November 25, 2020
Best running earbuds and headphones to use for 2020

Best running earbuds and headphones to use for 2020


The best running headphones should be true wireless earbuds or at least wireless — after all, headphones with a wire can interfere with your stride. After years of testing sports headphones and wireless headphones, I’ve found the models that are most ideal to use while on a run.

Whether they’re over-ear headphones, bone conduction, or wireless in-ear buds, you’re looking for a secure and comfortable fit. This is particularly important because losing one earbud on your run can be a tragedy. Decent sound quality is also essential, as is durability, battery life, noise cancellation and reliable performance with minimal dropouts. And the running headphones also need to be sweat-resistant, for obvious reasons, which is why the otherwise awesome Sony WF-1000XM3
isn’t on this list. (While Apple doesn’t claim water-resistance for the standard AirPods, they’re highlighted here because we’ve found them to handle sweat reasonably well.) 


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After many tests (and many miles run), I’ve formed strong opinions on which headphones are the best for running. To share my hard-earned knowledge, I’ve put together a selection of wireless headphones I’ve tested that I think are well-suited for runners. This list of running headphones includes in-ear headphones, on-ear headphones, Bluetooth headphones, headphones with noise isolation, bone-conduction headphones, true wireless buds and many others, so we’ve got good options no matter what you need for your running headphones.

David Carnoy/CNET

Water-resistantYes (IP67 rating — can withstand immersion in 1 meter of water for 30 minutes).

AfterShokz bone conduction wireless headphones aren’t quite what many people picture when they think of an earphone because they don’t go on your ears — these headphones actually deliver sound to your ear through your cheekbones. The big benefit of this technology as running earphones is that, thanks to its open design, you can hear ambient noise and what’s going on around you while listening to music or having a phone conversation through the wireless headphones. That openness allows runners to hear traffic sound, as being able to hear external noise and ambient sound is an important safety feature in any workout headphones. Also, some race coordinators don’t allow runners to wear anything in their ears, which is where over-ear headphones like this come in handy, particularly for people who need to listen to music while they run.

Aeropex ($160) over-ear headphones, which AfterShokz describes as its “lightest, highest-quality headphones yet,” were released in 2019. From my initial testing, sound quality in this pair of headphones is definitely better than the company’s previous flagship model, the Trekz Air — or the Air, as it’s now called. It’s also slightly more comfortable to wear with a comfortable fit. However, while AfterShokz continues to make small improvements to performance with each new iteration of its wireless headphones, the sound quality still can’t match that of a traditional headphone.

Read our AfterShokz Aeropex first take.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Water-resistantYes (IPX4 rating — splashproof).

Yes, the Beats Powerbeats Pro’s jumbo charging case is a notable drawback. But the combination of incorporating all the features that make Apple’s AirPods great while delivering richer sound quality and better battery life in a wireless earbuds design that won’t fall out of your ear (ear hooks for the win!) ultimately is a winning proposition for earbuds for running. Just make sure you buy these running earbuds somewhere that has a good return policy in case you’re in the small minority that has ears that aren’t quite a match for the bluetooth earbuds. Note that these headphones are frequently reduced from $250 to $200 — don’t pay more than that if you’re buying them.

Read our Beats Powerbeats Pro review.

Angela Lang/CNET

Water-resistantYes (IPX4 rating — splashproof).

Even if they don’t sound quite as magical as you’d hope a $249 model would, the AirPods Pro still have top-notch audio quality, making them a great pair of truly wireless earphones for depositing great sound right into your ear canal. That’s largely due to their winning design and fit, improved bass performance, effective noise cancellation (goodbye background noise) and excellent call quality. While I can’t run with the standard AirPods (they don’t fit my ears securely), I had no trouble running with the AirPods Pro, which has a noise-isolating design and a silicone tip that sits snugly in your ear.

For runners, it’s worth noting that there’s a transparency mode that allows sound to leak in. You’ll still have to lower the volume of your music to hear ambient noise and traffic. The AirPods Pro aren’t sweat proof, but they are officially rated as being sweat-resistant.

Read our Apple AirPods Pro review.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Water-resistantYes (IP55 rating — can withstand heavy sprays of water).

At first glance, the Elite 75t seems more like an evolutionary upgrade from the highly rated Elite 65t. But the updates turn out to be a little more substantial than I first thought. The Elite 75t’s smaller size will allow more people to get a comfortable, secure fit, and its boosted battery life and USB-C charging are significant upgrades. And then there are the smaller changes, like the new charging case design with magnets inside it that make it easier to open and close and to keep the buds inside. 

While the Elite 75t isn’t quite as comfortable to wear as the AirPods Pro and doesn’t have active noise isolating features, it does sound better. It has clearer overall sound and better bass definition, so long as you get a tight seal. There’s a HearThru setting in the app that allows some ambient noise in, but even with it on, you do have to lower the volume of your music to hear traffic noise. The Active, which offers slightly better sweat resistance, will be out in February for $20 more.

Read our Jabra Elite 75t review.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Water-resistantYes (IPX5 rating — can withstand heavy sprays of water).

If the AirPods don’t fit your ears securely for running, the Soundcore Liberty Air 2 may be a good alternative that costs much less than the AirPods Pro but has a similar noise-isolating design in a “pipe” shape. These earphones sound as good, if not better than the AirPods, and they fit my ear better and more securely, making them excellent running earbuds. They’re also sweat-resistant and are excellent for making calls. In short, as long as you’re OK with a noise isolating design, the Anker Liberty Air 2 true wireless earbuds are an excellent AirPod alternative that happens to cost less than $100. They’re available in black or white.

Read our Anker Soundcore Liberty Air 2 review.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Water-resistantYes (IP55 rating — can withstand heavy sprays of water).

If you don’t want to shell out $160 for AfterShokz’s new Aeropex bone-conduction wireless headphone, the Trekz Air — or Air, as it’s now called — retails for about $60 less. This pair of around-the-neck headphones does have some design and performance upgrades, but the AfterShokz Trekz Air is still good for a bone-conduction headphone (again, beware that the sound doesn’t measure up to that of a traditional headphone). 

Read our AfterShokz Trekz Air review.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Water-resistantYes (IPX7 rating — fully waterproof)

What’s most impressive about the EarFun Free is the features: Bluetooth 5.0, both USB-C and wireless charging and fully waterproof (IPX7), according to their specs. Do they sound fantastic? No, but they sound pretty good. They don’t have the clarity of higher-end true wireless earbuds that cost $150 or more, but they do have plump bass and enough detail to avoid sounding dull. They’re also pretty solid for making calls. An excellent value at less than $50, they may not fit everybody’s ears equally well (they’re slightly bulky so they may not be a comfortable fit for those with smaller ears). However, they’re relatively lightweight and they fit my ears securely enough to run with them.   

Sarah Tew/CNET

Water-resistantNo (Bose does not claim water resistance)

Bose’s Frames audio sunglasses are surprisingly good wireless running headphones, with decent sound quality from their embedded micro speakers. What’s also good about them is that since there’s nothing in your ear, you can hear traffic sound and have a conversation while wearing them. While the arms are slightly bulky, the sunglasses don’t feel heavy on your head and are comfortable to wear. They also work well for making calls. 

If it’s really windy, the audio quality won’t be great. The wind factor also makes them less suitable for biking. They’re available in two versions — Alto and a smaller Rondo style — and support Bose’s AR (augmented reality) audio platform. Additional lenses are available for $20 to $30, and Glassesusa.com sells discounted prescription lenses for them.  

Read full review of Bose Frames.

More about headphones 

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Originally published earlier and periodically updated with new recommendations.

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.



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