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9 best running headphones

New designs come with virtual coaching to help you run faster

Make sure the earpieces stay put when your pace picks up ( )

It doesn’t matter if you’re into Mozart or thumping EDM – running with music can improve your performance. Whether you use music to run harder and faster, or you just need beats to bust the boredom, soundtracking your runs with a decent pair of sport-specific headphones can make all the difference.

Don’t just take our word for it. A study by experts at Brunel University found that listening to tunes while exercising enhanced endurance by 15 per cent. It also helped runners enjoy their efforts more, even when they were working at high intensity and close to physical exhaustion. That’s got to be music to your ears...

It’s not just about the music. From built-in heart rate tracking and training apps to instant access to voice assistants like Siri, the best new running headphones now pack in loads of extra features to help you hit your fitness goals. Some even boast real-time, artificially intelligent virtual coaching to help you train smarter, too.

The most popular design remains some form of in-ear buds with either gels and wing tips, over-ear hooks, or a neckband to keep them in place. For those who run on roads or need a little more awareness of their environment, there’s a new wave of bone conduction headphones. These channel vibrations through your cheekbones, leaving your eardrums free to hear what’s going on in the big (sometimes dangerous) world around you.

How do I choose the best pair of running headphones?

The titanium-rimmed AfterShokz Trekz Air are the best open-ear Bluetooth bone-conduction headphones you can buy

Fit

Top of the list has to be a good fit. It doesn’t matter how good they sound or how long the battery lasts if they fall out every time you up the pace.

Neck bands and adjustable over-ear hooks offer the most guaranteed stay-put fit, but they’re not always as comfortable or portable. If you’re going for in-ear buds – which can be hard to try before you buy – go for a pair that comes with a selection of wing tips and silicone buds so you can get the right fit.  

Wireless connectivity

The quality of Bluetooth headphones means it’s now possible to ditch those long cables without the fear of battery drain and bad connections. Plus with the latest versions of the iPhone jettisoning the headphone jack, there’s even more reason to go wireless.

There are two main wireless options. Classic Bluetooth headphones still come with a cable connecting the earpieces in the form of a loose wire, a neck or headband. However, true wireless headphones have cut the cord, paring things right back to two buds that you pop into your ears.

While cable-free is instantly appealing, it’s worth remembering that a more rigid neckband makes it easier to stash your headphones around your neck should you decide you want to take them out mid-run. That’s not as easy with the Bluetooth wired and true wireless buds.

Sound quality

You probably shouldn’t expect audiophile quality but, in most cases, that’s not really needed anyway. A good set of running headphones needs enough audio prowess to kick your motivation up a notch and block out the Euro trash at your local gym, not let you tune into the fine details of a layered prog rock masterpiece.

Durability

This is vital, too. The chances are these headphones will spend a lot of time in a gym bag, so you want something that can take being bumped and bashed a bit and that won’t quit when things get sweaty and rainy. For the latter, keep an eye out for the IP rating, which indicates what level of protection you can expect. An IP rating can feature two digits. The first covers intrusion protection from things like dust, while the second is moisture. Broadly speaking, the bigger the number, the more resilient your headphones should be against these things, so IP ratings from IPX5 to IPX9 are best.

How did you test the running headphones?

We used each of these pairs – and many more that didn’t make the cut – over a range of distances, from 30-minute 5k up to longer, two-hour runs, and in different running conditions, including on the roads, track and treadmill. We judged them on fit, sound quality, durability, extra training features and battery life. And, of course, price.

Jaybird RUN: £170, John Lewis

Battery life (single charge): 4 hours
Built-in mic: Yes
Weight: 15g
Connectivity: Bluetooth true wireless
Built-in heart rate: No

An excellent set of true wireless sports buds, these sit flusher in your ears than most of the competition. In fact, at just 15g, they’re as compact and unobtrusive as it gets. Even the carry case is just about small enough to pocket while you run. A selection of wing tips and gels allows for a snug fit for almost any ears, and once you do they stay put, even while sprinting downhill.

They deliver deep, rich sounds with enough oomph to drown out the world around and there’s also comprehensive sound customisation, via an app that lets you tweak the mids, highs and lows of the RUN’s EQ settings to suit your preference.

Calls and music are covered thanks to a mic built into the right earbud and simple, responsive controls on both buds for skipping tracks, taking and declining calls and even summoning Siri or Google Assistant for some mid-run banter.

Battery life is a little shorter than the Bose Soundsport Free, featured below for a similar price, but with four hours of runtime fresh out of the block, plus another eight hours’ back up in the charging case, you’re covered for most runs, short of ultra-marathons. In the unlikely event you reach for these to find them out of juice, there’s also a game-changing five-minute quick charge that provides an hour of listening time.

Though they don't have an official IP rating, they are sweatproof and water-resistant and there’s a “find my buds” feature in the app, should you misplace them.

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Aftershokz Trekz Air: £150, Amazon

Battery life (single charge): 6 hours
Built-in mic: Yes
Weight: 30g
Connectivity: Bluetooth
Built-in heart rate: No

The best open-ear Bluetooth bone-conduction headphones you can buy, the Trekz Air’s titanium frame makes for an extremely lightweight (just 30g) fit with superb comfort even on long runs. Because these sit outside of the ear there’s never a danger of them falling out and the flexible neck band means you can drop them to your shoulders and run unencumbered at any point during your run.

The sound isn’t as full as you get from more traditional headphones but then these are designed to let you hear what’s going on around you, so that’s no surprise. If you like big booming bass and big isolating sound, these won’t be your cup of Lucozade. It’s an excellent choice for marathons and races where you want to hear the crowds and on-course bands while tuning into your own power songs when the need strikes.

Controls on the Trekz Air are simple, with one large multi-function button on the left bud that’s easy to hit on the move. This pauses, skips tracks and summons Siri. There are two smaller volume up/down controls behind the right ear, which are more fiddly, but with this design we often stuck to a set volume anyway. 

Battery life is solid with six hours of continuous tunes from a single two-hour full charge. That equates to an hour’s run time off 20 minutes’ charging, not quite the lightning speed of some true wireless buds on this list but still fast enough to be charged in the time it takes you to get your running kit on and run-crastinate for a bit.

They’re IP55-rated to repel sweat, rain and dust, though you might want to invest in a harder carry case to protect them though.

Available in grey, green or blue.

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Bose SoundSport Free: £180, Argos

Battery life (single charge): 5 hours
Built-in mic: Yes
Weight: 18g
Connectivity: Bluetooth true wireless
Built-in heart rate: No

If you want to cut the cord completely, these are a great – if slightly pricier – option. Despite being just 18g, they’re chunkier to look at than some sport buds and the fact they protrude from your ears a lot might put some off. However, their distinctive design, with one-piece wing tips and gels, give these the most secure fit of the true wireless headphones we tested.  

As you’d expect from Bose, sound quality is decent across all genres. In fact, it’s good enough that these could double as your everyday earphones, too. They don’t shut out all of the noise around you, which is a blessing if you need a bit of situational awareness when you’re running on a busy street, or a curse if you’re trying to zone out completely to Ella Eyre.

Run time stretches to five hours from a single full charge with a further 10 hours in the carry case. Sadly, that’s just a bit too bulky to take on your run, unless you’re using a belt or backpack.

As robust as any buds on this list, they come with an IPX4 certification for seeing off sweat and rain. Should the unspeakable happen and you misplace a bud, there’s a handy "find my earbuds" function in the partner app that shows you where they were last seen on a map.

One thing that lets them down quite badly is the controls, which are really tricky to use on the run. Though if you’re a stick-’em-on-and-go kind of runner, this shouldn’t put you off.

Available in black, blue or orange.

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JBL Under Armour Sport wireless heart rate: £134, JBL

Battery life (single charge): 5 hours
Built-in mic: Yes
Weight: n/a
Connectivity: Bluetooth
Built-in heart rate: Yes

If you’re after a set of headphones that are as much a training tool as they are a music device, this is it. Built-in optical sensors provide heart rate monitoring from the ear – one of the most accurate places to track your BPM. They pair with the Under Armour Record app to give you real-time audio updates on how hard you’re running from a single tap of the ear bud. This makes them brilliant for heart rate zone training.

The ear hook style doesn’t look as neat as the Jabra Elite Sport but this, and the way the buds are designed to twist and lock into place in your ears, makes for an unmovable fit, essential for the level of heart rate accuracy these deliver.

While they carry the Under Armour name, the sound is engineered by JBL so you get clear, crisp tunes with just enough bass. That snug fit we mentioned adds a welcome touch of passive noise cancelling too.

There’s an inline control in the loose-wire band that can tug a little, pretty standard for this wired style, but there’s a clip to pin it to your workout gear to reduce some of that drag.

Even with the heart rate monitor functioning, you’ll still squeeze out around five hours of runtime. A full charge takes around two hours. 

It’s got a sporty ruggedness that makes for good durability and an IPX5 rating for sweat- and rain-resistance.

Available in black or white.

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Monster iSport Victory: £69, Currys

Battery life (single charge): 8 hours
Built-in mic: Yes
Weight: 42g
Connectivity: Bluetooth
Built-in heart rate: No

Here’s another set of wired, in-ear Bluetooth headphones with a decent selection of wing tips and gels to anchor them securely into your ears. The third-generation iSport Victory are insanely light (15g), extremely hard-wearing, and once you’ve sussed out your fit, they don’t budge an inch even on the bumpiest of runs.  

Seriously comfortable on the run, you can use the inline controls to flick easily between two sound profiles – Normal and Turbo – mid-workout. Noise isolation is excellent and there’s plenty of bass and full sound to keep you in the zone, particularly in turbo mode, which boosts the bass and retunes the mids and highs to give your music some extra kick.

You’ll get eight hours battery life, they’re fully sweatproof with an IPX5 rating and the the headphone cable has a reflective coating for some added night safety.

Available in black, blue or green.

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LifeBEAM Vi: £178, Amazon

Battery life (single charge): 8 hours
Built-in mic: Yes
Weight: 37g
Connectivity: Bluetooth
Built-in heart rate: Yes

The most innovative product on this list, LifeBEAM Vi is actually a set of headphones with an artificially intelligent real-time virtual coach hidden inside. What does that mean? Well, Vi uses aerospace-grade sensors to read biometrics such as heart rate and cadence, learns your workout habits and turns this insight into contextual and adaptive training advice. If Vi recognises you’ve not run for a couple of weeks, she’ll advise you to start back with an easy-paced, lower intensity run. Towards the end of a run, if she spots your cadence is slipping, she’ll suggest a drill to help you improve it.

The sound hasn’t been forgotten amid all this tech either. The fantastic Harman Kardon-powered audio is some of the most impressive playback we heard on test with excellent clarity, solid but not overpowering bass and decent noise isolation.

What might put some people off, though, is the design. All those sensors have to go somewhere, and it goes primarily into a band that sits on your shoulders. However, though it does make Vi bulkier than traditional headphones, on the run you don’t really notice it, and with multiple wing tips and gels, the buds themselves don’t budge a millimetre.

You can power Vi’s batteries to maximum in just 45 minutes and that’ll give you eight hours’ run time, even with all the sensors tracking. Vi’s also sweat and rainproof thanks to an IPX5 rating and the silicone-coated neckband takes all manner of bends and twists in its stride.  

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Urbanista Boston night runner reflex: £70, Urbanista

Battery life (single charge): 6 hours
Built-in mic: Yes
Weight: 23g
Connectivity: Bluetooth
Built-in heart rate: No

It’s tough to find good Bluetooth sport headphones for under £100 without compromising on quality, but Urbanista’s Boston range just about pulls it off. A twist on design means the Bluetooth technology has been put into a chunky-looking block on the back of the cable rather than in the buds, but this actually works to stop the wires flailing around while you run. One-piece wings and buds lock tight for a rock-solid fit, too.    

Sound-wise there is a little too much bass and vocals are a little tinny but, for the price, the audio quality is acceptable. You won’t get the noise isolation you do from the iSport Victory either, but if hearing the world around is something you like, that won’t bother you.

The raised controls are easy to locate even at a decent pace and the buttons are responsive. Another neat design touch, magnets in the buds clip together so you can stow them securely round your neck if you need to take them out mid-run.

They’re sweat and water-resistant with an IPX5 rating and have the feel of headphones that are built to survive your gym bag. Like the iSport Victory, a reflective, protective cable coating gives them added road safety for those winter night runs.

You’ll only get six hours of run time from a single one-hour charge, again short of Monster’s wired option. But hey, they’re cheaper.

Available in five colours.

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Jabra Elite Sport: £230, Amazon

Battery life (single charge): 4.5 hours
Built-in mic: Yes
Weight: 13g
Connectivity: Bluetooth true wireless
Built-in heart rate: Yes

If you had to list all the features you’d want in a set of knockout running headphones, the Elite Sport would tick off most. Granted, they’re the most expensive headphones on the list but these true wireless in-ear headphones with built-in heart rate tracking, real time coaching, and training plans are much more than just music makers. You’re basically getting a fitness and running coach too.

A bit bulkier than the Jaybird RUN but not as weird-looking as the Bose SoundSport Free, their anchoring wing tips and gels give a snug, unshakeable fit that easily matches the competition for comfort even on longer runs.

The heart rate monitor performs well against a chest strap, while the partner Jabra Sport Life app for iOS and Android lets you piggyback your phone’s GPS for real-time audio feedback on your running stats such as average pulse, speed, distance, and cadence, all via voice cues. There are training plans in the app too but these are a bit limited.

As you’d expect, they’re sealed against sweat and rain with an IP67 rating, while the battery offers four-and-a-half hours of run time on a full charge with a nine-hour boost from the charging case.

Available in black or lime green/grey.

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Powerbeats3 Wireless Earphones: £144.47, Amazon

Battery life (single charge): 12 hours
Built-in mic: Yes
Weight: 399g (boxed)
Connectivity: Bluetooth
Built-in heart rate: No

When training for a marathon or another long-distance event, there’s nothing worse than your earphones running out of battery midway through the route because you forgot to charge them after your last run.

Luckily, this is rarely an issue with the Powerbeats3 Wireless Earphones. These earphones come with a battery life of 12 hours, which is more than enough for the average long-distance runner who’s reliant on a long playlist of motivational tunes. 

The durability of these earphones aren’t their only advantage. While handy as your everyday earphones to use during your commute to and from work, they’ve been specifically designed with athletes in mind. They’re sweat and water resistant, making them ideal for intense workouts either indoors or even outside in the rain.

While the attributes of these earphones speak for themselves, anyone who’s tried them out will agree that they’re undeniably comfortable, as they sit on the ears very securely with wingtips. Most importantly, the music quality of these earphones is off the charts. Despite the fact that they’re pricier than some of the other options, these earphones are extremely reliable.

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The Verdict: Best running headphones

If you – and your budget – are ready to cut the cord and go wire-free, by far the best true wireless option is the Jaybird RUN. Practical and portable, fantastic sound and a knock-out five-minute rapid charge, all with a competitive true wireless price tag.

If safety is a big concern  (for instance, if you're a city runner so it’s important you can hear cars coming around blind bends), then the super-lightweight bone-conducting Aftershokz Trekz Air are your best bet for staying aurally connected to your surroundings.

For those on a tighter budget who don’t mind a wire, you can’t beat the brilliant Monster iSport Victory on boom-for-buck sound quality. While if you want to plug into the future where we’re all coached by robots, then LifeBEAM Vi’s constantly evolving run-coaching skills and excellent sound quality are exactly what you need.

Built-in mic: Yes

Weight: 399g (boxed)

Connectivity: Bluetooth

Built-in heart rate: No

IndyBest product reviews are unbiased, independent advice you can trust. On some occasions, we earn revenue if you click the links and buy the products, but we never allow this to bias our coverage. The reviews are compiled through a mix of expert opinion and real-world testing.