After testing 136 sets of headphones and considering an additional 90, we are yet again convinced that the JLab Epic2 is the best pair of wireless workout headphones for most people, because they sound good, fit comfortably, and stay out of your way during rigorous workouts. Our testing showed that these earbuds should withstand abuse, sweat, and moisture when used properly, plus they’re backed by a one-year warranty and responsive customer service.
The JLab Epic2 remains in the top spot because no other pair of wireless workout headphones performs as well where it matters. First, the Epic2 earbuds comfortably fit a wide variety of ear sizes and shapes. Second, they stay in place and remain unobtrusive even during intense, high-impact workouts. You can easily use the slim inline remote without looking, and unlike the remotes on many competing models, it won’t bang against your head if you bounce or jump during exercise. The cord is lightweight, and you can clip it securely to minimize cable noise, an annoyance that plagued a shocking number of headphones we tested. These headphones also sound better than the vast majority of workout models, and this pair’s 12 hours of battery life will get you through nearly two weeks’ worth of hour-long workouts on a single charge. Finally, while sport headphones are prone to breakage, the JLab Epic2 should stand up to everyday abuse, sweat, and moisture, so long as you remember to close the charging port before use. We tried our best to kill three sets of the Epic2 and only barely succeeded with one pair.
If our pick is sold out, or if you need a more durable set of headphones with no charging port to corrupt, the Jaybird X3 is the way to go. These earbuds sound quite good and have a long, eight-hour battery life, but the X3’s biggest advantage is its thicker, wider cable and fully water-resistant, port-free charging system. With this design, you can’t forget to seal it up after charging and accidentally get sweat in the battery compartment. However, you do need a proprietary widget to make it work, which costs $10 to replace (as part of a set) if you lose it. Should anything else go wrong, Jaybird backs this model with a two-year warranty against sweat damage—one of the longest warranties we’ve come across for this kind of earbud. You can customize the X3’s fit to make the cable hang over or under your ear, though the setup may take several attempts to get perfect. Additionally, the port-less charging system’s small proprietary widget could be easy to lose or forget if you’re accustomed to the standard Micro-USB port.
If you’re a casual gym-goer, the Aukey Latitude EP-B40is the best cheap option. These earbuds are the only sub-$50 pair we tested that sounded pretty good and fit comfortably while still being able to take some abuse. The silicone wings and tips keep the earbuds secure, while the IPX4 rating means the Latitude won’t quit when faced with a little sweat. Magnets in the earbuds allow you to clip the Latitude around your neck when you aren’t using it, and the eight-plus-hour battery life will get you through more than a week of hour-long workouts before you have to recharge. Additionally, a two-year warranty protects against manufacturing defects. That said, the Latitude headphones aren’t nearly as durable against moisture as our top picks, and the long cable will have a tendency to bounce annoyingly when you jog and to tug a bit as you turn your head.
Why you should trust us
Not only do I hold a bachelor’s degree in both music performance and audio production from Ithaca College, but I also have tested literally hundreds of headphones while working for The Wirecutter.
I spent several years in terrestrial radio before moving on to become a professional voice actor in Los Angeles, a job I still do and love. In other words, I’ve been in and out of top recording studios for over a decade. I also have reviewed high-end home audio equipment for publications such as Home Entertainment, Home Theater Magazine, and Sound & Vision. My articles have been featured in Fast Company, Forbes, the Los Angeles Times, and Time, and on Good Morning America, the BBC World Service, and NBC Nightly News. In other words, I’ve got a pretty good handle on what’s out there and what’s worth your time and hard-earned money, and I am committed to finding gear that will make you happy.
Then there’s our panel of experts: In addition to myself, Lauren Dragan, we had Brent Butterworth, a Wirecutter AV writer with decades of experience in the audio field for publications such as About.com, Home Theater, Sound & Vision, and many others; John Higgins, a session musician, sound editor, and occasional Wirecutter writer with a music master’s degree from the University of Southern California; and Geoff Morrison, AV editor at large for The Wirecutter and writer for CNET, Forbes, and Sound & Vision, with over a decade and a half of audio and video reviewing under his belt.
Who should get this
Wireless workout headphones are for people who:
- Want to block out external distractions while getting in the zone with their favorite tunes.
- Get annoyed by long cables tethering them to a device.
- Don’t mind having to charge their headphones. If you work out several hours a week, on average, you’ll need to charge every other week.
- Don’t need to hear their surroundings to stay safe, such as when running or biking.
While all of our picks in this guide passed our stress tests and are labeled as sweat resistant and sturdy, they’re still electronics. That means their durability has limitations, and they require even more care than corded sport earbuds. It’s important to treat your earbuds well if you want them to last beyond the initial warranty period.
Some tips: Allow your headphones to dry off before charging, clean them occasionally, and avoid leaving water inside the earbuds or the charge port for long periods of time. While our picks are on your head, they can get briefly wet and then dry numerous times and still function perfectly—not so much if they’re inside a sweaty shorts pocket for an hour, or in a steam room. You should also avoid storing them in very hot or cold environments, such as your car.
How we picked
Photo: Kyle Fitzgerald
When researching the best workout headphones, we first sifted through the offerings of more than 100 headphone companies to see what new sport headphones they had released since our last update. We then consulted reviews on tech and audio sites such as CNET, Engadget, and PCMag, as well as on sports and lifestyle sites like Men’s Fitness, Runner’s World, and The Active Times to see what athletes liked. From there, we looked at customer reviews on Amazon, Best Buy, and other retailer sites to see what actual owners had to say. As we read, we looked for models that had the most important features and attributes of good wireless workout headphones.
- Sweat and water resistance is a must for workout headphones. Standard headphones aren’t built to withstand the beating that gym headphones can take, so their warranties likely won’t cover moisture damage.
- Comfort is always important, but especially with workout headphones. If they bang against your head, fall out, or chafe, you won’t want to use them. The best workout headphones are the ones that stay on and out of your way.
- Ease of use matters more than usual in this category. You don’t want to have to pause your workout to skip a track or adjust the volume. A good pair of sport earbuds has an intuitive remote that you can use without much thought.
- The price range shouldn’t be so high that you are reluctant to use your headphones at the gym for fear of loss or theft.
- Noise isolation is a valuable feature in a gym, not only so you can ignore the dudebro dropping his weights unnecessarily, but also so you don’t have to crank your music’s volume up to dangerous volumes to drown out the general din. It’s just as important to avoid hearing damage as to avoid any other injury.
- The sound quality should be solid and not distracting. Gym headphones are a piece of sporting equipment, so in this category we’re a little more forgiving of sonic flaws. That said, if the headphones’ bass is so muddy that you can’t hear the vocals, or if the high-hat is so piercing that you can’t turn up the volume, you won’t enjoy your music. Ideally, you’d have both great fit and great sound, but when in doubt, comfort comes first.
- Call quality is only a minor concern. You should be able to take a quick call and get back to your workout. We don’t recommend making your big presentation from the elliptical machine, so we looked for intelligibility rather than perfection here.
- The brand reliability and warranty are key, because if something goes wrong, you want to know that the company involved will be around to stand behind its product.
We called in every model that met these criteria (and either had positive reviews or was too new to have any feedback) for our expert panel to evaluate.
Our pick: JLab Epic2
Photo: Kyle Fitzgerald.
The JLab Epic2 is our top pick yet again because these earbuds fit most people comfortably and stay firmly in place during rigorous workouts. They’re also easy to use, affordable, and very durable with proper care. And they sound great too. We tested dozens of new headphones in this category, and none of them were as pleasant to use on a regular basis. Many had huge Bluetooth transmitters that slammed against the neck when we bounced, long cables that snagged and made noise, or sound quality so terrible, we literally couldn’t hear parts of our music. Once we saw just how much junk was out there, the many attributes of the Epic2 became even more appealing.
While it’s impossible to design earbuds that fit absolutely everyone, this pair was the closest we could find. With the Epic2’s six sets of silicone tips and one set of Comply foam tips, everyone on our panel was able to find a set that fit comfortably and sealed out external noise. You may still hear the lowest bass thumps of music from that spin class that always leaves the cycle-room door open, but you won’t be able to make out the lyrics. A wire hook over the ear helps to hold each earbud securely in place but is thin enough to allow for glasses. And this pair doesn’t chafe, even after several hours on the treadmill. Unlike more modular designs with removable wings and hooks, which involve a learning curve to set up and get a suitable fit, the Epic2 is grab-and-go simple to use.
Photo: Kyle Fitzgerald.
The Epic2 excels when it comes to durability: Sweat, water, and dirt are no match for these earbuds. But as with all sport headphones, you need to use and maintain them properly. To keep your Epic2 earbuds in good shape, be sure to keep the charge door fully sealed when you’re using them, wipe them down after sweaty gym sessions and before storage, and never store or charge them while they’re still wet. If water gets into the earbuds where the drivers are, give them a gentle shake to clear out any moisture. Also, avoid storing or using them in very hot or cold places like the trunk of a car or a sauna. If something does go wrong, JLab has you covered with a yearlong replacement warranty.
Photo: Kyle Fitzgerald.
As for basic functions, the remote on the Epic2 is easy to operate mid-movement. It allows for volume and track adjustment, play/pause, and answering calls and triggering voice commands. With more than 12 hours of battery life in this pair, most owners won’t need to remember to charge every week. Battery indicators on the Epic2 and on your phone’s screen mean you won’t be surprised by running out of power partway through your routine. Most important, the Bluetooth signal strength is strong: We easily got 30 feet away outside without drops, and inside we could move a few rooms away, provided the walls weren’t full of metal pipes.
Impressively, the sound quality on the JLab Epic2 ranked among some of the best we heard in this category. It had a little extra bass, but not so much that it muffled other frequency ranges; the effect was just enough that songs with a solid bassline had a little more oomph. It also produced clear but not piercing highs. We were astounded by how many workout headphones had either ear-splitting highs that were so intense it became painful to turn music up to medium volume, or lows so loud and blobby that we literally couldn’t hear male vocals on hip-hop. This wasn’t the case with the Epic2. Whether you’re enjoying a song or a podcast, you’ll hear everything well.
Overall, nothing else available is as well-rounded as the Epic2. These headphones are tough, great sounding, and comfortable, so your focus will stay on completing your workout, not on fiddling with your earbuds.
Long-term test notes
We have staffers long-term testing five pairs of the JLab Epic2, and all but one are doing just fine. This is despite one of our testers showering with his pair daily for a few months. (After we informed him that this wasn’t the best idea, he stopped.) The pair that died shorted out after being left on and worn balled-up inside a sports bra for several hour-long runs. According to our tester, she had done this before and the Epic2 survived, but the repeat performances were too much.
Unfortunately, this is a pretty common outcome for wireless workout headphones. Partly because of occasional manufacturing defects and partly due to rough handling, Bluetooth headphones have a lot of ways to break, as they’re still intricate electronics. It’s a problem that affects everything currently available. The Epic2 is the best set we have been able to find. Even though workout headphones are more durable than the average Bluetooth earbuds, they aren’t unbreakable, and nothing we’ve tested is infallible.
Flaws but not dealbreakers
Although the JLab Epic2 has an upgraded ceramic microphone, the calls are decent, not amazing. This is mostly because the mic is located behind your head. Callers will understand you, but you shouldn’t expect the clarity you’d get from a headset designed with calls as the top priority. That said, we are willing to let that minor drawback slide in this category, as we figure most people prefer to avoid taking long calls in the middle of the gym.
Another issue with the Epic2 is the size of the earbuds themselves. The outer part is a bit wide, yet the cable still needs to run up and over your upper ear. So if you have larger outer ears and you also have deep, recessed ear canals, you might find getting a seal to be tricky.
But unless you have that specific combination, you’re unlikely to have any trouble with the fit of the Epic2. (Panelist Brent Butterworth, for example, has deeper ear canals, and I have ears that stick out a bit, and both of us found this JLab set extremely comfy.)
Perhaps most important, while these headphones are sweat resistant, water resistant, and dust resistant, numerous negative owner reviews claim that they don’t last. We have also received numerous comments citing issues with the Epic2’s sweat and water resistance. The vast majority of these complaints would be covered under JLab’s one-year warranty (contact the company at email@example.com or 866-358-6640). But that’s not an excuse for selling a fragile product, of course, so we decided to find out just what it takes to kill the Epic2. To be sure that we didn’t have a magical extra-durable pair, we got three Epic2 pairs and attempted to destroy them all. Long story short: Unless you’re introducing water directly into the charging port, the Epic2 is about as water resistant as you can get.
Phase One: The basics—I misted them with water, tugged them, and mashed them just as I’d done with all our other headphones in this category. They lived.
Phase Two: I put on the headphones and took a shower. First I used the showerhead to spray water directly at each earbud. Then I washed my hair, scrubbed my face, the whole shebang, listening to music the entire time.
By the way, wearing headphones while shampooing is a super-weird experience that I don’t recommend. But then I did it two more times. Because we had three pairs to test.
Here’s where things finally got interesting. The first pair took about seven minutes and then began to crackle in the left ear. The crackling-interference sound persisted for several more minutes, but as the water continued to leak out of the remote, the sound improved, and finally, after 30 minutes, it seemed fine. Dang. I powered those headphones down.
The second pair crackled almost immediately in the left ear and then began to have reception issues. The Epic2’s remote is on the right ear cable, and during the test my phone sat on my left side. If I looked straight ahead, the music cut out. If I turned my head 45 degrees to the left, it sounded fine. I amused myself with this head-turning on/off switch for another 10 minutes, but then, as with the first pair, the water drained and the connection improved. By the 30-minute mark, this set was back to normal.
The third pair didn’t do as well. After five minutes of playing with the water in the remote, the left ear began to crackle. But unlike with the first two pairs, the crackling only got louder and worse, so much so that I took this pair out of my ears because I was concerned for my hearing. After 15 minutes, the headphones shut off. I thought that was the end of it. But no! Like a zombie reanimating, suddenly they let out a piercing, squelching sound. They screeched like that for a few unnerving minutes before cutting out a final time. I noticed that the remote had gotten rather hot. Aw, yeah—that sounded like a shorting out to me.
Sure enough, after allowing all three Epic2 pairs to dry overnight, I found that units one and two were able to charge and function perfectly. Unit three was a goner.
Based on all of this experimentation, we came to a few conclusions:
- Chances are good that most issues with the JLab Epic2 come from water getting into the Micro-USB port, and it not drying fast enough. This could happen if the door is open, the headphones get wet, and then they sit in a moist gym bag.
- Many issues seem to be resolvable if you keep the door closed or, if water does get into the charging port or earbuds, let the Epic2 dry out fully and then charge the headphones again.
- We don’t recommend showering with headphones. Not only is it not the intended use, but it’s also kinda bizarre.
Runner-up: Jaybird X3
Photo: Kyle Fitzgerald.
If our pick is sold out, or if durability is your top priority, consider the Jaybird X3. With a unique charging system that has no battery door, plus an extra-thick connector cord between the earbuds and a two-year warranty against sweat damage, the X3 is made to take a beating. This set comes with a wide variety of both silicone and Comply memory-foam tips, as well as stabilizing wings, so you can customize your fit. Plus, you can wear the X3 with the cable threaded over your ear or hanging down, further adapting it to your personal preferences.
Once in place, the X3 will stay put through high-impact workouts. The remote is slim, light, and designed with easy-to-reach and intuitive controls, so it won’t bang annoyingly against your head, yet you can still adjust your music or take calls easily without looking. In our tests, the sound quality was very good, with a slight sibilance to consonants and a little extra bass but otherwise very smooth sounding. You can also adjust the EQ through a free app (for iOS and Android), and the settings stay with the X3, so you won’t need to play your music through the app to get the perfect mix for you.
Photo: Kyle Fitzgerald.
The X3 has an eight-hour battery life, so you’ll need to charge this pair less than once a week. In our tests it maintained a solid Bluetooth connection outdoors from around 20 feet away, and indoors from several rooms away. Calls were fine, but as with many earbuds in this range, they weren’t as stellar as on a headset designed for that purpose.
Although the X3 has a ton of great features, it’s the downsides of those features that kept this set from being our top pick. For example, the unique charging system that prevents water from getting inside the battery requires a special adapter that’s really small and easy to lose or to forget at home. Yes, you can get a replacement along with a bunch of new silicone wings and tips for $10 plus shipping on the Jaybird website, but it can be a nuisance if you’re forgetful.
Photo: Kyle Fitzgerald.
Additionally, all of those wings and tips and ways to wear the X3 create a bit of a learning curve. Jaybird has helpful videos to assist you in the setup process, but you should give yourself a few workouts to find your best combination. It can be a little frustrating at first, but once you find the right configuration, you won’t need to mess with it again, and the earbuds will stay firmly in place. For folks who have shorted out their workout headphones through sweat in the past, the X3 is worth the extra effort.
Budget pick: Aukey Latitude EP-B40
If you’re looking to spend as little as possible without buyer’s remorse, the Aukey Latitude EP-B40 is the way to go. Comfortable for most people, durable, and backed with a two-year warranty, the Latitude bests everything else in its price range. Why? These earbuds stay in place, they’re easy to use, and they sound decent. In our tests, so many other workout headphones under $50 were uncomfortable, poorly built, or marred by piercing high-frequency ranges that made turning the volume up past 40 percent literally painful.
The Latitude comes with two sizes of rubber stabilizing wings and three sets of tips, which was enough for everyone on our panel to get a secure fit. The wings can chafe a little if the cable tugs on the earbuds frequently, but generally speaking, this pair is secure and comfortable. The headphones seal out a decent amount of noise as well, muffling gym sounds enough that you won’t need to blast your music to hear the lyrics.
Photo: Kyle Fitzgerald.
In our tests, the Latitude sounded decent for the price. It had a little extra intensity in the highs that gave “s” sounds a slight whistle quality, but the effect wasn’t offensive, and our panelists were fine with the standard sound quality overall. If you don’t like the standard sound, you can access two other EQ settings by pressing the multifunction button on the remote rapidly two times while music is playing. Our panelists found that the bass boost made everything sound like it was under a blanket; with the treble boost, music sounded as if we were listening to a crappy, tiny speaker.
The main downfall of the Latitude is the cable length. While the coating on the cord that connects the two earbuds is textured in a way to make it less likely to snag, it still catches on occasion, and when it does, one of your earbuds will tug loose. Need to glance to the left to check a machine setting? Tug. Want to turn your head to see the clock? Tug. It’s the kind of thing that seems small at face value, but when you are constantly pausing to readjust your earbuds, it can get irritating for anyone who likes to focus.
Photo: Kyle Fitzgerald.
Additionally, the cable will bounce when you run on a treadmill, and our panelists found that they preferred to tuck the excess under a shirt to prevent the feeling of an impatient person tap-tap-tapping on your back. Doing this, however, makes said cable more likely to tug at the earbuds. This problem could be a dealbreaker for some people and no big deal for others. It really depends on how you work out, and how annoying headphone adjustments are to you.
Overall, the Latitude may not be the absolute perfect set of workout headphones, but depending on how you use it, this pair may be perfect for you. Despite its flaws, it’s the best set of gym headphones you can get for under $50.
About on-ear and over-ear Bluetooth headphones
On-ear and over-ear workout headphones are for people who dislike the feeling of in-ear headphones and whose workouts are less physically dynamic. Because of the added weight, an on-ear/over-ear design will stay put if you’re running on a treadmill or lifting weights, but it most likely won’t tolerate jump squats or other high-impact sweating styles. A good pair of such headphones will sit comfortably on your head for a long period of time without pinching or irritating your ears.
After listening to and testing a second round of several pairs of on-ear/over-ear workout headphones, we still didn’t find one that satisfied our requirements, and we’re not going to make a recommendation we don’t believe in just to fill a category. If we find something worth your money, we’ll be sure to update this section.
66 Audio BTS Pro: The BTS Pro felt flimsy and didn’t fit any of our panelists securely enough or well enough for us to judge the sound quality fairly.
808 Ear Canz Sport: This set fit only half our panel, plus it had a long cable that tugged when we turned our heads. Those problems were enough for this pair to miss out on a top-pick slot.
Altec Lansing MZX399: A noisy cable, a troublesome fit, and breakage concerns were enough for us to pass on these waterproof earbuds.
Altec Lansing MZX856: A massive remote that tugged and banged against the body and very poor sound quality put this set out of the running immediately.
Anker SoundBuds Lite: These are solid headphones, but the collar design was just too annoying for us during higher-impact activities, sit-ups, and bench-press-type moves.
Anker SoundBuds NB10: In our tests, the excess cable clanged around behind the head, and the highs were uncomfortably sibilant. You can find better options even for this low price.
Anker SoundBuds Slim: These earbuds initially performed well enough to reach our endurance tests. When we ran the water test, the volume dropped drastically, to the point that even at full volume they sounded like 40 or 50 percent max. Granted, after drying they regained full volume, but we weren’t confident that they could take regular liquid exposure.
Anker SoundBuds Sport: The long cable tugged, and the sound was especially tinny, with no bass. You have better options.
Anker SoundBuds Tag: The long cable can tug, the magnets as power-on and -off can get annoying if they separate in your bag, and the vocal range in our tests was so low in the mix that we couldn’t hear lyrics unless the volume was cranked to a point where bass was painfully loud. If you listen only to podcasts while working out, these headphones are okay for the price, but music fans should stick to our picks.
Aukey EP-E1: The EP-E1 design is not quite sealed enough to block out gym sounds, and not quite open enough for you to hear your surroundings for running. These headphones are very comfortable, but they produce no bass, and you’ll have to crank up the volume to compete with gym noise.
Aukey EP-E7: The remote on this pair was gigantic, and it banged around with a ton of cable noise even when we were walking. Made us feel like giants in a fairy tale—boom, boom, boom.
Beats Powerbeats3: These headphones have a tricky fit that drastically affects the sound quality and prompts lots of reports of shorting out. When they do fit properly, they offer a fun bass-heavy sound, but half of our panel couldn’t get them to seal effectively.
BlueAnt Pump Mini2: The Mini2 had lots of cable noise, and in our tests the sound quality was unforgivably bad. We’ve heard headphones for under $30 that had less cable noise and sounded better.
BlueAnt Pump Soul: The clamping force on the headband of the Pump Soul is tight and ensures that this pair will stay on your head. However, our panel found that the tightness came at a headache-inducing price: After about 30 minutes of wear time, our ears ached.
BlueAnt Pump Zone: Our panelists found the Pump Zone to be relatively comfortable, but we weren’t sure if these headphones would stay put during bench presses or more quick-moving activities, especially on folks with smaller hat sizes. Additionally, the sound was unpleasantly muddy and muffled in our tests, so we lost the ability to hear male vocals in the mix.
Bose SoundSport: Not quite sealed enough to block out sound, but not quite unsealed enough to give you a sense of your environment, the SoundSport wireless headphones ended up being a bit of a letdown for us. Although the sound was okay, with slightly blobby bass but decent mids and highs, it was the fit and design that really kept this pair out of the running.
In our tests, its extra-grippy cable snagged on my shoulder as I turned my head, occasionally tugging the earbuds and requiring repositioning. The buttons on the remote also had an odd wiggle when I pressed down; they felt like remote-control toggles as opposed to buttons. This tactile aspect meant that pressing the controls while I was running took a little more concentration. And the nonremovable wings irritated my ears. Finally, a six-hour battery life is not enough for a set of headphones that costs this much.
Creative Outlier Sports: The cable was the fatal flaw on these headphones—it was stiff and covered in a rubbery coating that gripped everything it touched. Every time I moved my head, it snagged and tugged the earbuds. Even using the included shirt clip didn’t help. Add to that a very sibilant sound that made electric guitars sound like they were being strummed with a metal pick, and we quickly decided that this pair wouldn’t be one of our picks.
Decibullz Custom Molded Wireless Earphones: The wings on the Decibullz are made of plastic that softens in boiling water. Applying the same concept as with sport mouthguards, you press the malleable plastic into the area just outside your ear canal (concha), and then wait for it to cool and harden. It’s a neat idea, but our panel had mixed success in getting a comfortable final result. Yes, you can reheat the pieces and try again, but we think this process is truly worth the effort only for someone who really can’t get a secure fit with traditional designs. If that’s you, the Decibullz earbuds sound great, and they will stay put once you get the right impression.
Denon Exercise Freak: Offering a hearing-aid-like styling, the Exercise Freak earbuds fit only one of our panelists. You have no way to control tracks from these headphones, and John, Brent, and I could not get them to fit properly and stay in place. Brent compared the process to “trying to put a human sweater on a dog, it was so bizarre.” Take from that statement what you will, but factor in the Amazon reviews that mention build-quality issues, and we’d say to stick to our pick from JLab.
Gibson Trainer: The Trainer design includes some great ideas, such as a safety light and “cooling touch” moisture-wicking materials. But in an attempt to ensure that the Trainer stays secure on your head, Gibson made the headband so tight that it’s nearly immediately headache-inducing. On top of that, the volume buttons are small and difficult to access, with the Bluetooth-pairing and power buttons easy to press inadvertently, and in our tests the bass was so blobby and bloated it coated every other frequency range. Overall, the Trainer represents so many great ideas executed poorly.
iClever BTH20: The BTH20 was very lightweight and comfy, but it also felt very flimsy. Larger ear canals may have trouble getting a seal, which will affect sound isolation as well as sound quality.
iHome iB71: A massive, clanging remote and plasticky over-ear hooks make the iB71 ill-suited to active workouts.
iHome iB76: Only half of our panel could get these headphones to fit. The volume control’s design often caused us to skip a track accidentally, and the listening experience was boxy, bass forward, and cheap sounding.
iHome iB80: The stabilizing hooks that are supposed to loop over the ear arch way too far up, and thus don’t hold onto anything well. In our tests, the rubberized cable felt heavy and flopped around behind the head with every step, and the buttons on the earbuds themselves clicked uncomfortably loudly in our ears when we pressed them.
iHome iB88: We liked the idea of the iB88, but sadly the clamping force was too tight on our larger-headed panelists. Equally disappointing was that the sound had no bass at all. So unless you have a small head and listen only to podcasts, we’d say to pass.
Jabra Sport Coach Special Edition: The cable on the Sport Coach Special Edition is long and can catch on your shirt and tug, especially when you are performing floor exercises. These headphones aren’t bad, but the coaching aspect is limited and requires the Jabra app. It can auto-track only about one-third of the movements in a given workout, and if support for the training wanes, so does the usefulness of the coaching feature.
Jabra Sport Pace: The hooked design of the Sport Pace was comfortable for us to wear, but the mushroom-shaped silicone tips posed a fit issue for our panel, and we weren’t confident these headphones would stay sealed during a workout. As for the sound, the mids and highs were decent, but the lows were rather dull and blah-sounding. The Sport Pace comes with an included training app that you can trigger through the earbud; it’s a nice bonus feature, but with so many other fitness apps out there, the app itself isn’t special enough to overcome the Sport Pace’s flaws.
Jabra Sport Pulse: Half of our panel found that the tab housing the heart-rate monitor sensor prevented the tips from reaching far enough into their ear canals to seal fully. Telemetry strap heart-rate monitors are generally more accurate anyway, and breakage concerns expressed in Amazon reviews led us to dismiss this pair.
Jabra Sport Pulse Special Edition: In our testing, the heart-rate monitoring of the Sport Pulse Special Edition was about as accurate as that of wrist-based fitness trackers. However, the cable can snag on your shirt and tug, and unlike with a fitness tracker, you must use the Jabra app on your phone to track your heart rate. To address battery-life problems, you’ll also need to install new firmware when you first get these headphones. The Sport Pulse Special Edition felt comfortable and fit us well, but we don’t think this set is right for avid gym members.
Jaybird Freedom: On one hand, the Freedom has an add-on battery pack, called a charging clip, which you can charge separately and then attach to the remote to boost the play time. The fit, though it takes some trial and error at first, is very lightweight and comfortable for most ear canals. It even works under a helmet. The sound is great, and you can customize it through an EQ app.
On the other hand, the Freedom’s playing time without the clip is only four hours, and the clip adds four more, for eight total. And the extra weight of the charge clip negates the minimal build and can cause irritating cable tug. The charging clip is especially tiny and easy to lose, too. So unless you need minimal headphones and don’t mind keeping track of a mini battery pack, we’d say to choose one of our picks instead.
JBL Reflect Contour: Our panel struggled with fit issues and tons of cable noise, and no one was happy.
JBL Reflect Mini: With these headphones, mini is the right word for the included tips. If you have small ear canals and never manage to find tips that are tiny enough for you, the Reflect Mini is an option. The stability wings are flexible and cushy enough to stay comfortable yet anchored in place. In our tests, the sound was good, with a somewhat forward bass that added extra oomph and highs that were a smidgen sibilant but not piercing. If we thought a larger portion of the population could get a seal, we’d rank this model among our picks, but as it is, we can recommend it only as an option for the narrow-ear-canal set.
JBL Reflect Response: The collar is ridiculous. It’s hard plastic. On thicker necks, it chokes, and on narrow necks the weight of the transmitter in the back causes it to slip backward and jab the jaw with the pointy ends. Wearing these headphones is like receiving a Vulcan nerve pinch for your entire workout.
JBL Under Armour Sport Wireless: Half of our panelists were unable to get these headphones to fit properly. The cable is long and thumps on your back when you move vigorously, too, and the sound quality is lackluster.
JBL Under Armour Sport Wireless Heart Rate: The cable is so long that you must clip it to your shirt to keep it from banging annoyingly. The heart-rate monitoring is not very accurate, and if you want to see your heart rate on your phone screen, you need the UA Run app, which you receive free for only 12 months and then need to pay for.
Koss BT190i: If you have larger ear canals, these headphones won’t seal for you. The remote is on the larger side and the cable is long, which can be annoying during high-impact activities. At least the cable and remote aren’t coated in a material that snags on your shirt when you turn your head. The BT190i isn’t a terrible set, but better options are available.
MEE Audio X7 Plus: The X7 Plus has a build quality that feels a bit flimsy, but the plastic design makes this pair very lightweight. This design has over-the-ear hooks that are reinforced with wire, so it feels stable on your head. Three of our four panelists were able to get a comfortable fit. However, in our tests the sound had a ton of bass that covered the details on any kind of music but especially dance music and hip-hop. In the end, the X7 Plus isn’t the worst choice, but it isn’t the best one either.
MEE Audio X8: Only one of our four expert panelists could get a solid fit with the X8. And even if you are lucky enough to get a decent seal, you’ll find that the bass frequencies are very boomy and blurry.
Monster iSport Achieve: The Achieve comes with only one size of stabilizing wings, so your fit results may vary. The cable is long, and although we could cinch it, we found that it still flopped around when we jumped, and it transferred cable noise. Lastly, in our tests, a sound with blurry, muddy bass masked male vocals.
Monster iSport Freedom: The clunky build includes earcups that don’t seal well, and the overall design gives the impression that the set will fall off if you move too quickly. While the antimicrobial earpads are a good idea, to us they felt rubbery and uncomfortable against the face. Both wired and over Bluetooth, these headphones sounded lifeless, crude, sibilant, and terrible.
Monster iSport Freedom v2: Our panel found the fit to be uncomfortable and the touch controls to be frustrating to use when we were sweaty and in motion. Adding to the problems was a muddy, thuddy bass that obscured male vocals and even made acoustic guitar sound blurry.
Monster iSport SuperSlim: In our tests, although the earbuds were flat, they were also wide, and as such, three-quarters of our panel felt as though they might fall out at any second—despite the little rubber stabilizing wings. The cable was prone to snagging, too, and sadly, the sound was unpopular as well.
Monster iSport Victory: The grippy cable can catch on your shirt and cause an earbud to tug out of your ear when you turn your head. In our tests, the bass was heavy-handed and reverby sounding. The experience of using the Victory was just okay; our panel preferred our picks more.
Monster Roc Sport Freedom: Poor fit, poor sound, uncomfortable, and hot.
Motorola VerveLoop+: Our panel couldn’t imagine getting past a warm-up wearing these. This set had a long, very noisy cable that banged with each step we took, as well as a boom-and-sizzle sound profile.
Optoma NuForce BE Sport3: The highs on the BE Sport3 were particularly sibilant, and kick drums sounded like toy drums. Add the downside of a very long cable flapping behind your head, and you’ll understand why we passed on this pair.
Panasonic Wings: Messy, blobby lows smeared every kind of music we played through the Wings. The controls on the remote were flush with the remote chassis, too, so it was challenging for us to know which button we were pressing without looking. It’s a shame, as we thought the fit felt secure and comfortable.
Plantronics BackBeat Go 3: The stem of the earbud, which hangs down and connects to the cord, can push against your face (or, specifically, your tragus). For some of us on the panel, that meant an inability to get a proper seal. Plus, the cord itself is really long and can become a nuisance. And finally, the highs were harsh and sibilant, making snare drums sound inauthentic in our tests.
RBH EP-SB: These headphones sounded fantastic, but regrettably, the EP-SB didn’t stay secure enough in our ears to tolerate a vigorous workout. The design really needs wings or some sort of additional stabilization. If you’re a power walker, or if you’re seeking commuter headphones that can handle drizzle and sweat, you’ll love the EP-SB, but for anything higher impact, you’ll want to stick to one of our picks. If you want to read a little more of my thoughts on the EP-SB, check out this article at Sound & Vision.
Scosche SportFlex Air: The tips crinkled in our ears, and the sound quality was worse than that of some $30 headphones we tested.
Sony MDR-AS600BT: These headphones fit well but have only a single control button; you access on/off, change tracks, control the volume, take calls, and perform other functions via a series of Morse-code-like short and long holds and taps that trigger the desired action. Want to decrease the volume? Sure. Just “press the multi-function button three times at about 0.4 second interval, holding the button down at the third push (. . –).” Did you get that? Now let’s memorize the various Konami codes for each function and then go for a run. Wait, where are you going? Yeah, okay, we’ll pass too.
Soul Electronics Impact Wireless: With a long cable that can snag and an unstable fit, the Impact Wireless was not secure enough to meet our high standards.
Soul Electronics Run Free Pro: This model came with ingenious little “winglets” (my term) that everyone on the panel found comfortable and stable. In fact, the entire design is great: The headphones are lightweight and feel sturdily built, and the remote is easy to find and use without looking. Sadly, the Run Free Pro sounded pretty terrible in our tests. The highs had a hissing, sizzly quality that made cymbal hits sound like “pahhh” instead of a tidy “tss,” and the boomy, reverby bass made the bass drop sound like a bass flop.
Soul Electronics Run Free Pro HD: If the Run Free Pro HD didn’t have a super-long cable that slapped my back when I bounced, it would have been a contender. This pair fit our panel really well, and it sounded rather nice too. So if your gym routine is all stable movements (cycling, weights, and the like), these headphones could be a possible option. However, we wanted our pick to be more versatile.
Soul Electronics X-tra: The around-ear design didn’t breathe as much as we hoped, and with those fabric earpads sucking up sweat, you’ll want to wash them after every workout. Unfortunately, the removable, washable earpads are particularly difficult to put back on. Lackluster sound quality and control buttons that clicked loudly in our ears rounded out our reasons to dismiss this pair.
Urbanears Hellas: These headphones have so much going for them. First off, having a washable, removable headband and earpads is genius. They fold up into a carrying bag that also doubles as a mesh delicates bag, so you can just pop the washable bits off and throw the bundle right into your machine. The Hellas sounded good in our tests, too, and the headphones stay put on your head. This model’s fatal flaw, however, is that earpad mesh: While it helps to keep your ears cool, it also digs into your outer ear. We wore the Hellas for 30 minutes to test it further and ended up with aching ears (and a waffle-like impression on them). We love nearly everything about the Hellas, but its one drawback is an absolute dealbreaker.
Wicked Audio Endo: Super affordable, but completely unstable on the head. There’s no way this pair would stay put for your workout.
Yurbuds Inspire 500: The massive antenna dongle on the back of the cable was beyond annoying for us, and the sound quality struck our panelists as cheap.
Zipbuds 26: The odd-looking modules on the cables of this pair are supposed to “hug and balance” the design. Instead, they banged around every time we moved with any speed. These headphones might be sweat resistant, but they are not ideal for sports.
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- The Best Headphones for Weightlifting, Muscle & Fitness, July 16, 2017,
- 7 best running headphones | Best sport & fitness headphones, Macworld, January 23, 2017,
- The Best Workout Headphones You Can Buy Right Now, Time, March 28, 2017,
- Best Sports Headphones of 2017, CNET, June 21, 2017