Running without music? No thanks.
If you’re someone who needs the distraction of your favourite songs to get you out on the pavements, we hear you. Nothing makes a run go quicker than very loud music that makes you feel like you’re in the world’s most empowering aerobics class.
The field for running headphones, though, is a crowded one, with staunch competition between big name brands evolving their offering with every new launch. With so many to choose from, and all with varying functions, it’s hard to know which ones will work best for you.
Nearly all running headphones are now wireless, meaning they will connect to your phone via Bluetooth without needing to be plugged into the phone itself. Otherwise, the main things you’ll want to consider are; a comfortable fit, battery life, and, of course, the sound quality. Some offer noise cancelling, allowing you to shut out the outside world, along with an ambient mode that lets in the sounds around you so you can maintain spacial awareness. Others also have top level sweatproof ratings, meaning your fancy tech won’t be affected by your beady brow.
A lot of it will come down to personal preference - some people love earbuds, others find them a tricky fit or too intrusive. Others will value noise cancelling, while some may want a versatile option that’s as good for commuting as it is for running.
We’ve tested a range of options currently available - here’s what we recommend if you’re looking for a pair of running headphones.
If, like me, most of your runs take place on pavements around the city, these headphones are a god-send. Shokz (formerly known as AfterShokz) are the market leaders in bone conduction headphones, which means they don’t cover your ears and you can still hear everything around you.
The clever technology sends vibrations through your cheekbone instead of the eardrum, so you remain aware of your surroundings. It’s a genius idea, brilliantly executed. The sound is still crisp, but runs feel much safer. As someone who has been put off from running home from the office because of the amount of traffic I’d need to dodge, I’m thrilled by these innovative headphones.
Other great features that make these a good workout-specific choice are a higher than average waterproof rating, and a moisture detection alert - they will beep if they need to be dried. They’re easy to set up and have an eight hour battery life. Sure, they don’t offer a noise cancelling option like other headphones, but they’re not designed to.
My only bugbear - and it’s a small one - is that they aren’t available in different sizes. The wire at the back wasn’t a very snug fit, meaning it occasionally got knocked by my ponytail that nudged the speakers.
Buy now £119.95, Amazon
Jaybird Vista 2
This is a brilliant choice for anyone super serious about working out, particularly in the great outdoors. The wing-tip design means these earbuds will not budge (believe me, I tried), they feel incredibly durable and have a 24-hour battery life. The sound quality is excellent and powerful both in Active Noise Cancellation mode and in SurroundSense mode, which allows you to hear what’s going on around you.
They’re a great option for long runs, but will also be loved by cyclists - particularly those not put off by a bit of rain and mud. They need to be set up in an app, which has a handy ‘find my buds’ function and options to customise your sound. The fit is quite firm, but these are the most immersive, sport-orientated headphones on the list.
Buy now £149.00, John Lewis
The Powerbeats Pro from Beats are a popular choice for very good reason. Setting up your Beats is fuss-free - they automatically pair with your phone, without having to install an app.
For me, these were the comfiest running headphones on the list - the over-ear loop means they have a secure fit, without being too firm. They’re also easy to use, with easy to reach buttons for play/pause and changing the volume.
The quality of sound is as superior as you’d expect, and although they don’t have a noise-cancelling option, I actually preferred having a bit of sound let in while out running. The battery will last for nine hours out of the case, and 24 hours with the charging case, but not everyone will love how bulky the charging case is.
Buy now £219.95, Argos
JBL Live PRO+
These cheerful earbuds are stiff competition for Apple’s pricier AirPods. They were among the comfiest and most secure for me while out running, and have up to 28 hours of battery life in the case, with seven hours of playback. They also come in a small pocket-friendly case.
Easy to set up, you can change the equaliser within the app, where you can also switch between noise cancelling and ambient sound modes. I didn’t notice a huge difference between the modes when out running, but the sound quality is strong for the price. I’d strongly recommend these for runners who don’t love earbuds but are looking for something lightweight.
Buy now £99.99, JBL
Jabra Elite 7 Active
This classy looking pair of earbuds from Jabra come in navy, black and mint colours and look very premium. They’ve been designed with a special silicone material which is designed to make them fit well for workouts; they stayed in when I tested them while running, but weren’t the most secure-feeling earbuds on the list.
These headphones have great, clear sound and strong noise cancellation as well as a handy hear through mode. They are offer a good audio experience - and you can customise sound in the app. The earbuds are water resistant and have a good battery life - eight hours even while using ANC, and 30 hours with the case. They’re definitely one of the best options out there, although how much you love them will depend on how well you get on with earbuds.
Buy now £169.99, John Lewis
Bang & Olufsen Beoplay EQ
Bang & Olufsen have always been one of the best when it comes to audio products, but are relatively new to the earbud market. For the price point, you’d expect the Beoplay EQs to offer superior sound, and they definitely do. The app allows you to switch listening modes, so you can get the best sound to suit your activity, whether you’re commuting, running or listening to a podcast. The active noise cancellation function can also be put into adaptive mode, working to suit your specific noise surroundings, and battery lasts 6.5 hours with ANC on. The charging case lasts 20 hours, and a 20 minute charge will give two hours of battery life.
On the downside, the earbuds are pretty bulky, and I struggled for a comfy fit. To my horror, they pinged out twice while I was out running, and the touch controls are not hugely intuitive. They sound fantastic, but they didn’t feel like the most secure option for runners.
Buy now £369.00, Selfridges
If you’re in the market for something a bit more budget-friendly, Audio-Technica’s wireless earbuds are an excellent option. They look fun, coming in a range of five cheerful colour options, have a dinky little charging case that slots perfectly in your pocket, and are a good, comfy fit for ears.
The sound quality is fine for the price, and they’re easy to set up - no app required - and will tell you the battery status when you turn them on. They can run for 6.5 hours, or 19.5 hours with the charging case. Although there’s no noise cancelling option, it does have a hearthrough function, but it sounds pretty windy when running, and there is a bit of a lag in some of the button functions. So not top of the range, but these do what they say on the tin and are a great lower budget option.
Buy now £79.99, Audio-Technica
These earbuds from Technics combine great sound with a good fit, two very big ticks from me for a pair of running headphones. The noise cancellation they offer is also among the strongest on the list - if you want some earbuds that help you shut out the world while out running, as well as an ambient sound mode to keep you aware, these are the ones for you.
You’ll get seven hours of playback, but that ups to 24 hours if you use the charging case, which is a small pocket-friendly size. The app also gives you plenty of options for adjusting the sound exactly to your liking, and a find my headphones function.
Buy now £199.99, Amazon
Pioneer DJ CUE1s
These may seem a bit of a wildcard choice for runners - Pioneer are known for being the go-to brand for DJs. These headphones, which can be worn wirelessly with a Bluetooth connection, are a cheaper entry level point into the brand, and because they’re secure and lightweight to wear, they work well for workouts if you prefer this over-the-head design. And because Pioneer are favourites of the music world, you know the sound is going to be good quality.
They’re easy to connect to your phone - no app required - and have 30 hours of battery life. The design is also flexible, with the ability to fold into a more compact size for carrying. You can definitely get more sport-specific headphones, but if you want something versatile with a different feel, these are worth considering.
Buy now £85.00, Amazon
JLab Epic Air Sport ANC True Wireless Earbuds
Budget-friendly options are taking on some of the pricier models in this crowded field - and JLab are strong competitors.
With a lower price than many on this list, these over-ear headphones manage to offer a mind bogglingly battery life - 15 hours with the headsets, and an extra 55 hours from the charging case (50 hours with noise cancelling). It also has a built-in charger on the case, making it practical to carry around, and offer ANC as well as a ‘be aware’ mode. These aren’t as powerful as other models, and the touch control takes a while to get used to, but if you like a secure fit on a lower budget, these are definitely contenders.
Buy now £69.99, Currys
For runners in the city, we recommend Aftershokz - they offer an innovative solution to safety while running, without compromising on sound or comfort. Bone conduction headphones won’t be to everyone’s tastes, though, so if you’re looking for something that will fit well while offering easy functionality and good sound, Powerbeats Pro are a strong crowdpleasing option.