Tested: The 20 Best Wireless Earbuds for Runners

·19 min read
Photo credit: Lakota Gambill
Photo credit: Lakota Gambill


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Wireless earbuds are now smaller and more affordable than ever, yet it’s tough to know what kind of sound you can expect from these tiny devices before you buy.

For the sake of making useful comparisons, we segmented our test pool into three categories: Truly wireless, truly wireless with ear hooks, and wire-connected. Wire-connected means that while there’s no wire to plug the earbuds into your cellphone, there is a wire or band that joins the two earbuds to each other. We also added a fourth subcategory of cheap earbuds—models that cost under $70.

Check out the top five performers below, and keep scrolling for our full list of best picks. You’ll also find additional info on each type of earbud, tips from our gear experts, and the scoop on how we tested.

Truly Wireless

Photo credit: Trevor Raab
Photo credit: Trevor Raab

These buds have neither connecting wires nor hooks that extend around your ear; you just push them in and go. This design tends to fit snug in the ear canal to stop it from loosening mid-run. The compact style makes them lightweight, and their small batteries can mean shorter runtimes. However, all of our test models came with charging cases that allow you to juice them up on the go. Truly wireless earbuds also tend to be the most expensive.

Truly Wireless With Ear Hooks

Photo credit: Trevor Raab
Photo credit: Trevor Raab

Over-ear hooks take some pressure off the ear canal to hold these buds steady. Adding a hook can improve an earbud’s fit, too, since there’s a second point of contact to hold it in place. The hook can also store antennae or a battery, helping these buds play longer than their truly wireless counterparts. They’re generally marginally cheaper than truly wireless models, but some will cost more than $200 anyway.

Wire-Connected Earbuds

Photo credit: Trevor Raab
Photo credit: Trevor Raab

These earbuds are still untethered from your phone, but they use a wire or band to connect the buds and store batteries, microphones, or an antenna. If you can get past the connecting wire, you’ll enjoy better battery life (eight or more hours, compared to four from some truly wireless models) and a significantly lower price. These buds are typically smaller (because the connecting wires house some of their electronics), and less weight can mean less fiddling with the fit.

How We Tested

To keep the playing field level, we asked for feedback in the same categories from all of our testers. Their testing and impressions focused on the qualities of wireless earphones that are especially important to runners. Here’s what we considered:

Fit and Ambient Sound

How an earbud fits affects how much outside sound it lets in, and there’s no ideal balance for everyone. Some runners like buds that fit deep in their ears and block all outside noise, allowing them to focus on the tunes, while others prefer lots of environmental sound from a looser fit. (The latter fit is safer for running outside and among other people.) So although we didn’t rank the earbuds by ambient sound, we did rank them based on whether they stayed in our testers’ ears.

Photo credit: Trevor Raab
Photo credit: Trevor Raab

Because isolating you from the outside world should lend a clearer sound, we expected better sound quality from earbuds that fit snug in the ear than we did from earbuds that let in a lot of noise. For the best of both worlds, some of the pricier models offer an ambient sound mode, which uses the device’s microphone to bring in outside noise while maintaining a tight fit.

Durability

In two weeks of testing, we encountered few quality issues, but we also asked our testers to discuss how the earbuds felt—you’d expect a $200 set of buds to feel premium compared to a $40 pair. For long-term quality assessment, we checked user reviews from Amazon and other retailers to identify any persistent issues. We’ll update our findings if any issues crop up as we continue to run with these models.

Water- and Sweat-Resistance

None of our testers had issues with water or sweat ruining their buds, but in a longer test scenario, moisture can and will destroy earbuds that aren’t capable of repelling it. So, we factored in each device’s IP, or Ingress Protection, rating. The rating consists of two numbers.

  • The first indicates dust protection. The second is for water protection, ( or liquid ingress) which matter most to runners.

  • “X” in place of either number means there’s no data (so an “IPX” rating means dust protection wasn’t evaluated).

  • A score of one or two means an earbud can withstand dripping water.

  • Scores of three to six mean it will survive increasing amounts of rainfall for longer periods of time.

  • The gold standard is a score of seven to nine, meaning the earbud can be submerged in varying depths of water without failing.

Photo credit: Lakota Gambill
Photo credit: Lakota Gambill

Connectivity and Battery Life

We also asked testers to evaluate how quickly and easily the buds connected to their phones, and how far they were able to get from their phones before the signal cut out. In addition, we recorded any mid-run connectivity issues. To assess battery life, we checked manufacturers’ claims against our testers’ experiences and noted discrepancies where they occurred.

We’ll continually update this roundup with our test impressions of the latest wireless earbuds for runners. Tell us what you think about your buds in the comments.

Truly Wireless

Jabra Elite Active 75t

All the features for a bargain price

Jabra nailed the shape on the Elite Active 75t. Credit that to the angular build that nests snugly in the outer ear canal, without giving you that tightly sealed, high-pressure “thud” with each foot strike. The sound quality is crisp, dynamic, and full—rivaling Apple’s AirPods Pro—but these Jabras will cost you less and offer about 90 more minutes of battery on a single charge. (However, the hear-through mode isn’t quite as impressive.) For dust and water protection, they’re rated IP57, meaning they should withstand a sandstorm or a monsoon. Competing earbuds from Apple, Bose, Jaybird, and others may offer even better sound, superior comfort, or exceptional ambient-awareness modes; but, no brand does all of those things better than the 75t.

Jaybird Vista 2

These compact buds are more durable than ever

The Vista 2 lasts eight hours on a single charge—long enough to get you to the finish line of your next 26.2—and two hours longer than the original Vista. Plus, you’ll get an additional 16 hours with the charging case. This update preserved the same earbud shape, with a secure fit that seals out dust and moisture. Speaking of moisture, the sweat- and waterproof 2 improves to a rating of IP68 from the first version’s IP67. Double-tap (don’t press) to change between Active Noise Canceling (ANC) and SurroundSense (ambient noise pass-through) modes.

Ultimate Ear UE Fits

Custom-molded fit using smartphone app

Amid the list of household names on this list—Jaybird, JBL, Sony, and Bose—you may be surprised Ultimate Ear has a heritage spanning over a quarter of a century. The brand has developed custom-fit earbuds to rival competitors’ ergonomic tips and hooks that “fit most ears.” Using the app, the UE Fits buds mold into your ear during a one-time 60-second process. Customization isn’t limited to ear fit only on the app; you can also change controls and sound preferences (great for runners who prefer a heavy bass). No ANC feature is built-in, which makes sense since the molded fit seals out most surrounding noise. The buds are also sweatproof—but not waterproof.

JBL Under Armour True Wireless Flash

Ergonomically secure ear tips

This collab with Under Armour has a comfy, secure fit thanks to Sport Flex Fit tips that curve into your ear. The tips do a stellar job at blocking out sound, which is why the AmbientAware option (accessible by pressing the button on the right bud) is ideal for bionic hearing. On a single charge, the buds last for five hours. However, our tester found she didn’t have to plug in the charger for two weeks at a time, despite running for over an hour per day, six days a week. Plus, you can leave your phone at home if you have a smartwatch with music storage. Our tester didn’t miss a beat running with the Flash and her Garmin Forerunner 245 Music GPS watch.

Sony WF SP800N Truly Wireless

Best for podcasts and audiobook listening

A Jaybird Vista tester (see above) praised the sound quality of these Sony buds, after putting them to the test on a run through Queens, NY. “Best sound quality of any earbuds I’ve tried,” he said. “I didn’t have to turn up the volume as loud to hear my audiobook.” The sweat-resistant buds have a three-dimensional curved design for a fit that won’t slip or fall out. Pressed for time? A quick 10-minute charge gives you a full hour of listening.

Beats Studio Buds

Tiny noise-canceling buds

The Studio Buds are insanely small. “Each bud has a flat profile that you can grab, kinda like the tip of a Phillips head screwdriver,” said Runner-in-Chief Jeff Dengate. This makes them slightly difficult to handle if your hands are greasy with sunscreen or drenched with sweat. Fortunately, moisture won’t affect sound quality, function, or fit. “No slipping during a sweaty 5-miler on an 85-degree day,” Dengate added. The tactile buttons require a one light press to play/pause, two presses to skip, three to go back, and a long press to activate ANC/transparency mode or Siri. You’ll save a $100 opting for these instead of the brand’s Powerbeats Pro. But, the latter Pro model’s sound is “punchier and richer” and all-around better for running, according to Dengate.

Sony WF-1000XM4

Deep sound with customized audio, via app

The WF-1000XM4 has foam tips that stay secure and sound that pumps in deep and clear. There’s also automatic mode detection (the sound automatically switches to transparency mode when you speak with someone) and you can tweak the audio settings using the app. Because these buds are quite sensitive, there were rare occasions when the buds switched to “noise-canceling off” mode, due to a sudden downpour of rain. (The IP rating translates to “water-resistant,” not fully “waterproof.”) We found the connection was also sometimes spotty, requiring a quick touch on the right bud to turn-off/turn-on for a sound reset.

Jabra Elite Active 65t

High-end sound in a small package that stays put

The Elite Active 65t is no longer Jabra’s top sport earbud, but it’s almost as good as its successor. (The 75t has slightly better battery life, fit, and sound, and a much better HearThrough mode.) Both of our testers found a secure fit with the three included sizes of silicone inserts, and a regular AirPods user said the Jabras had the best sound quality of any wireless headphones he’d tried. The bass isn’t as impressive as offerings from Bose and Sennheiser, but the buds still thump when you’ve established a tight seal and deliver a balanced sound across hip-hop, rock, folk, and podcasts . The lightweight buds didn’t move once our runs began, and the HearThrough mode brings in ambient sound when necessary. However, the ambient sound quality still isn’t great when they’re sealed properly in your ears. Our second tester said he went down an insert size, losing some of the in-ear sound quality to gain ambient noise for outdoor running. The five-hour battery life is enough for most runs, and the small charging case packs an additional 10 hours. Sound investment: Jabra’s warranty covers the earbuds for two years of dust and sweat damage.

Bose SoundSport Free

Exceptional sound but inconsistent connectivity

If you’re going to pay $200 or more for anything Bose, it should first sound very good. The SoundSport Free delivers. “The sound quality is amazing,” said video producer Pat Heine. “Deep bass and crisp high tones. I mean, it’s Bose, not just a bass boost.” At 60 percent of his device’s highest volume setting, he could still hear nearby cars, so there’s a decent amount of ambient sound as long as you’re not blasting your tunes. However, the buds required continuous adjustment during runs, and the biggest gripe was connectivity. Heine said the earbuds would cut out when he moved his hand between his iPhone 6 and his ears, even with his phone in a pocket on his chest. Dengate had no problems, however, when using a pair with his newer iPhone XS.

Truly Wireless With Hooks

Skullcandy Push Ultra

Flexible hooks and terrific ambient sound

Skullcandy can even make hook earbuds look trendy. The hooks are a little big and can interfere with sunglasses if you wear shades on your run, but they’re flexible and moldable around the ear to ensure a snug fit during a workout. It helps that the buds have an IP67 rating, too. There are a few small compromises that are run-of-mill with hook earbuds. For example, one drawback is the Push Ultra’s massive case, which was a pain for ultrarunners on the trail for over six hours who needed to pocket the charging case for extra juice. Another is that the hook-style doesn’t seal out external sound. “You can actually hear birds chirp,” said Dengate. “But the sound quality is fine for running. Even podcasts are fully audible.”

Treblab X3-Pro

Rests comfortably over the ear

The X3-Pro has ergonomic over-the-ear hooks, which initially seemed loose during the first few wears, but we felt more confident with them after a couple runs. We experienced no bounce and there was no friction against our skin after long stretches listening to tunes. The sound quality is clear and consistent—not too harsh or muddled at higher volumes—and you can answer calls hands-free, thanks to the built-in microphone. You also can’t beat the low price. For an even cheaper option with the same nine hours of playtime (on one single charge without the case), opt for the brand’s wire-connected XR700 Pro model.

JLab Epic Air Sport ANC

Superb fit and comfort, but subpar noise-canceling


“The rubbery sport hooks give the most secure fit I’ve had of any wireless buds, without any uncomfortable suction causing that annoying high-pressure thump with each footstrike,” said test editor Morgan Petruny. “Plus, when my ears need a breather after a run, I’ll use those support wings to let the buds dangle off the top of my ear while my sweat dries, until I’m ready to switch to noise-cancelling mode for writing back at my desk.” The battery life holds more than enough juice for marathon distance—even if you were to walk it. (If you’re logging about three miles a day for a Run Streak, you’ll be able to go almost a month before reaching for the wireless charging case.) We were also impressed with the sound quality; the bass comes in full and robust—not weak or tinny—and you can tune it to your specific preferences in JLab’s companion mobile app. Just switch off the hear-through mode while running, since it does amplify wind noise.

Beats Powerbeats Pro

Big battery, expansive sound, stays put—near perfect

The Powerbeats Pro is the complete package: both well-rounded as wireless sport headphones and literally a large box that contains the earbuds and an additional 15 hours of juice. Not that you’re likely to need it; the buds last for nine hours on a single charge. “The sound you get from the Powerbeats Pro is really expansive,” said Dengate in his full review. “Every song sounds like you’re listening in a larger room, with speakers positioned away from you.” Ambient noise starts out minimal but increases as sweat causes the earbuds to lose some of their seal. The music gets a little hollower, but the awareness means you’ll pick up loud environmental noises like sirens and horns. Bluetooth pairing is immediate with an iPhone, and a five-minute quick charge delivers 90 minutes of playback. The Powerbeats are rated IPX4 so they’ll withstand a rainstorm (but not submersion), and despite their large size, the buds keep a low enough profile to be comfortable with a hat and sunglasses.

Plantronics BackBeat Fit 3100

A safe balance of ambient noise and great sound

Features director Matt Allyn used the Plantronics BackBeat Fit 3100 in midtown Manhattan traffic and on a serene Pennsylvania rail trail. He found that the 3100’s overall sound quality and ambient-noise awareness feature performed well in both environments. “On the rail trail, I could still make out the sounds of birds flapping nearby,” he said. Allyn also felt aware enough to Citi Bike around New York City wearing these buds, although they struggled with some interference from other electronic devices. (Many wireless models we’ve tested can have this problem.) The buds hover over the ear canal, rather than fitting within it, and use the hooks to stay in place. While the hooks didn’t require any adjustments once running, they did feel less comfortable if worn with sunglasses.

JBL Endurance Peak

Comfortable with quality sound, but don’t expect to hear much else

After six runs and some in-office use, one tester said she’d buy JBL’s Endurance Peak with her own money. Music sounded clear and balanced. Using the smallest ear tips, the buds stayed in her ears and the hooks didn’t ruin the fit of her sunglasses, remaining comfortable after hours of wear. Ambient sound was minimal, except when listening to podcasts at a very low volume. But, despite being larger than many similar headphones— and bearing the “Endurance” moniker—the JBL Peak delivered just four hours of battery life.

Wire-Connected

Plantronics BackBeat Fit 2100

Lightweight, with lots of ambient sound

At 26 grams, the BackBeat Fit 2100 is among the lightest weight models we’ve tested, and it uses a rigid rubberized connecting wire that helps reduce bouncing against your neck. The ear tips sit just outside your ear canal—this boosts ambient sound and lets you hear traffic, but prevents the overall sound quality from being as good as it could be. We haven’t had any issues with our test pair, although a worrisome number of Amazon reviews chronicle a hissing noise that develops after a couple of months.

Aftershokz Trekz Air

The ultimate headphones for urban running awareness

For road runners who aren’t comfortable jamming an earbud in as cars whiz past, there’s the Trekz Air. These headphones use bone conduction technology to transfer sound through your cheekbones, leaving your ears open to hear potential hazards before they sneak up on you. Compared to in-ear designs from Jaybird and Bose, the sound is “admittedly thinner and quieter, but I find it totally suitable for running,” said Dengate in his full review. The headband is lighter and slimmer than the previous model, which allows you to comfortably wear sunglasses with the headphones. A six-hour battery life and a sweat-resistant IP55 rating puts the Trekz Air right on par with truly wireless buds of a similar price—you’re losing an in-ear headphone’s full sound, but gaining total awareness.

Bose SoundSport

A comfortable, in-ear fit with excellent sound

The Bose SoundSport is among the best in this test because of its superior fit and impressive sound quality. Test editor Bobby Lea quickly dialed in the comfort so the buds didn’t pop out mid-workout, despite the big speaker housing. And the sound quality was as crisp and dynamic as you’d expect from Bose. The earbuds quickly connected to Lea’s iPhone 7 and stayed tethered more than 100 feet away from it. Alas, the buds don’t let in much ambient sound. “They make you largely oblivious to the world around you, even at half volume,” Lea said. The SoundSport will give you a quality audio experience—just don’t let it impede your awareness in high-traffic areas.

Cheap Earbuds

JLab Go Air

The best truly wireless buds you’ll find for $30

Associate test director Will Egensteiner said these buds’ lack of ear wings initially made them feel insecure, but they stayed put nicely during runs without generating a noticeable “thud” at each foot strike. (Our other tester with very petite ears had to swap out the medium-sized silicone tips for the smallest option—JLab includes three different size—to keep the buds from falling out.) However, working up a sweat caused a slight rubbing noise where the silicone tip sealed in the ear. That seal wasn’t so tight as to prevent Egensteiner from hearing his surroundings—a plus for outdoor running. But because of that, the sound wasn’t as immersive, and the battery life wasn’t on par with the other models. But, it’s tough to argue with $30 truly wireless earbuds that offer modest water-resistance, quick and easy pairing, a charging case, a built-in microphone to take phone calls—and a full two-year warranty.

JBL Reflect Mini 2

Clear sound and a secure fit for less than competitors’ buds

The JBL Reflect Mini 2 isn’t the newest pair of headphones, but a price drop to $40 (down from $100) makes them an attractive value proposition. The buds form a tight seal in your ears and don’t move after you’ve started to trot. The downside for outdoor runners is the lack of ambient sound, which also isolates your tunes from the outside world. Video production manager Jimmy Cavalieri also used them while mowing his lawn. “Although I could still hear my lawnmower, the earbuds blocked out enough engine noise that the quality of the audio still sounded clear without having to max out the volume,” he said. “When I concentrated on my music, I could still identify each instrument.” The connecting wire between the buds is lightweight and hardly noticeable midrun, and the Reflect Mini 2 quickly paired with Bluetooth and stayed connected up to 100 feet away. The earbuds also sport reflective cables for nighttime visibility, an IPX5 water-resistant rating, and an impressive 10 hours of battery life.

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