep your feet in muddy conditions. However, ambient and transparency modes are usually farther down the priority list as you’re less likely to come across traffic hazards and instead just need to keep your eyes peeled for excitable cows. That’s why we found these ear hangers from Skull Candy the best when we were heading off road.

In terms of fit, the malleable hooks, made from chunky rubber that wrap all the way around the ear, ensured nothing was going to shift them. However, they were still comfortable and came with three different sized silicone ear tips to get them really snug. There’s no ANC, but as we stated earlier we don’t really find this a problem out on the trail. Sound was good, with EQ pre-sets or a custom mode to fine tune the sound to your liking and it coped well with all the genres on the playlist.

A “Hey Skullcandy” voice command was all that was needed to play and control your music or answer calls and while you might be a little self-conscious doing this in town, when you’re in a sheep field it’s not so much of a problem. The tap and hold controls were responsive and battery life was impressive with just over eight hours of juice available from a single charge; or 120 minutes of playtime from a quick 10-minute boost in the case, which will give you 34 more hours of music. And they are superb value too.

Bose sport earbuds

Best: For quick charging

Rating: 7/10

Three different sizes of silicone ear pads and nice comfortable wing tips combine to provide a solid in-ear fit that does a great job of isolating the audio. A series of single and double taps, as well as holds, means you can control what you’re listening to easily and apart from the fact that there was no command to scrub back to the start of a particular track, all the other controls were responsive, with commands having an immediate impact on the music.

When we answered our call, the Bose’s mics did a solid job of making sure we could be heard, while the headphones themselves made the voice on the other end crystal clear. Battery life came in, as advertised, at around five hours with a 15-minute quick charge, via a USB-C, giving you just under two hours of playback, which was real bonus for when we wanted to do a longer run and had forgotten to charge the headphones.

Jabra elite active 4

Best: Ambient mode

Rating: 8/10

These buds are a very capable set of sport headphones. The triangular shape of the earbuds really seems to help in terms of getting them in your ear and helping them to stay there without it feeling uncomfortable. The Active 4s don’t have wings, which adds to the comfort factor and ease with which you can take them in and out. For your money, you’ll get ANC, which can be personalised in the companion app. We really liked this because it allowed us to imbalance the ANC so there is more loaded up in one ear than the other – really useful if your run involves a long straight road with lots of moving traffic so there’s more noise coming in one ear than the other.

Jabra’s HearThrough technology, as the name suggests, allows more ambient noise in. We found that this was one of the better products at finding the compromise which allows you to be totally consumed by a song and yet still alert to what’s around you. There wasn’t a hint of tinniness in the audio and both earbuds delivered good sonic range with deep bass and nice detail in the mid and higher ranges.

Call quality was also impressive for us and those on the other end. And the intuitive, responsive controls all add to the excellent value. We got just over seven hours playback from a single charge or ten minutes in the case will charge them up enough for one hour’s use.

Jaybird vista 2

Best: For features

Rating: 7/10

The Vistas have long been a favourite for runners and the latest version offers much in the way of upgrades to devotees. The fit and security is still there with attachments that vary in shark fin tip size, so you shouldn’t have any difficulty finding the right combination to ensure the Vistas stay put.

There is now in-ear detection for automatic pause and playback when you take the earbuds in and out. There’s also ANC and Surround Sense, which will have you covered no matter how you want to listen to your tunes – which come through with lots of bass and good separation for some of the more layered music. When our phone rang, the headphones dealt with the conversation well and Jaybird’s WindDefense fabric technology, which cuts down on wind noise, really seemed to work well making for clearer phone calls on the go.

Tap-enabled controls were sensitive with very little lag and we managed to eek six hours of music (a five-minute charge equated to one hour of playback) from a full charge, although these numbers were very dependent on how loud we were listening to the tunes.

Jaybird tarah

Best: For race day

Rating: 7/10

With their small but perfectly formed buds the Tarahs made it very straightforward to optimise the fit in the ear and no matter how rigorous our run got, they were never in danger of falling out. The woven rope cabling that connects them is comfortable around the neck and just gives an extra level of security because even if they did fall out, they aren’t going to go far so you won’t have to press pause on a race looking for them.

There’s more customisation available in the form of Switch Fit, which means you can wear them over ear or under, without removing the buds, depending on how vigorous you’re being, all you need to do is twist the buds and loosen or tighten the cable. The Magnetic Snap Lock feature automatically pauses the music when the earbuds are snapped together around your neck and automatically restarts the tunes where you left off when you put them back.

Sound was big on bass, slightly at the expense of the mid-range but overall everything is well balanced and you’ll be drawn into the sound. A full charge will give six hours of power and the ten-minute charge option will load the headphones with enough juice for just over an hour.

Beats fit pro

Best: Noise isolation

Rating: 9/10

One of the greatest advantages of running with headphones is that they give you the ability to adjust how connected you are with the environment you’re running through and no product does it better, at the moment, than this new offering from beats. In terms of noise cancelling, they are superb which is what might make them a firm favourite with treadmill runners. Obviously, as with all beats offerings, there is transparency mode available too, if you need to stay a little more in touch.

The company has redesigned the wing tips so that they’re springy and flexible, which makes them easy to locate and snaps them into the outer ear securely without ever feeling uncomfortable. The controls are sensitive, easy to find and operate mid-run and the buds dealt well with our incoming call well.

The sound doesn’t let the Fit Pros down either with plenty of scope to deal with big bass, while allowing mids and highs to come through, so you end up with a nice detailed surround sound that it’s easy to get lost in.

However, the ANC does have an impact on battery life. These managed just under six hours when it was turned on and just over seven hours with it turned off. With Beats’ “Fast Fuel” you’ll also get an hour of listening time after just five minutes on charge.

JBL reflect flow pro

Best: For bass heads

Rating: 8/10

With plenty of combinations available it won’t take long to find a pairing of bud and fin that works for your ear shape and offers a fit that you can trust to stay put. The buds are big on the bass end so if your playlist has a lot of going on at the bottom, these buds will handle it well without letting you down on the rest of the soundscape, which offers plenty to draw you in and fuel your run.

An Ambient Aware option offers a good balance between outside noise while still keeping your music well up in the mix. The call was assisted well with the TalkThru mode, which automatically turns down the volume on your music but turns up the volume of the voice on the other end. The Flow Pros also pack a punch when it comes to battery life with just over eight hours and a 10-minute charge offers an hour of on-the-go music.

The verdict: Wireless headphones for running

In ear running phones are everywhere, but a lot of runners simply don’t like the feel of buds, which is what makes the Adidas RPT-01 sport headphones very hard to beat. If you’re a runner, there’s very little to fault them, with a barely-there feel, secure and comfortable fit and spot on sound. The fact that they have recently suffered a significant price drop means that if you’re running anywhere, it should be to the shops to bag a pair.

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Ditch the fussy wires but keep the headband with the best wireless headphones, from Bose to JBL

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