Consumers have many options when it comes to headphones and even earbuds. Music lovers tend to emphasize sound quality and fidelity and then fit, style, convenience, features and much more.
The choice often is not a simple one, and it becomes even more challenging when you factor in energetic hard work and a lot of sweat and perhaps even a lack of attention for the gadgets you wear. The objective with this guide is to help you identify the best headphones for working out.
Our team has tested and reviewed a lot of different options that are popular and currently available. Here, we’ll assess them, compare them and put them in the context of price range as well as other deal-breakers and makers. Our goal isn’t just to identify the best workout headphone for some imaginary, average consumer but to help you determine the best wired or wireless workout headphones for you.
Comparison Chart: Best Workout Headphones 2023
|Sennheiser OCX 686||-||Wired||8.9/10|
|Plantronics BackBeat FIT|
|Senso ActivBuds S-250|
|Plantronics BackBeat FIT 500||8 hrs||Bluetooth||7.5/10|
1. Best Wireless Sport Headphones: Jaybird X3
- MINI WIRELESS BUDS – The X3 Headphones by Jaybird are designed to be as small as possible without sacrificing performance and looks
The X3 from Jaybird are by far the best workout headphones. These are also the best workout earbuds we tested period. Our team did test products that cost three times as much or more, and none of them felt and sounded good enough at that price to make our list.
The fit and design are just very impressive overall. These are discreet but stylish. The earbuds are connected by a super-slim but highly durable cable. A small panel provides you easy control access. Those three buttons are convenient to press but not so much that you’ll trigger them accidentally.
The seamlessness of the design is what makes these the best earbuds for working out. They’ll fit without issue under a helmet or other headgear. The seams are tight, and a special coating ensures that your sweat as well as other moisture won’t seep in and damage the device.
You can enjoy up to eight hours of music without recharging. It takes only about 20 minutes or so to get enough charge for about an hour. This is great since there will be those times you forget to charge them, and an hour is just about right for the usual workout session.
The Jaybird X3 is compatible with just about every smartphone and MP3 player on the market, including Apple products. There’s also a free X3 app that you can download. Get this: use it to set a profile for the earbuds that will dictate your listening experience regardless of what device it’s connected to or what app you’re using. Such a great touch!
Sound quality is what seals the deal on this amazing product. Quality and fidelity are just downright impressive for sports headphones, and the app-based customization is just far beyond anything that the other best wireless earbuds for working out that we tested offer.
2. Best Wired Sports Headphones: Sennheiser OCX 686G
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Sennheiser is among the most established and respected names in headphones, so it should come as little surprise that they’d make our list at least once.
Although Sennheiser makes music-listening options that are state-of-the-art and cost hundreds of dollars, the company is also really good at delivering excellent value at a modest price. Sennheiser does this with conventional headphones, and it replicates that success in the workout space as well.
The Sennheiser OCX 686 are the highest rated workout headphones for the mid-range. These are over-ear workout headphones that lock the earbuds into place. This is one of the aspects we love about it. It’s worth mentioning that some people find this approach uncomfortable, but we acclimated to them just fine.
If this style suits you, then you get a lot for your money. The OCX 686 are water and sweat-resistant. The flat, reinforced wires are incredibly tough and will remain free of tangles regardless of what’s going on. A small inline panel offers a volume rocker as well as an inline mic, which makes these even more worthwhile if you need workout headphones with a mic.
Sound quality is excellent as well. They’re not up there with the X3s and there can be some subtle white noise at times, but for a fraction of the price you get boisterous sound. You should also note that there is an ear canal version of this product. It doesn’t remain quite as locked in as these do, but if over the ear is a deal-breaker for you, you may want to look at those instead.
3. Best Wireless Headphones for Running: Plantronics BackBeat FIT
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The BackBeat FIT headphones from Plantronics are not only the best Bluetooth headphones for running but the good workout headphones in general.
If wired isn’t a necessity for you and you can spend a bit more, we like these in place of the Sennheiser OCX 686 as well. One important reason for that is the feel. The Sennheiser design is a bit awkward. These are better shaped and a connecting band helps to keep any pressure off of your ears.
Like the Jaybird X3, these give you about 8 hours of workout time. These charge a bit faster, however, and only need about 15 minutes to charge up for an hour. Another feature we really enjoyed is the ear tip design. It’s slightly more open than usual, which allowed us to be a more aware of our surroundings without sacrificing all that much in terms of listening experience.
We did find the earbuds to be a little difficult to get into place at first but not much of a problem as we grew experienced with them. They did pop out once or twice over many hours of use. This has to do with the band that connects the buds. We think this comes down to head size, and guys with huge noggins will probably experience more issues than the average person.
The construction is premium throughout. These will last. Sound quality is excellent, and we like that they included an armband so that you don’t have to purchase one separately. One other issue we did have is that the buttons are a bit sensitive so we raised or lowered our music on accident a few times.
4. Best Bluetooth Workout Headphones on a Budget: Senso ActivBuds S-250
- True HD high Fidelity sound featuring latest Bluetooth 4.1 CSR technology and state of the art acoustic components that produce incredible sound quality with deep bass...
The Senso ActivBuds S-250 are the best workout headphones on a budget. They were in discussion for the top workout headphones, and if the Sennheiser option ever creeps back up in price, perhaps look at these instead.
Battery life is one area that really surprised us with this economy option. The eight hours it provides is comparable to the best Bluetooth workout headphones but at a much lesser price. The product includes a number of different ways to charge—including Apple—and a fast-charging mode lets you charge the device to full in under two hours.
The design is a bit basic, but that was all right with us. It won’t win over those who dislike the in-ear design, but they were easy to put on, felt comfortable and stayed in place. They also include different memory foam and silicone tip options so that you can get the perfect fit based on your individual ears, which is a nice touch.
Build quality is good, but don’t expect them to last as long as the Plantronics. Controls are easy to use and not overly sensitive, and they were in place no matter how hard we were working out.
The sound quality is decent and particularly at this price point. However, if you can step up in price to the Sennheiser earphones, you’ll get much better sound quality overall. Another potential con is that the noise cancelling didn’t seem all that effective. You’ll hear a lot more ambient noise than with other options on this list, and that may be a deal-breaker depending on the environment in which you work out.
5. Best Traditional Wireless Headphones: Plantronics BackBeat FIT 500
Many consumers find traditional headphones to be impractical for working out. That said, there are some who actually prefer them. This is particularly true among weightlifters, but the Plantronics BackBeat FIT 500 can be used when on a treadmill or a similar machine as well.
These best workout headphones are sweat-resistant through a military-grade nano-coating that not only protects against sweat but other moisture. The BackBeat FIT 500 also has a really comfortable design. You won’t feel the band on your head or the cups on your ears even after working out for an hour or more.
Many people agree that the best workout headphones are wireless and these are as well. They feature Bluetooth, work up to 33 feet away and support most smartphones, tablets and MP3 players. They also deliver a whopping 18 hours of playtime on a single charge, which really impressed us.
As you’d expect from Plantronics, the sound quality is excellent. The technology features 40-millimeter drivers with bass tubes as well as passive noise isolation that worked quite well for us. It also has an inline mic, which delivers decent enough quality for occasional use.
Note that there is a 505 model, but there’s no performance difference between them. The 500 comes in either black or white. The 505 is gray and only available from certain retailers.
How the Headphones Are Tested
All of these headphones have been tested during actual workout sessions: in the gym, at home, running through the neighborhood, lifting weights, on treadmills and spin bikes and so on and so forth.
We believe that’s some of the best insight that we can deliver you. After all, one of the big challenges that you face when selecting gym headphones is not getting to test them during an actual workout until you’ve already purchased them and had them delivered.
Our process for this guide placed great emphasis on design. The best workout earphones have to fit well, but more importantly, that fit had to persist through the session whatever the exercise or how hard we were working. What we absolutely hated—and we think most consumers will agree with this—are workout headphones that have to be adjusted constantly to feel comfortable.
If we’re fiddling with our headphones than our workout suffers. It may take longer, or we may just get less out of the precious time that we put in.
Another focal point for us was sweat. In order to be the best wireless headphones for working out, you have to continue to feel great even when dripping with sweat and generally feeling disgusting. Some manufacturers made some really odd design choices, including integrating fabric, so that 15 minutes into a workout the ear pieces just felt gross and continued to feel that way throughout the session.
Finally, we focused on features and connectivity. Most of the products we were impressed with had noise cancelling, which helped us focus and ignore the sounds of people talking and machines generating various noises. Not all but most of the products that made our list of best workout headphones are wireless, and we wanted to ensure that these devices connected to our devices with minimal fuss and remained connected until we turned them off.
What are the Important Factors to Consider When Buying Workout Headphones
The best earbuds for working out may be quite different for you than another person. You may not even like earbuds and prefer an on-the-ear fit instead.
The main factors you’ll want to consider are:
- Fit and design
- Sound quality and fidelity
If you have $100 to $150 to spend, you are golden and can have your choice of the premium wired or wireless headphones for gym use. If your budget is less than that, you still have a lot of great options, and that includes at $30 to $35, so don’t get too worried if you just can’t spend a lot right now.
Once you have your budget set, take some time to consider your usage. If you are primarily a runner, then you may want to consider wireless headphones for running specifically. If you have a home gym and work out in solitude, then noise cancelling may be a lot less important to you.
Fit and design are also essential considerations and the ones most impacted by personal preference. The sports earbuds can be really convenient but some people simply don’t like the feel or can’t wear them for various reasons. Some workout warriors prefer wired and run a short cord from their headphones to a smartphone or MP3 player strapped to an arm or chest band.
Recognize that you don’t have to sacrifice on sound quality just because you’re purchasing a product that’s wireless and intended for working out. The wireless headphones have come a long way over the last five years or so. Audiophiles may still have gripes, but the average consumer can enjoy a great listening experience while working out for under $50 even.
That’s not to say all products sound great. Many don’t, so be cautious about it when shopping.
Benefits of Working Out with Music
Perhaps the top reason to invest in workout headphones is that listening to music you love actually enhances your workouts in a number of amazing ways.
The science backs this up too. There have now been numerous clinical studies in the United States, United Kingdom and throughout Europe that have demonstrated tangible benefits. A London-based doctor who specializes in sport sciences—Costas Karageorghis—went as far as to call music a “legal drug” for athletes because it could increase endurance up to 15 percent and is actually able to decrease the sense of giving effort, which allows athletes to work harder and over longer periods.
In addition to that extra pep in your step, music helps to put you in a better mood. This is particularly helpful before the endorphins and adrenaline from exercising begin to flow through the body.
Music has also been shown in clinical studies to reduce the perception of a pain. Some researchers were even able to lower the need for drugs in patients managing postoperative pain, and for you, it means a distraction from aches and various other discomforts that you may otherwise focus on.
Many fitness professionals recommend adding music from the very start of a workout, such as when stretching or performing yoga. This will enhance your mood, boost your immunity, lessen stress and even help to suppress that anxiety many of us experience while working out in public.
Music can also help you keep up the pace. Choosing music that you really enjoy will help the time fly by. Choosing music that complements the pace of whatever you’re doing can help you to push yourself so that you’re maximizing that exercise and reaching new thresholds.
Is It Bad to Wear Headphones While Working Out?
Listening to music while working out is clearly not bad for you.
Some fitness experts do have concerns and recommend listening to ambient music instead of using headphones, earbuds or whatever. The problem here is that many modern gyms don’t even offer ambient music but rather offer Spotify playlists and the like instead. Even if ambient music is provided, it may not be right for your tastes or a particular activity.
- Breathing rhythm
Wires is a legitimate concern but it’s easy to overcome with use of wireless headphones for gym use. Even if you prefer wired, there are solutions. The cord doesn’t have to be six feet long and, in many cases, can just run from the ear piece to your bicep, chest, forearm, waist and so forth.
Awareness is a valid concern but certainly not a deal-breaker. We think it comes down to common sense. Take precautions. Don’t play music so loud that you can’t hear anything at all, and turn your music off while moving to a different station and getting situated at that new location.
Music can influence your breathing rhythm. However, this is really only problematic when it comes to long-distance running. Newbies may find it difficult to learn proper breathing patterns when listening to music, and many professional long-distance runners opt not to listen to music altogether, but these are very specific cases that do not apply to most people.
Perhaps what we didn’t know going in and were most impressed with when finished was just how far one can get in this segment on a budget. There are numerous wired and wireless sport earbuds and headphones that aren’t only economically priced but deliver really exceptional value at that price point.
The very best workout headphones on our list cost a lot less than $200. We think that reflects consumers being practical and manufacturers positioning themselves based on those expectations. The best gym headphones are convenient first and foremost. Sound quality does have to be good, but few workout warriors want to invest hundreds for a product that will likely experience great wear and tear and could succumb to the simplest of workout mishaps.
On a final note, you may have noticed that we did not review any workout earbuds or other solutions for swimmers. Submersion complicates matters a lot. A solution often involves buying a player too, and those products would really require a separate headphones buying guide in order to do them justice. In the meantime, we recommend that you look at the waterproof MP3 player and headphones from SYRYN as a really excellent and affordable option.
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Sarah Cummings says
Really informative post! I’m looking forward to replacing my old, worn out headphones. Thanks!