The best running headphones 2021: high quality audio that'll go the distance

Asia's Tech News Daily

The best running headphones should help boost your performance and keep your mind occupied while you run. They also need to stay in place above no matter how vigorous your workout may be, and if they make your music sound fantastic with plenty of bass, so much the better.

© Provided by TechRadar Woman preparing to start running, wearing true wireless headphones

Here we’ve tested all kinds of headphones, including over-ear cans, earbuds and bone conduction headsets, all of which have their own advantages and disadvantages. Bone conduction headphones like the Aftershokz Aeropex leave your ear canals open so you can hear the world around you, but at the expense of sound quality, while earbuds like the Bose Powerbeats Pro offer superior sound, but make it harder to hear hazards as you run.

We’ve put these headphones to the test on long, slow runs, sweaty hill climbs, and intense speed drills to make sure they don’t bounce, rub or come loose, and have the battery life to keep running as long as you do. For our pick of the very best running headphones out there, you’ll find everything you need in the guide below.

The best running headphones

Beats’ latest true wireless earbuds, the PowerBeats Pro, are something special – they’re supremely comfortable, sound decent and seem to never, ever fall out, which is why we think they’re the best running headphones of 2021. 

They’re ideal for running thanks to their close-fitting ear hooks and IPX4 sweatproof rating, as well as nifty additions like the pressure-reducing micro-laser barometric venting hole, their long battery life, and their superior sound quality. 

Where we found the Powerbeats Pro to perform their best is in  near-quiet environments, like your office, your home or your gym – because you can use hands-free Siri, they’re great for setting timers in between sets and placing calls to friends and clients. 

But take them outside for a run and these Beats headphones still do the trick thanks to their energetic sound.

Read our full Beats PowerBeats Pro review

If the most important aspect of choosing the best running headphones for you is the audio quality, these wireless earbuds from Sennheiser could be a fantastic choice. 

With a lively, bass-heavy presentation, and a comfortable fit, the Sennheiser CX Sport wireless earphones can really bolster your running performance through sound quality alone. 

They don’t come with a heart rate monitor, but the inclusion of ear fins and sporty neon color scheme makes them ideal for casual workouts. 

With a battery life of six hours, they’re great for your average running session, or even your daily commute – but marathon runners will want to look elsewhere. 

Read our full Sennheiser CX Sport review

The Aeropex is the top-end headset from Aftershokz, which specializes in bone conduction headphones that allow you to enjoy your favorite music without blocking out the sounds of cars, cyclists and other potential dangers around you.

The Aeropex uses vibrations to direct sound to your audiotory nerve, leaving your ear canals open so you can still hear the world around you. It’s a significant upgrade from its predecessor, the Aftershokz Trekz Air, with a lighter weight that means it’s barely noticeable when you’re running, and an improved IP rating that makes it safe to wear even in the rain.

You might be able to feel the vibrations ever so slightly when you crank the volume up high, but if you want to be aware of your surroundings while you train, the Aeropex is hard to beat.

Read the full AfterShockz Aeropex review

With the Amazfit Powerbuds Pro, you won’t need separate pairs of headphones for working and running – they’ll serve you equally well at your desk, or pounding the streets. Sound is bass-heavy, which we prefer while working out, and the active noise cancellation effectively masks office sounds when you need to concentrate.

The Powerbuds Pro also monitor your heart rate while you exercise, and sync this data with the Zepp Health app on your phone. Data from any other Amazfit fitness trackers and smart scales will be collected in the same place, so you can easily track trends and see the impact of your training sessions on your fitness.

When you’re at work, the Powerbuds Pro can quickly check the position of your head in relation to your spine to determine whether you’re slouching and putting yourself at risk of back and neck problems further down the road.

They’re not quite perfect (heart rate measurements were consistently higher than those measured by our chest strap monitor, and there are no ear hooks to hold them securely as there were with the original Powerbuds), but they’re an excellent choice if you just want to stick with a single pair of earphones for all occasions, and sometimes like to run without a watch.

If you’re looking for some rugged running headphones, the Adidas RPT-01 could be a good fit – sure, not everyone wants to wear on-ear headphones while working out, but the breathable design of these Adidas cans means you won’t overheat.

The knitted headband and ear cushions can even be removed and washed after particularly sweaty sessions. Plus, with a 40-hour battery life, they’ll last you for multiple marathons. 

While the sound quality isn’t the finest we’ve ever heard, the RPT-01s are suitably loud and bassy, which is something you’ll want to push you through that final lap. They’re certainly the best running headphones we’ve tested with this form factor.

Now committed to a yearly refresh of the popular mid-range model, the Jaybird X4 manage to outdo both the previous Jaybird X2 and Jaybird X3 wireless Bluetooth earphones, with an upgraded IPX7 water-resistance rating. Whether you’re sweating buckets or running doggedly through the rain, the X4 will be able to cope with it.

The Jaybird X4 running headphones also manage to keep the series’ surprisingly good sound. These earphones are certainly fitness first, but that doesn’t mean the other things people look for in a pair of earphones – you know, like music – have fallen by the wayside.

Jaybird’s excellent app provides easy EQ customization as well as the ability to make your own sound profile, with various ear tip sizes to boot. A great all round choice for runner who don’t want to skimp on sound – or be wary of the weather.

Alternatively if you’re after an even more premium experience, the Jaybird Tarah Pro earbuds offer higher-quality audio and materials for a somewhat higher $159 £139 / AU$229 price tag.

Although we’re still big fans of the Jaybird X4 headphones, take a look at the Jaybird Vista true headphones further down the list – they’re our top pick if you’re in the market for a pair of true wireless earbuds. 

The Under Armour True Wireless Flash running headphones are a solid entry into the true wireless market, with strong audio, ergonomic design, and a hefty battery life (25 hours, including the case’s four extra charges) to really make your purchase last throughout the week.

There are also two smart noise technologies that that help these earbuds stand out. Tapping the left earbud once will activate Talk-Thru, which quietens audio for momentary conversation or when you need to be on alert, while Ambient Aware (tap the left earbud twice) recreates outside noise using external microphones.

UA has gone for stamina rather than convenience with these running headphones though, and the charging case can feel like a bit of a brick to carry around – especially during exercise. You also won’t get any speed charging features here, meaning you shouldn’t wait until five minutes before a workout to plug the case into the wall. But for the sporty among you, the pros should certainly outweigh the cons.

There’s wireless, and then there’s true wireless, and the top-end Jabra Elite Sport are the latter. Beyond the cordless design, the headline feature of these running headphones is the Hear Through tech that allows you to control the way the buds let in or filter out ambient noise – with just a quick button press.

The on-the-go charging case provides 13.5 hours of battery life in total, but with just 4.5 hours available from a single charge, slower marathon runners will probably want to jog on – although for 99% of your training, this won’t be an issue.

Although not marketed for swimming, they’re also IP67 certified water resistant. The companion app also utilizes the built-in heart rate monitor to enhance your workouts, along with the internal accelerometer to monitor your reps of squats, lunges and the like.

These are expensive buds, but the amount they can do is incredible – for many, they’ll be your go-to choice for your new running headphones.

If you don’t want to spend big on the company’s Aeropex running headphones, the AfterShokz Trekz Air offer many of the same features and overall audio quality for significantly less money.

Although not as compact or light in terms of their design, the Trekz Air do come with an IP55 rating, making them fit for sweaty workouts. Adopting the signature wraparound titanium frame, their 30g weight is distributed well to ensure they’re comfortable to wear and stay in place.

Pairing with devices over Bluetooth, these running headphones feature controls to adjust volume and a mute button to make it quick and easy to cut music in busy environments – or, if you need to have a conversation. 

Sound quality is as good as you’ll find on bone conduction headphones, although in busier environments, they’ll struggle to be heard. At full volume, you might experience some of the tickling sensation familiar with bone conduction, so these are best used at moderate volumes.

Offering six hours of battery life, the Trekz Air also come with a quick-charge feature that will get you an hour of listening time in just 15 minutes of charging.

The Mu6 Ring headset leaves your ear canals free so you can hear the world around you, but unlike the Aftershokz running headphones we’ve tested, it doesn’t use bone condition. Instead, it simply positions a small speaker in front of each ear, which means you don’t get the annoying tickling sensation of something vibrating against your cheekbone, but there’s also a lot more sound leakage.

The headset is lightweight and comfortable though, and didn’t budge no matter how hard we worked during our training sessions. It works well for listening to music and taking calls at your desk as well, and never starts to rub or bite. It keeps running for around eight hours on a single charge, so can keep you entertained for an entire day of Zoom meetings. 

It’s good value too, costing considerably less than similar style bone conduction headsets. If you can live with the sound leakage, then it’s well worth considering.

Running headphones FAQ

What type of headphones are best for running?

If you’re running somewhere busy, bone conduction headphones that leave your ear canals open will make sure you can hear pedestrians and traffic around you, whereas earbuds with soft silicone ‘fins’ will block out more sound while remaining firmly in place while you run.

Do headphones fall off when running?

Yes, many on-ear headphones will fall off, so you’ll need a pair that are specially designed for sport. They should be sweat-proof so they don’t become slippery, with a springy headband to hold them in place. Alternatively, check out a pair of running earbuds or a bone conduction headset.

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