To say this year has created unusual workout situations is an understatement. But whether you’re working in your living room, on the trails or maybe even back in the gym, one thing remains consistent: You need a pair of good headphones. No matter your activity of choice, the best workout headphones will stay in place while you’re running around and won’t get ruined from a little sweat.
Wireless earbuds are popular for many types of workouts, from cycling to lifting weights, but there are a number of different options to consider within that category, as well as a few situations when you might prefer something else entirely.
Maybe you’ve got a special playlist or a coaching app on your phone, maybe you need to drown out the noise around you. Or maybe you’re like me and like to use long runs as a chance to catch up on podcasts. Below, I’ve pulled together the right pair for every workout and preference, from earbuds for running to over-ear headphones for meditation.
The Back Bay Duet 50 Pro earbuds might only cost $50, but this pair’s feature set and sound quality challenge every pair of headphones on this list. These diminutive earbuds have 8 hours of battery life per charge. Pop them in the included 2600 mAh case between sessions and you’ll get up to 130 hours of life total — less if you use the case to charge your phone (a handy extra that not many other manufacturers offer). They fit snugly in your ear and include six sizes of tips so that you can get a perfect fit.
Soundwise, they’re impressively crisp for their size. I used them to stream the audio as I caught up on an old Alien movie and was astounded at how clearly I could hear the little atmospheric sound effects. Back Bay prides themselves on tuning their products to “American Hi-Fi sound” which basically means punchy bass and sharp high range tones with a neutral mid. The effort they’ve put in really shows.
They might not have all the tricks of more expensive earbuds, but for $49.99, they don’t have to. These buds accomplish exactly what you need them to: provide excellent sound and a long battery life in a package you don’t have to worry about losing.
JBL Live 300TWS are fantastic running companions. These diminutive buds don’t have any unsightly tails dangling from your ears or vestigial wire holding them together. They just fit in your ear, stabilized so that they don’t pop out. The gesture controls can be fiddly at times, but once you get the hang of them, they’re perfect for running, where you only have to poke at them for a second or two to change the volume, skip to the next track, answer a call (they work with your smart assistant), or, my favorite, activate Ambient Aware so that you can hear what’s around you.
You’ll get 20 hours of playback with the included charging case, they have IPX5 waterproofing for sweat and water so you don’t have to worry about getting caught in the rain and their sound is crisp and clear. Plus, they come in some eye-catching colors other than black and white. If you’re going to be spending hours running with a pair of earbuds, this is the set to get.
It seems a little obvious, but there’s good reason AirPods Pro nab this spot. If you have an Apple device, be it an iPhone or a Watch, AirPods Pro just work, no fussing with Bluetooth, no gritting your teeth as you try to reconnect them during the middle of your run.
AirPods Pro initiates pairing with your iPhone automatically when they’re first activated and are then paired automatically with all your other devices. So if you leave the iPhone at home and just workout with your Apple Watch, you don’t have to worry about making a fresh connection, just pop in your earbuds and start listening.
It also doesn’t hurt that they have fantastic ANC, excellent sound, good battery life, and convenient features like auto-pause, a listening mode, and automatic reading of Messages. Plus, Apple continues to enhance them, with new spatial awareness coming later this year. The fact that the company continues to improve the AirPods Pro makes them a solid investment.
I like the JBL Endurance Peak for working out at the gym (instead of the far off vistas their name conjures) for one simple reason: the Powerhook. These little loops fit around your ear and keep the earbuds stable no matter what you’re doing. They’re smart too, switching off automatically when you take them out and they snap back to their resting place.
The touch controls aren’t quite as robust here as they are on the JBL Live, but I’m OK with that. I find I want a more basic earbud at the gym — standing there fiddling with my earbuds to get them to do what I want just draws stares.
The Endurance Peak lasts for 28 hours (with charging case) and have IPX7 waterproofing. And at $79, you’re not going to be worried about losing them. Not that you will, because it would take a barbell to the head to dislodge these suckers. They’re the perfect gym companion.
JBL UA True Wireless Flash are waterproof, cord-free earbuds with soft Sport Flex Fit cushioning to keep them securely in your ears. Waterproof with an IPX7 rating, they’re not only going to survive your sweatiest workout, but also when you get caught in a surprise downpour.
Each pod features a 5.8mm driver, Bluetooth connectivity, and a 5-hour battery. The included aluminum case can recharge the set up to 25 hours. UA Flash also features “Bionic Hearing” for TalkThru and Ambient Aware features. TalkThru lets you lower playback volume and enhance speech when you touch the left earbud. AmbientAware mode is activated with a double-tap and pipes in a bit of the background noise around you so stay aware of your surroundings.
The physical buttons on the earbuds make it easy to control playback when your hands are slick and activate your voice assistant. Especially for running, I’ve not found a more comfortable or more reliable pair of earbuds.
These true-wireless Sony earbuds bring the digital noise cancellation and adaptive sound control of their other headphones to a smaller package. These don’t have the onboard chip of the WH-1000XM3, but they still block out a good amount of sound. More importantly, they automatically adapt as your situation adapts. Rather than having to constantly take your earbuds in and out of your ears, the WF-SP800N will adjust the level of noise cancellation and allow you to hear what’s going on around you, which is important for when you’re working out in the city.
They’re a little larger than other earbuds, but that also makes it easier to tap to activate the Quick Attention feature, which lets you instantly lower the volume and let ambient sound in without taking out your earbuds. The WF-SP800N will last 18 hours with the included charging case (or up to 26 hours if you don’t use ANC) and have IP55 water resistance (so no swimming).
Wicked Audio’s Arq wireless earbuds are small and comfortable — I could wear them for hours and not even know they’re there. The trade-off is that they’re not waterproof. But if that’s not a concern, these are worthy of your consideration. They turn on as as soon as they’re taken out of the charging case, helpfully identifying themselves as left or right channel, a nice touch forgotten by other earbuds.
The one thing I didn’t expect from Wicked Audio’s Arq wireless earbuds was nuanced bass. But listening to “Cornelius Street” off of Tay-Tay’s Lover, there it is. It’s not a punch, not a “blat,” but a pleasing “thump” as the bass beat kicks in and sets the tempo for Swift’s latest bop. The case itself doubles as a powerbank, a helpful feature that more manufacturers should mimic.
Anyone who says meditation isn’t a challenge hasn’t tried to do it while the entire family is home for the summer, trying to entertain themselves as they’re stuck in the house due to a pandemic. Meditation actually has enormous health and wellness benefits. (If you haven’t had a chance to check out an app like Headspace, I highly recommend doing so.) But the problem remains, even if you’re only doing it for 10 minutes a day, if those 10 minutes are filled with background noise, it’s exceedingly hard to find your zen.
This task becomes considerably easier when you pop on a pair of the best active noise cancellation (ANC) headphones on the market. The Sony WH-1000XM3 are legendary for their ability to completely eliminate external noise. Sony has designed a special processor (the QN1) whose sole purpose is noise cancellation. Not only is it great at blocking out engine noise (important for travelers) but also conversation and background noise. The WH-1000XM3 are even smart enough to detect how your personal sonic profile changes when you’re wearing glasses and adjusts accordingly. But all of the technical details fade into the background as soon as you put them on. You’ll be so focused on how insanely quiet they make everything. The noise cancellation the Sony WH-1000XM3 delivers is without peer. It’s like stepping off a busy street into a library. Speaking of, these headphones are smart enough to detect when you’re walking or when you’re commuting, and adjust the level of cancellation automatically. You can even use the app to set whether they focus on voices (so that you don’t miss a PA announcement).
They’re the most expensive headphones on this list at $349, but they’re the best ANC headphones I’ve ever tried. Period. If you can’t meditate with these babies on, then you can’t meditate.